The other day I was trying to follow the advice I laid out in my most recent climate column ("When you engage the Internet, radio, magazines or newspapers for news, find new sources."). I found myself listening to a Christian radio station in which the guest told listeners that "if you are feeling blue this advent season, I have a list of ten things for you to do. First on the list, do something for someone whose needs are greater than yours. Then, repeat nine times." The host laughed appreciatively, as did I.
It was good advice for me in that moment, as I was feeling particularly solastalgic. "What is salastalgia?" you ask. Why, haven't you heard? “Solastalgia”--a word derived from Latin's "solacium" (comfort) and "algia" (pain)-was a term coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht and refers to a form of homesickness felt while still at home, particularly as it refers to "the perceived change in one’s home environment caused by climate change."
In our house, December is a time of weather angst. We obsess over the reports, the longterm forecasts, the radar pictures moving across the screen. Our days are alternatively filled with hope and disappointment, because we all love winter. A white Christmas is something we think we can guarantee, if only we watch the weather diligently enough. We love deep snow, deep cold, and the sense of frozen stillness. When I moved here from Philadelphia in 1991, I was consciously escaping winters that drove me crazy--snow, then ice, then freezing rain, then melt, then snow. Winters that looked, in fact, a lot like December in Two Harbors today. When I moved to Ely, I thought I'd moved to heaven. I distinctly remember Joe Smith, an old-timer, after the winter of 1992-3, muttering with some surprise, "We've had a lot of temps above zero this winter." Just dimly aware of global warming at the time, I thought with a sense of panic, "I've arrived too late!"
And now, my worst fears are realized. Oh, I know we will still have winter in Minnesota. We will have snow, and we will have days and even weeks when things feel "normal." But we have lost the reliability of a deep, long winter. My children will never know what it's like to know that winter is coming, and it will be very cold for months, and the snow will be deep.
This just is. Even with all our climate work, it still is! There's no getting around it. So, time to accept it. Hence my sense of grief and loss, now termed "solastalgia," for what I missed, for what our daughters will never have.
But that is not the end of this story. Grief and loss, I know, are the starting point to something new. What is left? What is possible? Soon after listening to that guest on the radio station, I found myself immersed in the lives of other people. I was reminded that you don't have to go to the Middle East to find poor, uprooted, isolated, or judged neighbors. I am also reminded that people everywhere are eager to reach out--but they may not be your old friends. They may be your new friends.
Wishing you all an active and engaged Advent Season.