Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai has died at the age of 71.
Sudden news can awaken our hearts. When courageous people leave us, we’re caught in a moment of reverence and reflection. Say a prayer for Wangari today and pause for a moment to reflect on your own precious life. She passed on Sunday, after battling cancer.
For me, this news is especially sad, since I was blessed to have enjoyed one of the most delightful, memorable and inspiring dinners of my life with her at the old Elk Mountain Lodge in the Ashcroft Valley near Aspen. In 1988, The Windstar Foundation gave her the “Choices for the Future Award” to honor her tremendous commitment to the Earth. A small group of us celebrated with her in a gorgeous wilderness setting – she was glowing with gratitude and opened all of our hearts with her joyful spirit. For those of you who met her or had the rare privilege to know her, you understand the charismatic exuberance and love of nature she embodied. Wangari Maathai is best known for her work in Kenya and Africa by founding the Green Belt Movement.
For those of you who only vaguely have heard of her, I recommend you spend a few minutes to learn more about her extraordinary life. Be inspired. It was a bit disheartening to notice that throughout the day the news of her passing slipped lower and lower on the list of “important news items” as noted in the New York Times Africa section on their web site. For a few brief moments it was listed on the home page and then disappeared. So, Elephant family, keep circulating this tribute. With any luck, it may reach some unsuspecting, innocent bystander with a spark of possibility and wonder – it might inspire a courageous step onto a path of right livelihood. Think of it as another pebble in a pond.
I’ll say it again with a twist, courageous people can touch our lives. When they leave with little warning, we grieve. Their devotion to a cause larger than all of us, grabs our hearts and jogs our minds. Suddenly our own mundane lives flash before us, at least that’s what happens to me. I take a deep breath and ask myself, just for a second or two, what could I do to make a difference? Can I allow myself the indulgence to imagine a courageous life? I sure hope these emotions that are stirring are not envy or jealousy. (NO…the seconds get stretched a bit, as I think to myself) it’s honest admiration and deep humility. Something in my DNA gets a jolt, my empathetic juices flow and I’m filled with a combination of sadness and joy. I ponder possibilities. I stretch those seconds of reaction into minutes, and hours.
We all recognize authentic commitment. Wangari spoke truth to power at a level that most of us only dream about. Then, in an instant she’s gone, we’ve lost a magnificent role model. She’s no longer walking with us. That knowing stops us; thankfully, not for long. Many of us will be inspired to redouble our own energy and commitment to contribute to solutions. I’m immensely grateful that I was privileged to meet her in person, it was a nourishing and refreshing encounter with pure joyful exuberance for life. Send a big prayer of gratitude and appreciation to her spirit and her contributions to our world today; then, pause to reflect on your own precious life.
Here is what she had to say in 1991 upon receiving the United Nations Prize for Leadership:
“It is not as if leaders do not understand the impact of the unjust political and economic systems which are promoting environmental degradation and promoting a non-sustainable development model. When will such business be considered unacceptable in the world community?…Africa’s challenges are being tackled at different levels, and some successes have been recorded. But not fast enough. The concepts of sustainable development, appropriate development models, and participatory development are not foreign. We are aware that our children and the future generations have a right to a world which will also need energy, should be free of pollution, should be rich with biological diversity and should have a climate which will sustain all forms of life.”
Her courage to overcome sexism, racism and the raping of our planet is already legendary – may her spirit be carried in all of our hearts. Here is Wangari, sharing the legend of the Hummingbird with us:
If these words don’t serve to awaken our passion to make a difference, I’m not sure what will. This is what she had to say during her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Norway:
“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other,” she said.
“That time is now.”
Let’s all agree to be hummingbirds in our own way.
If listening to Wangari’s words in her own resonant voice has inspired you to track with me a little longer, this link takes you to her views on Spiritual Environmentalism. It’s an excerpt from her recent book. Experience the depth of her connection with the Earth, and the wisdom she gained through that connection. She discusses how we can heal ourselves by replenishing the Earth. Come along, spend a few more minutes basking in her radiance.
As you know by now, I do my best to find appropriate music to add a finishing touch to my musings… This one is dedicated to Wangari.
Onward with Courage