When we are born, each of us gets an acre of land. We are kids – babies really – when we get this chunk of land and we don’t know much what to do with it. We don’t know how to develop it or protect it. We just have it. Now, if our parents do a good job for us, they protect our land for us and they help us learn how to develop its potential. If so, we arrive at adulthood prepared to make our living off this bit of land.
We live in a world filled with toxic waste. Most of us, maybe all of us, end up with some toxic waste on our land. Even the best taught and best protected of us receives some toxic experiences. Fine farmland receives toxic rain, what was thought to be a useful pesticide (such as DDT) turns out to have widespread and devastating consequences, or a passerby carelessly tosses a battery onto the land where it decays. Those of us less well taught and less well protected receive more toxic waste. For some of us it is as if our unspoiled fields are found by unscrupulous people who deliberately dump toxic waste there with little regard for the consequences. In any case, I think I have never met a person who did not have some contamination on their acre. It is always a matter of degree.
Sooner or later, as we begin to try to work our land, we discover the toxic waste and must deal with it. Of course, we generally become aware of the toxic waste when we begin feeling badly or when our land will not produce properly or when other people don’t want to hang out on our land. I doubt very much that many of us stroll out on to the acre the first day and immediately identify the waste. It dawns on us gradually that something is amiss. I am sure that we sometimes reason that it was the seed we planted or the people we invited or our failure to take our vitamins that produced this effect. After all, we love our land and do not think our land could be at fault. But as that recognition comes clear, we then, I think, have a range of options.
First, we can pretend that the toxic waste is not there and go about our business. In that choice, we keep getting sick and the land is still unproductive and we still run people off. But if we are determined, we can limp along in this way for quite a long time indeed - maybe a lifetime, until the toxic junk kills us. This is the way of denial.
Second, we can build walls around the toxic spots and never go there again. Of course, we forfeit the productive potential of that patch of ground forever, but we stop being quite so sick. If the patch is fairly small and the cost of the lost productivity is low, then this may be a survivable approach. This is the way of abdication of responsibility.
Third, some of us go out to the most contaminated spot, sit down smack in the middle, and begin crying out. "Some son of a bitch dumped all this toxic crap on my acre and it is making me sick. Why did that son of a bitch do that and whatever am I going to do about it? Why must I suffer so? I am getting sicker and sicker and sicker." Rolling and thrashing about in the toxic junk, we do get sicker and sicker, waiting for someone else to clean up our land and restore us to health. This is the way of victimhood.
The final possibility is to begin to learn how to clean up our land and heal ourselves. We consult with experts and read books and talk to our family, friends, and neighbors as we begin to learn how to clean up this toxic waste. This takes a commitment and work commensurate to the amount of toxic stuff dumped. This is a way in which life is clearly not fair because it means that those of us most badly hurt will have to work the hardest to recover. But it is the only way we can recover the land. This is the way of recovery.
These four ways are fundamental life choices - denial, abdication, victimhood, and effortful recovery. Each is ours to choose.