What does Earth Day mean to you?
To me, Earth Day is a reminder that our health is inextricably connected to the health of our planet. If the planet is unhealthy, we will be unhealthy. This correlation is such a simple concept, but one which according to the latest report from the UN, we are running out of time to do something about.
A special report on limiting global warming released on Monday by a UN scientific panel, should be heard around the world as an “ear-splitting wake-up call. Climate change is running faster than we are – and we are running out of time.”~ UN chief António Guterres
But it is also a reminder of this: The fragility of the earth and human life are interconnected.
Three times in my life I have been acutely and painfully reminded of the fragility of life on earth. And this is a tough story for me to share.
The first is freeing myself from the cycle of abuse and poverty, which took until my 3rd decade to navigate successfully.
The second, was when I truly knew I was healed, or at least starting the healing process – when I ditched all the chemicals polluting my body and dedicated myself to being more gentle with my body. This also included ending a long cycle of over-exercising, which, along with dietary and stress management changes, corrected a lifetime of HPA Axis dysregulation and burnout. The result was being able to welcome my first child, Michael, after a lifetime of infertility.
The third was most profound because it rendered me powerless – it involved my child, the child that I had waited a lifetime for. The first two, I could control. The third, was like being pulled and held under by a great wave.
The first two things I could control. I fought my way from victim to victor as a sexual assault survivor. Then I made a conscious decision to treat myself and the planet organically and compassionately. I become environmentally conscious and adopted a habit of moderation – of slow food, slow medicine, and slow fashion, which also meant quitting the Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga scene, which were extreme, abusive, and too rigid for me and my body.
The first two were enough to bury me. But I persisted. But this third one was earth moving, earth shattering.
Still, even with the blow of realizing I could lose my son after I waited a lifetime for him, I reminded myself – I do not endure suffering in vain. All adversity I have encountered has helped make me who I am and has helped me develop an arsenal of resilience.
Adversity taught me a long time ago to stop calling experiences “good or bad.” I quit being judge and jury of what is good or bad, because I’ve lived long enough to know that what the world considers to be failure or pain may ultimately be the best thing that ever happens to me.
I also learned that through all struggles and pain, good can come – like the phoenix from the ashes. Life has taught me to be thankful for my adversities. I know now pain is a way in…it brings me back to what I wholeheartedly believe in and value.
“Pain is the doorway to the here and now.” ~ David Whyte
David Whyte is a favorite modern poet of mine. Reading his poetry is an earthly creature comfort to me, because it allows me to apply an eternal perspective to my life.
“Through the radical undoing and debilitation of repeated pain we are reacquainted with the essentialities of place and time and existence itself,” says Whyte, “in deep pain we have energy only for what we can do wholeheartedly.”~ David Whyte
Michael’s Day ~ Earth Day: Making the Connection
Michael’s illness culminated in having urgent heart surgery on Earth Day. So Earth Day is also Michael’s Day. This date will always make my heart tighten – but that painful memory I know can also be used to nurture wisdom and love.
On Earth/Michael’s Day, forever ingrained in my soul is the moment my husband and I handed Michael over to the surgical team and watched one of the women on the team carry him away to the OR.
Our tiny son was draped was over her shoulder in his hospital gown. The gown was way too big for his tiny body. It’s strange how in traumatic moments you remember inconsequential things.
They had given Michael a sedative so he would not be traumatized by leaving us. Instead, the hospital’s policy, which I think was very compassionate and am thankful for, was to carry the little ones into the OR, rather than putting them on a gurney and wheeling them away, where they may be afraid and confused. So Michael was hugging her, a stranger, and clutching his Snoopy and little blanket.
My God, how I longed to take his place. My heart was breaking. I had waited an entire lifetime to finally, finally be blessed with his appearance into my arms. And now, he was being carried out of them, with a chance that we would not return.
Returning to Us
But Michael did return to us. And the pain of possibly losing him, I instantly realized from pain I had experienced previously – would increase my ability to understand other’s pain, to love greater, and be more grateful for increasingly smaller things in life.
And the way he came back to us was so profound, so unbelievable, that I count the experience as one of the greatest moment’s of my life. One of the moment’s that will forever teach me to embrace every experience and find a way up and out of any darkness it may cast across my heart and soul.
As I stood outside the doors of the pediatric ICU, I paced. I paced for 5 hours to be exact. My heart had decided that I would stand in the chasm of the unknown and pray and meditate until I knew the outcome. If Michael could not rest during those 5 hours, I would not either. I would be with him.
At the end of the 5th hour, something told me to look out the window. Just down the hall from the PICU (pediatric ICU) was the pediatric ward, and between those two wards was a window that looked out onto a small courtyard playground that the inpatient and visiting children could use.
In that instant, I saw Michael’s tiny hospital bed, surrounded by the surgical team, being wheeled down the corridor across the courtyard and through an adjacent window. His bed was draped in white, shrouded. My heart dropped. I knew it was him because his tiny Snoopy he had carried with him into surgery, was hanging on one of the IV poles.
My God, my God, I said silently, he is coming back to us.
This is what I wish for us on Earth Day. For the Earth, which has been gifted to us, to be treated as gently and compassionately and as we treat our own children, and in doing so, come back to us, healthy. For the Earth, to come back to us – well and whole again – because we have treated her kindly, and corrected what ails her broken heart.
Pollution of her air, her soil, her water, which is our air, our water, and our soil, is something we can stop now and turn around. We continue to exploit her limited supply of fossil fuels instead of working diligently and urgently to invent and develop clean energy.
Just like there will only ever be one Michael, one little boy whose life was saved and forever changed by his heart surgery, we have only one Earth. It is in our power to heal her and forever change our trajectory for the better.
Our Earth, Our Child
We should be treating this planet like we care for our own child. When my son hurts, when he was so sick – just like our planet hurts and is so sick – our hearts should tighten and we should gasp for breath.
We should move to act out of compassion and love to fix it, to nurture it, to help it grow. Like our children’s pain is also our pain – the pain of this earth should be ours too. Our hearts should burst at the seams – and yearn to love greater, our children and our Earth.
Our Children, Our Future
Our children, and this Earth, are a gift. If we love our children we must love planet earth. If we do not protect planet Earth as our precious child, then we do not love our own children.
When you recycle, you are loving our children of planet Earth.
When you buy less and repurpose more, you are demonstrating love for our children. Earth is our only home and if we carelessly, callously, knowingly, or unknowingly destroy it, we are heartlessly destroying our childrens’ future.
The providential connection of Michael’s Day and Earth Day is no coincidence. Let’s all do what Mother Teresa implored us to do, “If you want world peace, go home and love your children.” We can do the same with our Earth. Go home and do whatever you can, no matter how small, to love her.
No Action is Too Small, No Single Day is Insignificant
A single day or action, like volunteering to pick up trash or making the decision to stop using plastic straws, can make a world of difference to save the Earth’s life (and ours in the process); just like a single day and action on the part of that cardiothoracic surgical team at East Carolina University saved my son Michael’s life.
Never minimize the power of a single action, or a single day. Every moment matters. Everything has a memory.
So what I have learned about Earth Day as a mom from having a child with a critical illness is this – If I love my child and want what is best for him, then I must love the Earth and do what is best for her too.
About the Author
Ginger has spent 20+ years helping people (mostly moms!) with chronic pain as a physical therapist, athletic trainer, and professional yoga therapist. Ginger is a wife, a mom to three boys, the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, now in its 4th foreign translation, founder of ProYogaTherapy Institute®, codirector of Living Well Yoga in Healthcare, and most recently ran for State Senate in NC.
This and all blog posts related to yoga and/or physical therapy on www.gingergarner.com are not a substitute for medical advice and are not a prescription or program for individualized physical therapy. You must seek the advice of your health care provider and, only after a thorough physical examination and clearance, participate in any movement or exercise program.
All photos: ©2019. Ginger Garner. All rights reserved.