Thursday, November 08, 2007

Generation Nature

For me, the call came from within. It said (in the voice of my neck, which is quite insistent and reasonable), "I need some time off here." I was standing in the hallway of my college apartment. I knew the call meant what it said. My mother's kindness and eye for the truth echoed it. She repeatedly insisted, "Are you sure you don't need time off from school?" I had had a neck injury in ninth grade, you see, that was still hurting, in fact worsening, even as I pared down my life, everything revolving around being in as little pain as possible, which was still a lot. So I plunged into college leave, my absolute commitment becoming my health and well-being. It was very hard to step away from the main track--very, very hard. What followed in my life, though, was a miracle of self-discovery and insight into the world. And that is how I would like to introduce the recent media exchange between Thomas Friedman and Courtney Martin.

On October 10, The New York Times published an Op-Ed by Thomas L. Friedman in which he describes his impression of today's generation of twenty-somethings, commonly called "Generation Y," of which I am a part. "Generation Q" he calls us, for quiet: "quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad. But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country's own good." He seeks a generation to light a fire under the country with action the way the youth of his day did.

Courtney E. Martin, a member of the addressed generation, had something to say to this
. In her October 22 article "Generation Overwhelmed" in The American Prospect online, she describes our generation of twenty-somethings as lost for which cause and what method by with which to change the world when such a magnitude of options surround us. "We are not apathetic. What we are, and perhaps this is what Friedman was picking up on, is totally and completely overwhelmed," she asserts. She explains that with increasing causes to defend and the diminishing effectiveness of potential remedies for each cause, we sit wondering what to do.

My answer for the overwhelm? Nature. It became and is still my answer for each dilemma, for inspiration, for joy. I think Martin is right on the money when she assesses our generation's feeling of being out of control. Nature is what my generation needs, what every g
eneration needs, as it teaches how we are part of a balanced whole, and we have the right to control our own lives. Changing the world means, first and foremost, changing ourselves. I wanted to reform American education, and I wanted to do it right away, fast, at nineteen. Then this pain in my neck, literally, told me to slow on down. I had to reform my American education first. It is the eternal lesson: you have to help yourself before you can help others.

I know "nature" is not an adjective, so my term "Generation Nature" is a squeeze, but I think that, especially for females, nature is the answer to empowerment.

I will continue my story to further explain. "This year is going to be about letting go," I told myself, "about realizing that I have to banish dread from my life, and that I have to quiet down inside with all that fear and just embrace the safety of being a powerful woman here who is in charge of her own life."
Suddenly, when I took that bold step away from the mainstream expectations and listened to my heart and body and said that I needed time off, something I had envisioned as impossible, all the impossibilities melted away. My mother and I went away while we were unable to live in our house being renovated, found a magical place in nature, and the whole time did not know that it was the plan. Everything just kept falling into place, whereas before that I had felt like I was lifting great weights to make things work. There were sad parts, like not being able to see my dear younger cousins when I wanted them to know how much I still cared even though I was far way. I knew that if I did not start taking care of myself then, though, I would not be able to be there for them at all in the future. And taking care of my neck, giving it healing time, was a full-time job, though well worth it for the lessons it wrote in my heart. More than my neck needed healing. My sense of direction needed healing, as I felt the pressure to keep up that Martin's article describes.

Nature is often a place pointed to as fearful, wild, unknown. Or as boring. But to girls and women especially, I feel, it is vital, our life source.

I took myself to nature school, walking on sunlit (and sometimes cloudy) trails, sitting in a brook, gazing at the trees outside my window, and once having a bird land on my head when I was in a state of reverie. I took joy like a pill every time I stepped out my door and breathed the air. I studied birds and habitats, taught myself to identify their calls, and once stumbled upon a lake full of geese so large in number, I gasped at the enormity of their collective honks. I am committed to more women experiencing what my mother and I experienced. She transformed as well, both of us paring down more to our essences, and she recovered from chronic illness when she was close to losing the battle. Nature, so often, is portrayed as something to fear. If we are going to save this planet, though, we must push that fear away and say, "Beautiful Mother Earth! What do you have to teach me about how to go out into that world and bring peace?" And then we have to sit awhile and listen.

These are responses I have found. She shows us having limits and reaching for the sky at once with the oak tree's pause in growth in winter yet ultimate achievement of grand stature. The fruit on the tree teaches that abundance and nourishment are meant to be birthrights. The moon teaches patience with its slow cycle and persistence with its glow through the clouds. The eagle teaches soaring and landing. The duck teaches humor with its quack or whistle and solidity with its sheltering of its young. And the black-throated blue warbler? It teaches taking a vacation with flair--the males and females winter separately in the
In her book Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them, Cindy Engel says, "One way animals reduce their anxiety levels is through grooming, hugging, and stroking themselves." We are allowed, blessed, meant to give ourselves comfort through these simple yet profound ways.

Nature, taking time for joy in it, restored my soul. I think my generation, especially the female twenty-somethings, is in danger of being lost in pursuit of something they cannot see without sweet nature's guidance. Passion, passion, passion. Balance, balance, balance. Joy, joy, joy. Before I had let myself off the hook for awhile and just said, "Ok, heal, have fun, have a blast, in fact," I never in a million years could have approached change in the world with the same appreciation for what it can be that I can now. Having a blast for me was not getting high, going dance parties or anything of the like. It was sitting on my bed passionately rereading a sewing pattern until I understood the directions enough to make the desired item of clothing. It was absorbing a book on birds to get the answers to my questions. It was silent observation of two swans taking flight from a lake. It was intense, inspired passion about the good that exists in the world. That time off was essential for me, like Shadia Wood of Power Shift described in my interview with her.

Reflection is a necessity for vision of change. Joy, as Courtney Martin said in her New Moon blog interview this summer about her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, is where the heart is in change for girls. I think this applies to everyone.

First we find joy. Then we find a solution.
When we all turn to nature together for the lessons, joy, and inspiration that it can ignite within, we can then unite toward a common goal and heal this planet's ills. See the good, focus on it, and it will expand as more people learn about it and want it to multiply. Share with others how beautiful this place is, and together, we can bring back all that it can be.

Well, I could write a book on this, as you can see. Maybe I will. For now, let me add just a few more words:

I still have to listen to those voices in my body, that one voice of my true self, that gives me cues about my limits, but now I treasure those voices instead of fearing them. They teach me. Like that call from within.

I was quiet during my time away. Not the quiet that Friedman describes, though. The kind of quiet that fills a theater right before the curtain lifts.

Well, readers, I think you are going to have something to say back to this post, and I cannot wait to hear what it is. What is it like for your generation? Do you think the descriptions of Generation Y describe what you go and your peers go through, or is it different? What do you have to say? I want to know. Girls, you are precious, precious visionaries and gifts to the world. Let me know, and I will listen, no matter how different your thinking may be from mine. Just like the birds have so many different tunes but form a symphony together, our voices can join together and find a solution!

Wishing you a breath of fresh air, Bissy (Elizabeth!)


piglet said...

I think some girls do get too overwelmed, but mostly in high school, when they get more homework. At my age, we don't really get to overwelmed! I agree that nature is definatly one of the best things to be with when you are in knee-deep and can't get out. As a matter of fact, I agree with that soo much that I was mother nature for halloween! : )

Anonymous said...

a suggestion: i don't read long posts very much, so if you keep them shorter more people may read them ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous (1:13PM). Longer posts are less readable!