Janet Thomas: We can make a difference Featured

It is the beginning of a New Year. I’m old enough to know that my own life is shaped by the past. The tragedy of the future is that it will be inhabited by our young people, the innocent victims of history. This is beyond reconciliation. I remember the moment I heard that JFK Jr. was assassinated; I remember the Civil Rights movement, MLK Jr’s inspiration—and assassination; I remember the Vietnam War; I remember the beginning of the Women’s Movement, and the books of Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan; I remember when the pharmaceutical industry was not allowed to advertise on television because the well-being of the people was deemed more important than the deep pockets of money-barons and stockholders. As I look into the future I see a ravaged planet, a ravaged humanity, and a ravaged unfolding future for future generations.

How do we help? What can we do?

My morning walks on the beach often begin in despair. But they never end that way. There is always a bird-in-flight, a turning wave, a glance of light, or an eye appearing on a piece of driftwood that brings me to my knees in a heartbeat of gratitude. The beauty of it all will persevere, but only if we see it, know it, and honor it. The hard part about doing these things is that they hurt. It hurts to see the ways in which we have colluded—consciously and otherwise—in the destruction at-large. And living on a beautiful island does not make it easier. Yes, the beauty prevails—until one looks closer. On my mornings at the beach I must decide: “Will it be a plastic pick-up morning? Or a reverie with the sea and sky?” Sometimes it must be both. If it’s a plastic tide my initial decision to walk plastic-free becomes a two-way saunter—I choose not to see the plastic until the walk back along the beach, and I pick it up. I serve my soul first—and then my sorrow.

An island is an escape from, and an escape to. But we remain responsible for what we escape from. Just as we become responsible for what we escape to. Island life can sustain us to sleep, or to awaken. The challenge is to do both—to know nurture and to take action. The future will be holding our children long after we are gone. What can we do now to make then a gift for them, and not a hell-realm? Knowing and sharing the beauty of this natural world within which we are graced is essential. Recognizing the truth of the damage we have done—and are doing—is also essential. Changing our ways helps. Whining about dog poop in the park might feel good. But doing something about plastic on the planet is good. Dog shit goes away in time. Plastic is forever. We might live on a small island but we can make a big difference. Let us count the ways.

Janet Thomas has lived on San Juan Island for 27 years. She is the San Juan Islands Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance and was the Superintendent of San Juan County Parks when Jet-ski-whale-watching was prevented from launching from San Juan County Park, a decision ultimately upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. She is an author and playwright whose work has been produced in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her most recent books are: "The Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations" and "Day Breaks Over Dharamsala--A Memoir of Life Lost and Found."


  • Julius Mordvinov
    Julius Mordvinov Thursday, 26 September 2019 02:08 Comment Link

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  • Gretchen Krampf
    Gretchen Krampf Tuesday, 09 January 2018 11:14 Comment Link

    You are speaking the truth and it is so important for us to hear. When we love something, we must protect it. We must love ourselves- enough to care about what we are doing and leaving for others that we love. Thanks for sharing your insights and inspiration, Janet.


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