Before I enter the parking lot, I check it furtively, glancing around in order to ensure I won’t be seen. In the dimly lit building next to the lot, there is activity. But the lot itself, cast in darkness and devoid of cars, seems completely safe.
I realize this is my chance. I rush towards the front door of the building and then carefully set my bundle on the ground outside of it. Then, just as quickly, I turn and vanish into the night.
It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I am the Chairwoman of the Buckel Foundation and arguably the most powerful person in the entire world.
But it is my very power that has driven me to do this terrible thing.
On April 14th, 2018, my life was transformed. I was a socially aware 17-year-old. Even at that stage of my life, I knew I had so much caring to give others – my mother-spirit was bursting with it. But I also knew it wasn’t enough simply to share my spirit in all directions. I knew I needed something specific to care for. A million causes tugged at me, but I could not possibly serve them all. I was too practical for that.
I needed one.
I needed one thing I could pour my life into, and thus find true fulfillment.
That morning, on my way to a protest to protect a neighborhood park, I saw a horrifying headline on my Twitter feed. It changed my life. It read, simply: “Prominent Gay Rights Lawyer Self-Immolates in Environmental Protest.” The man’s name had been David Buckel and he had given everything for a cause he deeply believed in. He had set himself aflame, with fossil fuels, to demonstrate the danger than fossil fuels pose to the planet itself.
Buckel’s action inspired me. I went to the protest, but my mind was a million miles away. Suddenly, I knew what I would dedicate my mother-spirit to.
I would dedicate it to Mother Earth.
And that is what I did. My education, my internships, my activism, my every waking hour, were dedicated to the environment.
Before long, I had self-identified with one of the strongest wings of the environmental movement.
We had a simple motto: “Leave no trace.”
You may have heard of it as a guiding principle of a camping movement. But for us, it was a lifestyle. We would leave no trace and so the world around us would be returned to a perfect state of nature. What we believed in wasn’t a faith or a creed. It was necessity. It was truth. It was the salvation of the planet itself.
We knew something vital, something beautiful, was being destroyed by human hands.
We weren’t fools, of course. We knew we were the cutting edge of humanity. We knew “leave no trace” was an aspiration even for us and so it would be a near impossibility for humanity as a whole. But we felt we could bend the curve in that direction and thus make the world a better place, if not a perfect one. So, we preached and we spoke and we talked. And we learned how to express ourselves in ways that earned us a steady trickle of devotees. We graduated to arguing and cajoling and sharing and demanding. But all we secured was a steady trickle of devoted lovers of Earth. We did not succeed in fundamentally changing the course of mankind. And so, we felt helpless as we watched the world unravel, despite the solutions we held within our tightknit group.
And then I had an idea. I realized people needed fulfillment and they needed pride. To satisfy this, I created a system of certification so people could be rated based on their actions in support of Mother Gaia and their understanding of the planet’s needs.
The idea was simple, if you were truly dedicated to the Earth, you would make the most fundamental of sacrifices to Her: you would sacrifice your time for Her benefit. And, you would be honored for it.
The certification system was set up like a ladder. Aspiring Guardians of Gaia would start their climb up the ladder with new efforts to recycle and with the completion of basic educational modules. Accomplish these tasks and you could achieve a temporary rating by our movement. You would be known as a Guardian of Gaia 1st class. Your rank and its duration would reflect your commitment to the planet.
But the ranks climbed from there. They piled on new sacrifices and educational opportunities. As they climbed, Guardians were pulled away from processed food, having more than one child, using plastic or relying fossil fuel vehicles. But they could climb yet higher. By ending their use of all fossil fuels (even for electricity), by using only biodegradable building materials, by committing to having no children whatsoever, and by devoting their resources to the support of our world-embracing efforts, they could rise ever higher.
As they climbed these ladders, greater understanding was granted to the Guardians. They moved beyond the simple science of the environment and into the far deeper spiritual understanding of Mother Gaia herself. As they climbed, they could connect to the true life-source of our world.
Of course, the highest level remained beyond the strength of most. That level required the sacrifice of all of one’s future time in service of Gaia. The highest level required one to follow in the footsteps of David Buckel himself. When a Guardian reached that pinnacle, many outside the movement saw a needless death. But we knew that those who gave themselves up were joined in spirit with Mother Gaia – living forever in the spiritual biosphere of our Earth Mother. The fact was that those who could not muster the courage for that final leap were jealous of those who had done so.
Guardians were more than just educated and recognized. They were also granted the power to lead others up the ladder. They themselves could be the gate-keepers of our great movement.
With this new system, our movement exploded. Tens and then hundreds of millions joined and began their slow ascent in the service of Mother Earth. And with our numbers, and our dedication, came political power. Initially, our certification experts were be called on to bless projects large and small. Then we were asked to rate whole communities and businesses. And finally, we were given the ability both to propose laws and to enforce them. We grew stronger and stronger.
There were those who accused us of creating a false religion. They claimed we promoted meaningless acts to the naïve and gave them false pride by claiming they were “saving the planet.” There were those who claimed we only existed to suck away the marrow of modern man in service to a false vision of an unchanging and far more beautiful natural world.
Some of these accusations were true; at least on a factual level. We knew we dealt in symbols. We knew many acts of recycling, for example, offered no practical benefits and might be counterproductive. But we also knew these sacrifices were stepping stones in building our dedication to the Mother Spirit. These symbols served a greater truth. And thus, these symbols could not be undermined. This was why, to protect the movement, we used our ever-increasing power to crush the few deniers in our path.
Our movement was a success. Gradually, the world improved just as we had hoped it would. Lights were turned off. Cars were switched off. Natural materials were returned to their proper place. Industrial farming was brought to its knees. The excess of ‘plenty’ disappeared and was replaced with the nourishing acceptance of ‘enough.’
And the world was better for it.
I had sat at the epicenter of it all. I had founded the movement and named it after David Buckel. I had built the rankings and the tests and the demands. And in the course of my voyage, I made every commitment the organization demanded.
I was the public face of fundamental change.
As the reach of the Guardians extended, we were granted authority by almost every government. Our devotees bent their own religions in support of our cause – they found texts to reinforce our most fundamental beliefs. We had built something even the greatest Popes of Rome could only dream of. Ours was a truly global movement, reaching across national and religious lines and knitting humankind together in dedication to something greater than any single species.
But there was a shadow hovering over everything I did. As each new pinnacle was realized, I expected my mother-spirit to finally be fulfilled by the love it was sharing with Mother Earth.
But it never was.
Then, slowly, gradually, I realized what my mother spirit truly wanted. It wanted me to be a mother.
It wanted, desperately, for me to leave a trace.
But that was a demand I could not accept.
The demand tore at me. I meditated on it for countless hours. I questioned how I could possibly deny my own beliefs so completely. I tore at myself, trying to excise the desire from my heart. But it remained, steadfast and resolute.
Others, close to my rank, had been required to provide documentation of sterilization. But I had been the first to ascend. All I had needed to give was a vow. And so, secretly, I chose an unsuspecting man – a member of the public with no certification at all – and I carried out the ultimate betrayal of my beliefs.
I became pregnant.
I spent my pregnancy in my small apartment. I communicated by phone. I hid myself away and slowly gave form to a new life within my growing body. I reveled in the joy of it. I grimaced through the challenges of it. And I hated myself for my decision to pursue it.
I considered abortion, but I feared the risk of the sin of conception, my sin, being uncovered.
When the time came, I delivered the child. I did it myself, quaking in fear at the risk of it. I feared I would die and my baby would die and my deception would be discovered. I feared I would lose everything.
But I knew that if I did, I would deserve it.
The fears were overwrought. The baby was delivered safely. A beautiful young girl. A young girl I found I loved. But her birth only created another quandary. A pregnancy could be hidden. A child was something quite a bit harder to conceal.
In those first hours, I agonized over the options I had.
I could try to conceal the child. But a concealed child would be a stunted child. My love was too great for that.
I could allow others to know my failing. But if I were discovered, my movement and my planet would suffer irreparable harm. And my child and I would be banished and censured as traitors against the most powerful organization on Earth. We would be exiled by humankind. That was no kind of option.
There was a third path: I could die with my child and join her in the highest pantheon of dedication to Gaia. But I was not ready to kill her.
And then I realized there was one more path. I could, under cover of darkness, try to rid myself of her – and hope that those who found her raised her up with love and with care.
This was the path I chose. It was the only path my mother-spirit could accept.
I left my home and followed darkened and empty streets – streets my movement had darkened and emptied. And then, at long last, I arrived at the city’s largest hospital. I swept through its empty parking lot and left my child before its dimly lit doors. And then, I disappear.
Even as I stride away, I realize that I have abandoned my child, but my child has not abandoned me. With her short newborn cries, she calls to my mother spirit, demanding that I turn back.
But I cannot turn back. I cannot betray what I believe.
When I get home, I am desperate for salvation.
And then I realize what I must do. Opening my computer, I find and fill out the paperwork necessary to start the adoption process. We Guardians of Gaia cannot add human life to a world too full of it. But this does not prevent us from raising those who have been brought into this life through no fault of their own.
I can adopt.
And maybe, just maybe, the stars will align and I will adopt the girl I have just abandoned.
Maybe, just maybe, I could be a mother to my own child.
The Torah reading of Emor talks about the limits of Kohanim. As the representatives of a people who embrace creation and flee from loss and destruction, the Kohanim are kept distant from the loss of physical and spiritual potential. In many ways, this forces hard – almost inhuman – choices on them. Their human desires are curtailed. As only two of the most prominent examples: they may love a woman, but be unable to marry her because she is a widow or divorcee; and they may lose a relative but be unable to pay final respects because death is always kept at a distance.
To help us understand these hard choices, I decided to write about a distinctly modern (and yet ancient) form of priesthood – the priesthood of Mother Earth. I tried to share how such a priesthood would function, sacrificing time in service of nature and encouraging symbolic activity among the lay population. And I tried to imagine the choices, the hard and almost inhuman choices, such a priesthood would face given the underlying values they stood for.
The Kohanim and the Guardians serve very different masters, but there are parallels in the sacrifices their movements demand.
p.s. David Buckel, a real-life, 60-year-old, civil rights lawyer and environmentalist, did self-immolate on Saturday April 14th, 2018. That part of the story is not fictional. He did it to draw attention to the dangers of fossil fuels.
p.p.s. The author is a proud father of six children.
(image: By Mearone – Mearone’s free image collection, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6638499)