Eyes to See

My husband, Jack, was raised in Australia. When he was four years old, his family traded their life in beautifully gray, reserved, traditional England for a new life in the thick, tropical heat in a suburb of Brisbane. There, they first lived in a house on stilts. Jack recounts his childhood years with visceral joy, filled with gardening, sunshine, friendship, discovery.

This year, on a trip to visit his family in the Australian countryside, Jack and I gathered together with his parents and sister to watch old home videos that were discovered in their recent move. After jokes about the now-antiquated VHS tapes and camcorder, we settled in on their green leather couch with flat whites and lemon cake balanced on our laps.

It was the first time I heard my husband’s voice as a child. The first time I saw him eating cake dipped in milk (a favorite snack of his) as a child. The first time I could see his expressions as a child. I glimpsed mannerisms of this younger boy that I now seen in the strong 30-something man I have loved for the last five years.

I was flooded then with a new kind of love for him, for who he used to be, for the child within him still. I could see his former vulnerability, his growing, ever-present sensitivity. I saw  joy, of loneliness, of contemplation, of curiosity spread flash across his familiar features. I somehow loved him even more, seeing his world through his eyes and spread behind him like a backdrop.

The scenes of young Jack and his dear younger sister were punctured by shots of vibrant green trees surrounding his family’s home, of his family swimming in the roaring, sparkling ocean, of the sounds and signs of unfamiliar wildlife. I loved, then, a little more, the country he loved, too. It was the landscape that nurtured him, that nurtured his courage, attention, and capacity to love the world.

This new kind of love, this week, has led to a new kind of pain and outrage at the sight of the rampant, unprecedented wildfires. Friends and relatives, even those without any connection to Australia, have donated to relief causes and posted detailed articles to raise awareness.

Vast swathes of protected land are on fire, if not already turned to ash. Entire towns have burned to the ground. People have died, others have been displaced, driven from their homes onto beaches that look apocalyptic. Animals have died, unable to outrun the horror. Whole species are expected to be wiped out. The air is clouded with toxic smoke. Nothing in the landscape, under these conditions, can nurture life.

Images of firefighters carrying and caring for animals, of American firefighters offering assistance, of families clutching onto one another as they take in the sight of their burned homes are heartbreaking. Thinking about my husband taking delight in the place that raised him as a child, only made absorbing these images even more gut-wrenching. Vulnerability, sensitivity, flourishing are being swallowed by destruction.

I could write with demands for change. I could write about hypocrisy, my own and that of others. I could write more about destruction or more about protection. There are others who are more qualified and capable of doing so. Today, I will simply leave you with this: remembering what is worthy of protecting and why we are called to act is just as important as risk calculation, resource management, and policy change. It may not be everything on its own, but it is indeed something foundational: the origin of life-sustaining work. As Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century German mystic, once wrote, “Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things. . . . All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without we cannot survive.”

Use your eyes to see and your hands to heal as you are able, imbued by the goodness you contain within you today.  Then, begin again tomorrow.