I called Danny, the director of my division, to complain about excessive travel.
Danny looked and acted like a beach bum, with blonde shaggy hair and a broad smile, but he was always at his desk whenever I called, working till the late hours. I’d gotten drunk with him more than once at company events, so felt comfortable talking openly to him about my grievances. “Danny,” I said. “This travel is killing me.”
“But you’re one of my work horses, dude.”
“Yeah, well, I’m feeling like an old broke-down mule.”
He laughed. To him we were all having a good time. Suffering through an absurdly busy life was considered a badge of honor, the American way, like courage on the battlefield. Only I was beginning to crack under the pressure and had to find a way to slow down. My body was sending me signals that I tried to ignore or suppress with antacids and alcohol.
“Just hang in there,” he said. “I’m sure it’s just a phase. You’ll be getting some local work soon.”
“I hope so,” I said. “Because life is passing me by. Right now, this job sucks.”
“Whoa,” he said. “Sorry to hear you say that,” and I could tell that for the first time in our relationship, I’d crossed a line. Just like that, I’d fallen out of favor. It wasn’t exactly my finest hour. I don’t know what it’s like to work for the mob, but I suspect it’s similar to life in Corporate America – you have to watch what you say and play along, be one of the boys, or one day you’ll disappear and your empty desk will serve as a grim reminder to those remaining why they need to toe the company line.
For awhile nothing changed. In the company’s eyes, I was still a workhorse, just more stubborn than usual. Either that, or like a hit man trying to fool his victim into a false sense of security, they were deviously planning my demise.
A couple of months after my conversation with Danny I was on an early morning flight to Cincinnati in a small propeller plane. It was a gloriously sunny day and a smooth ride, but we were unable to land due to low fog and eventually returned to Detroit. Before giving up and heading back, however, we circled Cincinnati to see if the fog would clear, so I reclined in my seat and closed my eyes, occasionally looking out at the clear sky above or the blanket of fog below, hugging the earth like a mold.
The sun covered us with a warm blanket of rays as we flew smoothly through calm air, and I zoned out to the hum of the engine. Everyone around me was sleeping, or at least resting quietly, as if the ride was a kind of guided meditation, and I found myself wondering about my brother’s early demise, and if I, too, would find an early grave, given how I had been feeling.
My brother had driven a dusty truck for a living, hating this work with a passion because it forced him to leave the comfortable confines of his enchanted forest. I felt the same way on planes, wishing my feet were on solid ground.
As we circled Cincinnati, however, I wanted to stay up there forever, hovering comfortably with nothing to do except bask in the warmth of the sun, lounging above the earth while waiting for things to change below before I returned, like a nuclear annihilation to come and go, or an ice age or some other natural disaster to wipe out all of our industrial progress, or some glitch in the cosmos that caused humans to evolve into a symbiotic balance with nature – having finally recognized the globe as a living deity – which they communicated with in some kind of molecular vibration, so when I landed through a time warp it would be the year 3000 and the remaining sparse population, dominated by beautiful women desperate for more men, would be living peacefully in a tropical paradise, wearing white diaphanous linens from organically grown cotton, and frequently and willingly making love amongst the wildflowers in open meadows. Worrying about business or making money would no longer be part of the vocabulary. I was almost saddened to break free of that holding pattern and return home.
When we landed back in Detroit, however, something had changed.
There was a message waiting for me to call Danny. My company, it turned out, had managed to annoy a few important clients and the loss of work led to a massive layoff. I’d seen this at every company I ever worked for. Businesses always expanded beyond their means until market forces found a way to bring them back to balance and people lost their jobs. They never seemed to realize that the forces of nature still applied, even in manmade business. It could take years or decades or in some cases (thanks to geological time) centuries, but those who got too big, greedily and impatiently wanting more – whether corporations, dictators, countries, or populations – would eventually reach their threshold and be subsequently humbled, one way or another.
Of course, I was humbled, too, and my personal economy became all that mattered, until all the stress from the constant travel in conjunction with my brother’s demise, followed by the subsequent loss of the job, pushed my body over the edge. Then it became about health.
And ultimately about balance.
After the recent thrashing by Sandy, climate change has once again become a topic of conversation, as noted by the recent article in Bloomberg Business Week, that it’s not about the economy, It’s Global Warming, Stupid. And I watched a segment on Piers Morgan with Michael Moore trying to convince climate change deniers that even if we don’t know if climate change is real or caused by human activities, why take the risk of doing nothing? What would be the harm of taking action (which deniers jump on as economically untrue)? I’ve heard this argument a lot, but might is a poor argument, even when the science is on your side. Might is too easily disputed, and the science (apparently) too easily ignored or challenged, and it never gets to the heart of the matter. It’s like trying to tell someone they should eat a healthy diet to prevent the diseases that someday might manifest. And look how well that’s going. Even though we know this is true, that the science is indisputable (there are no, or few, deniers of the importance of eating healthy), it doesn’t matter. The addictions are too strong, the obesity rates continue to climb, and when the diseases come, the inflicted always ask, how did this happen? Why me?
Then they look to modern medicine for a pill, for a silver bullet solution, to suppress their symptoms so they can continue with their usual ways until a new disease breaks through. No one wants to hear that their illness resulted from unbalanced living, requiring a lifestyle change to get well. It’s the same with climate change.
First we must recognize that we have a problem, based on the simple understanding that the planet operates on a system of balance, and that global warming is just a symptom of our collective imbalance in the same way type 2 diabetes or obesity or heart disease is the result of our unbalanced diets. And it isn’t about the economy, because the economy is just another aspect of Mother Nature. Everything we do depends on her; it begins with her as our foundation, and if what we do isn’t balanced, it eventually topples over.
A holistic approach is what is needed, treating both body and mind (as if the two were ever separate), to get well. Somehow we must remember, that no matter how advanced we become, spending our lives in engineered machines carrying us over pavement or across the sky or waters – our minds absorbed by high-tech gadgets in homes with all the modern conveniences – that we are earth-based creatures, subject to its laws and its system of balance, that what we do affects our environment in the same way any creature affects theirs. The only difference is that we’ve been clever enough to overcome nature’s forces and prevent it from returning us to balance, as it does with all other living creatures. But eventually, as Sandy has reminded us, nature wins. If we don’t learn to live balanced lives, if we don’t recognize our own tendencies to strive for growth like all other species and learn to channel this energy towards the greater good, towards a green economy, then we’ll be brought back into balance and suffer the same demise as those other species. Either that or we’ll create an uninhabitable earth. Either way, we lose.
So the argument is not that we must act in case global warming is real, but that we must remember who we are, and recognize the laws of the land and live accordingly. Otherwise, even if we found some magical technology (or pill) to combat climate change, it would only be a matter of time before a new disease manifested with a goal of returning us to balance. Nature must win, or it all comes to an end.
This is part of what’s at stake in Tuesday’s election. Which party do you think could lead us in the right direction? Who do you think has the ability to understand what it’s all about?