Another decade has been ground down from stone to sand by time’s ceaseless waves. The old years have become the shore we newly walk on. Past days merge with the water of life as well, becoming its grit, its reflections, its flow into present and future. History integrates with the earth, rather than disappears, including integration into soul inside.
My path from 2010 to 2020 has been a strange labyrinth, both of my creation and far beyond control. Its richness and challenge have merged as much as tide and sand. The years have been vivid ones, as complex and beautiful as reflections on water. Often they have been as abstract and opaque as well, turning now to remnants of memory and grains unremembered.
One constant throughout that decade has been this path of celebration. It’s been ten years since I stood on the Molokai shores with Dewitt Jones, and accepted his invitation to contribute words and images of celebration. That opportunity has been one of the central, cherished aspects of my decade, for it has informed everything else I’ve done.
Celebration has merged with gratitude, across the course of countless images captured and released, words formed and spilled, feelings and actions from graceful to stumbling. I see celebration and gratitude in all the creative works that have emerged from my decade: three books, an endless river of lyrics, successful land conservation efforts, my contributions to others’ acts of service, my constant need to heal and grow.
Aspects of these celebration columns now center my next book, Grateful by Nature. They also center the related gratitude gatherings I’ve created for the past five years with an exceptional family of musicians, authors, poets, community service activists and more. Our gratitude family just completed an Oregon tour, and we look forward to bringing gratitude into the new decade, reaching far and wide.
Above all, celebration and gratitude inform where my primary focus has been at the close of the decade: being the primary caregiver for my 93-year-old mother. She and I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have sixty years together on this earth, with a closeness and peace few sons and mothers share. There is nothing more vital I can do than to ease her into rest with the same loving diligence she has tirelessly given me. Almost certainly, she will very soon be integrated into sand and shore. Her presence will be forever different, more diffuse and etherial, within the waters of time.
Within a wider sense of caregiving is where my 2020 visions clarify. To love and to create is no different with the earth than with caring for an aging parent. After all, it is that artful earth that has birthed and hosted us. It has defined us, nurtured us, given us the conditions in which we can bloom. The planet too is an aging parent, struggling now under the weight of burdens we’ve given her with our well-intentioned but careless ways.
In the past decade, the strife within society and climate has grown intense. It does not look any easier in 2020. Still, I’ve learned that gratitude and celebration become even more important within darkness and difficulty. They have become my response, my healing strategy through times of unspeakable pain. I have come to understand gratitude and celebration not as mere emotional responses to positive circumstance, but as committed actions within our relationship to life, regardless of momentary feeling. If my decade of gratitude and celebration have come down to one thought, one instruction for action, it is the utility of gratitude in turning wounds into gifts. Being grateful is like being a carpenter: the skills are only realized when you use them to build shelter for others.
Together, we will have much shelter to build with and for each other, in the wild times to come. We may build it through politics or marriage, employment or health care, friendship or simple kind words to strangers, or a thousand other ways—but build it we must.
I trust in the earth’s ability to take care of herself, in the end. We’ve already outlived so many predictions of apocalypse that my usual response to another one is to smile as it’s spoken, and lovingly file it next to all the other imagined wars, natural disasters, computer crashes, returns of punitive saviors, and other imaginative beliefs of imminent disaster. Some disasters have been, and will continue to be, very real. Yet nature goes on, and so do we, and so it will be again tomorrow. Another decade will begin, another decade from now. We can already mark it reliably upon our calendars.
Like many recently, I’ve been struck by the words of Chris Begley, an archaeologist and wilderness survival instructor who studies collapsed civilizations. His observation is that in times of collapse, the most vital skills are not such things as fire starting or the building of physical shelter; it’s the skill of building emotional shelter through empathy, generosity and courage. His studied belief is that kindness and fairness are the most basic human survival skills, evolved as essentials in cooperation. Survival is a collective effort, not an individual one.
In celebration and gratitude, I find that collective inspiration and energy to turn more wounds into gifts, to forgive and heal, to focus ever more on service for others across divisions and discord. Healing is in celebration of the positive within each of us, no matter our differences and faults. It’s in gratitude for the light within the darkness, for darkness is truly only another color of light. Seeing the day through the lens of celebration, as we do together here, can allow us to move beyond divisions of all forms, and return to those essential remembrances of our shared quest for love, peace and beauty.
In that 2020 vision, all my other visions for our new decade reside. May they integrate beautifully into sand, rivers and tide, as another decade becomes new ground under new feet.