Three years ago, I saw a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic pieces and knew I had to be the voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Sometimes I forget and think my purpose is plastic. But it’s not.
Yeah, I collect my plastic waste; blog about plastic-free alternatives; write to companies to get them to change their products and packaging; and give speeches and interviews on plastic, plastic, plastic. I focus on plastic because so few other activists and organizations do. Because “green” companies still package their products in plastic, and organic foods come wrapped in the stuff.
But my purpose, the reason I speak out on plastic, is for my clients:
When I forget them, I get caught up in the madness of Google Rank, Search Engine Optimization, PR Pitches, Social Media, blog popularity, and the stress gets to me. I focus on checking off items on my “To-Do” list and lose sight of the meaning of the actions themselves.
A few nights ago, flying home from Maryland after my mom’s death, feeling sad and useless and just trying to make sense of it all, I listened to a podcast from The Moth storytelling series that woke me up to my purpose all over again. I post it here in the hopes that it can inspire you too. Especially if you have ever been reluctant to speak up.
Please listen to the story of Alan Rabinowitz, who was born with a stuttering problem so severe he was placed in Special Ed with the slow learners and shunned by adults and children. While he couldn’t talk to people, he could communicate with animals. Every afternoon after school he would sit in a little closet in his New York City apartment with his pets… hamster, gerbil, green turtle, chameleon, garter snake,
and I would talk to them. I would talk fluently to them. I would tell them my hopes and my dreams. I would tell them how people were stupid because they thought I was stupid. And the animals listened. They felt it. And I realized very early that they felt it because they were like me. The animals, they had feelings too. They were trying to transmit things also, but they had no human voice. So people ignored them. Or they misunderstood them. Or they hurt them. Or sometimes they killed them. I swore to the animals when I was young that if I could ever find my voice, I would be their voice.
Later, after years of training to learn to speak fluently and escaping into the jungle to be with the animals, Rabinowitz finds himself faced with a difficult challenge. In order to save the jaguars that he loves from extinction, he will have to keep his promise and give the speech of his life.
(Via The Moth podcast)
When writing or speaking or thinking get hard and I’m tempted to call it quits, I remind myself that “my” work is not about me at all. It’s about a deep and insistent love that requires me to use whatever skill I have to keep the promise I made the night I saw that photo.
That’s the love I received from my mother. She died two weeks ago, but her love did not.