Easter eggs and sustainable communities

As our cities have grown larger, we have worked hard to distance ourselves from one another — compartmentalizing our lives through fences, apartment blocks and gridlocked cars. Even as we are in increasingly close physical proximity, we have grown more suspicious of each other. We isolate ourselves, not getting to know our neighbors, hoarding our resources and supplies for our own use, telling ourselves we definitely don’t need anyone else to get by.

Natural disasters and severe economic downturns have proven otherwise. And so has a family farm celebrating Easter in Western Oregon.

Yesterday, some friends stopped at a local family farm on their way back from a day at the Oregon Coast. The farm was hosting a free Easter egg hunt, with prizes given to whoever found eggs marked with special symbols. My friends’ kids had a blast — and brought home several dozen colored eggs. For free.

When two dozen of these eggs were passed along to us, my boyfriend was skeptical. Free eggs from a random family farm, given away by people he’s never met? Why would they just give away so many eggs? Might they be poisoned, or just plain bad?

“How much trust do you put in your fellow human beings?” he asked as he gazed down into the bag.

“Quite a lot, actually.” I reached into the bag, pulled out a teal-colored egg and peeled off its shell. I offered some to Mike, but he declined.

“You go ahead,” he said. “I’ll just wait and see if you die overnight.”

Poisoned Easter eggs would have been a particularly heinous — and stupid — way to prey on small children, and until Mike shared his suspicion, it hadn’t even occurred to me to be wary of farmers hosting free holiday fun for their neighbors and anyone else who happened by. Why not just believe the best possible explanation, rather than the worst?

(I wouldn’t have given these eggs to my children to eat without testing/inspecting them myself first, however.)

Nearly twenty-four hours later, I’m still here. No ill effects from the free eggs. I’ve used the remaining dyed eggs to make a very colorful Easter egg salad (which Mike did in fact eat).

The Golden Rule teaches us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. This same founding principle exists at the heart of many religious traditions — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Wicca and more — and is (or should be) the very cornerstone of any organized society. We need each other if any of this — our jobs, our daily lives, survival in general — is going to work.

The goodwill generated from a free egg hunt may well bring in some new business for the farm. Maybe that was the motive; I have no idea. But the neighborliness born of these celebratory and other acts of generosity contribute to a more cohesive, interdependent, trusting — and ultimately sustainable — community.

Passover 5769

Tonight marks the beginning of Passover, or Pesach. At Seder tables across the globe, people are coming together to remember the Hebrews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. Others use this time to promote freedom from modern oppression, or to celebrate the renewal of springtime. More than a few Seders this Passover season will focus on environmental responsibility.

The traditional Seder dinner symbolizes the meal eaten by Hebrew slaves the night that the Angel of Death took the lives of the Egyptian first-born, while passing over the homes of the faithful, whose doors had been marked with lamb’s blood. This was the final plague visited on Egypt by the God of Moses, and the last straw that convinced the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go.

(Of course, the Pharaoh’s soldiers later chased the Hebrews down in the desert, but that’s another story.)

I doubt there’s literally a Dark Angel of Climate Change, but we are being plagued by increasingly frequent and violent natural disasters, faster melting glaciers and ice caps, growing mounds of garbage and still having to figure out what to do with tons of toxic waste.* And there’s no “green” lamb’s blood with which to mark our doors; climate change is a global phenomenon from which no one is spared.

Some researchers say we’re already past the point of no return, that the worst-case scenarios of worldwide drought, famine, flooding and mass extinctions are now all but a certainty. Others say we’re close to that tipping point but not yet past it.

So what does this have to do with Passover?

Passover is about severing ties with the past. It’s about having the courage to step beyond previous restrictions and limitations to imagine and create a new reality. The effects of climate change are upon us, but we can and must clean up our own planet, essentially working toward liberating ourselves from our own mess.

This can start at the Seder table tonight. You can use only organic ingredients to make your Passover meal, or buy your wine from a sustainable vineyard. You can incorporate climate change solutions into your Passover story and discussion. You can donate funds from your tzedakah box to an eco-friendly charity. Huddler’s Green Home Community gives some great suggestions on how to make your Passover celebration more eco-friendly.

But it has to reach beyond holidays meals and dinner conversation. The Hebrews fled Egypt not only for themselves, but for their children, grandchildren and the generations to come. That’s the focus our environmental policies and green actions need to take now. The impact of what we do today — for good or ill — likely won’t be felt for many years to come. But our actions do still have a very real impact, even if we’ll never see it ourselves.

This Passover — and Pesach celebrations for years to come — can be about liberating ourselves from our own destructive behaviors, and liberating our children’s children from a planet destroyed.

* According to a 1995 report from the Reason Foundation, the United States disposes of 13 million tons of hazardous waste each year.