I don’t want to be cynical. I battle it but every week, every day, every hour something happens and you think, “My god. We’re monsters.” Scan the planet and its people, what they do and what they don’t do and the consequence of their actions|inaction and you slide into despair. Everyday there’s devastation to people, the planet and the incredible flora and fauna that inhabits this big beautiful planet of ours.
Right now for a project I’m reminding myself of the events of the Second World War. Racism and nationalism killed 30 million people. 6 million Jews. These are just words. When I read these words I imagine the living of it in stark human detail. These people had families, neighbours, children. They loved, went to school, had careers,love affairs, dreams, heartaches and aspirations. They lived and breathed and walked streets to cafes and restaurants. This is my era right now.
But there are others – Rwanda, Vietnam, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls, religious wars, Syria, the mass movement of refugees from Africa and the Middle East, the murder of innocent people in Paris, Orlando, San Bernadino, Beirut, Turkey. It goes on and on and on.We haven’t even gotten to wildlife – elephants, those beautiful, soulful animals who have roamed this earth for millions of years whose existence, like so many others, is threatened by human action.
But now I’m swimming backwards aren’t I. And I feel hopeless. People sometimes ask me why I spend my time helping elephants (and other animals). Why elephants they say? The deep, cynical part of me wants to answer, “Because people aren’t worth my time. Look at what they do.” And I stop myself because it’s not entirely true. The truth is I do think that sometimes. But I work for elephants because I saw something that ate at my soul for a long time. And for a long time after I never did anything until the day I decided to do something. And I still see this elephant. In a convention centre in Toronto. People standing around, staring and he looked lost and disconnected from anything meaningful in his life and it struck such a discordant note within me that I have never forgotten that image. It still makes me cry.
I work for elephants because that encounter moved me deeply. And now I’m driven by it.
But I want to go back to people for a moment. I want to say this. Like every other human being on this planet I am affected by the extraordinary things that people are capable of. I am affected by art and beauty. By people reaching deep inside themselves to express the inexpressible , to outline the shadows that live beneath the every day things in life. Music, stories, art, dance, photographs, film restore my faith. They tell a collective story of our humanity. And I’m thankful to people when I feel these things.
I’m also thankful to people for their unexpected kindnesses and generosity. And I love their brilliance. My sister has been diagnosed with brain cancer. In a few weeks, an incredibly smart, gifted, dedicated and caring team of people will remove her tumour using the latest science has to offer. I am thankful to each and everyone of those people and all the people who have worked before to make all of it possible.
When I wake up and find out that more people have been senselessly lost to murder, I am going to fight hard to swim towards the sun. I am going to remember what we have achieved and will achieve as people and individuals. I will re-commit myself to ‘doing’ things to help elephants and to making this place a better place for everyone. Because we’ve come a long way but we have much further to go. And we can only get there by leaving cynicism behind and embracing hope and the belief that we can each as individuals make a difference. I believe that.