"Nature isn't fair, Mom."
Quite a few years ago now, we had a robin build her nest on the transom window right over our kitchen door. This is the door we go in and out of all day, every day, sometimes with the screen door slamming accidentally behind us, but the year the robin built her nest there, we were more careful. We paid more attention to when we went in and out and made sure not to let the door slam as the robin started her little family directly above it.
One day I noticed a shattered robin's egg in the driveway. It was unmistakable, that "robin's egg blue" we all know and love and sometimes dye wool to match. Cushing Dyes even has a specific formula named for it. I thought that was odd and started to think about how this might have happened when I saw the cause...a blue jay dive bombing the little nest and eating the eggs.
I was immediately enraged.
My son, James, who is now a biologist/ecologist and teacher in Nova Scotia, was home for the summer at that time. I asked him in exasperation what we could do to save the robin's nest and the eggs. He said something to me he'd had to say before and has had to say since: "Nature isn't fair, Mom."
This wasn't the blog post I had planned for today. I suppose I'll be writing that one next week. This is, however, the blog post that I needed to write today.
I have a terrible habit of checking my email and notifications first thing in the morning. I shouldn't do it. I should write my morning pages and do meditations first, but usually I just reach for the phone to see "what's going on this morning." This morning my Facebook feed alerted me to the unexpected death of a person in our community who was truly a model human being. He was kind, creative, had a great sense of humor, was deeply connected to nature, and was an active and tireless contributor to the community. I did not know him well. Several years ago he reached out to "friend" me on Facebook because of our many mutual friends and interests and we ran in to one another in town now and then. What I did know was the kind of person he was and all the light he brought to the world.
And now he's gone and that's not fair.
I have struggled with this human expectation of fairness my entire life. I struggled with it mightily when my thirty-one year old brother was taken from us in an accident. I have struggled with it ever since when someone so inherently good is whisked away while others, who are so obviously...not so good?...remain for a very long time. 2020 has brought this phenomenon to us in numbers perhaps previously unimaginable in most of our lifetimes.
Fairness, as my son points out to me every so often, is a human construct and it even has varying interpretations. For example, an extremely privileged-from-birth human who now occupies the highest seat of power on the globe is forever decrying that he and people he admires have been treated "unfairly," even when that "unfairness" has heretofore been known simply as the rule of law or the American justice system. That individual's interpretation of fairness is very unlike most of ours, and yet it is real, or perhaps just useful, to him and he asserts it loudly and often.
Are there any objective standards of fairness? I don't know. Maybe decent people can agree most of the time on what is or is not fair in this world, but I think most of us wrestle mightily when bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.
Last weekend we took a trip out to Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay and hiked the Lane's Island Preserve. On this preserve there is the old Lane family cemetery. I love old cemeteries. They are peaceful repositories of history, often the outlines of which are right there to piece together from the stone inscriptions. At this particular cemetery on Vinalhaven, we observed that the Lanes lost two little children over a century ago to who knows what diseases of their day. In those times, childhood mortality was high given the limitations of medicine. I could guess that the relative isolation of the island could have had something to do with it, but then again, back then, Vinalhaven was well traveled to and from and was actually an important source of granite. According to the Vinalhaven Historical Society, that granite ended up in the following historic structures (I quote their website here):
- the base of the Brooklyn Bridge
- the U.S. Customs House and Post Offices in New York, St. Louis, Kansas City, Buffalo, etc.
- the Railroad Station and the Board of Trade in Chicago
- the Washington Monument and Federal Offices Buildings in the Capital
- formed the foundation stone and the eight huge polished columns for the nave of The Cathedral of Saint John The Divine in NYC
- Pennsylvania Railroad Station and the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia
- other private mansions, monuments, bridges, and dams
- thousands of tons of paving blocks for the streets of Portland, Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and other cities
So, in spite of the prosperity that once existed on the island and the Lane family's place in all of that, they could not save their babies from what was then nature's bidding any more than our mama robin years ago could keep her eggs safe from the blue jay.
Since life on earth seems inherently unfair, granted that's according to our own constructs of fairness, what can we do? We can not stop the literal blue jays from destroying the robin's eggs, but can we stop the metaphorical ones? When confronted with "injustices" that we are helpless to correct, for example the untimely deaths of people we so needed to keep here to continue their good works, what can we do?
We have to be those people in their absence. That's what we have to do. We have to look back on their lives and emulate the things that we are able to. We can not duplicate a human being. We can not be them literally, but we can carry their spirits with us and be them in substance. We don't have to, and probably shouldn't, do exactly the same things they did, but we must work as they did to tip the scales in favor of fairness, peace, and justice here. Since we can not afford to lose a single person committed to love and light, we have to fill the voids they leave behind when nature, in her radical objectivity, takes them from us.
It's true that nature isn't fair, but we can be and we must be, for all of us. It is how the two steps forward, one step back journey of human progress is made and that progress is in part possible because we believe in fairness, even if it's not at all natural.
- Elizabeth Miller