The Inklings: Chapter 60

D’arby arrived home at dusk. As he approached the block of flats he could see something big out the front. He had to tell himself that it wasn’t reasonable to be scared because it couldn’t be a monster, but when he got close he realized that it was something monstrous. It wasn’t too dark for D’arby to be able to make out the writing on the “Expressions of Interest” sign, but even if it had been too dark to read it, he’d have known, by the shape of it, that it had something to do with the owner wanting to sell the building. D’arby wondered what John would think about it. D’arby was a bit scared that John would decide to go and live with Fanta and leave him to fend for himself. Without John’s income D’arby wouldn’t be able to find anywhere new to rent. D’arby hated feeling so helpless. “At least I can always go and stay with Jinabu for a while if things get really bad” thought D’arby and as he opened the flat door he began to imagine what it would be like to have to travel from Jinabu’s place to uni and back everyday.

D’arby didn’t often feel lonely when John wasn’t there but tonight he did, so he turned on the TV as he ate dinner. The only channel without ads was screening a live debate between politicians. D’arby couldn’t decide which was more moronic – ads or politicians, and he got up to turn the TV off, but then he saw something that made him change his mind. As the TV camera panned over the audience D’arby thought he saw Guitarman sitting in the front row. D’arby smiled, anticipating that something unusual may be about to happen.

And so D’arby left the TV on and watched the treasurer and then the shadow treasurer give long talks about what they were going to do for the country if their party won the upcoming election.D’arby wondered who they were talking to – none of the things they promised to do were particulary appealing to him and many were abhorrent.  When D’arby heard “More roads” he pictured more fat people and more hazy days. “When he heard “growth” he pictured more forests being chopped down, more land being dug up, more high rise flats packed with suicidal people and higher mountains of rubbish. Even “more jobs” made D’arby feel uneasy because he didn’t see how there could be more jobs without more work being needed and why was that good when most people longed to be able to have more time for recreation?

To be fair, the shadow treasurer did utter a couple of sentences that D’arby could agree with, like how we needed to reduce the gap between rich and poor, but when he explained how his party would do those things he lost D’arby’s favour again.

When the shadow treasurer had finished speaking, the journalist who was running the evening came to the centre of the stage. D’arby wondered why she was wearing a headset and guessed it was because live transmissions need someone behind the scenes to be able to give instructions if something goes wrong.

“I’d like to thank both our speakers for being so passionate and also so concise – we are running ahead of schedule” said the journalist. “There is plenty of time for questions so….. wait…. I’m just being told that we will give the remaining time to a third speaker – a wildcard. Please welcome Dr Kaye.” And she started clapping enthusiastically.

The camera panned the audience again. People were clapping but didn’t seem comfortable with what was going on. D’arby wondered whether the major parties had stacked the audience. Then the camera stopped on Guitarman. He stood up and walked up the side stairs onto the stage.Instead of his usual white robe he was wearing an outfit that looked a bit like pyjamas because his shirt and pants were made of the same fabric. As Guitarman arrived at the microphone stand D’arby’s skin began to tingle.

Guitarman took a deep breath and scanned the audience. He smiled. Then he took another deep breath and began.

“First I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I hope I don’t sound insincere. I must admit my ignorance made me so scared I’d say something wrong that I copied what I’ve heard people say before.”

Guitarman paused. He seemed to be trying to decide something. Then he continued.

“Even though I’m scared of saying something wrong I’d like to add that I believe I have felt love for country and so I can imagine what it would feel like to have the place you love taken from you. I think it would strike me down forever and that I would never be able to forgive or be generous again. And yet the original custodians are able to share their land with us. Even when we stand here and outline plans for destroying it” said Guitarman and he turned to look at the treasurer and shadow treasurer.

It was the audience’s turn to take a deep breath. The journalist began walking towards Guitarman as if she was going to stop him talking but then she must have been given instructions through her earpiece to leave him alone and she walked back to her seat at the side of the stage. Guitarman noticed and smiled. Then he continued.

“We are part of this land. All of us. We cannot exist without it. That’s something we all have in common, rich and poor, right and left, crazy and sane.”

“Home is not just our house and family. Home extends down through the earth beneath these things and up into the sky above but also to the places around us and the things in them. It includes the clouds, the birds, the trees, the worms and caterpillars. And it includes us. This land would not be the same without us. Whatever we touch, we change. Wherever we walk we leave traces, no matter how lightly we try to tread. If nothing else, we leave a trail of exhaled air.”

“If I were Treasurer I would start by acknowledging this: That we are part of nature, that we depend on nature and that our very existence has an impact on nature. It can’t be otherwise.”

“And so if we are wondering what will be good for our economy, we need to consider what will be good for nature, and what will be good for us – for human society, because it seems we’ve somehow been tricked into serving an economy that is no good for us or our land.”

“Because somehow we’ve been conned into believing that we can generate wealth from nothing – that our wealth does not depend on the wealth of nature. That what happens in the economy has nothing to do with our land – that there need be no interaction. That we can have more and more stuff without hurting nature and that even if we hurt nature it won’t have a bad impact on our lives.”

“But lies only work for so long, because eventually the truth becomes evident.”

“Nature needs to feel some love from us. We have an impact on nature, we can’t help it. But that doesn’t mean that what we do must be bad for nature. There are people who manage to regrow forests, clean up creeks, repair erosion, build soil, bring back birds and bees to their farms. Where is the support in the budget for more of them? Why do they have to do all the heavy lifting while lazy money worshippers flick cash back and forth between themselves? I’d like to see fewer money worshippers and more tree worshippers.”

“Have you even looked at a tree lately” asked Guitarman, as he looked at the treasurer and shadow treasurer.

“They rise up out of the soil (the stuff lots of people call ‘dirt’ and try to avoid) and stand there in all weather, churning out the oxygen we can’t live without and turning sunshine into leaves, branches, fruit and seeds. Food for us and other creatures. Mulch for the soil. Wood for houses, paper for books.”

“They cool us in hot weather, protect us from the full force of the wind, and provide us with a place to climb up and survey the landscape from.”

The camera moved to the treasurer and shadow treasurer as Guitarman said the bit about climbing trees and the audience at home couldn’t help thinking that they didn’t look like they’d been climbing any trees lately.

The camera returned to Guitarman. He smiled then continued.

“We have incredible brains – perhaps far too powerful for the things we usually use them for – so let’s use them for something that’s never been done collectively before. Let’s stop worrying about a budget surplus and go for a nature surplus – the budget surplus will work itself out because money and budgets are all man made. We control them. We may think we can control nature, because we’ve seen that we can affect it. But it has nothing to do with control. We need nature.”

Guitarman paused for a while. People weren’t sure if he had finished or not. Someone started clapping. Guitarman gave the thumb’s up and continued.

“Don’t sit back thinking your say on the economy happens when you vote in the election. Everything you do has an effect. What do you spend your time doing? Is it good for nature without being bad for people? Or is it good for people without being bad for nature? If you can’t answer “yes” to one of those questions, don’t go back to work tomorrow. Quit. Sit home and work out what you can do that IS good for nature AND people, and then do THAT. And if you are one of those lucky people who already earn their living doing things that are good for nature and people, then your job is to support those people who are transitioning from the old economy to the new one. If your friend has quit their job and has no money, let them stay with you while they find a way that they can support themselves without undermining our future. Listen to their plans enthusiastically then give well thought through advice.”

Then the warning bell rang and Guitarman knew he only had one minute left to finish his speech. He took another deep breath, but didn’t seem as calm as before. He started speaking a little bit faster and his tone became more urgent.

“Don’t turn your nose up and people for looking poor. Wealthier people take more from nature than poor ones, even if they try to spend their money on eco-friendly stuff. Flashy office buildings and smooth roads don’t grow themselves up from the dirt. Nor do overseas holidays, posh schools or even high-tech hospitals. And how do you know whether that person in the street with scruffy shoes, a stained shirt and dirt on their face hasn’t started farming their backyard so they can give the money they normally spent buying food away to organizations that are working towards a nature surplus?”

The bell rang again to tell Guitarman he only had 30 seconds to finish.

“It is time to change our personal and collective aims. Instead of aiming to die rich, aim to give back more than you take – from nature as well as other people.”

Guitarman paused before his final two sentences but didn’t smile this time.

“Don’t be scared of taking that step into the unknown. We are all more adaptable than we think. Be scared of being too scared to do anything good.”

Guitarman bowed his head and the audience knew he’d finished. Then he turned to the treasurer and shadow treasurer and bowed his head again. Even though the things Guitarman had said had conflicted directly with the policies and collective wisdom of both major parties, the audience applauded loudly and enthusiastically. The camera scanned the audience and paused on the people who were showing the most emotion. Some people were even crying.

The treasurer’s staffers had already started playing back the video of Guitarman’s talk so they could transcribe it and would spend most of the night analyzing it before concluding that it was not just the words that made people respond so emotionally, but his sincerity.

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