Thistlethwaite: Fire, flood and a bunch of mud
I made the mistake of driving into Avon on Thursday, only to get into a whole bunch of swirling mud at the roundabout. It was scary for a few moments as the car planed a little.
The mudslides in Avon were triggered by the driving rain and hail that drenched the area.
Our climate extremes have become positively biblical from flood (Genesis) to fire (Revelations) to mud. Psalm 69 gets quite specific about mud and the despair humans can feel at being overwhelmed. “I have sunk in deep mud, and there is no footing; I have come into deep waters, and a flood sweeps over me.”
Sinking into the mud of despair is an apt biblical image for our time and captures the response of many to this summer when climate change seemed to suddenly stop being something that might happen in the future and started having huge impacts now.
The pictures of massive fires in the western U.S. are stunning. The “monster” Bootleg fire in Oregon does evoke hellscapes. Seventy-eight large fires are burning in the West and the smoke has reached New York City where skies were hazy and the air quality was harmful.
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Deadly floods have decimated parts of Europe. Photos show cars floating down streets, highways and railway lines torn up and many homes and offices wrecked. Record-breaking rainfall has caused massive flooding in China. People were trapped in a suddenly flooded subway.
It’s overwhelming to see all this suffering from an increasingly erratic climate. I feel despair at all the time we have wasted not working consistently to prevent the worst of climate change, and at how much harder it is now.
That’s why so many observers are now talking about “climate grief,” the mourning for what has already been lost and the tremendous anxiety about what the future will bring.
Sinking in the mud and not being able to get your footing well captures the underlying despair we can feel about accelerating climate change and our seeming inability to reverse it. I had plenty of time to think about this, in fact, as I was sitting there in my car on the circle in Avon watching mud swirl by.
“I’m stuck and I can’t get out of this,” I thought with rising anxiety. Would a wall of mud suddenly come down from I-70, and I’d really be trapped?
I know as a pastor that grief that is not brought to the surface and acknowledged can drive people further and further into despair and anxiety. There is loss and it is real. It has to be named and faced. You have to dig it up out of the mud and deal with it.
I also know that the people who are on the front lines of climate catastrophe are doing better at coping with climate grief through action than more privileged, largely white communities that have more physical insulation from its effects.
Though I tell you, I did not feel insulated from climate change coping with the mud on the circle in Avon. It gave me a very small look at what other people in this country and around the world are facing on a massive scale.
Fire, flood and a bunch of mud are upon us. We have to feel the dread and name it so that we can face it and deal with it.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.