Ten days ago, I rolled over in my bed to turn off the alarm and immediately swooned with terror: an incredible wave of dizziness followed even the tiniest movements and I wretched with nausea, falling to the floor each time I tried to stand up. Somehow managing to get dressed, I saw the world swimming in kaleidoscopic waves of rotation, feeling as if the worse hangover I ever suffered had been multiplied by dozens. I was horrified. I have had close friends with brain tumors (one, Elisabeth Targ, died from one) and I was afraid this might be my fate. It wasn’t until Wednesday (just 2 days ago) that the outer world stopped spinning. Before that, I’d spent more than 6 hours in the emergency room in Reykjavík and while there underwent several neurological exams, a CT scan, and the sickening transfer in wheelchairs from one end of the hospital to another for different testing stations. It was finally diagnosed as vestibular neuritis, an inflammation of nerves in the inner ear, completely disturbing my sense of balance and rendering me a tottering mass of wobbling insecurety which might have looked comical from the outside, but which has been incredibly alarming now for over a week and whose remnants have not completely faded. Prednisone helps but my run of that drug is about to end and, as things, “get better” I have had some time to reflect on my own condition and its parallels to the world “out there”.
When W. B. Yeats wrote his prophetic poem, The Second Coming in 1919, the dominant metaphor for a world out of whack was the gyre’s failure to hold the balance. His world, he knew, had fallen off some stable center, teetering at the edge of horrors unimaginable to most at the time in those years just after the First World War but before the Great Depression and before the Second World War. Nothing was right in that world, all looked dangerously tilted.
Yet being off-balance has its own momentum, and there are many who perversely would actually take advantage of it for their own uses. With the IPCC report giving us all 12 years to avert what is likely to be an even greater global collapse into instability, it is with deep trepidation that I consider the world out there from my safe little recovery spot way here in the early winter gatherings of Iceland.
How many of us are walking around already “off balanced” by the constant rush of dire news about the climate or the rise of outright fascist movements all around the world? During this recovery time I have been helping my daughter catch up on missed schoolwork brought about by her own ER trip last week (for a ruptured appendix) and this thought of a world off balance became clearer with each moment we reflected on history together. As my daughter writes her paper on WW2, I saw in her eyes the glimmers of recognition that “things like that are happening all over again”. It’s an odd feeling. To feel so off-kilter that one strains to convince oneself the inner world is not that experienced “out there” and yet, as my return to normalcy is gently transitioning, it seems the world “out there” is, in fact, no more stable, no steadier than that neurologically challenged one inside my inner ear. It is very sad.
I wonder what shifts my children will see in their lifetimes, what enormously off balanced manifestations of the environment will be in the news. Of course, we know what’s coming. Killer storms. Mass floods. Record heat-waves, millions of displaced people fleeing parched landscapes and unstable governmental responses. Armed troops, barbed wire, enormous human misery. Where will they go, and what will they do? Billionaires are buying property in New Zealand, I hear, building “bunkers” to store their “wealth” and isolate themselves from the pitchforks and torches of those restless millions “yearning to breathe free”. From the relatively stable confines of my bed, I wonder, what has happened out there? How can the entire system be so pushed off center that the histrionic posturing of a carnival barker-in-Chief are taken seriously while the “Resistance” ™ refuses to engage in even the most anodyne disruptions of normalcy necessary to shock the sensibilities of the masses towards recognition that things have to change now, or we are all doomed?
It is a moral duty to restore the balance we have lost. Moral because our effort to restore a healthy equilibrium must include what we call Nature for it is the only thing which sustains us and we are now at the point where it is threatened irreparable damage. We may imagine that our vast technological triumphs and the plastic, steel, aluminum, iron and cement cages (cities) we inhabit provide us enough to survive but the very the air we breathe is being threatened worldwide led, in part, by the newly elected supporter of fascism Juan Bolsonaro.
Seriously. An admirer of fascism has been elected President in Brazil and he is advocating even more “development” of the rainforests which give us more than 20% of the oxygen we need to live. This is beyond crazy. Where are the cries for UN intervention to stop this rapacious insanity and instead restore the planet so that we all have enough oxygen to survive? I know, this sounds outmoded (“UN intervention”?) and crazy, but how did we get so far that our planetary life-giving essentials are treated as commodities to be traded in for the short-term profits of a few? Many will answer that that’s been capitalism all along (and agreeing I’ll happily support its overthrow) but still, we no longer wince at the extremities advocated by and spoken of by “world leaders”, chalking it up to yet another piece in the gradualist onslaught of vertigo we are all suffering. There’s no prednisone for this illness. There are no tests needed to confirm that something is terribly wrong in our sense of balance and that this is dangerous not only for us, but for the whole teetering planet.
This week I had to stop everything, tell myself repeatedly (and audibly) that “nothing is moving”, and basically re-learn how to walk stably on the earth, trusting its solidity to hold me up and support me. And yet, “out there” there is an even greater loss of balance, a lopsided world that appears no less unstable than that little world of mine was last week which caused me to collapse, crawling on the floor in panic, realizing I needed to get to an emergency room immediately. Where is our planet’ s Emergency Room? Who will see us there, test us, proscribe the large does of corrective medicine and remind us to check in a few weeks from now as recovery times vary and could take from 4 weeks to 6 months? Who will tell us that something has happened, and we must get back upright, finding a more properly positioned way of standing in the world, one that keeps the incredibly fragile balance of all creation working so that all of us can live? As I slowly recover my inner balance, I am struck that a larger unhinging is occurring outside me. And we are running out of time. Literally.
Because unless we right ourselves soon, very soon, the falls that we will suffer collectively, will topple civilizations. Maybe even “civilization” itself.