“I can hardly wait to have a drink,” a fellow churchgoer told me with a grin as we walked out of the Easter Vigil a few years ago. Ah yes, the bliss when you finally partake of a delight you’ve abstained from for forty days (alcochol! chocolate!), but that was the year I gave up social media, and I had no burning desire to rush home and check Facebook. In a relatively short time I’d gotten out of the habit of even thinking about it. Plastic, on the other hand, I have obsessed about like no other Lenten sacrifice of my life, yet there can be no blissful anticipation at returning to its use.
“How’s your plastic challenge going?” friends often asked me over the last six weeks, and the answer was always some variation of humbling – because I kept failing. Early on I imposed my own penance and promised to give 50¢ to charity for every piece of plastic I put in a trashcan and 25¢ for every piece I recycled. Any guesses on my donation to Save Our Shores? My transgressions add up to a shocking $25! The biggest culprits were trash bags, tamper-proof seals, and takeout containers. There’s not much I can do about those plastic seals, but I’m learning which restaurants use compostable containers and try to remember to take my own “doggie bag” with me when I go out for a meal. Despite my failure to completely eliminate single-use plastics, I have reduced, which means less garbage and fewer trash bags. If you’re contemplating reducing your plastic use, consider other side benefits. Eating less processed food is good for your body as well as the planet. By not shopping online, you will support local businesses and maybe even buy less stuff.
Which habits will stick now that Lent is over? To be honest, the ones that don’t require much of a sacrifice like using mesh produce bags and shopping bulk bins. Avoiding clamshell containers is much harder because I love fresh berries and those Trader Joe’s salads that are perfect to take for lunch at work, but I’m going to try. I’ll definitely keep relying on my Kleen Kanteen and Zojirushi coffee cup and plan to switch from liquid to bar soap, but I might not keep making my own yogurt (yogurt tubs can be recycled though!).
After forty days of considering environmental action as spiritual practice, I’m delighted that Easter and Earth Day almost coincide this year. At this double celebration of life and hope, I’d like to end with a poem in honor of the gray whale I wrote about last week.
Leaves on the spent canes of the
boysenberry vine crinkle and fade,
while congregations of Concord grapes
swell with purple sweetness.
Into the green globes hanging from the persimmon tree
an orange stain begins to creep.
Slowly the garden is bending towards autumn.
it surrenders its greenness willingly.
In a long, languid season
of praise for the light
it consents to the coming darkness.
May I join my voice to this
reach for candle and cup,
and trust in the secret gifts
the roots know
in the belly of the earth.
The waning moon has sunk into the sea,
and the leaves of the fig tree tremble
in the zephyr come to rustle
the darkness from this mild winter night.
All across this mountain,
through a sunny autumn
and into a dry December,
leaves cleaved to their life-sustaining branches
beyond all reason,
now a storm is coming.
Raindrops patter on the roof
like the footsteps of exiles,
but then retreat.
Not yet! Not yet!
For a moment the wind holds its breath.
Hills and coastal plains thirst in silence,
and fading leaves await the fateful tug.
All day long clouds flirt with the sun,
and sometimes their private laughter
spills showers from above,
but the deluge does not come.
Instead, across sky and sea,
past fig leaves fluttering in the afternoon breeze,
through the window of my cell at New Camaldoli,
a sunbeam finds my notebook and me.
Leaf shadows dance a mad jig on the wall,
but a poet’s in the spotlight:
the page aglow tells it all.