Homesick for the Future

I wrote the following in 2014 or 2015–about five years ago–as part of a Unitarian Universalist service based on the following quote by Kendyl Gibbons. In the midst of this global COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from it, I think some of the future I was preparing myself and my children for has arrived. I hope you enjoy reading.

“We are all, at some level, homesick for the future – for the larger and more loving community that we are working to build; for the more just and sustainable world that we envision together; for the difference that we might make as a force for good in our own lives and the lives of others. That homesickness testifies that our most important and exhilarating days lie ahead of us, and that it is in our power, through our investment of hope and determination and resources, to bring them to life.”

Kendyl Gibbons

What if the future is not “ok?”

Before I had children, I listened to an hour or more of news every day, I identified as a climate activist. I even wrote my Master’s thesis on women and climate change and the use of twitter for social activism. I stayed informed and engaged with what was happening in the world. I felt like it was my duty to stay up to date on the latest details of climate change, political collapse, injustice, violence and destruction. I felt like I needed to stay up-to-the-minute, or I wasn’t being a good activist, a good citizen, a good person. As many details as possible, the more the better so I could understand the big picture of what was happening in the world and do something about it.

I stopped following the news when I was pregnant with our youngest son. It was too much for me to be holding and growing a new life inside me and listen to the endless loop of conflicts and disasters and the news of how one system or another that was supposed to be supporting people was failing, again. In my pregnant state, I could not turn away from the fact that every single person involved in the tragedies and conflicts was someone’s baby, and I grieved for each of those babies as my own grew inside me. I discovered that it was affecting my mental health to listen to the news, so I had to stop. While I still care deeply about the world, I know that my sphere of greatest influence is with the people directly surrounding me; my wife, my children, my community. I can’t fix it all. I have to take care of my own emotional and mental wellbeing so that I can do the work here that needs to be done. I still know what is going on in the world, my head is not buried in the sand, but sometimes protecting one’s inner space by saying no, by accepting one’s own limits, and prioritizing how to best spend one’s resources of time, energy, and heart space, is as important as trying to save the whole world.

In 2080, my kids will be 69 and 67 years old. How often do you think about the year 2080? My brain cannot even conceive of what their life will be like in 2080–the materials and technologies that will be standard at that time, the state of the world’s economy, transportation, weather patterns and storms, the viruses, the war zones, who will be the refugees, and where they will try to go for safety and a better life. Will my children be among them? Someone’s children will. There will also be support networks, community, communications systems, culture, and spirituality. It is beyond the grasp of my imagination to see it, but what I’m certain of is that the contrast between 2016 and 2080 will be far greater than the contrast between 1952 and 2016, both time frames 64 years. What parents were planning and wishing for their children 64 years ago is not the same as what I’m wishing for for my children because the world will not be the same in 2080.

My main focus in raising our kids is not making sure they have the right skills for the job market, or the right grades to get into college. The changes in the world are too rapid now for me to feel confident that the traditional trajectory of the American Dream is what matters or is even attainable for the next generation. I’m focused on helping my children learn emotional literacy. Consent. Resilience. How to grow and preserve food. Humility.

The responsibility which comes with white privilege. How to work across differences. How to listen more than talk. Those are the things their future selves will need the most, and what the world will need from them.

The way I understand the future requires bravery and vulnerability every day of my life, in the present moment. It requires bravery to live in and bring up my sons within these systems of our lives that I know won’t last for their whole lifetime. I can’t fool myself into thinking that that future will be “good” in the way that we define a “good” life in terms of the American Dream or upward mobility. But I do feel hopeful that there will be beauty in the future, and there will be love. What we need to do now is quite simple. What we need now is to be good to each other. Allow ourselves to be vulnerable and give others the space to do the same. I need you to do this work with me so that we can model for my children what it looks like when a community cares for itself, and everyone in the community is cared for, at every age. We need to be able to say what we need, help other people get what they need, and resist jumping into assumptions about people. We have no idea what people are dealing with in their lives. It is always more complicated than we think it is.

The world as we know it is dying. Something will be built in the rubble, and I believe that more than trying to preserve the systems that are failing, our task at this time in history is to instill love into the world, into our children, into whatever systems promote and support love, and trust that we are not the ones who can come up with solutions for problems in a future we cannot see. We can’t fix it all. This is the end of the world as we know it. But, I believe that whatever the future of the human species looks like, love will still be at the root of what we need to survive.

I want us to work together to get past the fear of the unknown: the unknown about each other, and the unknown about the future. The world is not going to look like anything we would recognize. I hope that together we can get past the guilt that we made it that way.

When I think about the future that my children and grandchildren will be a part of, I think: “Yeah, it’s not going to be ok, but it’s going to be ok.”
My work is to hold both in my heart at the same time.

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