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A blessing in disguise

December 18, 2009

Tonight hundreds gathered and paused, worlds away from the painfully slow, potentially useless negotiations. Worlds away from misleading media and crowded hallways. Worlds away from leaders and followers stuck in an outdated lifestyle.

A candlelight vigil brought some of the world’s most dedicated climate thinkers together to set aside the policy, and reflect on what really matters. It helped me remember too.

A man kneels at the edge of a circle of candles during a vigil organized Thursday night to reflect on the blessings of climate change.

The speakers’ faces were illuminated by holiday lights and small candles distributed to everyone before the vigil began. Others working around the converted factory building  settled into seats around the single microphone, faces glowing above candles of their own.

Perspective came in waves, ebbing and flowing with each speakers’ overlapping passions. Climate change is a blessing in disguise, they said. Remember to see the good, and think about the potential for a better life.

Unity around the climate crisis is exceptional and praiseworthy. Dozens of world leaders spoke in succession on a Web stream from the Bella Center, projected before the vigil. Major polluters and organic farmers alike have united behind COP15. An indigenous Manitoban, 50-year-old white college professor and activist, and Indian and Swedish students were among the evening’s speakers.

Past battles for justice have been fought and won, an activist from Seattle said. Sure, the developed world is on pace to set targets that jeopardize the lives of millions in Africa and elsewhere. It’s on a path that will make our lives more expensive and difficult. But climate change is the latest cause in a series of justice movements over decades. Countless people have lifetimes worth of energy left to work.

They’re leaving policymakers in the dust.

A few brave souls shared a deeper energy and personal sacrifice at the vigil. Two of the climate justice fasters spoke on their 42nd day without food. Even bundled in layers of clothing their voices were strong, as was their belief in the power and beauty of this movement.

I always squirm a little at these gatherings. The dim lighting. The emotional tones. The intense commitment out there for all to see. And at the evening’s core, an issue with an uncertain and scary future.

These, however, are lofty visions I can embrace. And during a few moments in the vigil, it all felt possible. If only a glimmer, it was the most honest and optimistic conviction I’ve felt in Copenhagen. And it’s still lingering.

Everyone in the audience wrote pledges on pieces of paper, and placed them under the candles in the circle.

Of course I can live without a car. Of course I can live in a carbon-neutral house. Maybe there’ll be more time for empty afternoons, nights of conversation. And maybe, just maybe, America won’t insist on being so ridiculously wealthy and excessive.

Everyone needs an ideal to work towards, and I found part of mine tonight.

Finally, Deepa Gupta, a 21-year-old leading youth activist, reminded everybody to love.

And what better way to love this week than to think of someone who’s frustrated you, she said. Thank them for showing you what you want to be, and don’t want to be. Thank them for the love they have for others.

I did. It worked.

“What makes us happy is the people and the friends and the love we have in our life,” Gupta said. Obvious, I know. But it’s especially meaningful facing frustration on a global scale.

“My goal is to know when I have enough,” Gupta said, “and turn to what really makes me feel good.”

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