Last night I watched the first episode of Our Planet, a Netflix Original David Attenborough series. It has been on my radar for a while and I wanted to watch it, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be comfortable viewing. I was right. I desperately wanted to look away, to close my ears, as my TV flickered with images of skyscraper-sized chunks of Greenland iceberg crashing into the sea and Attenborough spoke of how the polar regions are warming faster than the rest of the planet.
It felt like especially hard viewing with my baby girl asleep on my lap. Before I became a parent I used to hate when people implied, or downright stated, that being a parent somehow made them more caring, more compassionate, and I don’t wish to imply that here. I’m sure I would have watched those same images with as much disbelief and, frankly, anxiety, as I did last night, even before I had a child. BUT it is different. It’s hard.
There’s a poem that I’ve thought about a lot since my daughter was born: Good Bones by Maggie Smith. Two lines in particular stick in my mind:
The world is at / least / fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative / estimate, though I keep this from my children.
I am / trying / to sell them the world.
I feel these words so much. The world is at least fifty percent terrible, at least. The arctic is melting, Australia is burning, Trump is trying to start a war with Iran, Britain is broken, and children in Yemen are starving, to name just a few of the ways in which the world is a terrible, awful place.
Any yet, I do want to sell the world to my daughter. I’m so excited for her to get to know all the people who already love her dearly and the people we don’t even know yet, who will one day love and cherish her. I’m excited for her to swim in the sea, climb trees, and hike mountains. I want her to love what she loves – whether it’s books or dancing or hockey – with all her heart.
Another poem that I thought about a lot during the recent UK election is Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye:
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore […]
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. I love that line so much. I keep coming back to it because it gives me hope. I saw that line in action following the election. I saw so many donating to homelessness charities and food banks (something I still intend to do myself!). Such actions shouldn’t and can’t replace a robust state safety net, but actions are better than despair, something is better than nothing.
And yet the flip side of the coin is sorrow. My daughter will grow up in a world in which there is prejudice and bigotry, racism, sexism (oh lord, to bring a daughter into this world), homelessness, war, climate change. A world in which there is sorrow, hers and mine and everyone else’s.
In Our Planet, David Attenborough spoke of loss, but he also spoke of the abundance that still remains. I want my daughter to know that abundance. I want her to see large flocks of birds, forests, shoals of fish. I want her to know an abundance of love and joy and laughter and kindness too.
The world may be at least fifty percent terrible and I don’t have all, or any, of the answers. I’ll start by making that donation, by demanding governments act on climate change, by consuming less (and by putting those intentions here). I’ll start by selling my daughter the world.