But the Greatest of These is Love

Mary Annaïse Heglar
Photo by Finding Dan | Dan Grinwis on Unsplash

Back in May, The Guardian, one of the world’s leading news outlets, boldly changed its style guides to give preference to “climate crisis” over “climate change.”

Governments all over the world are finally declaring “climate emergencies.” Granted these declarations are all too often go no further than the paper they’re written on, but they still matter. Children all over the globe are skipping school, eschewing education to fight for their right to a future.

Climate change has risen to the top of the priority list for voters in the much-awaited Democratic Primary and one of the most talked about pieces of legislation this year was the Green New Deal. The crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates, heeding the call of their would-be constituents, have called for a debate centered around climate change, and the Democratic National Committee just might bend to that will.

It’s finally happening. We’re finally talking about climate change. It’s hard. It’s messy. And, as evidenced by the Guardian’s style guide, we don’t really have the language. But we’re finding it.

There are so many questions. What should we do about it? How should we do it? Who is responsible? But, before human beings act, we need to feel. To process. It’s our nature.

There’s many different schools of thought about how we should feel about climate change. For decades, the dominant narrative has been that we should feel guilt. Then, there’s the dual narrative that calls for hope. Others have called for fear, or panic. I myself am on the record calling for anger.

But, I don’t always feel angry, to tell the truth. In fact, sometimes I’m hopeful, sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, and sometimes I’m downright stubborn. (My mama would tell you that’s pretty much all the time.)

That’s because none of those emotions really get to the heart of what I truly feel. None of them are big enough. If I’m honest with myself , what I truly feel is…love.

Hear me out.

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

I don’t mean any simple, sappy kind of love. I don’t mean anything cute or tame. I mean living, breathing, heart-beating love. Wild love. This love is not a noun, she is an action verb. She can shoot stars into the sky. She can spark a movement. She can sustain a revolution.

“r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet. r/evolution is love.” — Assata Shakuur

I love this beautiful, mysterious, complicated planet we get to call home. The planet who had the audacity to burst with life, from her boreal crown to her icy toes at the South Pole. I love her caves and her valleys and her rivers and her oceans. I love the majesty of larger-than-life elephants and whales and rhinos and lions. I love the elegance and enigma of all the different kinds of bats—even the ones that eat other bats! I love the unapologetic sass of butterflies and hummingbirds and coral reefs and the tear-jerking aroma of flowers that bloom below the equator.

I love that nighttime symphony on steamy southern nights when the frogs croak and the crickets sing and the owls hunt. I love the taste of watermelon and blackberries in the summer — the way that they ooze down the side of my face when they’ve reached perfect ripeness. I love the delicate feel of honeysuckle petals and the warm, grainy earth and dewy grass on my bare feet.

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” — Che Guevara

I love sitting on my mama’s back porch in Mississippi to watch “God do His work” in the form of late-summer thunderstorms underneath a thick blanket of humidity. I love the late summer haze when all the colors come to life and seem to throb.

And I love my mama. I love my family. I love my niece and nephew and I love that it doesn’t matter that their parents are actually my cousins and not my siblings. I love my Aunt Joyce’s laugh and my cousin Candice’s freckles and my Aunt Karen’s voice.

“we need a r/evolution of the mind. we need a r/evolution of the heart. we need a r/evolution of the spirit… we need to be weapons of mass construction. weapons of mass love. it’s not enough just to change the system. we need to change ourselves.” — Assata Shakuur

I love — dare I say it? — myself. And some days it’s easier to do that than others. Sometimes it feels impossible, but it’s a work in progress and I’m working on it, okay?

“Love doesn’t begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war. Love is growing up.” — James Baldwin

A love like this doesn’t live in your heart. She’s too big for that. She’s in your blood, your bones. She’s in your DNA. The places where people think racism is. She envelopes you with an impenetrable armor.

When you love something, or someone, that much, of course you’re frightened when you see it under attack, and of course you’re furious at anyone or anything that would dare to harm it.

I am furious that my mother is in more and more danger every hurricane season. And I am terrified at the thought of living through my old age, when my body aches the way my mother’s does now, in an unpredictable environment with disaster at every turn. What happens when my knees don’t have enough spring left in them to run from a wildfire? What happens when I’ve lost it all in a flood, but I’m too old to work again?

But this love is strong enough to break through the terror. She is hot enough to burn through anger and turn into fury. She can shake you out of your despair and propel you to the front of the battle field.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy

It’s a love that can also —even in the teeth of these most insurmountable odds — give me hope. If I’m brave enough to accept it. I’ve seen her looking back at me in the eyes of some of the bravest climate justice warriors I have ever met, and I can feel that tickling tingle of “maybe, just maybe, we’ll be okay.”

A love like that doesn’t seek peace, or even vengeance. She seeks justice. And she’s strong enough, ferocious enough, brave enough to burn this bitch to the ground.

Mary Annaïse Heglar

Written by

Climate justice essayist. BX-Based. Roots in AL and MS. Published in Vox and Dame Magazine. Rants regularly on the Twitter. James Baldwin is my personal hero.

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