In Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume heaven and hell are one ship carrying the partying departed -- on one side the ship’s name is “heaven” and on the other it is “hell”. Same ship.CG goes on to reminisce about a moment in heaven, galloping through a sunny, flowery meadow. She says, "I got over dichotomous (heaven/hell, god/devil, good/evil) religions a long time ago, but still just the other day I found myself smack in the middle of hell." And she paints a picture of "McMansions" lined up behind their paved driveways and fat garages, all along an unpaved road through a former cow pasture. She concludes:
I don’t live in heaven or hell. I live in a place between the worlds. More and more I’m feeling like I’m not even the same species as these other Earthlings. I could holler, “What is wrong with you?” but I am but a silent shadow to them. Fellow shadows only know me. And as a shadow, I will live.I was with her until that last line. I asked her about it: "not mourning the passing of either? I don't get that. Is it sort of a battlefield mentality - no time for mourning or even burial, just soldier on?"
And I will not mourn the passing away of either heaven or hell.
. . . no, it is not a battlefield mentality on my part. Since I'm unconcerned with saving the world (no dichotomies, remember?), I'm not part of the "battle". You and Dan(*) can have that. I don't see a damn thing TO mourn.(*Dan's blog is here. He is known for challenging people to keep on working for political and social change. This post is a good example.)
I pared the above section of CG's reply out of some further comments about people choosing to live stupid lives and being welcome to die that way, and smoothed down my feathers ("Did she mean me? Maybe she noticed my mention of my own paved driveway the other day . . . well, so what if she did?"). Still something didn't sit right. Something about the battle, and the mourning.
Truth be told, these days I'm generally walking away from the battle, at least as it's conventionally fought. I find environmental workshops and conferences increasingly tiresome. I just can't see past all the parked cars around the hotel, the fashionable decor of the corridor, and the stacks of paper on the registration table. If there's a battle for me, "the enemy . . . is us," and "I'm starting with the (wo)man in the mirror."
But I live in an agricultural landscape, chopped into neat half-mile-by-half-mile squares, "improved" with straight ditches and tree rows. Tiny remnants of much more diverse and lively ecology cling where the land is rough or the water flows. I can appreciate a field of waving grain, but . . . somehow my mind lifts up memory-dreams of unbroken prairies with their slower wave of blooms of wildflowers through the seasons, the light and dark of different grasses and shrubs instead of the shading of the wind-tossed grain. I mourn.
And at the same time, I have a hunch that you, CG, are right: the dichotomy is false and leads me astray from the "good life." To be able to walk in a vast untouched prairie is a luxury made possible only by crowding the people in one place and leaving nature somewhere else. And hope lies in the beauty of paradox - that if I claim a small piece of these plains and make the best life of enough-ness I can upon it, part of it will be a pasture, and the best pasture one can have in these parts is native prairie.
p.s. I did some Googling to check on my vague recollection of the quote, "We have seen the enemy and he is us." It has been much quoted, and I don't know where I saw it first, but it seems it originated with cartoonist Walt Kelly and a 1970 Earth Day poster. Amidst the Googling, though, I came across an intriguing Schellenberger/Nordhaus article which takes up this very theme of "no dichotomies," and even uses related imagery: "Death Warmed Over." This is a follow-up to an earlier, controversial essay: "The Death of Environmentalism."