It wasn’t an easy decision to take my young children to the People’s Climate March. Let me clarify. From a moral and theological standpoint, it was an easy decision. My heart is broken by the devastation wrought upon this beautiful, fragile earth, and my spirit cries out for justice for a world filled with food and millions of starving people.
But from a logistical perspective, it wasn’t quite so easy… (and in all unvarnished truth, most decisions that I have the privilege of making these days are logistical.)
My 5 year-old daughter and 3 year-old son and I were hanging out in our Brooklyn apartment, eating waffles and drinking smoothies and pondering the gray, muggy weather. Taking a 5 year-old and a 3 year-old anywhere in New York City by public transportation takes strong resolve, patience, and a lot of lower back strength. Taking small children to a march that was expecting over 100,000 people (and may have actually exceeded 300,000)? Not an easy decision to make.
We did it.
I packed my son’s backpack with every conceivable snack; filled two canteens with water (God forbid we get caught purchasing bottled water at the march); stuck my ID and a credit card in my back pocket; and walked us out the door.
Here is why I did it.
My 5 year-old has been asking really hard and interesting questions recently about creation and life and death and dinosaurs and volcanoes and graveyards and God. We have had some great conversations, and some stilted ones, and I have confronted the vagaries of language to convey abstract concepts about the world to my kindergartner.
The People’s Climate March was a picture worth a thousand words. Or an experience that no words could ever convey. At one point, my daughter, contemplating the thousands of people swirling around her, asked, “Is this all people in the entire world?” Mind you, she’s a New Yorker who, on more days than not, must stand in a crowded subway car on her way to school. No, darling, I offered, but these people here are looking out for all the people in the entire world.
Without meaning to, I centralized my explanations around the theme of food justice. We talked about the amount of energy required to raise meat for human consumption in comparison with vegetables. We are omnivores (a new word for her), but attentive ones. She asked if it was people in other parts of the world who were eating too much meat, and I told her that, in fact, it was us, in our country, eating too much of everything. “Why?” she asked. It’s cheap for us, I said. We like it. And we stop paying attention to what it means for everybody else.
Later on, I got stuck trying to define ‘climate’ just as we were attempting to cross Central Park West at 65th Street and encountered a group of topless women using “People’s Climate March” stickers as pasties. We both got distracted, and I didn’t have to answer. I’m not ready to talk about climate change directly with her, unconvinced that she needs to know about the awful things being done to the earth that jeopardize her future. There will be a time for that. Just not now.
After an hour and a half of greeting friends (the Rev. Jenny Phillips, marching with the United Methodist Church and their Fossil Free Campaign; Rebecca Barnes, representing my own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)), we made it to a quiet bench inside the park to eat our peanut butter sandwiches and drink our tap water. And all of a sudden, it got very quiet; it seemed like the marchers were taking a moment of silence. And then, incredibly, like a train approaching, this loud rushing, roaring sound began north of us, barreled into us and moved south. A wall of sound- eerie and powerful. I’d like to think that it had an impact on my daughter in some way. Perhaps she recognized the power of people standing together to send a message. Or a sense of the vastness of the world and its inhabitants.
Maybe it did. But after the wave of sound had passed us by, she looked east and pointed and said… “Mommy, look. Horses!”