EDITORIAL: Extinction Illness: Grave Affliction and Possibility

Welcome to issue #9: “Grave Affliction and Possibility.”1Note that the issue “How Do We Know?” which was to have been issue #9 is now issue #10, and the deadline has been pushed back to December 2. See Submission Guidelines for details. Deena Metzger’s essay “Extinction Illness: Grave Affliction and Possibility” appeared in the January issue of Tikkun. Its premise is that, as the reality of human-caused mass extinction sinks in, we are all succumbing to what she calls “extinction illness.”: “Contemplating the extent and pervasiveness of despair and violence across the globe, the increasing aberrance of human and non-human behavior, I see that all humans and non-humans know this, all human people and all beings, animals, trees, birds, insects, fish, know this. And all of us are being driven to some form of madness, pain, or dysfunction.”

A few months after the essay appeared, we put out a call for responses, thinking we might publish them as a special section of an issue. Responses did not stop coming until just last month. They came in many forms: letter, formal essay, poetry, fiction, artwork—even a sermon. We had envisioned a collection of off-the-cuff responses but soon realized we had the makings of an issue, and began the hard process of deciding which pieces would make the cut. Here they are, all twelve of them (plus Lise’s After•Word of a book that reads as a response): passionate, visionary, and wildly divergent. We have broken with our recently established tradition of publishing fewer authors per issue—but then most of these responses are very short. We have also broken with the tradition of an editorial conversation, as that would have been difficult to bring off with so many authors. Besides, as you’ll see, the authors are already very much in conversation with each other.

We would have liked to include more nonhuman voices in this conversation—though they do come through loud and clear in “What the Worms Say“ and “Lac Café Medley.” By way of redress, we will give the last word in this editorial to two of Kristin’s cats, who both had interesting things to say on the subject of extinction and extinction illness…

When they were alive, Sadie and Duncan, two Maine Coons, were Kristin’s teachers. Recently, she consulted them via animal communicator Heather Faris, to ask what they would have her know about extinction and how she could better serve the animals in these precarious times. She shares these responses with the understanding that they may not be meant for her alone. Sadie and Duncan addressed the toll that these times can take on our systems. Additionally, they stressed that even though we may not see tangible results from our efforts on this plane, the gestures we make from our hearts have ripples and impact in other realms, and this should not be minimized or dismissed.

From Sadie:

Remain in a soft, gentle, vulnerable heart space; you don’t need to take on the tragedy of the animals. You are walking alongside them through these changes, not separate from them. Don’t view it in a hierarchical way, i.e.,“we humans created the problem,” which lends to a separateness in how we view it (what’s happening to the earth and other species). Stand in the midst of it with love for all beings, including those who don’t understand. In this (unification), you generate a force of many beings that are stronger than one.

Stop asking questions (in the “Why?” sense). What harmonizes things is the relationship between them, not the yes or no answers. More life can live between the lines when we open to those possibilities.

Say yes to feeling tired. Love into the beauty of that, that you get to have this life and to feel this way.

From Duncan:

An ebb and flow is good, important. Move with it, then back off sometimes. There needs to be an ebb and flow to account for your personal life and physical needs.

Some say you need to “let go” to be free. I say you need to hold on to what is dear to you— meaning, do not lose sight of your heart and your cares and concerns. What you are troubled about also troubles others, but they can’t always speak it. If you stay true to your values, they will stretch beyond you in service to the greater whole. Continue to open your heart through the world and animals, without taking on the burden of needing to fix it.

Continue to rest in the truth, not always the tragedy.

The magnitude of it is carried by all, not just one species. Some need more attentiveness at various times—they will need more love and solidarity as they disappear. As they leave, they still hold their place in the line (of humans and animals standing in solidarity). It is important to measure it that way, the life that extends beyond death. They have not left you. (In other words, they are not “gone”.)

Joy and embodiment are very important. Honor your life in these ways.

Return to top