Wednesday, December 24, 2008 Quiet as a Mouse

A Purloined Letter from the Green Raven

'Twas the night before Christmas...

and in the hotel kitchenette, my partner David was cleaning out the coffee maker. After removing the (disposable) filter full of used grounds, he looked around and said, "Hey--where's the compost bucket?"

* * *

My family of 3 drove our little car to coastal South Carolina to visit my parents and brother and other relatives for the holidays. We're staying in a hotel with a lovely ocean view, lamenting the carbon fiesta that our vacation has already become.

When we are at home in the little hippie enclave of Takoma Park, I often feel that our "living out loud" gets drowned out by the din of our neighbors living their own inspiring lives. While we each have our unique areas of green expertise to share, all of us are more or less on the same path toward sustainability. But when we leave our little bubble of lefty activism, we are not always joined by a chorus of other greenies.

Here at my parents' home, my own life is getting a lot quieter. Living la vida fuerte is starting to get more complicated. I keep thinking about Green Bean's post. Am I guilty of leaving my cape behind in the phone booth right at the moment when these super-powers may be most needed? Am I asking my family to hide its green light under a bushel?

The heat is cranked up to 72 degrees. My brother brought rBGH milk and non-organic, unfairly-traded black tea home from the corporate convenience store--and brought it home in double-thick plastic bags. We're eating cage-raised eggs for breakfast. My mother throws glass bottles in the garbage. We're using gasoline like there is no tomorrow, speeding up and down the coast in multiple large cars.

We haven't completely abandonned our values. Everyone on our gift list is getting handknitted items to keep them warm. We give out our grown-up non-religious version of Christmas stockings: baskets of homegrown and home canned jams and pickles, local rice and grits, and handknitted dishcloths. We are using no wrapping paper, just reusable silk scarves. These are ways of living out loud--albeit very quietly.


We as a nation have a long way to travel to meet the goal of sustainability. Being with family--including folks we love very much who do not necessarily agree or even take kindly to our ideas--reminds me that the most imporant part of this journey is not arriving in a particular location but figuring out how to travel with our companions. Living out loud in our own homes can be noisy some times. When we are with others, we sometimes need to be more subtle.

With my family, I am often aware that while I may be the "greenest" in the family, I am not the only activist. I respect the fact that my loved ones have other concerns and that they work for necessary progressive change in arenas other than the environment. Their commitment to justice inspires me daily.

I keep hoping that I'll be able to find a more comfortable balance between living up to our green values and living up to our family values. For me, being in someone else's home means I sometimes choose to dampen my zeal to avoid insulting people. I want to inspire and support people on their journeys. I want to raise new questions. But I don't want to raise hackles and cause defensiveness.

The goal of this trip is not about creating a more sustainable world at this moment. It is about building a more sustainable family who can work together respectfully as we move into the changing future.

Happy holidays to you and yours.


Green Me said...

My husband is historically known as uber-research boy in his family. Consequently, we are able to present the green life-style as an uber-researched quirk. As a bonus his family has caught on and caters to our "quirks" buying wood toys, cloth diapers and organic raspberries for the munchkins and even some healthy stuff for themselves. My MIL recently got a new cleaning lady who uses green cleaning products and even made her some bean and vegetable soup with kale in it (to serve in a pinch when we visited).

For the most part I don't think anyone really "wants" to destroy the world they just don't know anything different or they have never stopped to think about it...

Perhaps next time you can get the milk and use your reusable bag. Just don't say anything unless someone asks...and then present it like the newest coolest thing or a "can you believe it?" And maybe you'll open a new door for the family.

Green Bean said...

Been there! It is tough when you get together with family. For Thanksgiving, we visited my southern Califonria relatives. Everything was disposable and/or laden with corn syrup. I think there is value, though, in conforming for the sake of retaining connections with people you love AND, as Alison suggested, in doing it your way when you go get the groceries or otherwise have an opportunity to do so. Happy Holidays, Hannah!

fullfreezer said...

Been there as well. At the beach with the relatives, they arrive in the rental SUV. My Sister in law who is 'into organic' food comes with organic poptarts-(made with organic corn sweetener) not exactly what I had in mind. Oh well, they were something my kids don't usually get to eat.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I'm in this exact situation. My son washed his hands in the kitchen sink today and asked, "Where's the towel?" My sister said, "We're using paper we can kill a tree." Then she turned to me and added, "Everyone else cuts down a tree for Christmas instead of using a synthetic tree, so why can't I use paper towels?!" I had a lot of answers, but I bit my tongue to maintain family harmony.

It took a lot of years for them to get used to my vegetarianism, but now they cater to it. I'm sure eventually they'll come around to everything else.

Electronic Goose said...

"Figuring out how to travel with our companions" indeed. Beautiful post; it hit many points in my own life.

Wendy said...

A relative gave my girls each a $5 gift card to McDonalds.

What's hard for me is teetering that line between saying something like, "Omigod! Are you serious?! You don't really want me to feed that crap to my beautiful little girls? Do you?" and just being thankful that they thought of us at all.

So, when my six year old saw the card, she says to her grandma, who was not the giver, but who delivered the cards to us for her sister, "McDonalds doesn't treat their animals very good."

Oh, my. What have I done?

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

We go through this with my family, too, though it's gotten a lot better over time. This year I ordered an organic, free-range turkey from our local co-op and took it to my parents' house. My mom knows the kids drink organic milk, so she's started buying it for when we're over. She reported my 7yo telling my dad, "Papa, don't put that in the trash! That's recycling/compost!"


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