I don’t think I have climate anxiety but I think that’s because I don’t understand climate change as well. In New England, when the weather changes, they say, That’s just New England, that’s the way the weather is, but is it? Or is the weather changing along with the climate? … I have a fear of ants–they skeeve me out the most–and in my house every year there’s carpenter ants, and every year my dad has to spray them. And the other day I killed 33 ants, and someone said it was because of mild winters, the bugs don’t sleep well, so they’re out and about more. I was lying on the couch crying. I was gonna do some work, I was gonna clean, and I just couldn’t.
The next day, after checking her messages, S opened a new browser tab and typed in the Resilient RI address from the back of the card from the booth. She clicked on “Climate Challenges,” then on the links about sea level rise, health impacts, saltwater intrusion and threats to clean drinking water, then on some of the links at those links. She clicked, forgetting she had a body until her wrist began to ache, returning a sense of pain to her back, her hips, her feet. From the kitchen counter she moved over to the couch, slowly, numbly, like a very old person. She lay down facing the back of the couch and her tears began to seep into the fabric of the cushions. Her phone went off three times. At least one call was her boss, she was sure, and she recognized the special ringtone she had for her sister.
All the light went out of the room before S moved again. She stood up. Her body felt like something she was moving, a suit of armor. A spacesuit. A hazmat suit. Oh, god.
The next day she called in to work. Are you sick? her boss asked.
No, S said.
Do you want me to put it down as a personal day? her boss asked.
It’s not just personal, S, said, the tears starting to seep back into her voice, it’s everything.
S drove to Lincoln Woods. She parked her car and sat on the grass and tried to breathe slowly. It was a hot, heavy day; the grass itched her legs and the edge of the water was scummy with algae and mud. She tried not to think of anything very much, to look at the sky with its metallic hot-day sheen, to listen to the birdcall she always heard here–she didn’t know what bird.
S worked for a community organization serving a particular regional and ethnic group of people within the city, and the following week, she asked to meet with her boss.
What about? her boss asked.
Environmental justice as a component of our mission, said S, but when she got into her boss’s office she started to cry again. Her boss sat and said nothing and when S quieted down, her boss said, I feel terrible too. I’m not a crier, but if I were, I would cry about this. You know I love what we do. I love us. But I worry that there’s no point to it. And there’s no place in the kind of conversations we have and the plans we make for saying, Maybe there’s no point because we’re all gonna starve to death or be flooded out or go crazy.
But what we do is good, S said, wiping her nose. We match people up with services they need. We get old people fed, we get kids into school. Can’t we keep doing those things, shouldn’t we keep doing those things as long as we can?
Some of them, her boss said. But maybe some of them are more important in the present than in the future, and some of them will be more important in the future than in the present. They might not be the ones we’d think.