With so many people experiencing the aftermath of a sizzling hot summer followed by hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, the disruption of the global climate has moved from being an abstract theory to a felt experience. For me, it hit home when I was kayaking last summer in the Kenai Fjord in Alaska, admiring the glaciers through the mist of a cool summer drizzle. I reached in to feel the water, which I expected would be icy - and it was warm. My nieces, who had lived in Alaska all their lives, went swimming in the fjord that day for the first time in their lives. Newspaper headlines asked why so many birds were dying, noting in small print the record warming of the waters.
Climate disruption is only one of the big stories causing anxiety as we approach the new millennium. There's also the global financial meltdown, and the partisan schemes, attacks, and counter attacks that have rendered Congress and the executive nearly incapable of governing. And of course there is the big unknown of the Y2K millennium computer glitch, leading to predictions ranging from an expensive headache to the end of civilization.
Parker Palmer suggests that when we are afraid or in pain, we are better off going more deeply into these feelings than sweeping them under the rug. What is this pre-millennial angst telling us? We knew that things would be changing profoundly; perhaps we're just now realizing how profoundly.
Back when so many were worried about US/USSR nuclear annihilation, a teacher learned that her students were deeply fearful about the nuclear threat. There was only one child who seemed to be aware of the issue but unconcerned. "My dad goes to lots of meetings about making peace, so I know things will turn out all right," he said.
Healthcare practitioners distinguish between two kinds of stress. One is a result of feeling besieged by forces outside of our control. This type of stress tends to weaken our immune systems and make us more prone to depression and apathy.
The other kind of stress accompanies the exhilaration of feeling that we have power, that we can make a difference, that we are not simply the passive recipients of uncontrollable events, but active participants in creating our future. This is the sort of stress people speak about for years afterwards when a crisis has brought a group of people together. This sort of stress is actually good for you.
So if you're worried about the future, call a meeting. Get involved. Show the kids and yourself that you still believe in the future!
Sarah van Gelder, Executive Editor