by Aleigha, high-school student by day and radical dreamer by night
“… and I can’t take it anymore, Aleigha. That’s why I’m leaving. I’m taking what I can carry on my back and my wife and I’m leaving.”
I think this is the first time he’s addressed me by name. There’s a sense of urgency in his voice that I’ve never heard there before; the weariness and loneliness of a big dreamer. My name suddenly sounds important — heroic even. Full of potential. The name of a hero in an epic novel or history book. Important. Powerful.
This is one of those moments isn’t it? The kind that will define you. That shows you how your life could look, if you would dare grow the ovaries to chase something else. One of the moments you can’t back down from.
Mike goes on. He’s really serious. He’s leaving his teaching career to become an organic gardener. He talks about peak oil, WWOOFing, his wife, couch surfing, anthropocentrism and freedom. This is one of those moments. And even though he only talks about how these things have impacted his life, I know that soon, I’ll be as crazy as he is. This is my first lesson in what is said best in a book called Endgame: “You can have the greatest excuse in the world, or you can have the world.” The man in front of me has chosen the former. And me? I’m getting awfully tired of excuses.
This is the first time in my life where a lifestyle in union with the earth seems like a realistic possibility. It is not, however, the first time I’ve considered such a life.
I’ve been a little strange my entire life. To use my father’s words, (and what better way to describe oneself than with the words of thine own creator?) I’ve always a bit of a “hippie.” Not that I was out protesting against big oil at the age of three, but there are dozens of tiny memories of me, hinting at the far left ideologist I would become. Watching Captain Planet, a show about Gaia the environmental super hero and eco-terrorists fighting against companies polluting the planet. Day dreaming of being an anthropologist — although I didn’t know the word yet — taken in by the tribe she was studying. My first crush and I discussing the horrors of animal abuse during free time in our second grade classroom. My third-grade teacher telling our class that oil was a fossil fuel, explaining that it means that it will eventually run out. Being hopelessly confused about my church being on the side against gay marriage when I was no older than eight or nine. I didn’t talk about these little moments, nor did I bother to explore them too deeply. They were just thoughts, a small part of me no more significant than my love for Disney shows.
And then came high school. Second semester of freshmen year, I would meet Mr. Lance Huffman. He was teaching my Advanced Freshman English class, had an excellent speaking voice and loved to use it. I thought he was the smartest person in the world. He talked about social justice, white privilege, Columbine, the Holocaust, the singularity, and he even occasionally talked about English. Above all things, he taught me to question everything. I never spoke in his class, honestly I found his wisdom a bit intimidating, but he changed me for the better. Put the passing thoughts of my childhood on a more direct course.
Sophomore year I joined our campus’s unity program. My thoughts on the first meeting were literally “I hope they talk about the stuff Huffman used to rant about.” They did. I was still quiet, observing, but I loved every moment.
The club I was in was responsible for a camp called Unitown. It was literally indescribable. I was forced to confront the world as what it was: Terrible and wonderful and complicated. I allowed the movement of social justice to swallow me whole. I met some of the most amazing people I ever have during those few days. One was a speaker named Calvin Terrell, the camp director who would touch my heart in a way no one else has ever come close to. Sabre, a person who would force me to get over the few bits of remaining Homophobia. But the two that are most relevant to this essay are Mike (we called the teachers by their first names at camp) and Yordano.
So we find ourselves again in our hook. I am a fifteen-year-old questioning my belief in a Christian god — or at least pretending to question my belief in a Christian god. I go to the one adult I know who is an atheist and ask his opinion on the matter –or rather look to him to tell me that it is okay to use my mind in matters of faith.
Enter Yordano. I share with him the adult’s plans, and we relish in the glorious dream of freedom. Over the past year and some months, this young man has become one of the most important in my life. My anam cara, a soul friend capable of awakening the fullness and wonder within me. The adult may have handed me the map to the Rabbit Hole, but Yordano holds me up in Wonderland. Helping me explore this new world as vicariously as a child. Keeping me from imploding on the days where I find my core to be a vacuum, sucking in all of the world pain and certain doom until it begins to suck at my own edges.
The summer between sophomore and junior year and into junior year, I begin to read more than I ever have in my life. Quinn mostly. Ishmael, My Ishmael, The Story of B. Some less radical books on religion, and my first love, social justice.
I find myself in a bit of a slump. The world is a dark and scary place. Our culture is toxic. My family is uninterested in what I have to say on the matter and the only person who’s on my level is two hundred miles away. I’m back in the classroom — I talk now — and I have the adult to combat the feeling of isolation. It helps but it’s not enough.
If I do not find direction soon, I will self destruct. So I look harder than I ever have before and stumble upon something wonderful: Bali’s Green School. I cry at the beauty of the idea, and decide that this is the path I want to take. Until then, college, WWOOFing and a normal teaching career, until I can get away joining the staff in Bali, or somewhere else, at a school for children raised to live in communion with the earth.
It’s a wonderful dream.
But still, I struggle. I am the child of a culture driven by a tendency toward destruction, as is everyone I know and love. I try hating it. I try loving it. I try escaping it. Nothing works. For now, I am stuck here. Here, in this paradox of soft new cloths on a baby, and the enslavement of young women for the sake of affordability. Here in the place between promise of the open road, and the threat of a world inhabitable for my children. Here between the gas tank and the gun.
I love my life. I hate the way I’m living it.
I lay beneath a tree. I do not know its name, so I cannot share it with you. I can tell you though that it is magnificent. I listen as the wind rustles through the leaves. A very beautiful man once told me that this means the tree was whispering.
“Do not deny me, Cousin” I can almost hear. Cousin, if you go back far enough we share a great grandparent somewhere, a simpler plant that would later evolve in one direction toward treedom and animal life in another. “Use me as needed, shelter, paper, company, but do not deny me. Do not deny my right to live upon this earth beside you, Cousin.”
I feel a crawling on my feet. Apparently I am close to some ants. I see this as my cue to stop bothering them. I flick the few that have begun to crawl on me off, remove my sandals and run. Barefoot. Feeling the earth beneath me and wishing it were an accidental clearing rather than a golf course. For now though, it’ll have to do.
I love my life. It’s time to start living better.
This essay is permalinked at Island Breath.