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Earth Day

A crushing defeat for Mother Earth turned into a sweet victory three days later

Issue: "Clutching two, dropping four," April 23, 2011

As it happens, this year's Earth Day falls on Good Friday. I wonder if any connection will be made between the two while folks are planting trees or strumming guitars in consciousness-raising events. Probably not. In its short memory (this will be the 41st), Earth Day stays focused on the color green. But the Earth herself-if we can figuratively speak of "her"-remembers mostly in red.

We are not equipped to remember our own beginnings, much as we'd like to: the passage from warm darkness to chilly light; how we fixed on a face; the first words we heard and spoke. We don't remember how we learned to stand and to fall, the exploration of hands and feet belatedly recognized as our own, the first glimmerings of personhood creeping up on us out of a fog.

But Earth-brooded over, spoken forth, watered, and greened-was full of memories better forgotten. For instance: a sudden darkness, a tremor in Eden, and the gravity of an angel with a flaming sword. The blood of a murdered brother, her first deep wound, made her cry out to heaven. But in the years to follow, with death polluting her fields and blood continually soaking her soil, who could keep track? The tally-sticks piled up and rotted away, as Earth grew old before her time, sunk into grief and despair and finally indifference. An occasional rumbling-fire on the mountain, a monumental voice, a whirling chariot-made her stir, but only briefly. She sighed, and trembled, and soon forgot.

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As for her children, carelessly borne and carelessly begetting-they groped through their short lives calling on the sun, kissing hands to the moon, careening among the spirits, and flailing away at each other with clubs and swords. They were too many, too rough, too brief, too lost, and she would just as soon cast them into oblivion.

Until that one birth.

No other like it. No cry like that, no flailing baby-hand that clutched her harridan breast made it feel this way. He made her feel lithe and smooth as a virgin (How can this be?). Her old bones stretched and sunned (Does this birth give rebirth to me?). He grew to manhood in perpetual spring, her shocking delight-like any son, but yet so unlike. Her haggard head lifted, gazing, blinking, trembling at His every step.

Until He climbed that hill.

Oh! She thought blood could no longer move her, but His. . . ! She churned in protest, stormed in helpless rage. A fresh wound ripped her heart, bleeding tears; the fragile peace shattered, the edgy truce undone. I am undone! she cried: undone . . . undone . . . . Sinking down, limp arms sprawling, she received Him back. That hollow tomb ached like a bad tooth but she resigned herself to sleep forever-never, never, to breathe such hope again. And never to remember.

But-to her surprise-she can't hold Him! Her dead lord is not done-eager footsteps shake her slumber, pounding up a well-worn path in an unworn way: In the opposite direction. He has defied her-blissfully, forcefully, in no uncertain terms-and in His rising . . .

Her womb now bears a new race of children. She waits, but no longer in fitful sleep. As the mother of a bride yet to be revealed, she anticipates a day veiled in blossoms, not merely green, but robin-egg blue and brimming-dawn gold and cherry-petal pink. She looks for the bridegroom to return, only now with a wedding party, flashing from east to west, proclaimed by a trumpet blast.

This Earth Day, thousands of Earth's devotees will be handing out recycling containers, picking up trash, and urging us to remember our mother. If she had a soul, she might be smiling indulgently at pleas to "make a difference," even while pointing upward with every fresh-planted seeding. Only one Person really has made a difference.
Listen to Janie discuss this column with podcast producer Matt Mulder.
Email Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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