Dear future child...

A glimpse of volunteering at an environmental education center's edible garden in Carmel, California. They are taking a peek at some beautiful compost. (Image courtesy Kamryn You Mak/Middlebury College)

Dearest child, 

I’m sorry for bringing you into this world. It must be stressful and unfair and frustrating. It already is here in 2022 and has been for many, for years. But I would hazard a guess that this is a scary time to be alive and growing up so I’m sorry for putting this upon you. But truly, I’m happy that you’re here. I’m excited for the life you have to live and the growth that you will go through. While it may be hard and daunting to keep persevering and making change, you can do it. 

It was very conflicting for me thinking about having kids. Towards the end of high school and beginning of college, I didn’t want children because I was scared of the future. I didn’t want the responsibility of making that choice to put people through a messed up world of crisis after crisis. I had little hope for the future. I was never able to imagine anything at all. People all the time would ask, where do you want to go to college? Where do you see yourself when you graduate? In five years? In 10? In 20? Who knows?? When I pictured the future, I saw nothing besides darkness. I couldn’t form a single vision or even see an exaggerated destructive future.

The media and ideas that I surrounded myself with were often bleak regarding the state of the world. There would be at minimum 2°C of warming if action was taken as soon as possible in 2022. Aggressive, immediate, widespread action. And with that warming and the unknowns of tipping points and albedo, a potential runaway greenhouse effect. Oceans warming and acidifying, changing currents and air circulation, completely reshaping the planet. Plants and animals going extinct every day, that leaf on the evolutionary tree of life gone forever. Extreme weather events whiplashing between massive droughts and mighty floods, heat waves with blazing fires and ice-free winters. Sea levels rising meters and meters higher, swallowing islands and coasts, forcing people out of their homes and closer and closer together. The list goes on. 

And now I’m sure you know all of this intimately. You see it and experience it every day. And other people are more at risk than you. The world for so long has been fraught with inequity and oppression. I hope that the communities we live in now are more kind and caring than what pervades today. We’re so caught up in disavowment and deregulated capitalism in favor of a habitable future. I’m sorry. 

But you being alive is proof that I have always cared about you before you even came into existence. Back when this letter was being written and even before, I was concerned. I mean of course, I’m constantly concerned. But I was concerned about the future and our planet and the people to come after me. One time, a guest speaker in one of my classes with Bill McKibben told us about a study that had just come out about young people (Gen Z) and our anxiety about the future. Most young people were concerned. And most young people also didn’t want to have kids because of climate change and the scary future. But, the guest told us, if you’re here in this class right now and concerned, you go have kids. Pass on those genes that care. Especially because we know that the people who don’t care will definitely be having kids and passing on their genes. Hah yikes. 

While that seems so self-centered to have children so that my particular genes can be passed on, I guess it sort of made sense. If I cared about the planet and people and climate justice, why not get more people to care about that? About this time, I was learning that I really cared (care still? hopefully?) about environmental education. I wanted to get more people outside to recreate and learn about the natural world. I wanted to get people invested in our planet and help them make connections to places that were threatened. If they had an opportunity to spend time outside hiking and learning about different trees in the forest and how invasive species were spreading and threatening hundreds-of-years-old trees; or if they could paddle down a river and see acres of irrigated farmland and also nutrient runoff clouding the river; or if people were able to dive in the tropical oceans, that used to be way lower in latitude, and be surrounded by beautiful, colorful fish and notice the less vibrant coral that was slowly being bleached, then maybe people would understand. Then maybe people would do something. Build people power and change culture. That became my hope and goal. 

And now I’ve got you! You’re not just alive as a passing of my concerned (anxious?) genes. You’re here because children are our future. Because young people are so incredibly powerful and moving. Young people work so hard and have so many intentions and dreams and know how to imagine a world. Young people picture a better future and work towards it because everything depends on that work. And through you, I’m reminded to keep working. I’m reminded that I can never lose hope and never stop because the future depends on it. My life might feel small or disconnected or powerless in the big wide world, but as long as I’m doing something that isn’t nothing, it’s something. And if I’m talking about that something and sharing that something and getting more people involved in that something, it’s helping. So thank you. 

This must be a lot to be growing up in this wild time. And a lot of pressure from the world and maybe from me in this writing. I, along with many others, especially at your age, used to feel the crushing weight of the entire world on our shoulders. It was easy to feel paralyzed by that anxiety. Easy to pretend that everything was okay and other people would take care of it. So much more comfortable to do a tiny bit and hope that the world wouldn’t come crashing down on top of us. But it’s hard. And scary and tiring. While the weight of the whole world doesn’t rest upon your shoulders, do something. Do something to make at least one person, one animal, one plant, one something better. Use your imagination. Picture the world that you want. And figure out how you can get there. I’m right here to help. What is your vision? 

And remember to love life. It may be hard. And without power and privilege in this world it is a lot harder. But please, create a life that you love. Not every second is going to be happy. That would be unhealthy. But find your center and calm. Find what grounds you and brings you joy and nourishes you. And remember those things. Remember and cherish the smallest instances of stopping to stare at a lovely flower in the busy city. Of listening to the waves as they roll and crash and feel the grains of sand beneath your feet. Breathe in and smell the freshness and crispness of the clean, cool mountain air as it revitalizes you. My whole heart is with you. 

♡ With love 

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