What My Grandchild Would Want Me to Preach

It’s really complicated honey. I’m only now understanding it myself. We weren’t really thinking about it like you and your friends do. It’s not that we didn’t care about how it would impact you; we weren’t really thinking about you at all. Oh that’s sounds terrible, I’ll say. I don’t mean that the way it sounds. Again, honey, it’s complicated. It wasn’t personal; we just didn’t think that far ahead. It was more like a blind spot. Our focus was mostly on our daily living, which felt hard and overly complicated as it was. We had our hands full just trying to think about and find the time to spend with your mama and your aunt and uncle. I’m not trying to defend it. I just don’t want you to think we were callous or selfish. It’s more like we were overwhelmed. And when you’re overwhelmed it’s hard to have perspective. I mean, a lot was going on. The whole issue of how our military might was destabilizing the world and also undermining our ability to take care of basic services like public schools, and health care was just beginning to dawn on us. And I can’t say I regret focusing on that. Without the anti-war effort and the radical changes we accomplished there, things would be a whole lot worse than they are now.

But I don’t get that, Grandpa, she’ll say. You mean you could only handle one thing at a time? Didn’t global warming also feel huge?

No honey, of course it felt huge, I’ll say. And it’s not that we could only handle one thing at a time. That’s not what I mean. Again it’s complicated. I guess what I’m saying is that we knew it was a huge and scary problem, we just couldn’t feel it. What we felt was worn out. You’re used to things as they are now. These “little things,” as you call them, just didn’t feel little to us. The idea of a smaller house, going without air conditioning, voluntarily paying $5 for gas or finding the $20,000 to install solar panels just seemed too much and too big to wrap our minds and to-do lists around. And nobody else was really doing it.

And more than that: we were hopeful. Ironically that’s a part of it too. We weren’t just worn out and overwhelmed with our personal lives, we actually believed the tide was changing, that bigger systems would begin to kick in and stimulate the changes for us.

She’ll wrinkle her brow at this point showing confusion, so I’ll try to explain.

Scientists, you see, weren’t just telling us that we were on the verge of causing irreversible and dangerous climate change; they were also telling us we were on the verge of a technological break-through that would soon make alternative energy sources available and affordable... I think the best way to put it is to say that our optimism and our hope, well, it sort of betrayed us. We had hope in technology. We had hope in politicians. And we had hope in our market system. It really felt like they’d save us without us having to do much. There was a saying back then: “Let go and let God.” I guess we saw science, politics and the market as our gods—more powerful and knowing than us tiny normal folk. So we gladly turned the problem over to them and waited for them to change us.

This is an excerpt of a sermon delivered at First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY, on April 22, 2007.