We, the World | Tahlequah is Waiting

Message from Rick Ulfik, Founder of We, The World and the WE Campaign at WE.net

It is an honor and an inspiration for We, The World to collaborate with Kosmos Journal for 11 Days of Global Unity this year! I was deeply moved by all the submissions that Kosmos collected based on one or more of our 11 Global Unity Themes.


The grief of a whale points to an epic crossroads for the human soul

By Jennifer Browdy

Every mother who has lost an infant can relate to the all-consuming grief of Tahlequah, the 20-year-old Orca whale who refused to let go of her baby after it died within the first half-hour of its birth. The world watched, transfixed, as her family rallied around her, taking turns carrying the body of their precious little one, the first Orca born in three years to this dwindling pod. Like lions and wolves, Orcas are fiercely communal, working together to hunt and care for their young. And now Tahlequah is giving us unmistakable evidence that they love fiercely too, and deeply grieve the loss of their loved ones.

It seems that Tahlequah’s public display of grief is getting humans’ attention at last. A task force is convening in Seattle to make a plan to restore the Chinook salmon in the region, since the root of the whales’ decline is the loss of their primary food supply. They are starving, and starving female mammals’ cannot successfully bear and nurse young. Hence this Orca family, like so many other families of all species in the world, is staring extinction in the face.

The truth is, we are all at risk now. Human overconsumption of Earth’s resources and over-burning of fossil fuels has made us the most successful invasive species ever to throw this planet off-balance. But now the jig is up, as the cascading effects of ecosystem disruption bring the more visible, iconic species—whales, bears, lions, rhinos…the list goes on—to their knees.

We know how interconnected we all are. From the plants that make our oxygen to the plankton that support the sea life to the microbes and fungi in the soil…we larger species are entirely dependent on small, often invisible life forms that we tend to take for granted. Who thought much about the bees until suddenly they were nearly gone?

The time for that kind of heedless insouciance is over. Human beings have been in an extended period of teenage hedonism, focused on good times and a fast, high-consumption lifestyle. It’s time to grow up now, and fast; to take responsibility for the health and well-being of those around us, both human and non-human.

When parents give this kind of message to their teens, the response is often a dismissive wave—get over it, Mom! Don’t be such a downer! The environmental movement has often found itself at a loss for how to deal with this attitude.

Yes, it’s a downer to wake up to climate disruption and species extinction. It’s scary and depressing to realize how fragile our planet is and how close we are to slipping into climate chaos and the point of no return for most of the animals we’ve grown up with on our planet—including vast numbers of humans who will not survive the fires, droughts, storms, floods, temperature and sea level rise, and loss of food resources.

Who wants to think about that? Wouldn’t we all rather go out for a cruise around town and have another beer?

We are in the midst of an epic battle for the human soul, which might be seen as a battle between the Gilgamesh and the Noah archetypes. Will we remain trapped in the youthful bravado of our Gilgamesh days—he who killed the guardian of the forest and cut down all the trees to build his great city? Or will the sober wisdom of Noah prevail at last, using our resources to innovate and engineer a safe passage through the storms of our century into a more harmonious future?

In Tahlequah’s wild grief, we can see the frightened eyes of billions of other living beings on this planet, young and old, human and non-human, all asking for nothing more than the chance to live their lives to the fullest, enjoying the abundance that Mother Earth has always provided.

Human beings are unique in that we can remember the past, see the big picture of the present, and predict the future. Only we have the power to bring this planet back from the brink of the big reset that will send us all whirling into the void of another million-year evolutionary cycle. We know what is happening, and we know how to avoid disaster. We have the technology to build our metaphorical arks, not just for us but for all life on Earth.

The big question, therefore, is a spiritual one. Do we have the will to grow up, spiritually, and take responsibility for our lives and the health of our planet? Do we have the strength and courage to make the necessary changes to our lifestyles? To consume less, shift away from fossil fuels and plastic, and become better stewards of the entire ecosystem upon which our survival depends?

Will we let the lords of the fossil fuel industry burn us out on their all-consuming pyre of greed and short-sightedness? Or will we allow the grief of Tahlequah to touch our hearts and ignite the passion we need to demand the changes that will give us all life?

Now is our time. What are we waiting for? Tahlequah wants to know.


About the Author

Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D. is an associate professor of comparative literature and media studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, with a special interest in writing for social and environmental justice, leadership and public speaking. Her memoir, What I Forgot …And Why I Remembered, was a finalists for the 2018 International Book Awards and her writer’s guide, The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir: A Writer’s Companion, won a 2017 Nautilus Silver Award. She is currently working on a book called Worldwrights: Lessons on Life and Leadership from the Purposeful Memoirs of 15 Activists Writing to Right the World.