Browsing the shelves of Point Reyes Books last month, I picked up Mary Pipher’s latest book. Her Reviving Ophelia illuminated the struggles of adolescent girls. Now she has a book called The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in our Capsized Culture, detailing her progression from despair to activism.
A Nebraskan, Pipher was on the front lines of early campaigns to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from going through the Sandhills. (Three years later, the pipeline is still in limbo, and has become a symbol of the fossil fuel industry’s disastrous impact on the planet.)
Even before opening it, I knew this book would return me to grounding.
I’d been talking with Richard Heinberg about his book The End of Growth, which describes a trajectory that I understand and yet can’t quite face head-on. Seeing it spelled out and hearing him expound on it left me feeling quite scared.
I know that many are pulling together for a better world. But our governmental policies favor the monied corporations running the show. I was starting to doubt that community action could effect change on that level.
Along comes Pipher, describing an activism that’s joyful and even fun. Example: grandmothers gave weekly “thank you in advance” pies to the Nebraska governor until he agreed to meet. This brand of protesting, fueled by love of the land and concern for tomorrow’s denizens, seems the perfect antidote to despair.
A chapter called All Hands on Deck begins with this quote from Frederick Buechner:
“God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
To be glad in the face of the world’s rending sometimes seems impossible. Yet I remember opening the church basement doors on the day of our SkillShare and seeing the space instantly fill with participants, their faces alight with curiosity. I think of the heart-cracking instant when a resonant phrase finds my fingers on the keyboard. I recall the joy of putting a garden trowel in the hands of a preschooler.
There’s an expansiveness when I reflect on these moments, a sense of the heart opening that lifts me from powerlessness.
Pipher acknowledges the “experts” who downplay the importance of individual actions. They say systemic economic and political changes are necessary to change this trajectory. True enough, but this reasoning is incomplete, says Pipher—for “who is it that is in charge of systemic change?”
She argues that individuals have always been the source of world-changing actions, and what else can one person do but start with herself? And join others in common cause, as did the abolitionists. It’s said that they had no hope of success, at the start.
My small self is quick to tell me what I’m not. I’m no naturalist, no doctor of philosophy, no career activist, no farmer, no wisewoman in a mountain hut. I am just myself. Sometimes I question: What do I have to offer?
I only own this experience, this deep heart of pain and care, grief and fear—and love.
What do I have to offer? All of it. I offer it up.
[More from Mary Pipher: Read her interview on how to wake up and take action on climate change (and stay sane).]