The Price and Pricelessness of Caring

Once yCyl on Smith Rock hike w Kathleen Ackley -- 5-14ou walk through certain doors you can never return. Once you open your eyes or heart to certain things the course of your life is changed forever.

This happened to me in my early twenties. I had just taken the plunge to become a first generation college graduate and was attending courses at the nearest community college. One of the early classes was about environmental issues and in it I learned that we were hemorrhaging species from our planet due to human impacts like pollution, deforestation, destruction of habitat, etc. From the time I was a little girl I have felt an awe and love for the myriad of creatures we share this planet with. Knowing we were destroying them lit a fire in me that has guided my work and my life ever since.

There have been many, many times when part of me wished I didn’t know what was happening, wished I could stay ignorant. Sometimes I am brought to tears by the latest report of a species vanishing or a pristine wild place being torn apart. The worse part is knowing that I contribute to the damage by driving, flying and consuming certain products.

Allowing ourselves to know and care about something much bigger than we are is risky. It opens us to hurt and often leaves us feeling small and insignificant. But it also opens us up to magic.

I wouldn’t trade my love for our beautiful blue planet for anything because even though the caring comes at a price it also is a priceless gift. I am tremendously grateful that my calling found me early in life. I believe meaningful work is one of the most important requirements for happiness. The sadness of knowledge is easily outweighed by the sense of purpose, the richness of knowing I am using my life to try to make a difference. That is my True North, and in my darkest times it has always been something that has helped me pull through, stand up and keep moving.

There are so many good causes and so many brave people who take the risk of caring, stepping through doors they will never be able to close again and all are inspirational. But today, in honor of Earth Day, I wanted to share these feelings and give a shout out to all my fellow environmentalists who suffer the pain of opening their eyes and minds to the damage we are causing to this small, miraculous planet and are ridiculed for caring, called “Tree-Huggers” (as if that’s a bad thing) and yet continue to move forward with purpose.

Remember, though much remains to be done, we’ve had some huge successes when we’ve focused our collective minds and hearts. We came together and put a global ban on chemicals that were eating a hole in the ozone layer and now it is beginning to heal. Due to recovery efforts once-endangered gray wolves, bald eagles, and brown pelicans are now growing in numbers. Just last year the Oregon Chub became the first fish species to have recovered enough to be taken off the endangered species list. Nature heals when we give it a chance.

I hope all of you who open yourselves up to the potential pain of caring about and working on great causes that are far bigger than you find joy, satisfaction and hope and happiness in your decision to care and to love. Thank you for your courage.

As Dr. Suess’ pointed out in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Happy Earth Day!

Cylvia Hayes

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