Repair. Heal. Reclaim. Make whole. Restore. Reconcile. Those words are taking on increasing power in our world. Whether we’re talking about the state of the Great Lakes Basin, Covid-19, or systemic racism, our world seems in desperate need of undoing the damage that’s been done.
You can find that need and longing even in the way we name the work we’re doing. Here’s a shout out to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition for not only their great efforts but also their great name! And over the last decade, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funneled $3.48 billion into projects that seek to restore the Great Lakes.
But what does it mean to repair, heal, reclaim, make whole, restore? What does that look like? Does it just mean putting things back the way they were in the past? Like trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle?
Algoma, WI Lighthouse
Thinking about those questions reminded me of the conversation I had earlier with Dr. Nancy Langston, Professor of Environmental History and Social Sciences at Michigan Tech University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
During that conversation we talked a bit about the concept of resiliency. From her reading of the ecologist C.S. Holling, Dr. Langston defined resiliency as “a set of ecological relationships that allow systems to change in response to perturbation... to be able to assume, not the earlier state, but the patterns and processes that had allowed them to persist.”
At the very least, the goal of healing and repairing is resiliency, the ability to continue existing. If that’s the case, then we’re not trying to make everything like it was in former times, picking some (random) point in the past. Rather, we seek to make sure the systems and supports are in place that allow an ecosystem to persist and, I would add, eventually thrive, even if in a new or slightly altered way. As Dr. Langston said, “Things are always changing, whether or not humans are a part of those changes.”
This understanding of resiliency, I believe, applies not only to ecosystems but to social systems and health care systems. The crises we face today like Covid-19, systemic racism, and climate change call for us to develop systems that create resiliency for our whole planet and for all people, not just those of us living on the privileged end of the societal scale.
Resiliency is going to look different in each location in the Great Lakes Basin, as well as in the communities we call home and in our individual lives. But I believe there are some common threads that connect resiliency for all of us.
First, justice is central. By justice I mean “right relationships,” a definition I initially came upon in the Christian tradition, but an understanding of justice that other traditions hold as well. To be in right relationship means to respect the dignity and value of all life, particularly life that has been oppressed or damaged. This understanding of justice calls us to repair relationships, heal damage, end oppression, and protect the resiliency of the life around us.
Second, healing and resiliency do not mean returning to a “golden past” or maintaining the status quo. Rather, we need to challenge the ways of living that got us into these crises in the first place. Efforts to heal the waters of the Great Lakes Basin cannot be effective if we continue to allow pollution or invasive species to enter the waters. Work to end systemic racism can’t be effective if we continue to perpetuate systems that discriminate. Change is inevitable, but it must be change towards resiliency for all people.
Third, we need to see the crises we face as a whole and not as individual parts. For example, we here in North America may be desperate for a vaccine for Covid-19, but if other parts of the world don’t have equal access to the vaccine when it’s ready, particularly people in developing nations, then the coronavirus will continue to spread and afflict us here at home. We are not separate from each other – whether human, water, plants, land or animals. We are all connected.
Working towards justice, seeing change as positive, moving forward as a whole, these are optimistic perspectives and hopeful attitudes that spirituality – at its best – embraces and celebrates. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted those before him by saying that the “arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice.”
Change is inevitable. Healing, restoration, reconciliation are possible. Even the universe bends towards justice and resiliency. The question is, will we?