Sunday, March 22, 2009

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.

This weekend I watched a couple of thought-provoking films about rivers and water at the Global Film Festival here in Nanaimo. There was some gut wrenching footage, including some of a hydro electric scheme in my own beloved province of British Columbia. Perhaps the scene that haunts me the most, though, is a field of gorgeous yellow roses being irrigated in Kenya while children drink from a filthy cesspool nearby.

I remembered the times I'd ordered flowers for friends. Why? In some cases it was because they had lost a loved one. I wanted them to know that I was sad for them and that I cared about them. All the same, it often was difficult for me to discuss death.
  • It was awkward if I knew that a friend had mixed feelings towards a parent who had just died, for example. I knew, from my own father's death, that you could feel angry about some of the things that your parent had done, but still feel as if you'd been punched in the solar plexus when they died.

  • Perhaps the bereaved person was someone whom I knew through work or business, someone to whom I felt obliged to be polite, but to whom I did not feel close. (This scenario admittedly is one that I do not expect to encounter now that I have embraced what I would call a more authentic lifestyle.)

  • Perhaps I felt guilty for having emigrated and for living far away from the bereaved person.

  • Perhaps I'd experienced the bereaved person as competitive, and wanted to prove that I could send them just as big a vase of flowers as the one they'd sent me (or, better still, an even bigger one).

Well, for any number of reasons, it suited me to order a safe vase of flowers, accompanied by a one-size-fits-all note, "Thinking of you at this difficult time." But, in taking that easy way out, I was killing people in a Third World country.

You may think I'm being melodramatic. You may think it's ridiculous to characterize myself as an axe murderer just because I did something as innocent as buying flowers. But stop and think about it for a moment. Those flowers were using up water and soil that local people otherwise could have used to grow food. In order for the flowers to be unblemished, they would have been sprayed with pesticides. If the Third World farm labourers were typical, they worked in poor conditions, for low wages. The transportation of the flowers from a warm country to Canada used non-renewable fossil fuels and pumped greenhouse gases into the air.

The next friend who loses a loved one is not going to get flowers from me. If they live close to me, I'm going to deliver a homemade casserole to them. If they live far away, I'm going to sit down and write a letter, even if it takes me forever to figure out what to say.

Well, at least one good thing came out of this weekend. I had been struggling to shake my caffeine addiction. But I walked out of those films feeling the same way about coffee as I felt about flowers from distant countries. I never want to touch the stuff with a ten foot barge pole.

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