Healing the Planet
Last weekend, as we made our way to the bookstore, my husband shook his head at the number of people milling about the mall. He said something about how the mall had become The Great Weekend Family Hangout. I pointed out it was because there weren’t enough alternatives–no parks or accessible pockets of nature to enjoy instead. He gave me his usual get-down-from-that-tree-you’re-trying-to-save look and said, “Even if there were, people would bring their kids to the mall. That’s the world we live in today.” And off we went to be one with the stores.
I’m not a mall person myself and prefer to keep my children away from them. I’d rather take them to the mountains or the beach, or any spread of green under a clear blue sky. I will always remember a walk I took with my older boy, Santiago, a couple of years ago. On the way to the park, I spotted a little snail negotiating its way through a patch of grass. We stopped and squatted, watched it slither and slide, antennae moving this way and that, as it searched for friendlier ground. My little boy watched every little move in total silence. Once in a while he would flash me an almost conspiratorial smile before he shifted his gaze back to the tiny traveller.
We stayed there for an eternity. When he felt he had seen enough, Santiago stood, shook his legs and took my hand. We walked to the park in silence. I didn’t dare say a word. I sensed that the quality of his introspection demanded respect. Something had overcome him and it was only later in the day that I realized what it was: reverence. My son had seen and experienced something alive that wasn’t him or anything he had previously known but in his consciousness, it seemed, a keen recognition of a deep, vital connection was born.
It was only on the way home that he started asking about the snail: where it was headed, why it didn’t have legs, what that little trail of viscous liquid behind it was, what it ate, if it could feel the difference between stone and soil, how it would find its mama, if it had brothers and sisters. They were serious questions not so much in his mind, but in his soul–a place in him that was awakening to this little miracle of nature we had chanced upon on our way to the park. Through his questions, I perceived he was trying to make sense of it all—that he was building an inward trail of his own. This experience of watching the snail made a significant imprint on my son. It was the first of many similar experiences I continue to observe in him when we are surrounded by nature and its magnificent gifts.
Last month, during a magical trip to Dumaguete and neighboring Apo Island, Bais, Bohol and Balicasag, dolphins danced the waves for us each time we traversed their waters. My son was always enthralled, but I noticed there was always a very respectful silence about him when these creatures came to call. He would find his perch on the boat and very quietly lose himself in what was before him.
One special morning, we spotted melon-headed whales. We quickly boarded the dinghy to get a little closer to them. When we got close enough, we shut off the engine and listened to the sublime, ethereal sound of their breathing. We were all in awe and there, again, on my son’s face, was an understanding of something undeniably profound. I found it touching that he seemed to respect his place and theirs. He didn’t ask to pat them; to impose himself on their world. Instead he retreated into that special silence, the softness in his eyes betraying a heartfelt, soul-enriching communion.
I imagined him tracing that little trail in his soul that had first extended itself towards that little patch of grass. I could almost feel him lengthening the trail to include the mysteries of this vast blue sea. I imagined all the living things that inhabit this trail and the stories they weave in his soul of who they are and where they belong– what it all means to him– and I knew these were lessons not even I could teach him.
When this relationship with nature is allowed to be explored, cultivated and understood by a child — on his terms– a reverence for all the creatures of this world is born. I don’t think this is necessarily taught, but because life is what it is today, I think it should be given opportunity to blossom and unfurl. A child is still connected to the earth, the sea — all the elements of the universe– in a way that I fear we no longer are. Finding, reconnecting and defining this thread for themselves is instinctive. When there is, in a child, a reverence for all of life—a palpable connectedness with all living things—I believe a deep and sound spirituality is born. It is not borne of classroom lectures; of abstract images and doctrines. It is something that is ignited in him—a warmth that permeates his body, soul and spirit that influences the way he relates to the world and everything in it. The quality of his life will bear that imprint. He will forever carry the quiet reverence of a man who knows he belongs to the world and has felt his place in it; not the destructive arrogance of a man who has no relationship to it except one of misplaced possession and ownership.
The child who grows up appreciating his place in the world, in relation to everything else in it, lives in a way that sustains all of this life because he knows it affects him profoundly. This, finally, is what will heal and preserve our ravaged home. And that’s why I feel it so important that our children experience the earth and all it has to offer while they are young and still naturally connected to visible and invisible worlds. If we assault their senses early in their lives with too many hours in the mall, in front of television and computers, enclosed in playrooms with pre-determined programs of “learning”, we take away what is inherently there—this remarkable capacity for respect; this inborn reverence for life in all its forms.