It would seem that each of us has a choice to make in every moment of every given day. We choose constantly between the way of power and the way of Grace.
Power uses other people; sees the world as a series of pocketed resources; is hierarchical; and, quite often, denies the sanctity of an individual life.
The way of Grace values other people as potential contributors; views the world as a series of living systems to be supported, upheld and, if compromised, repaired; acknowledges the parity of a life in the grand scheme of things; and, respects the sanctity of an individual life.
Driving a friend to the south end of town to look for an appropriate shower gift for someone else, I am in the rare circumstance of being in a traditional retail store. Once inside, we agree to go our separate ways and meet up a little later.
Wandering the aisles and enjoying all of the beautiful displays, I find myself standing in the middle of a large selection of handbags. I cannot help but pick up an exquisitely designed bag. The handbag is in medium brown with an alligator-skin pattern. The hardware is minimalistic and shiny gold. The supple material of this mid-sized purse yields easily to the touch and has a tender, “authentic” feel. Upon further inspection, I see that the bag is labelled vegan. Thus, the purse is probably made from a synthetic material derived from petrochemicals.
Because of my early exposure to a wide array of petrochemicals, experience has taught me to be careful about purchasing petroleum-based or plastic products. If any new products of this ilk are purchased, they spend weeks sunning on the edge of our back deck or in the garage to be outgassed before entering the house. My visual-aesthetic sense gets the best of my logical knowing, and I do not put the handbag down, opting instead to cross the large retail space to find my shopping companion for a second opinion.
The store is crowded, humming. Amid the background hum as I leave the section with handbags, I overhear a gentleman shopping with his wife remark, “Look at all of these purses. I had no idea there would be so many to choose from.” Style, color, size, material, brand. The array of choices in one department alone can be overwhelming.
Meeting midway between each of the departments where we had been browsing, my shopping companion and I compare the items we have found. Our conversation is not only practical, but philosophical as well. We ask questions about how we make choices as consumers—the internal and external drives behind what and why we buy.
Considering the vegan handbag in hand, I begin with an internal consideration, “There are my own issues of chemical sensitivity to consider.” Then, switching to an external consideration, I muse, “I have vegan friends who would be in full support of my choosing this handbag over one made of traditional leather. And, with the leather handbags here, there is no way for me to determine, without a lot of research, whether or not the makers have used a vegetable tanning process—not to mention issues of labor.”
Various concerns are raised as we talk about the advantages and disadvantages surrounding my potential purchase. From experience, I know a well-made leather handbag lasts me ten to twelve years. And, although this bag has the look and feel of leather, I also know that, from a materials perspective, it would last no more than two to three years, because plastics crack. Also, stark images of this vegan bag ending up in the stomach of some cetacean are adding to my desire to take the bag back to its place of display.
“Why aren’t any designers making excellently crafted fabric bags with high-end hardware?” I wonder aloud.
“Why don’t you just get that bag and see how you feel tomorrow? You can always return it,” my friend offers me a quick solution on our way to the checkout.
Continuing our conversation while in line, I voice some of my ongoing thoughts, “In addition to the issues of manufacture, I am thinking about end-point disposal. With a leather bag, assuming a rare cotton lining, I can actually denude a bag of its hardware, dig a pit in my garden and, over time, everything would return to the earth. With the leather bag scenario, the only issue, then, would be the non-biodegradable material from the bag’s stitching.”
Purchases in hand, we walk out to the parking lot.
At home, I place the new bag on the edge of my bed, then, close the door of my room. In the kitchen, I prepare dinner for my family. Three hours later, after dinner has been enjoyed and dishes have been done, I return to my bedroom to turn down my covers. Opening the door to the room, I take three steps back because the fumes from the new handbag are completely overwhelming. Calling my husband to get the offending item out of the bedroom, he appears to remove the item. Walking the new bag out to the garage, it is hung from the end of a metal, garage-door track, awaiting its return voyage to the store.
“Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved a whole world.”
“You weren’t here, but you should have seen it,” my neighbor from across the hall is talking to me in the entry of our triplex. “The man drove up to the building in his van, hopped out and suited up until he was covered from head to toe in something that made him look like he was going to handle radioactive material. Then, he unwound a hose that was almost as large in circumference as a fire hose and started spraying poison all over the tree in the front yard. I thought you asked Mr. Roehler not to spray? I kept thinking about Matthew and his asthma.
“The overspray went everywhere—on the front porch, the outside furniture, the picture windows and, of course, all over the lawn and tree. Evan should be careful to wear gloves if he digs dandelions in the yard. I just wanted you to know.”
Retreating to my own apartment, I watch as the neighbor closes his door; then I close our door in mild disbelief.
When our family moved into the building, we negotiated a special rental rate which required us to shovel the walks during the winter season and maintain the yard organically during the spring, summer and fall seasons.
My husband, Evan, was out with his dandelion digger almost every-other day. Mr. Roehler had said that he would spray if he saw even one yellow dandelion head.
We made these arrangements in exchange for a reduced rate in rent and because we had hoped that the agreement would help us protect our asthmatic child, as well as reducing chemical runoff to the small lake immediately across the street.
Initially, finding this apartment had been a dream-come-true in that we were able to portage our canoe directly from storage in the garage and put in to the lake by walking across the street. The community is full of natural lakes with a myriad of interesting waterways to explore. Many local people have sizeable sailboats, canoes or motorboats, which are enjoyed when the waterways are not frozen.
A week later, I see Mr. Roehler and stop to have a brief conversation with him.
“What’s one or two downy woodpeckers?” Mr. Roehler responds to my expressed concern about the pesticides, as he faces me—smiling—when I ask him about why he had the tree sprayed.
According to Mr. Roehler, the tree “needed” to be sprayed because of the “unsightly mess” that the caterpillars—one of the food sources for the downy woodpeckers—make in the tree and in the corners of the large picture windows on the front porch.
Without bringing up our family’s personal health concerns, our previous agreement involving organic lawn care or the broader issue regarding the damage the pesticides will do to the ecological systems in the lake across the street, I had mentioned to Mr. Roehler, who loves birdwatching, that the woodpeckers would be harmed by his actions. His response amazes me.
What is one or two downy woodpeckers?
There is some deep disconnect, not only in the psyche of this now dead old man, but in all of our psyches causing us to disassociate our consumer-based, often misguided “aesthetic” choices and myopic habits with the profound damage being done to the natural world.
This is not a statement of despair or harsh ridicule; it is a statement asking us to begin making more conscientious lifestyle and consumer choices because we, as a species, need to begin attending to the well-being of the ecological systems and creatures with which and whom we share the planet. Life is sacred-all life.