My work took me to a Navajo reservation last weekend. It was a real eye-opener. Maybe the last bubble to burst for me. My assumptions and dreams have taken a real beating this year. I’m counting that as a blessing, by the way. Why whine?
We came from Eastern Kentucky, where the roadsides are garbage dumps and the hills are being torn apart and dumped into the streams in search of King Coal–coal that is then used to putrify our air. Wonderful idea. I figured that the Native American lands were exempt from all of this–that the guardians of Earth would be living a simple, pure, spiritual life and that their land would still be honored and protected. Wrong again.
Heading down into the valley, I saw a layer of smog that would rival any major city. The source: Coal burning plants on the reservation. The word I heard (true or false, I can’t say) is that Native industry is exempt from EPA regulations, so they can burn their coal even dirtier than the rest of the country. I could have cried, as I looked out on the thick haze from a mountain overlook and realized that the poison was being generated on the reservation by the tribe.
As I got closer, I saw how the place I left and the place I had come to are even more in synch: Litter everywhere. Bottles and boxes, dirty diapers and aluminum cans–all thrown alongside the road as if the land is a personal refuse disposal site. The realization was overwhelmingly sad. Does anyone left living care? Has it come to this–to a total breakdown of our responsibility to the planet and to one another? Is there not a culture of honor and respect left in this world? Father, help us all. We are lost. We are gone. All gone.
It was my boy, Zeb, who restored my faith. We were visiting an ancient site, where a now vanished people once lived in concert with their surroundings. Zebadiah bent over to pick up a rock as a souvenir, but I cautioned him against it…
“Honor the land, Son, even if the people who own it don’t.”
“But, Dad, it ain’t their land anyway…it belongs to the Creator.”
And the boy is right. Woody Guthrie had it wrong. This land is not “your land” and it’s not “my land.” It’s the Creator’s land–and He will someday deal rightly with those who destroy and dishonor it. And I’ve done (and continue to do) my share of damage, lest I forget that I didn’t walk to Indian Country. I drove.
You know what else that Zeb helped me realize? My life is really none of my business. My Father has the plan. I’m His to use or not use, as He wishes. My job is to look, to listen, and to learn. Then, to share that with you and hope that you will feel safe to share your experience with me.
And you know what my theory is, concerning the failure of this generation to cherish the land and to respect one another? Despair. It is caused by loss of hope, loss of consideration, loss of dignity. We act like nothing really matters. We act like greed is a virtue and that convenience is the highest good. But, it is only an act, you know. If there is any life in you, you know that it is an act. A sad act of complicity and fear and loss. One that will lead only to shame and remorse. Some day.