During the COVID years, my preoccupations have included, a) trying to learn to play the guitar and sing, b) confronting the lingering vestiges of old demons and c) becoming more familiar with the divine spark that I believe lives inside of me and every human being. The jury is still very much out when it comes to the guitar playing and singing, as anyone who has heard me perform with my rock band, the Love Starved Dogs, can attest. The other preoccupations may seem a bit strange for a guy who will turn 65 on his next birthday. You would think I’d have figured that stuff out by now. But if there is one thing I have learned, the healing journey goes on for a lifetime.
I am happy to report, however, that my recent inner efforts do not seem to have been in vain. Today, I feel more peaceful and am wiser than I was three years ago. There is no denying that I have learned some things along the way, not just in recent years, but over the decades. I believe I have some things to share and, as the years click by, now is the time to share them. That is why I’m committing to writing this newsletter a couple of times a month. I also hope to publish a memoir about my musical and spiritual journeys in the next year.
Many of you will recognize that the newsletter’s title is borrowed from my friend, Fred Rogers, the icon of children’s television. Fred tried to coax people out of their isolation by saying, “anything mentionable is manageable.” He and the lessons of our friendship, which I wrote about several years ago in “I’m Proud of You,” are bound to come up in this space. Otherwise, I hope to continue to celebrate the mystery and miracle of life — relationships, mountains, rivers and flowers, hockey and music, Hershey bars (with almonds) and pepperoni pizza, not necessarily in that order.
To a much greater extent than has been true in the past, my writing and life will include advocacy.
Many of you know how I came to be aware of the history of race in the United States. That was more than 20 years ago when I learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and wrote a widely read book about the atrocity that was first published in 2001. Learning the true history of race in the United States changed my life — changed the way I looked at people different than myself, made me more compassionate and curious. Many other whites have had the same experience as they have learned in the past few years what they didn’t know before.
What so many still fail to realize is that making the effort to confront these hard truths is not just beneficial to black people. It is a wonderful thing for all people. Yes, the learning is painful, but it is not about self-shaming or broad recrimination. It is life-giving for all, something that fosters deepening personhood. As my friend Mister Rogers famously said, “It’s much easier to love someone when you know their story.” That is so true.
I’ve also come to appreciate that there are other stories about race that we need to know, not just those of the past. In conversations with African American friends, I’ve learned how for them, racism continues to be a daily reality, manifesting in often subtle ways that are nonetheless dehumanizing and exhausting. Just ask any black person you know. I will continue to do what I can to try and make sure these stories are told, too.
But today, my great concern is something else. In the past few years, I’ve taken a deep dive into the realities of climate change, including a long recent interview with one of the world’s leading climate change scientists, Camille Parmesan. The bottom line is this: If we don’t take immediate action to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, civilization as we know it could cease to exist. That could be the case by the time our grandchildren reach middle age. Experts say we have a decade on the outside to avoid catastrophe.
This often feels like a bad dream to me, something too terrible to be true, too much to get my head around. The very survival of our 6,000-year-old civilization? The fate of our grandchildren? But then I read something else or have a conversation like the one I had with Camille Parmesan, and I’m reminded that it’s all too real.
Greta Thunberg, the iconic young climate activist from Sweden, recently wrote this.
“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. Around the year 2030, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least fifty percent.”
Climate scientists agree.
I recently purchased a fully electric car, a Chevy Bolt, which I absolutely love. That’s part of the reason why I feel entitled to speak publicly about this. I’ve joined with friends from around the nation to try and find ways to make a difference. My first essay on climate change was published last week in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and here.
So yes, I am extremely concerned about this, maybe even a little panicked. But I propose there is also another way of looking at this challenge — this existential crisis brings opportunity. We have a chance to come together as a world community and achieve something unprecedented in human history. That is, we can put aside our differences and make the necessary sacrifices to save our beautiful planet for the generations that follow ours.
Talk about anything mentionable.