‘We have a single mission: to protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.’ – Francois Hollande
My foot caught a weird crack in the rocky path and my leg gave out. I fell forward and though my hands reached out to the ground to break the fall, my face still hit the grass and soil. It was wet. It smelled bad. I’m still not used to the fact that everywhere around me is now green and brown when it used to be a pristine, pure white.
I pulled my head — my left side covered in dirt, dew, and leaves — and laid on my back to take a breather. The crack shouldn’t have made me fall but I was exhausted. I’m not half what I was before. So much of my weight was gone and I hated when my arms would rub against my now prominent ribs. My skin sagged against the force of gravity and I’m barely strong enough to support my tall skeletal frame. I stared up at the sun and it looked even bigger than yesterday. Its light hurt my eyes but what gave me true despair was its unavoidable heat.
In the past, it brought a luminescent radiance of comfort and warmth against the harsh biting snowy winds and the sharp, biting cold of the ice underneath our feet. But now, it was just… bright. It was so hot, I could feel my skin get set ablaze. What once was a scintillating, prismatic thing of nature that one appreciated in the blue sky was now a blistering beam of unconditional burning. I didn’t want it.
But I can’t complain. Not audibly. Not when my father was now atop of me. His head covered the sun from my gaze completely and I was enveloped in darkness. But I still knew how he was looking at me: annoyed, judging, practically hateful.
“Get up. We are a strong kind. Get. Up.”
He projected his voice loud when he said ‘we’.
“Do not forget, child. We were once a great, powerful clan.”
He placed his heavy hand on my shoulder and I nearly fell forward again. I heard the voice of a courageous fighter but in no way did his weak body match. It was very shocking to remember that he once was a massive, fighting leader for his community. It was even more so to see him now in his sickly form. He seemed to heave and trudge with every step. It’s even more terrifying to think that the change — the decay of his might and body – happened so quickly.
“In my time, these lands were not just covered in blankets of snow; every day was a literal fight for your life. When the only flowing liquid was the blood in our hearts, and every breath of the cold air felt like blades slashing your throat, and your eyes barely saw what was beyond your arm’s reach, only the strongest would survive. We were the strongest, and everyone else bowed down.”
He’s told his stories many times, but I let him continue as we walked. Our goal was to look for food, but the vast, barren land prompted a lot of talking to keep them sane. We’d notice if there was food, so he talked.
“It wasn’t until the ‘Others’ came. You remember the tale, right?”
“Yes, I do. They came in small groups but had kept their distance.”
“Yes! Even those that defied what we knew was natural knew not to challenge us.”
Even if I knew what was going to happen – having been told of the story many times – a crack in his voice betrayed the sadness and pity he had for his foolish hubris. My head hung lower because I knew how this was going to end.
“Then they came in stronger and more numerous. We fought back and yelled our gravelling roar. We won battles but there were so many confrontations. At first, their capture of one of our kind was though sad, quite complimenting. ‘They adored us’, we thought! ‘We were a fantastic bunch that was worth admiring and keeping!’ We paid our respects to our fallen comrade but laughed and celebrated hard at our greatness.”
He stopped. The winds were louder than our silence. I knew the next parts from my fallen relatives and kinsmen and started reciting them in my mind. He didn’t even have to say it.
“Then more of them came. Soon we realized how stupid we were for celebrating a casualty count. We started to plan for counter-attacks but it was impossible to fight back against an ultimately superior opponent. It was even understating calling them figures of belligerent oppression. They were a force that did whatever they pleased. Soon the hierarchy of power in our lands were shuffled to have them as the ultimate of ultimates.
They disappeared as soon as they left. But their malevolence was still felt. Before they came, our frozen tundra, cold and cruel as it was, was beautiful, clean, and full of food. Ever since they came… everything started to melt and our lands have gotten worse and smaller. Fearing the struggle for resources, our kind spread out to the far lands in search for more. Many groups never returned. Those that did bore only bad news. The sun grew hotter and our numbers died out. Worst of all, we had no way to fight something that could not be fought.
We knew it was because of them.”
But my father never got to those parts. I knew a reality so terrible and so full of despair at my age and my father would be foolish to think I did not. But he never talked about it nor brought it to attention. We saw a pile of refuse nearby and we walked towards it.
“The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.”
He continued to talk like this despite his pathetic form past his prime.
“Remember, son. We may be so few left, but our kind will forever be remembered. If not by others, but within us in our memories.”
The refuse had things that did not belong to this land. Hard, tough, inedible things that were washed ashore or were dropped from the sky. But there were the few rare things that seemed edible. They were soft and had no flavour to them but if we could get them down to our stomachs, it was good enough.
“They may take our lands and beat us in an unwinnable battle. They may weaken us and make our bodies brittle and soft. But they will never take our spirits. Fight. Fight for me. For us. For yourself.”
It seemed so foolish. Why bother at all? But, in the grand scheme of things, we struggled because we could. We’re a proud race, and no matter what, I will fight.
The man stood a way’s away on a hill, looking down at the valley below. He remembered a time when he had to wear white coverings to mask him into the surroundings. Now he just wore whatever and felt fine, only having to wipe the sweat from his brow every now and then from the intense heat. He trained his camera to a spot along a path. His subjects were closing in. A young polar bear with a shriveled, hungry body tripped over a set of rocks. Unfortunate, but it was a great shot for when the father bear — just as depressing and disturbing to look at — came over to pick him up. The cameraman could pity the bears as they rummaged through the plastic and garbage to pick out few paper bags and food-wastes the bears thought were edible.
“What a damn shame.”
Do not be fooled by the fact that we still have cold winters. Climate change caused by Global Warming is upsetting a delicate balance in our world — our only home — and we are the sole cause of it. I don’t know how it is that we can live with our ways for so long and not do anything about it quick enough. If we’re roommates with all of the species in the world, we’re giant assholes not cleaning up after our mess.
But, this isn’t just about the environment. The quote is in many ways refers to the responsible adults who have chosen to raise a child to ready them for reality. No matter how terrible it is, and no matter how much the child knows so much more than the parent will ever know, it will forever be ingrained into the child’s mind that ‘Yes, you can do it.’
Thank you, pa.