My daughter loves animals, birds, insects and plants. As a toddler, her favourite pastime was to watch crows go about their business, and she would feed them and try to make friends with them. Every morning, we were woken up by a sharp chatter of crows swooping down in the balcony of our apartment, demanding their share of the whole wheat bread that my daughter used to offer them generously. The most amusing part was seeing their playful tussle, trying to catch the breadcrumbs. One day, while we were in the company of crows, my daughter asked me whether I loved crows, too, as a kid. I remembered that although we had many crows those days, my affection was reserved for the petite house sparrow.
I began telling her stories of my interesting adventures with house sparrows and how I once rescued and reared a baby sparrow.
Her next question was, “So, where are all the sparrows now?” I went blank wondering how to tell her that our generation had robbed house sparrows of their food, support system and natural habitat, driving the once ubiquitous species of bird to migration and perhaps in some places, to extinction.
Eco-psychologists have been trying to study the changing relationship between human beings and their ecosystems and in recent times, prominent voices from the field have warned us that worldwide, more and more people are experiencing intense, unspoken grief at the deterioration of ecosystems. Our initial response to this disturbing information is shock and denial – we freeze emotionally, refusing to believe that this is happening, and we start telling ourselves and the world that everything is fine. But, the stark reality of our fragmented environment keeps confronting us repeatedly through images and narratives of shrinking ice sheets, unprecedented droughts and floods, drying lakes and rivers, bleaching coral reefs, dirty landfills, polluted oceans, decaying plants and dying animals, habitat destruction and severe land, water and air pollution – taking us to the point where we can’t stop ourselves from feeling heartbroken.
Coping with ecological grief begins with acknowledging what we have lost and allowing ourselves and our children to feel the sorrow. Because we dread pain and hopelessness, most of us try to run away from the grief and get stuck at this point. The tendency to look at the brighter side of things and downplay the massive destruction, is a dangerous falsehood that helps neither us nor the environment. Feelings of outrage, anger, hopelessness and sadness with regard to the devastation of our lovely planet are perfectly normal and, herein lie seeds of hope. It is only when we experience these emotions at their full intensity that we realize the gravity of the problem and feel the absolute necessity of taking concrete steps.
(To be continued)
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