Spinning webs

A couple of months ago I did Outward Bound. One of the tasks we had to complete on our solo was to create a gift to give to the rest of our watch. I wrote this.

I’m thinking about the poem that girl wrote, and our reaction to it. It was beautiful, but it made me sad because it’s tragic and terrible what humans have done to our planet and to each other, but to me, the worst part of all is that we think we are the problem but we can’t be the solution.

I read a book once that used the phrase “the revolution is love”, and I’ve thought about it every day since. 

I also used to think that we’d killed our planet, and that humans were a virus or a parasite and that nothing could get better unless there were less of us here to ruin things. 

But then I had a baby, and he was perfect and beautiful and part of both the human race and the natural world. And then another baby, who was the same. And my love for both of these babies was exponential and still is—it only gets bigger and stronger and stronger and bigger. Nothing they do and nothing that is done to them can make my love any smaller, but anything and everything can make it bigger.

I am the mother of only two of the seven billion people here on earth, but imagine if everyone alive today was loved that much. Seven billion perfect, beautiful human beings loving and being loved—a vast, tidal ocean of love that extends beyond the horizon in every direction—and then tell me again that we’re a virus.

Until I had a child, I thought people were born selfish and we had to civilise them into being kind and sharing. Now I think the opposite is true. 

Darwin thought evolution was based on competition, and I think most people are still taught this. But it has since been shown, through evidence I can’t produce while sitting in the bush, that actually we evolved through cooperation. 

To evolve at all, those original single-celled organisms had to decide that it was better to work together than to compete. By nature we all want to share, to cooperate, to love. It makes us feel good. And that’s not selfish either—feeling good for doing good is a feature, not a bug. The problem is we’ve cut ourselves off from this feedback loop, and from each other. 

We believe we are separate.

I was taught to believe that I am me and you are you. I end and you start. But if you go down deep enough there is no end of me or start of you—there’s just collections of atoms vibrating quietly in space. Right now my atoms identify as me, but one day they will be soil, which might grow a tree that develops a fruit that’s eaten by someone else, and then I will be them. 

Some of my cells are already my children. Some of me used to be my mother and my grandmother, and on and on. They say your body regenerates itself completely every seven years, so you could say my seven-year-old is now fully himself; there’s nothing I made inside me left in him. But it would probably be more accurate to say he’s no longer himself—he’s the food he’s eaten and the fields he’s played in and the water he’s drunk. He’s made up of little pieces of everything that surrounds him. 

And so am I. 

And so are you. 

You are literally what you eat, but also what you breathe and touch and drink and do. We are all—people, plants, animals, avocado toast and check-engine lights—made up of the same stuff. The planet is a giant living, breathing web, and we are part of that web.

This is a lot of words written on a rock beside a river, neither of which is as good for editing as a laptop, but I think what I’m trying to say is this: 

Across the road from my old house is a stream. Over the seven years we lived there, volunteers planted the banks of the stream with native trees and bush. In the next suburb upstream, there’s still nothing in the water but algae, and occasionally “accidental” runoff from the industrial area. But on our street, first the pukeko came back. Then the fantails and the tūī and kererū. People walked and rode their bikes beside it, and hung swings in the trees for children to play on. A morepork and a falcon moved into our back yard for easier access to the duckling buffet. An eel lives under the bridge.

The problems we’re facing as a species and a planet feel too huge and overwhelming to bear. But I truly believe that if we’re powered by love, even small actions can make a big difference. Seven billion tiny threads could fix a lot of web.

By Katie Freire

Writer of things. Annoyer of cats. Mother of very small dragons.

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