Saturday, March 14, 2009

Following My Heart

From the bean of Green Bean.


The month's APLS Carnival topic made me realize something: I've changed. A lot. And it is nowhere more obvious than in my blogging life.

Once upon a time, I wrote only about greening my lifestyle, reaching across the globe to others in need, and embracing American affluence as a means to make the world a better place.

Then something happened.

My son went to kindergarten.

And I became more mom than policy maven. More woman than warrior. My posts shifted away from the global to the local - the intensely local. I'm sure I have lost readers along the way; people who were more interested in changing the world than my child's school. I cannot say I blame them. Indeed, this month's topic made me wonder if my fellow eco-heroes might soon oust me from The Green Phone Booth for not focusing enough on "green" and for worrying more about phone banks than phone booths.

You see, March's Carnival topic involves the participants' favorite charities. Six months ago, I would have lauded Heifer International, Central Asia Institute, or the now defunct Goods 4 Girls. I would have looked at global reach and sought to inspire others, even my children, to stretch as far.

But one day, the stock market crashed. My son's public school lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The state slashed school budgets even further. I no longer thought about Pennies for Peace but about how all those pennies might save the school librarian.

My favorite charity is not some worthy organization battling climate change or working in the wilds of Afghanistan to heft schools from mountains. It is my son's school. And my devotion to it is a purely selfish.

Without a doubt, the dollars my family has poured into the school's shrinking coffers would have gone further outfitting African girls with reusable menstrual pads or keeping wolves on the Endangered Species list. Surely, the tens of hours I dedicate weekly would have more impact had they been devoted to a buy local campaign for my city or a wetlands restoration project.

The irony, though, is that, in my son's school, I've found the one thing I touted in my greener days. The one thing I sought when working for green task forces and donating to relief agencies. And the only thing that I think will help us adapt to a changed planet. A community.

One that has pulled together to keep our school afloat in rough economic seas. One that struggles to go green without any green - holding rummage sales, hosting bottle and can drives, soliciting carpools, and piecing together a set of utensils so that we can forgo the plastic cutlery at school events. One that shares the burden of the community - swapping clothes for growing girls, sharing snow gear, teaching art and music when the money has run out, donating recycled paper towels and green cleaning supplies, gathering canned goods for local food pantries, composting lunches and gardens, and passing rummage sale leftovers to battered women's shelters and inmates exiting the prison system.

As our climate shifts, water runs dry, food prices escalate, and funds for renewables become a pipe dream, community is the fail safe. The parachute. The landing place. But you have to build it. It doesn't come ready made or with simple instructions and it is not easy. You get out what you put in.

But even if I can just justify my son's school as a "green charity", is it right that we, the global rich, spend our resources on ourselves? That I focus not on the girls learning in the wilds of Africa but on the children in my own community, on my own son?

I cannot say that it is.

But I will say this. The mark of a worthwhile charity is one that opens hearts as well as wallets. One that makes us leap out of our desk chairs and into the storm. One that grabs us by the chest and demands action. One that spurs sacrifice, drives us when we think we are too tired, out of ideas, or out of money. It is true that some of those charities will pull people across the globe, yank them down from a mountain and transform a nurse into a school teacher. Some though will merely entice folks across town - to the plot that becomes a community garden, to the warehouse that becomes a soup kitchen, or to the school that continues to educate.

And that is worthy too.

This is the The Green Phone Booth's submission for the APLS Carnival which will appear at Green Resolutions on March 20. To participate, email your submission to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by Tuesday, March 17.

12 comments:

Daphne said...

I think the small local things are just as important as the global sweeping causes. Many people don't think about the environment. They don't recycle. They don't try to reduce their footprints. They need people around them to convince them by doing it. The more people they see trying to change the world, the more they think about it themselves. I'm not saying we should ignore the rest of the world, but we also need to change the hearts and minds of those around us.

sassypackrat said...

In these sad economic times I think it's natural to focus inward. Your child is the most important project of your life and anything that concerns him/her is bound to be a priority. You do what you can when you can. I'm sure as this whole crisis eases and money flows again you will spread out and tackle the big green things you did before. I for one applaud you for thinking and doing in your community. Can you image how much could get done if everyone did that? You haven't lost this follower.

Daisy said...

When a plane is de-pressurizing, parents are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks first.
When people are sick, the caregivers need to care for themselves in order to be useful to others.
It's perfectly acceptable to act locally while thinking globally. Educating your own child is a great step toward building a sustainable world, one child at a time.

Green Resolutions said...

Great post, GB. Isn't it amazing how a sense of community inspires us?

And I love Daisy's comment. And I think she's right that we have to take care of ourselves first.

Margaret's Ramblings said...

I don't think you have it wrong. My firm belief is that we should start in our own back garden. The more that do this the more these back gardens will join together and soon you have a community buzzing.

Once that happens I believe that change can happen on a larger scale

Margaret

Theresa said...

I think what has happened to you is what must happen to the whole world. We have become over-globalized and must become re-localized: real communities again, not just abstract ones. I'm glad you are well on your way :)

Farmer's Daughter said...

Thanks for the post. In these economic times, we're just trying to put money in the savings account so we can pay our property taxes twice a year.

Now there's a bill in our state that proposes freezing teacher's salaries for up to 3 years. I understand that our state needs to save money, but teachers are people and residents and tax payers, too. I've always thought that it's unfair we get paid on a scale instead of based on the actual quality of our work, but now this bill threatens to go against contracts. It's scary to us, since we are counting on my pay increase (I make MUCH less than a teacher at the top of the scale). Tough economic times have hit everyone.

Donna said...

But even if I can just justify my son's school as a "green charity", is it right that we, the global rich, spend our resources on ourselves? That I focus not on the girls learning in the wilds of Africa but on the children in my own community, on my own son?

You ask some really great questions and I feel like I can really relate since your son's district is my district. ;) I think that ideally we do it all -- care at home and also care abroad. But in the real world there are times and seasons for things. Right now, you are needed to help at your son's school, but while you're doing that, the decisions you've made on how you live will rub off on the other parents you work with. As a result of your example, some of them might decide to go greener. As they do, some might find they care about the girls in Africa. You don't know where the ripples will go.

Green Bean said...

Daphne: Good point. I often look at it as withdrawing but in truth, I'm working on the same things, just in a much smaller circle.

Sassypackrat: Yay! Thanks for the support. It is true that, when we have the funds and the room to breathe, we still give to the greater good. The rest of the time, we concentrate on our local community.

Daisy: I love that analogy. Thank you!

Green Rez: It is. I give so much more because it is my own community. I work harder, think more, donate more, and so on. I can see and touch these folks, these problems and that really spurs me forward.

Margaret: It's funny. Before I wrote this post - and read all of your lovely comments - I felt like a failure. You are right though. In many ways, I've achieved what I set out to. Built a community, working to change my own community. It might not help those girls in Africa . . . yet but I am getting the ball rolling here.

Theresa: What a wonderful comment. As I wrote with Margaret, your comment reeled me in and made me realize that I am on the right path, albeit a more narrow, one lane road instead of an eight lane highway. Isn't re-localization what many of us have been working toward? Thank you!

Abbie: The move to freeze teachers' salaries or lay them off (we just had pink friday because they were handing out pink slips) is scary to all. To those, like you, who depend on the pay checks. To those, like me, who depend on your hard work and effort. I'm working as hard as I can here and I suspect there are parents in CT working hard to make sure you and those like you get paid what you deserve for all that you give!

Donna: Thank you, Donna, you alum you. Great point. Ripples do extend and, without a doubt, I'm throwing many stones into this water.

Bobbi said...

You've tapped into something that I've been noticing too. We've got to go back to the beginning and build up our local communities. You can only hug one person at a time. Conversations can't be skimmed like a blog post. Blog comments from across the country and around the world are exciting but those virtual people can't pick up your kids if you've got an emergency. Don't go to the guilt. Locavore is about more than the food.

EcoBurban said...

Imagine all the little lives you are changing by focusing closer to home. In better economic times these children will be the ones who go on to change the world!!

We are doing the same, focusing our efforts closer to home. The schools, local food bank, our neighborhood and the little league. I think this focus is natural and right for this time!

Green Bean said...

Bobbi: Beautifully put - "Locavore is about more than the food." You are so right.

EcoBurban: I do hope that these will be kids who grow up to make the world a better place and I agree with you. It is only natural, now, to focus on the close to home.

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