Earth Etude for 23 Elul

Returning from Forgetting

by Alexander Volfson

Elul, I’m told, is “a time to return to our best selves.” Upon reading these words this time, something struck me: what if we, every year, are perpetually returning from the same forgetting? We would do a greater justice to G-d and ourselves if we took the time to deeply understand why we turned away in the first place.

The truth is that the most compelling explanation for why we turned “away” is that, in fact, we turned toward something else. In reflecting, then, let us first observe, carefully, not only what we’ve done (that we now regret), but what celebration of life (for surely, it was something, some need that) led us to do so in the first place. Every mis-step was once just “a step.” What compelled us to do it? Or, conversely, what compelled us not to do what we told ourselves and others we wanted to do? If we can understand what led us astray, we can truly return to our now-slightly-better-than-before best selves.

My dear friend (and activist), for example, installed a composting toilet in her home not long ago. The joys of taking responsibility for all the human waste that would normally go out to the ocean and recycling all those wasted nutrients were awesome. However, they were not enough to balance the real time costs of managing the composter and regularly emptying it. And so, in connecting with both her deep love of Mother Earth and her desire to pursue other activities at this moment in her life, she installed a flush toilet. She made a small turn away from sustainability and personal resilience in a thoughtful, intentional manner.

In our paths, be they toward sustainability or along other dimensions, we will certainly have setbacks. There will be weeks, months, and even years that are difficult. But by being honest with ourselves we can make better decisions going forward: if we skipped biking to work because it rained, can we find a way to make biking in the rain doable? If we neglected a home garden, can we find a way to allocate the necessary financial or temporal resources? If we put off an alternative energy investment, can we still find meaningful ways to be resilient?

Often enough, creative solutions allow us to answer “yes”. And in those instances where we answer “no,” it will at least come from a place of understand what was really at stake. If you’re looking for a community of support along the path to sustainability, you might want to talk to Transition Wayland if you live in Wayland and for other paths consult your nearest religious institution or guru.

Wishing you an Elul with bountiful self-reflection.

Alexander Volfson, a humanist and Earth-ist, is working toward a just and sustainable world for all living beings. After washing bike grime (from fixing bicycles) and dirt (from the permaculture garden) off his hands, Alex seeks to turn financial flows back into local communities for social and sustainable enterprises. He's started right in his hometown, Framingham, with a repair business and as one of the founding organizers of the Framingham Sierra Club and Transition Framingham.

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