Note: This is part of a collaboration between the Patheos Pagan channel, and an assortment of other Patheos bloggers. I paired up with the Reverend Sam Alexander, who blogs over at Christianity For the Spiritual But Not Religious. He’s been writing a beautiful series of love letters to a variety of recipients this October, and as part of my own exploration of my ancestors, I wanted to take a page from his book (as it were). So I will be writing three love letters to some of my ancestors this Samhain season; this is the third, the first may be found here and the second is here.
To Those To Whom I Will Be An Ancestor,
My 36th birthday is in two days. I never had children of my own, and I don’t intend to have children of my own. There are seven billion humans and growing all crowding this planet, sucking up resources and wildlife habitat and clean water like locusts from hell. When one of my heroes, David Attenborough, was born in 1926, the population was around two billion. In less than a century the human population has more than tripled, and the planet groans as we demand more food, more space, more things to be taken from all the other beings that live here. So no, I will not be adding to that pile of snarling human maws.
But my lack of a contribution to overpopulation is barely perceptible in the din of thousands of births every day. And it is to those new and future humans, and to the surviving species who may make it through the human-caused extinction, that I address now. For while I live now, someday I will be your ancestor. Not directly, of course, but an ancestor, a grand auntie of millions. I will be one of countless beings in your past that you just might look back to with curiosity.
When I was younger, I wanted to say that my generation would be the one to solve the environmental crises we face today, but I don’t think that’s likely. I admit I lost some of my optimism when climate change became an inevitability rather than a threat. As I write this, the white rhinoceros stands at a population of six–six to our seven billion–and will almost certainly be extinct soon, possibly before my next birthday. Fracking is polluting aquifers and causing earthquakes and yet the petroleum industry is allowed to continue unabated. These are things that are happening now, and perpetuated by my generation.
No doubt some of you will look back and think “Why did you let that happen? How could you not stop it?” We’ve all thought that about something. I’ve lost track of the honored dead I’ve posed that question to about all sorts of things that seem insane today. I have to remind myself that humanity is a force unto itself, and the best we can sometimes hope for is to make a little ripple in a positive direction–sometimes to be immediately swallowed up by the tide. So being in a place where making change can be a Herculean effort, I’m inclined to give my own ancestors some slack, because no doubt they faced the same sorts of limits of logistics and social pressures.
I’m sorry this is such a sad letter. Perhaps I am just worn down by the enormity of it all, and regret that no matter how hard I try, you future beings will still be left with a mountain of troubles. But remember–you have many ancestors-to-be besides me. Each one of us is pushing a little right now, trying to change the course of things as best as we can. That’s going to be your job someday, too. Don’t let it make you too sad. Don’t forget that you aren’t alone. Every generation has faced big, scary things; each new generation can learn from that collective effort, and add to it. We only need to remember to heed history, difficult as that may be when each generation thinks “No, we’re different, we won’t make the same mistakes.” If you remember nothing else from the past, remember that you are never alone, ever.
And I hope you’ll look with a little forgiveness upon me when I become your ancestor, when I am no longer able to act upon this earth. You may not be my direct genetic offspring–many of you to be born won’t even be human, but bats and lichens and amoebae. But I love you no less for that, and if I can do nothing more with this tiny blip in the universal timeline I get to inhabit, let me at least be able to plant one tiny seed that might turn into the tree that shelters a few of you in the future. Let there be at least a little way for me to keep you not-alone in the future, even when I am gone.