The Good Yet to be Done

By:  Lindsay Sementelli

Last week, I wrote a post inspired by the ideas of Philip Loring in his article “It’s Time for a New Story of Humanity’s Place in the World.” As a quick refresher, the article centers around the idea that we humans have long thought of ourselves as naturally at odds with the environment and all living non-human things. Why shouldn’t we think this way, when so many writings, teachings and experiences of the past have left us believing that we cannot thrive as a species without harming the natural world?

This is the type of thinking that this article is trying to help us to correct. Loring presents several writers, leaders and pieces of literature that have left us feeling like we are doing more harm than good in this world (see the article at http://ensia.com/voices/its-time-for-a-new-story-of-humanitys-place-in-the-world/ for specific examples). Loring points out the flaws in that logic, and so, once again, I want to present another piece of writing to support the idea that while we have done our damage, there is still so much good yet to be done.

Since we need to move ourselves away from old ideas, I think it is important to look at familiar and much-loved works from new perspectives. I wrote about “The Road Not Taken” last week as it is a poem that is a favorite of or at least familiar to so many of us. Now, I want to introduce you to a song I have loved for quite some time from a band that has been one of my favorites for the past ten years or so. The verses of “The Good Left Undone” by Rise Against immediately came to mind for this post because I have seen a lot of arguments for why the lyrics of this song, like “The Road Not Taken,” shouldn’t be taken at face value and should be instead used to think about making an important personal decision, like walking away from a loved one. I always thought of the lyrics in a more literal sense, and I think other people could learn a few things from considering them differently! I should note here too that this band is known for their commentary on political and social issues, so I think looking for a double meaning is appropriate. The lyrics are as follows:

In fields where nothing grew but weeds
I found a flower at my feet
Bending there in my direction

I wrapped a hand around its stem
And pulled until the roots gave in
Finding there what I’ve been missing
And I know

So I tell myself, tell myself, it’s wrong
There’s a point we pass
From which we can’t return
I felt the cold rain of the coming storm

All because of you, I haven’t slept in so long
When I do I dream of drowning in the ocean
Longing for the shore, where I can lay my head down
I’ll follow your voice, all you have to do is shout it out

Inside my hands these petals browned
Dried up fallen to the ground
But it was already too late now

I pushed my fingers through the earth
Returned this flower to the dirt
So it could live, I walked away now but I know

Not a day goes by when I don’t feel this burn
There’s a point we pass
From which we can’t return
I felt the cold rain of the coming storm

All because of you I haven’t slept in so long
When I do I dream of drowning in the ocean
Longing for the shore where I can lay my head down
I’ll follow your voice, all you have to do is shout it out

All because of you
All because of you

All because of you I haven’t slept in so long
When I do I dream of drowning in the ocean
Longing for the shore where I can lay my head down
Inside these arms of yours

All because of you I believe in angels
Not the kind with wings no, not the kind with halos
The kind that bring you home
When home becomes a strange place
I’ll follow your voice, all you have to do is shout it out

One of the first things that jumps out at me is the fact that the song starts with “in fields where nothing grew but weeds,” as if to say that beautiful, useful or even life-changing things like that single little flower that gets plucked are rare; everything else is unattractive, disposable or detrimental. The flower gets forcefully picked in what seems like a selfish act, because don’t we all need to collect the best and brightest things for ourselves before they catch anyone else’s eye? There is something a bit off with all of this! We need to find a way to shift our thinking to appreciate and care for everything that appears as “weeds.” We cannot covet and hoard only the best things for ourselves, leaving castoffs for everyone and everything else as well as creating a lot of waste in the process. If we continue to do so, the conditions for inequality are created, pushing us as humans to desperate measures for survival, as Loring describes. When we are pushed to our limits just to get by, the natural world suffers too.

Luckily, by the next verse, a shift in thinking occurs. The flower is returned to the soil, but the problem is that it was only replanted because it was dying. A clear mistake was made, but what is important is that this person now knows better for the next time. They realize that what they did is wrong, and I think the repetition of the lyrics “I felt the cold rain of the coming storm” symbolizes that this person has had the realization that if actions like theirs are repeated, there will be harmful consequences for both humans and nature on a larger scale. The uprooting and replanting of the single flower in this song is a seemingly simple action. It is true that we cannot undo many of our past actions this simply, if at all. However, not making a change because we think it will be too difficult will keep us at odds at nature, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Changing our ways of thinking, finding new ways to thrive and keeping the earth alive and well for all living things will not be easy, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done and that the small actions like the metaphorical one of this song don’t add up. This action makes a powerful statement that the little things that we are all capable of do count. All the little things add up to something bigger than ourselves, and we can all be the kind of angel without wings or a halo who shouts out to the rest of the world to make a difference.

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