By Will Falk
Not long ago, a few hours after his birth, I held a newborn baby to my chest in the hospital. The baby is my girlfriend’s nephew. We arrived at the hospital and crowded into a maternity room with my girlfriend’s sister, brother-in-law, little niece, and mother.
During the pregnancy, my girlfriend’s almost three-year-old niece was asked what her little brother’s name should be. She answered, quickly, matter-of-factly, “Pineapple.” He has another name, but for this essay, he will be Pineapple.
Conversation revolved around what Pineapple would be like when he was older, the adventures his big sister and he would have, and what the relative ease of his birth might mean for his life. We were excited for what we might teach him, what he would teach us, and we made predictions about the milestones in his life.
I was not expecting to get to hold him as I have not yet established myself as a constant part of the family. When his mother – my girlfriend’s sister and a woman I’ve always looked up to – asked me if I would like to hold her child, I was both delighted and surprised. With this small life in my arms, my surprise quickly turned to one of the purest feelings of love I have yet experienced in my 28 years of life.
I could not stop gazing at the baby. Either his eyes were not quite working, or they were, and he was watching things the adult eyes in the room were blind to after years of life. Feeling his movements in my arms – his head bumping my chest, his feet pushing into my arms, the small sounds of his small voice – created what I can only describe as a growing warmth deep inside me.
This feeling was startling for me. I had never held a baby as young as Pineapple. I have often questioned whether or not having children is the right thing to do. As I’ve written perhaps too much about by now, there have been times I have struggled to hold onto the idea that life really is good. In my worst moments, viewing the world through a despair-colored lens, I have wished that my own life never began. I’ve taken the bad steps, even, to end my life. Being present for the beginning of a life, like this, was an overwhelming joy for me.
The warmth kept growing. Maybe its the poet in me, but I felt a strong urge to begin telling the baby every story I knew. I wanted to tell him about all the beautiful things I have seen. I wanted to describe the way the stars shine so brightly you’d swear you can hear them on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. I wanted to explain how the pines huddled over the trapline in shimmering snow at the Unist’ot’en Camp in a way that suggested they were trying to tell me something. I wanted to express the excitement I felt for him to see the first blazes of yellow as the first aspen leaves change during the first autumn of his life in the mountains above his home.
I felt a deep urge to describe the love the family he was born into had already shown me, how amazing his mother is, the way his father was smiling just then and doing everything he could for Pineapple’s mother, about how much his aunt and I had talked about what he would grow up to be.
Looking down into his little face, there was literally nothing more important to me in the world than his well-being. I can only imagine what his mother and father must feel when they hold him. I think I told his parents that if there was anything I can do for him and them, I would love to help, at least fifteen times in fifteen minutes.
The warmth I felt seeped into the rest of the room where Pineapple’s family was gathered. When it was time to pass the child back to his mother, I sensed the same feeling in everyone in the room.
Loving that baby was the most natural thing for all of us to do.
In the days that have passed, I have been lucky enough to hold Pineapple a few more times and I have spent much time reflecting on what the feelings I experience holding him must mean. I know I have felt love and I am extremely grateful for the experience. In my travels over the last few years, I have had ample time to consider love and I have developed a definition for love that I try to practice with everyone I love.
To love someone is to help him or her become the best expression of who he or she really is.
I think this definition is understandable enough on the surface, but I think the definition’s implications place a deep responsibility on those of us in love. Most of us have been taught to identify a certain emotional state as love. It is that same growing warmth I feel holding Pineapple.
From this emotional state, we often love someone by offering him or her things like emotional support and materials for spiritual well-being. Watching Pineapple’s mother, however, I know that the first, most important part of love is insuring your beloved’s physical well-being. This includes providing a home where basic needs for survival like food and water are available.
Returning to my definition of love, in order for a person to be the best expression of who he or she really is, the beloved’s living body must be taken care of. Many of us easily understand that when we love someone we want them to be happy, or fulfilled, or possess some measure of peace of mind. Most of us also understand that emotions are somehow connected to our living body. We commonly accept, for example, that emotions are located somehow in our brain. So, then, we should also understand that happiness, fulfillment, or peace of mind depend on a functioning brain to hold these emotional states. A functioning brain, finally, requires a living body.
I think this is a simple idea: Before our beloved can experience happiness, the needs of his or her living body must be fulfilled. So, it is within this idea, while I consider how best to love Pineapple that I am confronted with a responsibility. If I claim to love Pineapple, if I claim I want to help him become the best expression of who he really is, then I must work to promote his physical well-being.
I hesitate to write what I am about to write next. I hesitate because I know it is scary and I am afraid of being accused of being a doomsayer. I do not want to damper the joy surrounding the birth of a beautiful little boy. I want to be honest.
I will not just point out the truth and despair. That would be unforgivable. No, I will point out the truth and promise to every person who loves another that I will work with everything I have to protect our beloveds.
Once I realized that to love Pineapple is to work to promote his physical well-being, then I feel I must honestly and soberly analyze threats to his physical well-being. The truth is, forces like climate change seriously threaten all our efforts to provide a livable home with food and clean water to our beloveds and I find myself asking, “What does it mean to love someone in a world where total ecological collapse is a real possibility?”
What does the future look like in Utah? Total ecological collapse in Utah where Pineapple will presumably grow up is a real concern. The National Climate Assessment (“a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee”) predicts that regional annual average temperatures are projected to rise by 9.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2099. Of course, these types of temperature increases will not just lead to public health epidemics, but they will also mean disaster for the region’s crop yields. In short, many people will get sick and die while many crops will burn to death. When the crops die, humans lose a food source. When humans lose too many food sources, people will go hungry and die.
Snow, of course, is a lifeblood for Utah. It’s not just the staple of the ski industry, but it provides so much of the water life in this state depends on. Many scientists agree with Porter Fox, the author of “DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow,” that there will be no snow in Utah by the end of this century if climate change cannot be stopped. To make this example even more personal to Pineapple, his family are all avid skiers and I know some of the visions for Pineapple’s future involve teaching him to ski. How will these visions come true if there is no snow? Or worse yet, what if Pineapple is taught to ski, falls in love with skiing, only to have the snow stop falling sometime in his life?
Again, I do not write these things to scare anyone. I write these things so we can accurately assess what needs to be done for the children. The good news is, we know what is causing many of these horrors. As singer Utah Phillips pointed out, “The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
We know, for example, that climate change is caused in large measure by the burning of fossil fuels. So, obviously, to combat climate change and to protect the future, we need to stop burning fossil fuels on the large scale.
I want to be clear that I am not trying to guilt-trip people into giving up their cars or to move off-grid into eco-groovy communes. The changes we need are bigger than our personal consumption habits. Even if all of us stopped driving right now, the US military would be the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. More importantly than giving up our cars, we need to undermine these institutions’ ability to destroy. If you have to drive a car to stop a pipeline, then so be it.
I hate that this culture has produced a world where so much anxiety surrounds envisioning a future for our children. I hate that we live in a world where the climate is on track to warm to a point where the planet is uninhabitable for humans. I hate that we live in a world where water shortages might prevent humans from living here in Utah in a generation or so. I hate that we live in a world where scientists say there is now dioxin, a known carcinogen, in every mother’s breast milk around the world (that includes Pineapple’s mother). But, this is the world we live in, and this is the world we must love our children in.
While I was on the road in support of environmental movements, I have been asking many questions and collecting experiences, saying prayers and receiving answers (though I rarely recognize the answers when they come). I was able to write a lot about my experiences and through the writing I found new understandings. When the anxiety about where my next place to sleep was going to be got too high this summer, too high even to sit still to write very well, I decided it was time to build a community for myself.
A side effect of leaving the front lines of environmental movements is that my writing has slowed. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, or just an opportunity to learn. One of the reasons my writing has slowed stems from the fact that I am not sure how to turn my daily experiences looking for a job and settling into a town I do not know very well, yet, into heartfelt writing that others can take something from.
When the cops came for us on Mauna Kea, it was easy to write something I felt was compelling and persuasive. It was easy to feel like my voice was credible. We were there in front of the bulldozers, after all. When I was snowshoeing through the cold at the Unist’ot’en Camp, it was easy to communicate the magic I felt surrounding me. When I sat down to write in Canada, sometimes it felt the essays were writing themselves.
Even when the writing was going well, though, I often felt a gnawing doubt. I felt like the writing would not be possible if indigenous people were not being oppressed. I was scared that, if it wasn’t for the terrible things happening to the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and Kanaka Maoli, I would have nothing to write about. Was I benefitting from the same colonial arrangement of power that I professed to hate?
I often say that white people should be organizing in white communities to dismantle racism and colonialism. I’ve been thinking, as a white writer, my role in this project is to persuade white people to action. Because I do not know Park City very well, yet, because I’ve found it difficult to understand what Park City residents find persuasive and because I am not sure where there are platforms to write to Park City residents, I have not found words that I think are any good.
That was until I held Pineapple.
I wrote earlier that loving Pineapple is the most natural thing in the world for all of us who gathered around him on his birthday to do. To love him, by my definition is to help him become the best expression of who he really is. To love him, then, is to ensure that he has a livable future to find who he really is and then to become that expression. I want to say “thank you” to Pineapple’s family for all the love they have shown me. I want to express my gratitude for including me in the day of his birth.
I think about how hard his mother and father, aunt, sister, and grandparents are working for his well-being. I see how difficult it must be just to worry about providing a home for Pineapple. I have seen the weariness in his parents’ faces as they wake in the middle of the night to feed him, while also caring for their little daughter. I have seen the concern wash over Pineapple’s aunt’s face when he begins to cry.
I realize that with no children of my own that maybe I am in the best position to worry about environmental issues that threaten Pineapple and to do something about them. I think about the love I feel for Pineapple and I think back to the help I offered him and his family. I hope they – and everyone who loves a Pineapple – will accept this essay as an honest attempt to work so that all children may grow to be the best expression of who they really are.