Thought for the Day: Gifts and Responsibilities
“We are all bound by a covenant of reciprocity; plant breath for animal breath, winter and summer, predator and prey, grass and fire, night and day, living and dying. Water knows this, clouds know this. Soil and rocks know they are dancing in a continuous giveaway of making, unmaking and making again the earth,” says Dr. Robin Kimmerer, winner of the 2015 Nature Writing Award for her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Teachings, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ph.D., is a State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse and founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She grew up in the forests of New York – and wondered, “Why is the world so beautiful?” She has pursued this question as a botanist and a member of the Potawatomi Nation.
. . . “[R]emember that the earth is a gift that we must pass on, just as it came to us. We forget at our peril. When we forget, the dances we’ll need will be for mourning. For the passing of polar bears, the silence of cranes, for the death of rivers and the memory of snow.
. . . ‘I am so grateful to be alive and to be graduating in this precarious time, [said Dr. Kimmerer’s student], ‘it is the best possible circumstance, because when everything is on the line, when we hover at the tipping point, I know that I can be the difference, together we can tip the balance, our acts have more meaning today than at any time in history. It is our moment.’
This is what the great philosopher Joanna Macy has called the Great Turning, the essential adventure of our time, shifting from the age of industrial growth and exploitation to the age of life-sustaining civilization. Her work and the work of countless others, yours included describe the accelerating momentum of the transition already in progress, in acts large and small, as humans reclaim an ancient way of knowing in which human life is aligned with ecological processes, not against them. The question is; will the circle turn in time to save us? That’s up to us.
. . . In Anishinaabe teachings we say that an educated person is one who knows what her gifts are, and how to use them for good in the world. . . .
In the teachings of my ancestors, responsibilities and gifts are understood as two sides of the same coin. The possession of a gift is coupled with a duty to use it for the benefit of all. A thrush is given the gift of song, and so has a responsibility to greet the day with music, which is in turn received as a gift to us as we watch the sky grow pink each morning. Salmon have the gift of travel, so they accept the duty of carrying food upriver. So when we ask ourselves, what is our responsibility, we are also asking ‘What is our gift?’
As human people, most recently evolved here, we lack the gifts of our companion species: of nitrogen fixation, pollination, and three-thousand-mile migrations under magnetic guidance. We can’t even photosynthesize. But we carry gifts of our own.
How do we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? With gratitude, with ceremony, by paying attention, acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in healing, in children, in ballots, in stories of the past and imagination for the future, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by raising our voices and raising a ruckus, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction.
. . . Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.
To listen to an interview with Dr. Kimmerer, go to On Being with Krista Tippett: http://www.onbeing.org/program/robin-wall-kimmerer-the-intelligence-in-all-kinds-of-life/8446