Today is March 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you make people feel safe and loved and capable?" American primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey understood the value of making others feel safe and loved. Fossey is known for undertaking an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups from 1966 until her 1985 murder. She studied them daily in the mountain forests of Rwanda, initially encouraged to work there by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. Gorillas in the Mist, a book published two years before her death, is Fossey's account of her scientific study of the gorillas at Karisoke Research Center and prior career. The last entry in Fossey’s diary reads: “When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.”
Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well often involves others. For today’s reflection the other refers to the future of the natural world and the need to make people feel safe, loved, and capable. If you are wondering how it is possible to make people feel safe, loved, and capable while translating one dream after another into reality and practicing the art of living well, look no further than author Barry Lopez, who, for five decades, worked to help people understand the necessity of preserving the future.
Lopez's essays, short stories, reviews, and opinion pieces began to appear in 1966. In his career of over fifty years, he traveled to over 80 countries writing extensively about distant and exotic landscapes including the Arctic wilderness, exploring the relationships between human cultures and wild nature. Through his works, he also highlighted the harm caused by human actions on nature. He won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for Arctic Dreams (1986) and his Of Wolves and Men (1978) was a National Book Award finalist.
In his December 26, 2020 obituary entitled “Barry Lopez, Acclaimed Author and Traveler Beyond Many Horizons, Dies At 75,” NPR's Dave Blanchard wrote “Composer John Luther Adams was friend and collaborator of Lopez for nearly four decades who said Lopez's work serves as a wake-up call. According to Adams ‘Lopez surveys the beauty of the world and at the same time, the cruelty and violence that we humans inflict on the Earth and on one another, and he does it with deep compassion.’”
Lopez would spend his life writing about the natural world and the damage done to it by climate change. That hit home for Lopez in September 2020 when much of his property was burned in wildfires that tore through Oregon, partly due to abnormally dry conditions. According to Blanchard “his wife Debra Gwartney says he lost an archive that stored most of his books, awards, notes, and correspondence from the past 50 years, as well as much of the forest around the home. ‘He talked a lot about climate change and how it's so easy to think that it's going to happen to other people and not to you. But it happened to us, it happened to him personally. The fire was a blow he never could recover from."
When Blanchard spoke to Lopez in 2019, he said he always sought to find grace in the middle of devastation. Reflecting on life Lopez noted "It's so difficult to be a human being. There are so many reasons to give up. To retreat into cynicism or despair. I hate to see that, and I want to do something that makes people feel safe and loved and capable."
On his view of stories and their place in making people feel safe and loved and capable Lopez wrote: “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. This is how people care for themselves.”
As you navigate the chaos and practice the art of living today, reflect upon your ability to use stories to make people feel safe and loved and capable. Has anyone in your life used stories to help make you feel safe and loved and capable?