Tears drip down my face and my throat locks in the way that only happens when I’m fending off realities that seem unreal. In the last week there have been three shootings in the US. 32 People are dead and over 50 more are injured. I can’t help but feel the immense pain that must be crushing the families and loved ones of these people. I can’t imagine the frustration they must have and the suffering that they are going through. We have a problem. We must act, we must change, grow, and find the cure.
Last night I was at dinner with my coworkers here in Ghana and they were appalled when I told them that America is not all it’s cracked up to be. I explained that we have problems, too. My coworker couldn’t believe it. He was convinced that America is the land of possibility, of perfection. For so long we have held ourselves to this unrealistic standard of excellence, insisting that everything else be shoved under the metaphorical carpet. There is an ornate and beautiful mask covering the dying husk of what once was. The vast inauthenticity is palpable–the stench unmistakable.
Being in a developing country is a staggering experience. Nothing is covered up. When I was in Accra there were children begging in the streets, walking with canes and crutches and peering mournfully through the tinted windows at me. Here in Bolgatanga, there is real starvation and suffering in the local villages. There is trash in the streets, in the gutters, and in the trees. The water smells of sewage and is a indescribably gross color… And yet I can’t help but wonder if they might actually have it better off here.
Today Andrea (the other GSBF fellow here with me), Moses (our driver), and I travelled to the hills outside of Bolgatanga and when we arrived, began to explore the almost untouched landscape. We ventured into the hills, giant rocks around us and tree-covered grasslands below as far as the eye could see. Eventually I took off running, my shirt had come off, and I tore through the land, bounding over rocks and scrub. I found myself settled on top of a humungous boulder, breathing hard, looking out over the endless landscape, the warm wind running through my hair. I was in awe of the land. I felt like I was living many millennia before my time. I was a primal version of myself. I had no worries about paying bills or what I would do with my life. I simply existed at one with the land, with nature, and with the energy flowing through me.
This act of simplicity, along with many others I have found in the quiet of this “developing” world has left me with a question. What are we developing towards and at what cost? In the US, we name ourselves the most technologically advanced society, the country of dreams, the promised land. People will argue that we have better medicine, modern art, and live longer. Yet, are these things really true and more importantly are they even good? Our modern medicine has left us with 8 Americans dying every hour from opioid overdoses. Modern art can be summed up as a blue dot. And in fact, our average life expectancy is declining. Beyond the accuracy of these statements lies the most important thing I can think of that no one ever wonders about… Why? Why and at what cost? People are dying, our world is dying, animals are going extinct. As someone who is almost always the most optimistic person in the room, things are certainly going down, not up. It’s past time for all of humanity to take a hard look in the mirror and as ourselves “why and at what cost?”
In the series of books I am reading, there is a plague coming. Most people are unaware, like sheep to the slaughter. Our heroes and protagonists are trying to stop it, even if it means making horrible sacrifices. The antagonists and villains are manipulating everyone else for personal gain, willing to let vast swaths of people die. To me, it sounds familiar. If the plague is a metaphor, what could it be representing? Perhaps climate change, perhaps deep mental health challenges, or perhaps drug addictions and overdoses. These are just a handful of the catastrophe-level events that are knocking on our door. The house of humanity and the Earth we live on are being threatened and we are inflicting the wounds on ourself and the other beings that share our home. We must acknowledge what is happening.
Humans are undeniably the most intelligent being we know of with the highest capacity for reflection and for dreaming. What do we have to show for it, truly? When we think about life in the span of thousands of years, the last few hundred are but a blink of a blink, the final paragraph in an epic story. And yet in the last few hundred years we have set into motion multiple waves that could wipe out life as we know it. People claim we are making progress? Progress?! It’s infuriating. We are moving too fast for our own good. We are ignoring symptoms and chasing cures. We cannot continue as we are. We, the people, must change the world, our world–there is no other choice. Together we are strong, together we can do anything.
I do not blame the shooters, they are an effect, not a cause. I do not blame the opioid prescribing doctors. I do not blame the corporations sending CO2 into our heavens. I feel personally responsible. If I have learned anything here in Bolgatanga it is that there is a coin with two sides. On one side there is the innate and tantalizing desire to succumb, to look away, to keep one’s head down. On the other side there are heroics, there is sacrifice, forgiveness, and hope. We must not succumb to fear. We must choose hope. To be selfish, to let our fears lower our heads and force us to resign is to die. We must stand in the face of the storm, arm in arm, and march steadily forward, with empathy for all, our heads raised and our hearts strong.
The reality is that humans are rebelling around the world in many countries and cities. Nature is rebelling and showing us a foreshadow of its wrath. This is the final hour. Humanity must come together, abolishing the ideations of looming chasms between race, between gender, between countries, between parties, between religions. If we continue as we are, we will perish. Each person has a voice and we must use them. We cannot but demand that which must be demanded. The burden is on us, on you, and on me. Never may we be allowed to shirk the responsibility of being human. We are the protectors of Earth, the protectors of the unborn, and the protectors of all beings. We must protect, for if we do not only death will we find.
If you’re riled up, scared, upset, or just feel the need to do something, here are some ways to make an impact:
If you have other ideas, solutions, or thoughts, please share them below in the comments or contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that I can add them to the list.