I am sitting with my son, three days before the New Year brings 2018. He looks wonderful; bright eyed, funny, warm and friendly. I am sitting with him while he is home from school, watching him eat his dinner. We are having a wonderful time, talking about songs, singing, school, friends, everything.
"I think mine will be the last generation on earth," he says, still smiling.
I think he is kidding at first. But he is not. "There will be some kind of natural disaster that will kill us all," he says. And then I realize he is serious.
I look at him, thinking about why he's saying what he's saying to me. It's not just that we've had a year of disasters ranging from hurricanes to monumental blazes; or that in our city it is at least 10 degrees below zero and we can hardly stand to be out in the air.
It's that I know our environment is getting more and more degraded by the day, and no one, even now, has the will to address it. I want to say something that will change my son's viewpoint, but I tread carefully because I don't want to be pie-in-the-sky cheery either, which I know he won't buy. I tell him I think he should have a more optimistic viewpoint of the future, because his generation will be running things and that gives us a better chance of getting there.
He sounds skeptical, which makes me sad. I think of the grandchildren I (secretly) don't tell him I want, and of all the children yet to come into the world, and what we owe them. I feel at a loss for how to make things change, but I know I need to do something. Voting and asking others to vote is one thing; conserving and recycling are another; both seem very tiny tasks in comparison to what I wish I could do.
Two days later, we go up to see my husband's family on the shore of Lake Superior for the new year. I tell his uncles what my son said, and they say "we said that too, and so does every generation." That sort of makes me feel better and sort of doesn't. But how, I want to say, can we turn things around so kids aren't worried about being the last generation anymore?
We are all so good at denying there's a problem, is the problem. But it can't just be up to my son and his friends to change things--it has to be up to all of us. I know this, but I don't really know what to do about it.
I just know I don't want to have another conversation like that with my son.
And I want his generation to outlast us all.