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  • Writer's pictureEl

Whales and Balancing Acts

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

One of the greatest challenges humanity currently faces is our ability to balance. To hold in one hand all the beauty and wonder of the world, and hold in the other all the pain and ugliness, and to choose love and life and continue moving forward. If we can learn to do this, maybe we can move to a brighter future together.

There is a reason that symbols like the yin yang have endured for millennia. Anyone who has lived in this world has seen for themselves just how beautiful and terrible it can be. You can’t have a rainbow without any rain, it’s always darkest just before dawn, every cloud has a silver lining, on and on. We know at our core that light and shadow are integral to our world. Yet it can be easy to slip onto one side or the other–to be overcome with sadness, aware of the terror in the world or lost in the dark woods of your own mind, stuck in a cycle of depression. Or to feel joy over all else, to turn away from any shadow, to live a blissful but ignorant life. It is only in the recognition, acceptance, and embracing of the interplay of dark and light that we can truly thrive.

I recently took a guided boat tour of the Kenai Fjords. As we quietly approached another boat that had relayed information of a special sighting to our captain, I made my way out onto the deck. Grabbing onto the railing to steady myself, I looked out to the open water and saw it: my first glimpse of a humpback whale. Tears welled in my eyes at the sight of this magnificent creature. We watched the birds take flight, following their path as a clue to what would come next: a group of twelve or more whales bubble feeding. The crew lowered a microphone into the water, allowing us to hear the calls of the humpbacks, working together to organize and feed. The sound of their other-worldly calls brought tears to my eyes again. Their collaborative efforts ensured a feast for the group, and the symbiotic nature of this practice also brought food for the birds. A beautiful display of nature’s collaboration.

Later, the captain would discuss the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, how it affected this area and the funding that went toward Seward’s Alaska Sea Life Center. The next day, I would visit the center and read more about the spill. As someone born in 1995, I don’t remember the time when this tragedy occurred, but I do remember learning about it in a high school environmental science class. The Sea Life Center’s exhibit about the spill was a reminder of all those feelings–heartbreak for the animals and ocean, fury at big oil companies, despair over the greed that permeates our society. 33 years later, we are still working to understand the scope of the oil spill’s effects. Oil is still found in sand and under rocks along the Alaskan Coastline to this day.

Today, as I drive home from Seward, I am reflecting on all of this. The depth and range of emotions I’ve felt on this trip–from sheer awe and wonder, to despair and uncertainty–and the middle ground between them, where I can breathe and move forward. Oftentimes my emotions get the best of me, but I am working to learn how to manage them to live better. Taking the visceral pain I feel when I see injustice and using that to fuel my fight for change. Taking the abundant joy and using it to fill my cup and sustain me through the low points. When I think of my life, I often think of a pendulum: swinging from one extreme to another, from depression to elation, from over-involvement to inaction, from focusing all my energy on helping others to worrying only about myself. Letting the pendulum settle into a more manageable pace is my goal now. I do not want to feel ruled by emotions, but rather learn from what they are trying to tell me, and allow them to be co-conspirators in my life. I want to feel the joy of watching a whale breach from the churning ocean and the pain of knowing what damage humans have done to the home we share with that whale. I want to hold both of things simultaneously, so that I may be charged with the energy I need to continue on this path.

If you want to learn more about the Exxon-Valdez oil spill’s effects on the Alaska coastline, read this. If you want to help Alaskans fight to protect our shared home, check out these resources: Alaska Climate Alliance, Alaska Institute for Justice, Native Movement.

I hope you are finding wonder, awe, happiness, peace. I hope you are not shying away from pain, hard truths, and shadow. May we all learn to hold these things honestly, with reverence, and continue to choose love every day.

All photos taken by El Dantzler, copy-write 2022

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