Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
— Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
When hate and greed seem to dominate our world, as with yesterday’s ugly and tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, it’s natural to feel despair and grief, along with anger and hopelessness. What can we do, each of us, to combat what seems like an overwhelming descent into the darkness of violence and hatred?
How can we heal this polarized nation, stem the tide of hate splitting what used to be “us” into tribes fearful of “them”? For that matter, how can we heal this earth, its climate changing so fast that whole ecosystems are breaking down, and we are losing species, in some cases before we even know them?
I don’t think there is any one answer to those questions, any one “right” way to proceed. It’s up to each of us, working in our own way, to stand up for what we believe in.
To speak up and speak out. To act up, reach out, to write or march or preach or protest. To dance, sing, paint; to craft legislation, investigate crimes, argue points in legislatures, hearings, or courts. To fight fires, heal the wounded, pick up the pieces, comfort those who are scared or sick. To raise great kids, tend our elders and parents and partners. To do whatever we are called to do with love and compassion.
For all. Everyone. All lives, human and also those myriad of other lives with whom we share this extraordinary blue planet.
Like these bees feeding on a thistle flower.
The quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the top of the post guides my response: I aim to spread love and light in my every day actions. Because I believe that what we do speaks at least as loudly as what we say. So I treat others with kindness and respect; I extend my love to those who are difficult to love; I stand up for those who are being mistreated, speak for those who have no voice; I act with the love and light that have the power to drive out darkness and hatred.
I’m no saint. I get cranky and tired and impatient and angry. But I try to notice how I am feeling and choose to not take out my moods on others. I choose love. And kindness, a smile rather than a curse or a kick. I would rather be the one who opens a door than slams it shut in someone else’s face.
I’m not a push-over. If you think because I approach the world with a smile and kindness you can take advantage of me, think again. I stand up for myself and for others. Like the velvet-ant in the photo above (actually not an ant at all but a flightless female wasp), I have a stinger, and I will use it!
What I won’t be is intentionally mean or hateful or hurtful or divisive. As I say in my morning prayer,
Make me strong. Not to overcome my brothers and sisters; to live in the Light and spread it to all I touch.
I believe that goodness has more staying power than hatred and violence. I believe that our everyday actions set a tone that others respond to. I believe in King’s words: light can drive away the metaphorical darkness of racism and violence and greed; love can drive out hatred.
Which is why I spent this past week in Yellowstone National Park, continuing my ecological restoration project, AKA digging out invasive weeds.
“Wait,” you say, “I thought you were extending light and love to all. Now you are calling some lives ‘weeds?’ How is that consistent with living with compassion and love?”
To me, “living in the Light” means standing up to bullies, and if need be, removing them to restore health to the community. To an ecologist, a weed is an introduced species who hasn’t evolved healthy relationships, a species who doesn’t contribute to the community and doesn’t play well with others. A weed is a bully who, like the plants with the lovely purple flowers in the photo below, poisons other plants in order to gain a competitive advantage for itself.
Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), a native of Eastern Europe which exudes poisons through its roots to kill the plants around it.
I spent the week digging spotted knapweed by hand from areas around Mammoth Hot Springs. I dug up nine 30-gallon trash bags full of mature knapweed plants (some with tap roots a foot long!), about 200 plants and 15-20 pounds per bag. That’s a lot of bullies.
There’s a lot more knapweed to remove, but when I go back and look at an area that I and my fellow weed-warrior volunteers have worked on, I am heartened to see the native plants recovering, to see seedlings of bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoregneria spicata), oval-leafed buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium), and basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata) moving in to re-weave a healthy community.
As I stoop or kneel to dig and yank and bag weeds, I speak to both the weeds and the surrounding native plants, explaining what I am doing, telling them that I do this work with love and respect for their existence. That my calling is to restore this earth and celebrate its extraordinary diversity of lives. I don’t know whether my words reach them, but I know that they can sense my mood. And that matters.
I also speak to park visitors passing by, letting them know why I am crouched near the ground, dusty and sweaty, wielding a seven-inch-long plant knife. Often they thank me for the work I’m doing, which is nice, but not my point. I want them to know that we humans can be a positive force in the world, a healing force, that we can use our power for love and light. That we can each make a difference.
I want to leave this world, or at least my small corner of it, in better shape than I found it. That is my way of pushing back the darkness and hatred.
Hundreds-of-years-old big sagebrush shrubs, the old-growth “canopy” of the lower elevations of Yellowstone, and what I work to protect.