Our Reality May Be Too Broad to Comprehend.
I’m in paradise, Gili air, and my friend can’t breathe. His asthma has been horribly triggered by the trash they burn here.
Gili Air is a small island off the coast of Lombok over by Bali.
The beach here could be a stand-in for heaven’s shores, coral reefs, clear water, white sand that stretch off into the distance of blue skies.
Beaches occasionally dotted with plastic cups, junk food bags, and any other trash that washes up onto shore.
The mind gets overwhelmed with duality.
It’s hard for me to contain the juxtaposed images here. It’s hard for the mind to contain duality anywhere.
I find myself thinking of the old idiom.
“Nothing is new under the Sun.”
But this, the trash washed up onto shore. The plastic smoke in the air, the amount of pollution in the world. This is new.
The greatest extreme of beauty is sitting side by side with the experience of pollution on the tongue, the taste of plastic in our mouths.
Back in college I was part of a school that wanted to change the world.
We studied everything from history to the development of Western philosophy and identity. We looked at environmental degradation, the race of modern nations to secure resources as basic as water.
We studied the minds who shape foreign policy. Who frame the world as a zero-sum game.
We studied the wars and social shifts that created our politicians, our economy, our infrastructure, and our governments. The data of how we are failing and the many ways the world as we know it is crumbling.
Everyone drank a lot. Many developed substance abuse problems (myself included). Some went insane (myself included).
The mind has trouble holding it all.
My night in Gili Air.
I dressed up for Friday, Venus’s day, a new twist on honoring the belief’s of my ancestors.
I walked the beach, a lightning storm and sunset to my left, blue skies to my right.
Along the way I thought of my friend’s lungs and the pollution. When asked why the locals burn their plastic they respond, “it’s this or a landfill.”
For the locals burning is cheaper, which means it’s doable. Finding money for eating is hard enough as it is and a landfill with this much tourism would turn the island into a dump.
Not only the locals burn their trash though, I saw three tourists throw some plastic on their bonfire.
I could feel the confusion inside. I picked up some trash, tried to set the world right in a small act as the thunder danced on another island’s shore.
There’s no way to pick it all up though.
The confusion turned into pressure, how does one hold space for the beauty and the pollution? For the awe of thunder and the ignorance of the ways we destroy the world?
I got dinner at a barbeque, walked out to the furthest part of the beach and watched the lightning while listing the ways in which my experience was bending my mind.
The beef I ate was grown on the very island I watched lightning dance over. The potatoes I ate are native to the Americas where my ancestors hail. The ones who were there before the other ancestors came, the Whites on the Mayflower.
The mind just kept listing. The air I am breathing is polluted by local use of plastics bought from foreign lands, made with oil pumped from distant places. The air is also polluted by the factories and trash fires of India.
Factories that sell things all over the world.
The water lapping up on shore, driven by the fierce winds of the distant storm is slowly rising. It is affected by the policies of the land I come from.
It is affected by the gerrymandered regime that serves corporate interests while abandoning the poor and deregulating environmental protections.
I didn’t vote for this regime and while I think the alternative is better it’s still unlikely to act on environmental policies with enough speed to keep this island above water.
This island that is serving tourists their steak and beer, beer the locals can’t drink because they’re Muslim. The locals blare dubstep and poor cocktails, sell shrooms and marijuana, all to feed their families back in the inner island amongst their small huts and burn piles.
As I felt myself stretched across it all, watching the lightning fall, the restaurant behind me turned on a projector screen and started blaring American Idol.
My mind reeled, wondered how anyone could watch a screen while the sky danced with electric fire. . . and then a twelve-year-old girl came on to sing a song she had written.
Her voice cracked, it wasn’t the traditional voice of beauty. It was gorgeous.
I decided to walk home before I got too dizzy with my soul’s stretching.
I put in my headphones, listened to Pink Floyd to beat out the restaurants now blaring rap. . . Foster the People covers. . . anything and everything from youtube and Spotify.
I felt dizzy, the scene around me shifted from white linen tables, Italian food and wine, from sushi and steak, to the pitch black of a road passing through jungle. The path led out to more stores, more restaurants and then the dark of the beach, the storm now on all sides but overhead.
The horizon flashed with lightning. Foreign stars shone above my head. People used cell phones to search the waters for god knows what and I walked from scene to scene, my music accented by ocean waves and familiar songs blared in foreign places.
These scenes repeated one after another. Created a merry go round of experience.
I tried not to lick my lips for the sake of burning plastic and helped hermit crabs cross the road when I found them.
As I walked, I felt myself stretched by the width of the world.
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