When my siblings and I were young, my parents took us for holidays to the Isle of Mull, an island of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.
I have many memories of those trips. I remember fishing for mackerel off a tiny boat with a local fisherman called Simon. I remember tree swings made from fraying blue rope and faded pink buoys. I remember the excitement of catching a glimpse of a seal bobbing around just offshore. I remember hillsides of endless bracken and the fresh citrus scent of bog myrtle. And of course I remember the midges!
But one of the strongest memories I have of those holidays is of days spent playing and exploring on the pristine and utterly deserted white sandy beaches and, if we were daring enough, swimming in the freezing cold but crystal clear waters.
I would spend hours looking at and collecting the most beautiful shells I have ever seen. Shimmering, pearlescent, iridescent. I was mesmerised. This was a magical land of endless beauty and wonder.
I am not one for trinkets or ornaments or clutter. As a general rule, I simply can’t abide ‘stuff’. I find too many belongings overwhelming. But no matter how much I’ve simplified and decluttered over the years, my little bowls of magical Scottish shells stay with me.
When I move home, as I have more times than I can count, they are always carefully packed and unpacked and placed on windowsills and tables and bathroom ledges. And when they are unpacked in whatever new place I find myself in, I somehow feel a little more at home.
Lately I find myself picking up a shell in the middle of my workday and turning it over and over in my hands. I lose myself for a while in its swirling pastel patterns and wonder to myself how on earth something this beautiful can exist.
And then the tears come. Waves and waves of tears. They fall uncontrollably and I’m consumed for a while in a feeling that seems to be equal parts heart-wrenching grief and unbounded gratitude and wonder.
It is the beauty of the shell that does it. Something in its exquisite perfection connects me to all that we have already lost and all that we are on the verge of losing. It connects me to the devastating realities of what we have done and continue to do to our precious Earth-home.
When a loved parent dies, it is natural and necessary to grieve. When a child is tragically lost, it is natural and necessary to grieve. When a treasured animal departs from the world, it is natural and necessary to grieve. And as we take in the extent of destruction and loss that we have all contributed to on planet Earth, it is natural and necessary to grieve.
Our grief is a sign of the love we have for what has been lost. It is also a portal to the energy of love that holds the possibility of taking care of what is still here. Grief helps us access our energy for change and it can help us let go of more trivial matters and commit ourselves to our most important values and highest calling. Our grief for the earth is, therefore, sacred and necessary.
The energy of grief can be terrifying. It can be intense. It can feel as though it is going to swallow us down and never spit us back out. But the paradox is that we have to be courageous enough to enter right into the heart of our grief in order to access our deepest wells of love and care for the Earth.
Grieving for the earth does not make you miserable, negative or a pessimist. Grieving for the earth makes you a lover. And if there was ever a time we needed lovers, that time is now. Healing, if it comes through anything, comes through love.
Love and courage,