I’m here in Durban, South Africa for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference and will be sending dispatches throughout my time.
Here are some reflections from the plane ride from Washington to Dakar, Senegal:
I don’t know about you, but there are moments when life feels deep down good, when the hard work you’ve done on various projects and the people you’ve surrounded yourself with make you feel that, while there is tremendous hardship, poverty and oppression in the world, which may well be slated for environmental disaster unless we together can make drastic changes in our production and consumption habits, when, despite all that, there are good and decent and admirable people in the world.
At those moments, I feel draped not in a foolish sense of impossibility, but rather as part of a web that I’ve woven with other people based on our shared passion and values and dreams.
I’ve already had a few of these moments, and I’m still just halfway across the Atlantic and midway through the second of three legs on a journey that will take me from Chicago to Durban, South Africa.
As nearly always for me, the minutes begin with the foundation of family.
For me, that meant waking up at 6:30, walking with Dunreith to grab a pair of moderately warm bagels, and heading home to put the final stages on packing before rousing Aidan for a brief chat at the breakfast table while we drank kombuchas and I cooked udon to take with me.
In the cab ride it meant talking with Dan Middleton, a friend from my freshman year at Stanford who now lives in his ancestral home in the Hudson Valley. An insatiable consumer of news, Dan gave me my latest lesson on the American political scene, this time with regards to Obama’s policy on the environment and climate change.
In the airport, it meant reaching out to friends and former roommates Dave Doyle and Dave Axelrad. We all lived together for two years at a bachelor pad in Jamaica Plain. We rarely cleaned the place, but invariably had monthly pot luck parties that increased the likelihood that the floor would at least get swept.
In August, 1995 I left Boston and the United States to teach for a year in South Africa, the country to which I am now returning.
We are all still connected to each other, and each have found meaningful work and a smart, compassionate, intelligent and attractive woman with whom to share our lives-no small gifts indeed.
Waiting to leave in the airport reminded me of the times we shared and of the gratitude I feel for that experience and our enduring friendships.
On the airplane from Chicago to Dulles in Washington, DC, it meant connecting with Heather King, the other Climate Change Media Partnership Fellow from the United States. A former documentarian and Apple employee turned journalist and consultant, Heather writes often for Greenbiz, an online publication that focuses on environmentally-conscious businesses.
And on the plane from Dulles to Dakar, after we had changed out seats so that they weren’t at the back of the plane, it meant bumping into Jina Moore.
I mean, literally.
As in she was sitting in the seat next to me.
She’s a fellow Dart Society member and the person we hired recently to be our magazine and web site editor.
We’ve had a terrific time talking about the Society, learning about her childhood in West Virginia-a period for her that sparked a deep and abiding fascination with the Holocaust.
She first read The Diary of Anne Frank at age 7.
The book moved and impressed her deeply.
In middle school, while her friends were writing to television stars, she reached out to Miep Gies.
For those who do not know, Miep was the woman who helped hide the Frank family for the years that they lived on the second floor of a home in Amsterdam.
The elderly Dutchwoman responded, and a correspondence began.
Later, while a student in Boston University’s now defunct University Professors Program, Jina had seminars with Saul Bellow and Elie Wiesel, and exchanged letters with Larry Langer, a former literature professor at Simmons College and author of, among other works, the seminal Holocaust Testimonies.
Jina also communicated with Gerda Weissmann-Klein, the subject of the Academy-Award winning A Survivor Remembers and a memoir.
Jina explained that her study of the Holocaust was a key factor in leading her to journalism.
Although she’s not yet had her tenth college reunion, she’s already accomplished a tremendous amount.
She’s lived for years in Rwanda, reporting as a freelancer for a range of publications, including the Christian Science Monitor, and has also traveled widely in other African nations.
For one project, she traveled to Liberia to examine issues of constitutional law-a scholar there claimed he owned the copyright and needed to be paid for any legal changes-and the treatment of rape victims.
Right now, she’s heading to Dakar, Senegal, with some Pulitzer Center colleagues and African journalists to attend a conference there about reproductive health before returning to Rwanda to visit some friends.
Jina and I laughed and chatted and got to know each other better than before, exclaiming over our excitement about what we are building at the Dart Society and the community to which we both feel privileged to belong.
I’m not sure exactly what stories I will write, nor, on a more substantial level, do I know whether the world’s delegations will be able to come to any kind of meaningful agreement.
There certainly is plenty of evidence against it.
But I do know that I have already today experienced an inordinate richness that has reminded me yet again of the tapestry we weave with our lives, and how sometimes, at rare moments, the pieces can come together if you both move to where you were before to remind yourself of your past and see what that means for the present moment while at the same time continuing to reach out to the world and add additional people, places and experiences to your life’s palette.