“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
– Native American proverb
Tomorrow is Earth Day and outside everything is bursting into blossom.
Whenever Earth Day comes around, I think of folks who’ve done so much to raise awareness about our fragile environment. There are many. But today I am thinking of the folk singer, Pete Seeger.
Seeger will turn 93 years old on May 3. Living through the 20th and into the 21st century, he has witnessed so much history – World War II, the Cold War, the McCarthy era, the Vietnam War. … As a singer-songwriter and activist, he has sung with the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, and with Woody and Arlo Guthrie. His medium of communication and protest, has been music. He has sung in all sorts of places, and for all sorts of causes. He conveys a kind of thorough integrity, sustained through this long life. It is an integrity that radiates out to others. He believes that, “Music in some strange, mystical way brings people together, in spite of our problems.” His music empowers people to act for justice.
In 1955 when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was unwilling to name other members of the various left-wing groups that he had belonged to over the years. For this refusal, he paid a huge price, as a blacklisted artist. Nevertheless, he stood firm.
He said: “I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, that I am any less of an American than anyone else. … I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and the Holy Rollers and Revival Churches. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.”
On this Earth Day I especially remember how in the 1960s Pete Seeger became increasingly concerned about the degradation of the environment. And although many thought it a foolish and fruitless enterprise, he decided that he would take on the cleaning up of the Hudson River. At the time, the Hudson was highly polluted, with sewage and chemicals. He had a boat built, the “Clearwater,” which sailed up and down the Hudson, beginning in 1969, making stops, holding song fests, bringing young people aboard, and helping to educate them about becoming good stewards of the Earth. He taught through the joy of singing and through being a person who cared enough to care; and cared enough to take on the “impossible.”
I was not too surprised to learn that Pete often performs at Unitarian Universalist churches and meetings. He has spoken of seeing pretty eye-to-eye with Unitarians, though I am not sure he ever joined a church. I am not surprised, though, that he found Unitarian Universalism a place and a faith that was wide and broad and deep enough to offer him a place he could feel at home.
Earth Day is a good time to remember to make every day an Earth Day, a time to grow awareness that even small things, multiplied, can make a difference. Changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, turning off the water while brushing teeth, recycling everything possible. Solar panels. Small things multiplied make a difference. I can remember a time when people routinely threw their trash out the car window, can you believe it? – and the highways all looked like dumps.
The state in which I lived instituted a stiff fine for anyone caught disposing of trash this way, and suddenly the roadsides began to look a whole lot better. It wasn’t the “Clearwater,” but real change happened.
I am thinking of Pete Seeger with special admiration as we approach his 93rd birthday. His life reminds us that even in difficult times, we – each one of us – can meet tough challenges with integrity and creativity. Big change can happen step by step. Happy Birthday, Pete!
The Rev. Sandra D. Fitz-Henry is the minister of Murray Unitarian Universalist Church in Attleboro. Her columns are published monthly on The Sun Chronicle’s religion pages as part of our Voices series featuring members of the area clergy. They are online at thesunchronicle.com/columns.