By JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
For the Montclair Local
Last year will be remembered forever. The impact of the pandemic transformed the world where we used to live. The virus not only changed our way of life, but also took the lives of millions and left millions more with long-term health conditions and mental trauma.
This pandemic is something none of us has seen in our lifetimes. We have seen our world shrink as we have watched the virus spread, and even more as we have felt the isolation and limitations on the freedoms we took for granted, not only once but in two waves of the virus.
But not everything has been negative. The forced isolation to preserve our health and lives has had many positive outcomes. Many of us found solace and comfort in gardening and visiting our parks and nature preserves.
We became more conscious of the value of our loved ones, the communities where we live, and our capacity to help others in time of crisis.
We all agree that 2020 was a year full of changes and challenges. Many things have changed in our lives and even in our personal values and life perspectives. We learned from experience about the fragility of our world and how vulnerable we are. We have seen friends, neighbors and members of our families suffering the consequences of the virus, and sadly some of them have died.
I hope this new pace of life allows us to slow down and find quiet and balance when we come out on the other side. May we learn from this period the importance of long conversations with family and friends, time for meditation, time for cooking healthy food grown within steps of our home, listening to the sounds of birds outside, dancing to music, reading, writing journals and poetry, and making art with our children.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Last year we became more conscious about the future of our planet and what we need to do to protect the environment and improve our quality of life. Our planet home is in urgent need of healing; forests need to be restored, air and water need to be cleaned up for our own preservation.
We must take action today because our future depends on what we do now. You have an important role in this process. You have the power and control to make changes in your lifestyle and at home.
Through the 2020 gardening season, we nurtured our gardens and our loved ones. We had harvests that were shared with families and friends. Now, at the beginning of the new year, we have witnessed the transformation of nature with new eyes and a new mentality. We have questioned our purposes in life at the same time that many of us engaged in deep reflections about the planet, the environment and the actions we need to take now to preserve the legacy for our children and grandchildren.
As we move forward we need to reflect on our roles as healers and restorers of our environment. I hope we remember that our actions really do matter, and that everything is related in one way or another.
Let’s plant the seeds for more native plants that will eventually restore the habitats of pollinators and beneficial wildlife.
Let’s spread the seeds to grow as a strong community where all people can thrive regardless of race, color, gender, religion, ethnic group or sexual orientation.
Let’s plant the seeds of tolerance and understanding.
Let’s see our community and people in the same way we see nature: We see forests, tall trees and saplings, bushes, flowers, ground covers, animals and all forms of wildlife. All of it together creates a perfect balance that we call nature.
Let’s appreciate the diversity of our community and be more inclusive and tolerant.
Let’s create healthier open spaces where humans and wildlife can coexist in harmony and mutual respect. By planting hope, love and kindness every time we have an opportunity, we will see our community thriving and people coming together with a collective feeling that they are in a safe place where they are respected and appreciated.
Growing your own food is not only rewarding but also a very important element of sustainability. At the same time that you are nurturing your body, you are helping the environment by reducing the fuel impact of the transportation of your food.
When this crisis is over, let’s cherish the beauty of “normal” — going out without masks or fear of infection, enjoying as much as possible the simple things in life.
I hope we all recognize the important and critical role nature plays in our well-being and stop destroying Mother Nature.
I hope to see more kids choosing to play outside over playing video games, and more people making time for outdoor activities. Stay hopeful, friends, and continue planting the seeds for a better future.
Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident.
He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.