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When worry takes over

meg, May 16, 2017

By Pastor Sarah Scherschligt, Peace Lutheran Church

In mid-February, I was distressed. We were in the midst of that string of beautiful, unseasonably warm days that were, if taken at face value, simply delightful. Some people enjoyed the weather without a care. My Facebook feed was full of pictures of people in shorts, golfing or brunching outside, along with flippant comments like “thanks climate change!” The Atlantic Magazine published an article dedicated to the peculiar dilemma of the weather titled “Is it ok to enjoy the warm winters of climate change?” (They decided it was).

I was one of those people who couldn’t enjoy the sunshine. I was too worried. Worried that every warm day turns us one day closer to a world without glaciers and, uh, the state of Florida. Worried that Scott Pruitt is head of the EPA. Worried about increasing rates of mosquito-borne diseases and droughts and conflicts over water rights. Worried too that I was part of the problem and yet I felt powerless to do a darn thing about it.

It was a beautiful day outside and I couldn’t enjoy it.

Mostly to channel my worry, I decided that rather than just mope around cursing, I was going to try to squeeze some good out of the day.  

With sunshine and a light breeze, it was the perfect day for drying laundry outside. I took my basket of wet clothes in one arm and my 20-month old daughter in the other and headed outside. I used to be a committed line-drier. With the demands of a time-intensive job and caring for small children, I’d gotten out of the habit but I wasn’t starting from scratch.

I dug the bin of clothespins from the garage. I wiped off the dirty clothesline with a wet rag and retied it to make it taut. I proceeded to hang up the laundry, piece by piece, while my daughter played in the grass at my feet. Pretty soon, she wanted to help so she picked out the clothespins and handed them to me one-by-one. She took her sweet time, her big smiles of discovery and participation creating in me an unusual well of patience.

Hanging these clothes with my kiddo did something to my soul. I got a little bit lighter. I enjoyed the birdsong and sunshine and breeze. I experience a simple pleasure with my daughter. I stepped outside of time.

By the time the clothes were up, my worry was, if not exactly gone, then at least shrunken enough to make room for other emotions like contentment and delight. I enjoyed the day.

I knew that my action didn’t have any significant impact on the earth. One load in a dryer is statistically nothing. But my action had a significant impact on ME. It reframed me and gave me hope. It connected me with generations past and future and it brought me a sense of integrity and wholeness.

One of the great hurdles to working on climate solutions is that every action feels too insignificant when placed against the enormity of the problem. I’ve heard the argument, in various forms, that even if everyone in the US cleaned up our act we’d still have to worry about the billions of people in China and India. If that’s the case (and it’s not), forget one person forgoing a dryer.

Here’s what I’ve found to be true: changes that bring integrity and joy are valuable in their own right. They bring wholeness. They also have a way of multiplying. Doing my laundry on the line felt so good that I decided to keep it up. That action trickled into re-committing to cloth diapers, which in turn led me to notice all the plastic I so carelessly throw away. I am growing in my awareness and making changes where I can and all the while, I am feeling better and more whole. I think others are noticing and seeing what they can do too.

I’ll never fully enjoy the warm winters of climate change; they bring with them too many disastrous consequences. But I also refuse to let them get the best of my spirit. Worry is never all there is.