Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/18

Weather: Warm and bright, breezy.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.45

 

Observations:

No food trucks upon arrival; set up facing east. Super caffeinated. Wind is more intense when I’m sitting on this side. Security-looking guy in the park around 11:40.

Nonhuman animal presences: pigeons and sparrows, a robin, a grackle, starlings, a wasp. A few plane tree seeds landed on my notebook.

Sometimes while I’m sitting at the booth I see people passing by who are just so satisfying to look at.

The wind blew my handtruck over twice today and blew the “IN” sign right off. Someone in the park handed it back to me.

 

Some conversations:

 

[After I removed an inchworm from his shirt and put it on the ground]

I don’t like to kill nothing. I let ’em go. I don’t want ’em on me, but I try not to kill ’em, even the grass. We need them. Certain things kills other things—they all kill each other.

*

 

Well! That Washington Post article about Antarctica.

What did it say?

It’s melting three times faster than expected.

What are the things about that that make you anxious?

Flooding. Coastal areas are gonna be in trouble. I’m okay, I’m 400 feet up.

Obviously you’re worried about it even though you’re gonna be okay.

Well, there are gonna be issues because people are not gonna be ready, and they’re not gonna know what to do. Look it up.

*

 

If we’re on this course, things aren’t gonna be good. I feel like our only hope is if technology catches up with it. Like I saw this thing in the ocean that just collects plastic, it just scoops it up.

Why do you think technology is the only hope?

It seems like it’s human nature to not try to solve a problem until it already happened .. They didn’t put up the hurricane barrier until after the hurricane of ’38. And those are smaller scale. Some people don’t believe in it. You’d have to get every nation on board, and preventing it is gonna be hard because of obstacles—by the time everybody gets on board it’ll be too late. People don’t trust science the way they should. So you get someone saying, “I don’t really believe in that,” and it’s like, what data or what facts—you can’t not believe it just because you don’t want to believe it.

It sounds like you’re having some of these conversations. Who are you mainly having them with?

My parents. They’re skeptical of it, they’re like, “They just want you to buy green lightbulbs,” like it’s part of some huge agenda. They’re starting to move now. The overwhelming scientific consensus, if that’s actually facts, which I believe it is—People who are skeptical don’t passionately believe it doesn’t exist, they’re just apathetic. Probably they’re Republicans, so their main concern is the economy …

 

How do you feel about these conversations?

It doesn’t anger me or anything. These are people I know, it’s not like they’re policymakers. I scoff a little bit. If you’re trying to look into it with an open mind you’d understand that that’s how it is. Some people are saying we’re already doomed.

Do you think that?

No. I think I have a sense of being like a teenager, where I’m invincible. It’s hard to imagine, so it’s not gonna happen, at least in my lifetime. Of course I believe in it and think steps should be taken, but I haven’t seen anything that shows me I should be concerned with my well-being. I read articles about ice melting, melting faster than we thought, and they worry me, but I feel like I’m never gonna understand it fully—the dangerous levels of ice that are in the ocean. I never click, I just scroll past the headline on my phone.

…I spend more time arguing about politics. I don’t consider myself a political person, but I’m against the sitting president, and I think that’s taken the place of climate change [in my consciousness]. When he comes up in the news, some issue or gaffe, or if I hear someone champion the president, I’m like, “Whoa, let’s pump the brakes.” But no one in my daily life is coming up to me and saying, “Climate change isn’t real.”

*

 

 

I’m going through a lot right now with school and work. It’s stressful because I’m halfway through it. I just took my third test, there are four in all. The problem with work is it’s a dead-end job and I don’t want to be there a long time. I have a fear of failure. I want to get into the military, but getting in is not easy. There’s the first test, the ASVAB, and if you don’t pass it you’re not in. It’s got math on it, science—I took it once and I’ve been practicing online, improving it. It’s rough … I’ve tried combat breathing, exercise, vaping, weed, walking—there’s so many things I’ve tried—but the thought just won’t escape me. I just feel like an utter failure. You take it once, then if you don’t pass you wait a month. The third time you have to wait six months. That’s a big time barrier. Things in my life are constantly shifting. Four months ago I had no job, I was sleeping on the couch. If I pass it, I’ll be the happiest person in the world, because I did it. I have issues with social anxiety and self-esteem. There are times when I do believe in myself.

Who else believes in you, that maybe could support you?

My parents, but they live so far away. I talk to them almost every day. They encourage me to follow anything I want–“Oh, you wanna do this? Go for it.” They don’t pass on so much wisdom about it. I was so happy to find a thing I wanna do, a thing I wanna be, because of my anxiety, my confidence, my self-esteem, but there’s just so many unfortunate obstacles. I don’t wanna give up, but it depresses me. I see myself as a good soldier. I just need a chance to prove myself …

Just wearing that uniform of something so honorable and noble. They make you fearless, hard as a rock. I always wanted to be like that because everything in my life is so discouraging. Everything else, it doesn’t seem necessary. Work, relationships, friends—I’ve always been moving from place to place, saying goodbye a lot to friends, girls I’ve cared about. I don’t want to make friends anymore because I’m always going to say goodbye eventually. I don’t want a break. Maybe when I pass this test, then I’ll be like, sit down on the porch, “I did it.”

map 6-14-18

I seeded the map of vulnerable places in RI with “Erosion + flooding” along the south coast.

Someone added, “WATCH HILL WESTERLY PROTECT PIPING PLOVERS.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/23/18

Weather: Hot, breezy, bright, big moving clouds

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t know each other before: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1, but I didn’t recognize them at first

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.30

 

Observations:

This day was my first in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park this season. I didn’t know what to expect from the new time (11-2 instead of 3-6) or the presence of the food trucks. So far, what it’s come down to is that a higher percentage of strangers talking to me are people who have food truck money. The noise of the motors doesn’t seem to be a problem; I can hear everyone.

One person who spoke with me also shared her fries with me. I ate about half of them and then shared the rest with a guy who did not have food truck money. (I only touched the ones I ate.)

You need a permit to be a vendor in the park. The ranger came up to me near the beginning of my session and said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know what I’m gonna say, don’t you?” (I have a permit; I showed it to him.)

Next time I need to come out with water and more finished organism cards.

This seems like a good moment to reiterate that I don’t agree with everyone whose conversations I post!

Some conversations:

The housing situation. We’re constantly having to move. We’ve had three houses sold out from underneath our feet, and the place we were just in got condemned for no apparent reason. Someone called the fire marshal and they were like, “Oh, you gotta update to the new fire codes,” this impossible renovation, so they misplaced families, they put us in a hotel. The landlord is depressed, his hair turned white in a week. This house has been in his family for generations. My children are straight-A students, but every time this happens it’s affected their grades, their attendance at school, they’re tardy—they should not have to deal with this.

I think they’re picking on him for renting to Black people. The fire department, when they saw it, 48 hours later they shut us all out. Changing the code—it’s like the police stopping a car, like, “This is a bus now. Everybody gotta get off, and you gotta get a bus license. If you don’t get a bus license, you gotta get off the road.”

*

It’s a really big issue. The current leadership of this country has me the most anxious. I can’t even listen to the radio anymore. I used to listen to NPR all the time, but now every time I hear the so-called President—I can’t even say his name—I have to change the station. I have a violent reaction—I want to yell, to drown out his voice. If they mention his name, I have to turn it off. Now I just listen to WCRB, just music, the classical station.

Where do you get your information now?

News apps and online—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC. I’m interested more in a global perspective. This way it’s in my control if I choose to see his face, or read or hear what he said. He makes me want to do violence to myself or others—mostly others, mostly him.

What do you do when you feel that anger?

I drink alcohol. I joined a gym, I want to be more physically fit.

Have you been involved with any political stuff here in the state?

I haven’t. I used to be active in another state, around the 2004 election. I’ve been voting my whole life, and at first I registered independent, until I found out that in my state you had to be in a party to vote in the primary. I’ve since become disillusioned. I’m not a member of a party—I’m more progressive and left-leaning than most Democrats. There is a woman running for Congress in my district, but I haven’t signed up to volunteer. I think we need more women in positions of power.

What would smooth your path to volunteering?

If I had a sense that it would be time well spent. But if that was what it took, nobody would donate, nobody would volunteer. It’s difficult to fit in with my own personal business, but I’d probably feel better.

*

My wife and I noticed in East Providence, on Massasoit Avenue, there are these abandoned gas tanks, Getty tanks, and someone is building houses there. Who’s gonna want to live there? God knows what’s in the ground there.

*

Global warming trends. Weather patterns seem strange lately. I have some anxiety about cell phones and wireless—what long-term effects of that are there gonna be? Because it’s pretty pervasive.

What does the anxiety feel like, do you feel it physically?

I get a tension in my head, a tightness in my chest.

And what do you usually do after you feel it?

I try to distract myself with reading, doing work or chores around the house. I try to be conscientious, but I have anxiety about some of the things I have around the house that are going into the landfill system.

*

I heard 11 feet by the year 2100.

Where’d you hear it?

Some progressive politics meeting. That’s a good chunk of Rhode Island! I’m filled with anxiety, but it’s not present enough, I have to consciously think of it, and I think that’s why action doesn’t happen. There’s no immediate sign of it that you feel—it’s not like an asteroid heading towards Earth. But it’s gonna have really scary consequences that we haven’t really understood yet. The ecosystem is incredibly elegantly balanced, and because of climate change—I think the Lyme disease outbreak is a consequence of climate change. There’s sea level, there’s stupid simple things that we can picture, but we don’t picture how the rain falling over the wheat is gonna start falling over the Pacific. I’ve decided that this is the issue. Other political issues are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic—what does it matter about income inequality if the planet doesn’t work? I think people feel a bit of helplessness, like, “What can I do”– or they’re like, “Oh, I drive a Prius, I’ve done what I can.” Maybe it’s because I live in a liberal bubble, but I haven’t bumped into that many people who don’t think it’s a real thing, I guess that’s good.

*

I think it’s stressful how much we are consuming and [at the same time] talking about the natural world breaking. I don’t think I can imagine it. So much of my day-to-day life is relying on the Earth. We have this human saturation—not the amount of people but what we’re doing. That’s my new band name, Human Saturation.

What would they sound like?

Maybe really harsh noise. It feels like something down the road. We don’t want to think about it until we inevitably have to deal with it, and we pretend we’re not going to have to. … To have this huge thing that’s happening to everyone, to not acknowledge it is damaging, literally damaging. It’s hard to find one single answer. It has to happen on a huge level—I don’t think a few people biking to work every day is gonna cause change

*

 

I’m coming from a place of statistics. Overpopulation—more people means more waste, more use of natural resources, higher [carbon dioxide] levels. … It’s one of many things that’s gonna happen. Maybe the ice caps melt and we all drown. Maybe we die in a fuckin’ fiery mass of nuclear fallout. It could be a bunch of different things. Massive volcanic eruptions, the sun being blotted out by ash clouds. Who knows how long we have? We all could be living on fuckin’ boats. A massive Atlantis is what I see. There are people who live on water already. Or maybe [carbon dioxide] levels rise and our planet burns to a crisp and we’ll all go live on galactic space stations. Everything has its cycle—part of time is essentially death. … When you work out, you’re breaking your muscles. It takes death to incite growth. We’re all just figments of imagination, we’re specks of dust, a million atomic particles with the capabilities for love. If we pass—you can’t create or destroy energy. Our bodies die but the energy continues. You could wipe all the information off the face of the earth, science will still be science. We’ll be absorbed back into the Creator. Love is my higher power. It’s one way of sort of honoring God, God presents himself to me through the love of other people. … If you show love and be kind, you will be blessed by God. I’ve been clean for a couple of months. I was an addict for 10 years, and what I lacked was love—recognizing and applying love and living by it. Being an addict tends to absorb everything you love, all your interests, all your pleasures. A guy in recovery told me you can trade one thing for everything in your life or you can trade everything in your life for one thing. I’m blessed to have two beautiful children and it’s my duty to make sure that they love themselves first and foremost, but more importantly, that they’re accepting love from others.

map 5-23-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

Woonsocket

The box of Eddie St

Coventry

Massasoit Ave

 

 

Alternate Histories: 7/22, 8/4

[This is the third in a three-part sequence about, loosely, faith and practice. The first is here; the second is here; another, by Janaya Kizzie, is here.]

722/15

The indigenous concept of Mother Earth [has been] Disneyfied and trivialized, but it’s an important idea: the earth as a mother that feeds us, that gives us what we need. We need a change of consciousness that honors these ideas, these relationships. When I talk about this with my students, I can tell that they yearn for it, but they graduate and they’re in debt, they have to make compromises, and I cry for them.

*

8/4/15

When the teaching semester started again, A rented a biodiesel van and drove his students out to the Fisherville Pond Dam on the Blackstone River. Together, they watched and listened with skepticism turning to awe as the biologists, ecologists, chemists and engineers–some their own age–explained how the canal restorers work. One of A’s students squatted down and touched the tip of one deep-brown finger to the skin of the water. She looked a question at their guide, who nodded reassuringly; she dipped her finger, put it in her mouth, and started to cry.

The point, A said to his students on the way back to town, is not that you guys all need to drop what you’re doing and learn how to make these specific things. The point is that this is a form of living intimately and reverently, the way we were talking about in class. The people who are making these things are giving back to the earth that made them…

… And they’re getting paid, said A’s surliest student.

And they’re getting paid. Which means–we talked about what that means–

That society recognizes the value of what they’re doing, said A’s most eager student.

A smiled at her. We are society, he said. What nourishes the earth nourishes us, because we get all our nourishment from the earth. When your boss says he’s standing on his own two feet, he’s ignoring the fact that he’s standing on the earth, breathing in what the trees breathe out, and that his feet are made out of things the earth gave him.

But how can we act that out? demanded a student who was usually quiet. I mean it sounds really good, but.

How do you all think? A asked. Let’s write, and then we’ll pool our ideas and write a little more.

My mom always say she should get paid for raising us. Everybody say welfare is bad but isn’t that what that is? Except it should be more.

I want to be a nutritionist because helping more people be healthy is a public service.

You should get money if you DONT pollute not if you do.

My grandmothers gave me a bath in the river when I was born, in Liberia, wrote the student who’d sipped clean water off her fingertip. I want to give my grandchildren a bath in the river when they are born, here. I want them to be born.

A and his students shaped these writings into letters and sent them where they thought they’d be most relevant: to Blue Cross Blue Shield, to the Social Security office, to National Grid, to the Rhode Island Division of Agriculture, to Hasbro …

Think of an animal or a plant as a moment of great and temporary good luck, something that allows other things to help it build itself and allows other things to help it destroy itself. First we grow; we burgeon. And then, unless someone interrupts our arc with violent contempt, we begin to dismantle ourselves and to be dismantled. Why don’t we recognize that one is as beautiful as the other? Why shouldn’t a business do it as well as a body, when it reaches the turn of its natural life? Nothing else even tries to grow forever.

During the seven years that followed, the people and plants and animals whose lives were touched by these companies, and who had helped these companies grow, helped to take them apart–not violently, but as part of their arc. They used their assets to tide people over–the healers, the growers, the restorers–as they worked out ways to give and take in balance and to move away from money, toward honor and sustenance, as rewards for the business of living.

The dismantlers knew in their own ways of knowing things that they too were being disassembled and disarmed piece by piece, as well as nourished, by other living creatures they needed but could not see, by the cells of their own bodies, by time, in order to become a field for more and different people and plants and animals and ideas and possibilities to grow.

Alternate History: 5/6, 5/8, 8/3

This alternate history is by Janaya Kizzie. It’s a response to my conversations with the evangelist; you can see my reflections on that conversation in full at the linked dates below.

5/6/14, 5/8/14

You know what’s the worst climate anxiety? Heaven and Hell. You end up in the wrong place, there’s no counseling that’s gonna help you.

*

There was a fluttering bird’s noise, but no birds at all. The evangelist would tell them later to find and fix the tear in the plastic sheeting. The tent spanned whole rooms in the house’s shell, the tear might be anywhere; the evangelist looked up and saw only the patterned veil, and beyond it, the muted haze of the sky.

The sun reached the edge of the evacuees’ camp first; after the floods, no longer in doubt of the Might of Heaven, the people gave the evangelist the most complete house in their camp. It had longest light, shortest dark. Here the dandelions grew wildest.

If you roast dandelion root for long enough it is a memory of coffee; he took a shameful pleasure in the slowness of it, the tactile process of lighting a fire and boiling the water. Preparing for his flock. Altars are false; buildings are false; our bodies too, he reminded himself. When he held the single, chipped tea cup of the root, he felt the heat and remembered hell.

Souls are not false. Heaven and hell are enduring and real. He reminded himself. He entered the Chapel of Memory and observed again the jumble of memories of heaven and hell: tiny plastic toys, buttons, match boxes, bits of rock, bits of wood. A steering wheel, a mask, remnants of plastic bags, candle ends. All the moments lost and redeemed.

The boy’s face, one bright eye, then the other, leaned, blinking slowly into the door way, before the evangelist, smiling, summoned him. This day, this boy waited eagerly for a cup of dandelion root. This boy had never known coffee; nor the hubris that connected continents in neglect of Heaven. He needed guidance in a world where so many things used to be.

The boy laid an insect’s wing on the altar, and the evangelist laid hands on the boy’s crown. Here: the arc of mold over the boy’s shoulder, the doorway and the dark, unfocussed stairs, a familiar sight that invoked the words: “We thank Heaven for this blessing. Our feeble minds cannot comprehend the magnitude of the Kingdom, but in our faults we have been given sight. We are thankful for the blessing of memory, and the realms hidden there.”

“When I was just a baby, my parents took me to an apple orchard. It was big, but I felt like I could see everything. It was warm out. The apples had bees on them,” the smile that had lighted the boy’s face began to fade, and he fit the pain into ritual words: “I saw Heaven then, and did not know it. I remember and repent.”

“There is no doubt now that God is great. The apples were false, the sky, the car you drove in, even your eyes. Man’s ego planted the orchard, and it was washed away by the might of Heaven. Vain men are washed away too. Right to Hell. And–”

The boy’s mother, like the boy, had entered in silence, and peered from the doorway.  Without apology, without a word of greeting, she sent the boy away. The evangelist remembered how he met her, only days before the flood cast them out of the city. The streets had been filled with people trying to fight the will of God.

“How would you feel if somebody walked up to you and set you on fire?” he had asked her.

“I’m already on fire,” she had replied.

This was a memory of hell for him. Hell is a place where rage tears you apart. It was not a memory for her, he knew. It was nothing to her at all.

“What is it about children that redeems every situation?” she might have been trying to smile; it was a performed ritual gesture, a courtesy.

“Their souls are new, and closer to Heaven.”
“He redeems me every day,” she looked backward in the boy’s wake. “I wanted to tell you…we’re planting a garden in the field next to your house.”
Hell again, but only briefly. Control is an illusion.
“Home is an illusion,” he said, his voice tight, but loosening, “What will you do when more floods come, or someone sets your home on fire?”
“You’re right,” she replied,”We are making false things in a false world beneath the might of Heaven. But if we don’t move, we can’t remember. Planting a garden is a future memory of heaven.”

A nickel, warm from her hand and jarring in its simultaneous familiarity and uselessness was on the altar, shone beside the bee’s wing.

“Before the flood, I tried to make the city into a place everyone would love. I met people I never would have met, I heard their stories and I helped them when I could, and I showed them how to help themselves, as much as I could. I felt part of a better future. I saw heaven and I didn’t know it. I remember and repent.”

He parted his lips to begin. She was done talking to him.

He picked up the nickel–Heaven for her, Hell for him– and turned it over his index finger with the pressure of his thumb. Alone for the moment, he left the chapel and entered his own cloister of memory, a closet lit blue by the sheeting, but burning with red memories of Hell. The nickel was the only shining thing.

“I remember and repent,” it was her earnestness in his mouth.

Weathered hands pulled up the dandelions beside his house. He remembered the sound of an apple core and its seeds rattling in a rusted lunch box, he remembered withered roots that might live again in their Memory. Memories of healthy trees, memories of roots in soil. Somewhere. Some ghost bird’s noise. Briefly, he remembered heaven.

Alternate History: 7/22, 8/1

[Note: This is the second in a three-part sequence.]

7/22/15

The first thought that came to me was putting God back in the schools. They would have to learn about what He wants from us–being kind to your neighbor, being kind to the earth. I think that would help out a lot with children and with society in general–I feel like there’s not a lot knowing about Him, I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t know about Him.

It sounds like a big part of how you understand how you want to act comes from your faith. Is that true?

I wasn’t brought up through faith. My main value was like, Family comes first. As I grew up, life happened, and I happened to find faith and I loved it–I was like, Cool, this works, I’m gonna stick with it. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s really hard, but you stick with it ’cause you know the benefits of it and you know the value of it.

Do you do anything where you work with younger kids, maybe do religious education with younger kids who are already interested, or whose families are involved?

At the mosque, I try to go to different groups that we have and stay as active as I can. Whenever there’s any kind of activity I try to go to that too.

*

7/28/15

The next time N went to the mosque, she looked around at the other women there. Some of them she really liked, and could laugh with after prayers. Some of them were bossy, or two-faced, or suspicious of her as a convert, or withdrawn into their own thoughts. But they shared the same peace, the same devotion and the same praise. Their bodies when praying made similar shapes.

Love is one path to recognition, mutuality and care. Another path, the path N found, is that when you turn, you turn to the same place. When you need to ask, you know Who to ask, and how; you know what is required of you, because it is also required of the people near you.

N wanted to share this certainty, this order, this way of knowing other people and the world at large. It seemed to her that especially with big unfair frightening things, people didn’t have that, and clung to what they knew. They needed a reason to move. But she knew, too, that some of the women she was nodding to or joking with (as she adjusted her hijab and prepared to go back into the heat of the day) saw the plants and air and animals and rocks as fellow worshippers of God, servants and givers of praise, and some saw them only as tools for the use of humankind. If anything, maybe the imam could speak to them about it, or include it in the khutba, but who would listen to her?

N made the dua for leaving the mosque and walked into the pounding sunshine.

At home, she looked online for suggestions. Perform tayammum with clean dust instead of wudu with water, one site suggested, but water for washing before prayers was not a problem where they were. Worship outdoors? Surrounding the masjid was a parking lot. I’m not the one with the big answers, she thought; God is the one with the big answers. That’s how we can hear and understand and measure the little answers.

When N started her weekend class for girls and women, she held it in Roger Williams Park, in a kind of gazebo thing in the rose garden. “Who made the world?” she asked them. “Don’t we believe that He knew what He was doing?” And she waited for their answers.

Alternate History: 7/22, 7/26

[Note: this is the first in a three-part sequence.]

7/22/15

I’m really glad Pope Francis is bringing this to the fore. The Catholic Church has been dismissive of environmental issues in the past, and he’s rightly relating them to social issues … My experience is that those things trickle down, like there’ll be a reading at a church service to try to rouse people up to some sort of action. You’d do that for the Bishop’s Relief Fund–you’d raise money for the poor [sic] that way. And climate change is definitely a social issue–it’s economic, it’s social, it’s environmental. And we keep on going ahead as if it doesn’t matter.

*

7/26/15

Two days later, as on every Tuesday and Friday, K went to visit her mother, who lived in an apartment complex for the elderly in East Providence. On Mondays and Thursdays, Violet the home health aide came to help K’s mother take a shower and get settled for the day; on Tuesdays and Fridays, K helped her mother bathe and dress, and took her out to lunch, usually in her wheelchair unless she was having an unusually pain-free day. K’s sister came on Wednesdays and weekends, and went to church with their mother, but didn’t usually stay for the whole day. As they walked and wheeled down the sidewalk to the diner, K asked: Mom, what do you and Sandy like about church?

K was never sure if her mother’s speech had gotten clearer again since the stroke, or if she’d just gotten better at listening to her. I don’t know that liking comes into it, K’s mother said. I guess I like knowing that I’m doing the right thing to do.

And you know it’s the right thing because the priests tell you, K said.

Don’t start that again.

Do you ever tell the priests what’s the right thing to do? K asked. Has that ever happened?

It’s probably happened, her mother said. I don’t know if it worked. She turned toward her left side, her good side, and caught K’s eye. Come with us on Sunday and see. So on Sunday, communicants’ heads–many of them gray or bald or both–turned unabashedly toward the three women, two walking one wheeling toward a pew. Mom, K said at the diner after the service, I don’t think I can tell these people to tell their priest to tell their bishop anything.

Sandy snorted. Because K always knows what’s the best for everybody, she said.

Girls, their mother said. Then she reached out with her good hand and patted K as if forty years had disappeared. Sandy’s right, sweetheart. You’d have to keep coming. Get to know everybody, get them to know you. But also, don’t think just because we’re old you can’t suggest anything to us once you know us. You don’t know what we’ve already dealt with and done.

This is just a ploy to get me to come to church, isn’t it? K said. The other two smiled at each other, thin lizard smiles.

Months later, on a dispiritingly warm and muggy day in early November, a circle of people using wheelchairs, walkers and canes–not including K and Sandy’s mother, who had had another stroke–formed around the construction equipment for the Spectra Energy pipeline. Their priest, sweating in his high collar, nodded coolly at the Unitarian Universalist minister who was there with her congregation. Their children and grandchildren were busy insulating people’s houses and installing pellet stoves on the diocese’s dime before the winter came, so that the pipeline gas would be less necessary, or planning a conference with priests and bishops in big farming states about how to approach their flocks.

K wasn’t there; she was helping one of the few young families in the congregation get disentangled from a predatory lender. Sandy wasn’t there; it was Wednesday, so she was with their mother.