In my Principles and Practices of Sustainability class on Monday, we discussed ecological design. Toward the end of her presentation, my professor showed us pictures of a large factory building in the UK that had been repurposed into a sustainable community housing project called “BedZED.” The average UK citizen lives a lifestyle that would require 3 earths in order for everyone to live that way. People who live in BedZED require 1.7 Earths.
As she flipped through pictures of the residents working together in a large kitchen, of the community dinners full of smiling faces and of people playing Frisbee together outside, my stomach knotted up.
“What do you think?” She asked. “Could you live there?”
There were little laughs around the room. Students raised their hands and expressed concerns about privacy and personal space.
“What happens if you don’t like someone? You can’t get away from them.”
I smiled to myself and thought, you work your problems out, face to face, and you love them anyways, just because they’re human.
It’s been over five months since the Climate March arrived in D.C. It’s been about two months since I came back to college, and I am still adjusting. Moments of restlessness hit me at least once a day. I never left the United States, and yet I seem to be experiencing something akin to culture shock.
Things I Miss
1. Community. When I first got home from the March, I couldn’t stand the quiet. There weren’t 30–50 people around me talking and interacting and bustling around camp. I couldn’t hear Sean singing or Jimmy playing the fiddle or Berenice laughing or Creekwater ranting about how someone hadn’t put away the dishes properly. It was just me, sitting by myself in a giant house and wondering if it had all been a dream.
Yes, privacy in a community setting is minimal, if not nonexistent. But when you become so close with everyone, and you come to rely on each other to get through your day, functioning as a machine rather than just individual parts that collide every once in awhile, privacy becomes almost pointless. When I needed time to myself, I told my fellow Marchers and they respected it, and I did the same for them. But, if you holed up in your tent for a couple days without telling anyone why, someone would undoubtedly come looking for you. The support system was unlike anything I ever experienced. I never had to go through anything alone if I didn’t want to.
Now, at college, the only time my door is closed is if I’m sleeping or getting changed. The first thing I do when I get home is prop the door open, even before I turn on the lights. My hall-mates know if they need cooking supplies or office supplies or anything, really, I will readily share it. They stop in to chat frequently, and even when they don’t, I can still hear and see them pass by and know they’re there.
2. Balance. The Climate March, to date, has been the only time in my life where my mind, body, and spirit were equally important and working together as a coherent whole. Due to the design of our education system, the scales have almost always been lopsided toward my mind, with peripheral attention to my body and near complete neglect to my spirit.
The Climate March was the most I have ever exerted myself in all three sectors, and yet, I had a healthy sleeping schedule, I ate nutritious meals, I was in the best shape of my life and I was the happiest I’d ever been. Obesity is a hot topic in our country, and is it any wonder why? We sit down while we commute, we sit down while we work, we sit down while we’re at home, and then we sleep. When we live inactive lifestyles, our bodies don’t demand healthy eating habits, and it becomes so easy to lapse into eating worthless junk food. Yet, amazingly, this is the lifestyle we send our kids to school to learn how to pursue.
On the March, I needed 3,000–4,000 calories a day. I needed quality, fresh food on my plate. I needed a good night’s sleep. I needed to stay hydrated. If I slacked on any of these things, I would start to break down very quickly. Living an active lifestyle forced me to take care of myself, and the results were incredible.
Rock climbing has become my physical escape at college. When I’m at the wall, my laptop and cell phone are ignored, and it’s just me and my body working together. It grounds me again after a stressful day. It keeps me sane, and it keeps me strong.
3. Being Outside. After returning home from the Climate March, I continued to sleep outside in my tent long after the cold settled in. I only gave up and came inside when I realized my three-season tent wasn’t handling the winter very well.
Imagine not needing a weather app to figure out how to prepare for the day. Imagine instead, waking up in the morning, and after spending about 10 minutes outside, knowing almost exactly what the weather will be like. It happened to me within two or three weeks after arriving in New Mexico. By the time my tent was taken down in the morning, I would know to bring my raincoat or a sweater or an extra sweat rag.
How did I know this? I just did. I unconsciously picked up on little details and pieced them together. We are all capable of this level of awareness, but when we spend most of our time indoors we stop noticing these things, and we fall out of practice.
There were nights when the weather foiled my tent and everything I owned would get soaked. One day in Colorado, in the midst of a beautiful sunny day, a freak storm came in and wrecked our whole camp, and I had to sleep on a shelf in the gear truck that night. But now that I’m back to spending most of my time indoors, where we can guarantee being warm, comfortable and dry no matter what’s happening outside, I find I would rather have that uncertainty and risk than be almost completely disconnected from the elements.
There are many other things I desperately miss from the March, and if you want to know more shut your laptop and come find me. Chances are the door to my room is open. I’ll make you a cup of tea.
Life changing experiences come in many forms. They can happen in a single moment, or they can culminate over many years. They can be completely painless and they can be near-death. But no matter how they manifest, they change your life, and they change it with a purpose. After it’s happened, you can’t go back to “normal.” Instead, you evolve into a new normal, ready or not.