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Commentary: In painful times, taking action helps

April Moore cheers during the recent Polar Bear Plunge event in Washington, D.C. She was there to help raise funds for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Courtesy photo

In late January I joined with about 150 people for a bracing plunge into the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.!

No, we were not insane.  At least not mostly.  We were raising money for the organization international climate leader Bill McKibben calls “the best regional climate organization in the world,’  the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).

All of us “plungers” had reached out to family and friends, asking them to support our plunge by making a donation to CCAN.   And collectively, we raised more than $126,000, enough to make a difference.

Fortifying ourselves and each other with whoops and hollers, we all charged out into the frigid river.  Our willingness to discomfit ourselves by plunging into the cold water had helped inspire our friends and family to make their own sacrifice (in financial form), in the service of a cause we all believe in.

What a joyful day that was for me!  And an especially great gift to me to be able to experience such happiness, in relation to climate change, which is one of my greatest pains.

Grief about what we’re doing to the Earth is my all-too-frequent companion.  I anguish over the fact that we are in the process of condemning our children and those who come after them to a life that is much harder than ours because the planet on which they live has become destabilized.  It breaks my heart to know that we are in the middle of a huge wave of extinctions, caused, in part, by global warming.  And then there is the deep frustration I feel because Donald Trump has made our country the only one on Earth that is not part of the Paris climate accord.

All those sources of pain!  But I love the Earth. So I feel duty-bound to do what I can to protect this incredibly wonderful home of ours.

And here is the small miracle, the grace in this dilemma.  By acting with others to protect the Earth I love, I gain relief from the pain.  That’s the meaning of the joy I felt in our Polar Bear Plunge.

I have learned that I feel great when I join with others to do something about that which is causing us all such anguish.  That shared anguish is the motivator that brings us together.  And then we share the joy of being part of a team, a team that takes effective action to safeguard the planet we love.

However much of that happiness comes from making a contribution toward winning the battle for a healthy planet, and how much comes from our camaraderie, I know this:  at least for me, joining with other people to do something constructive transforms my experience of confronting a painful reality.

And this emotional alchemy – turning pain into joy – can be a gift for many who, in these days, are feeling pain at what they see happening now in America, with Donald Trump as president.

These are indeed difficult times, when so much on which our climate, and also our democracy, depend is getting battered and may even be up for grabs.  So I encourage anyone who is feeling that kind of pain to use it to become a force for good.  Joining with others in effective action will not only move the world in a good direction, but it will also lift your spirits.

April Moore lives in Shenandoah County.