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The Fierce Heart of Hope
I screamed in my car in the Target parking lot this morning as the radio station advertised a Sea World ticket giveaway for the tenth caller. I wanted to be the tenth caller just to scream across the airwaves. It hasn’t even been a week. Don’t they know? Haven’t they heard the news? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it gets lost in the constant chaos that has replaced the news cycle. Maybe they block it out and tell themselves this is just how the world works as they bow at the altar of capitalism nonetheless. I wipe salt water from my eyelashes walking into Target for the millionth time wondering about all the ways I’ve bowed too, all the times I’ve asked myself how to reconcile this way of life with the screams coming from our earth.
The fires that devastated the Kingdom of Hawaii’s island of Maui, the fires that just forced my dear friend and her family to evacuate Okanagan land in Canada, Gladys and her pod ramming boats in the Atlantic, the hurricane that flooded the desert just west of us in California, the pilot whales beaching en masse, waters boiling off the coast of Florida, a stage full of ridiculous and dangerous political candidates actively not raising their hands to declare they don’t believe in human-caused climate change just to appease the deep pockets funding their campaigns, and you, Tokitae, killed by the captivity of our greed.
These ocean eyes don’t know how to hold it all.
My friend Malialani recently reminded me it’s not surprising I would feel this way because this climate crisis is the first time white people are experiencing apocalypse. She spoke of how indigenous communities have survived apocalypse again and again and have always been leading the way through. I wondered out loud if maybe this overwhelm is an appropriate response to waking up a million times a day to our participation.
She lifted that heavy weight from my shoulders, set it down, and she stayed.
It wasn’t helpful, she hummed.
She could have leveled me in an instant and let me shake under the weight of my whiteness and I would not have blamed her.
And yet she chose another path.
She does not wield a sword except her pen and her paintbrush. She does not swing an accusation, only a scythe to cut back the non-native grass invading her island home.
She holds the line of her ancestors and rips open her ribcage every day to offer a fierce heart of hope.
She reminded me that hope is not found in systems.
Hope is found in communities, the communities of indigenous people leading the way. She is a living breathing invitation to remember what many of us have never known.
I remember the ocean-eyed little girl sitting in the orca show stadium in awe of the sheer power and beauty of your kin, but always tears welling in my eyes, always a grieving I didn’t yet have words for. Until I met your kin off the starboard side one Fall in Monterey Bay, tears welling up behind the lens of my fancy camera convinced that somehow I knew them in another life. Until I searched the sea for them from the water taxi to Orcas Island years later where I’d go to find my own voice and begin scratching it onto the page with my own pen, tears welling up as the wind whipped my cheeks that hurt from smiling knowing they were just under the surface. Until I visited further north and learned with reverence of your honor among the indigenous Coast Salish peoples and stood in awe of artwork reflecting your likeness. Until I first learned of kinship and reciprocity from the writings of Dr. Kimmerer of the Potawatomi Nation. Until I learned of cetacean families with culture and language and strategy and anthems from Dr. Poole on a boat in the South Pacific who refers to his research as “a remembering of what Native Tahitians have always known”, and of the grave impact of white missionaries as told by an indigenous Tahitian guide stewarding those same waters. Until I floated free as a guest in that deep blue and stared into the eye of a playful humpback calf, safe by her mother’s side. Her gaze a portal into the entire universe.
I read they gathered, your family, the day before your death. Sighted off the San Juans - a superpod of the Southern Residents J, K, and L pods together as a rare collective. Did they know? Of course they knew. I wonder if their dorsal fins stood tall and proud, mamas and calves, grandmother matriarchs. I read you always knew too. Your L pod songs, proof you remembered who you were and where you came from. Your family remembered - a magnetic pull strong enough to sense a hemisphere away. I read you are being returned to them even still. I will light a candle on Sunday when your Lummi Nation gather on land to remember you. A quiet observer from a distance, I will hold the awe and wonder from my childhood, the knowing that you could have killed those who enabled your captivity. At any moment you could have exacted your revenge and my ocean-eyes would not have blamed you one bit.
And yet, you held the line of your ancestors and the fierce heart of hope -
almost long enough.
The failure was not renal. The failure was ours. Your memory is a living breathing invitation to set down what is not helpful and begin the remembering of what many of us have never known - what your people, your ancestors, have known all along.
“…until we can grieve for our planet we cannot love it—grieving is a sign of spiritual health. But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have o put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair.”
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
This episode of the For The Wild podcast: The People Under the Sea
The continuing Maui relief efforts led by and trusted by local Hawaiian community
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer