Leaving Home by Ness Mountain
He watches me, waiting for more. I know he believes I have an answer for him.
"What's wrong with the world, Ness?" my son Moriah asks me. He likes to start long conversations with broad questions. I open my mouth to answer, but there’s a tightness in my throat. I don't want to hurt him.
We are hiking through the mountains, walking up a long, narrow trail through the woods. I stop and look down into the river valley below us.
The Florida panther is almost extinct, like wolves, whales, otters, and thousands of unnamed creatures and plants disappearing daily under the bulldozers of the rainforest. I feel their cries in my blood, a ringing in my ears. The ozone layer, nuclear waste, war, poverty. This is a time of ending; there may be no rebirth. How can I share that with you? I don't want you to inherit my despair, but I want you to know how much there is to fight for, and how badly we need to fight.
I start walking again, and try to respond. “You know, when I try to answer that, I just feel this pain in my heart. I wish I had a better world to give you to grow up in. I get depressed about it sometimes. There are some very serious problems with this world.”
He watches me, waiting for more. I know he believes I have an answer for him. We’ve talked about the world all his life. At different ages, there are different questions, different answers. At twelve, I think he’s old enough to start learning about the issues, so we begin a long discussion about the wilderness, corporations, money, government. I paint a bleak picture: the government is largely under the control of the corporations. Meaner corporations pay their workers less, and they destroy the environment more, so they make more money, they grow, and they take over nicer corporations. All this is in stark contrast to the beauty of the forest trail.
Moriah reacts naturally. He knows it’s not fair, but he doesn’t feel like he can fix it. He dreams of playing in the NBA. He wants to have fun, to live a good life. We sit and talk, watching the mountain creek flow below us. I try not to be gloomy, but to encourage his hopes while teaching responsibility. All the while, I’m dreaming of him as a crusader. I want him to do something I can’t, to make a crucial contribution somehow. It’s not fair to him.
I’ve lived much of my life in fear of the death of this beautiful planet, and it’s wearing me down; but I have to fight my own battles. A few weeks later, writing this article, I ask him what he thinks about his future. “I want to go live in Africa somewhere, far away from everything,” he says. “I think people in a little village somewhere in Africa wouldn’t be so unhappy. I want to get away from it all.”
“It’s hot there,” I grump. Portland is steaming; makes me think of global warming. Escape sounds good to me, too—but I know my guilt and sadness would follow me, even to Africa.
“I want to have kids, I know that much,” he tells me. “Maybe I’ll go to Italy and meet some beautiful Italian girl and we’ll have children. I want to have a lot of money and have fun. They could have Italian grandparents. Good food.”
“That sounds great,” I say. The thought of Italian grandparents cheers me up. “Have you had any more thoughts about our discussion about the problems in the world?”
“Well, I need to figure out my own viewpoint. I worry about my kids I mean, they need a good place to grow up in, too. I love talking to you about it, though.” I look up at him, tongue-tied again.
Moriah, I want to give you everything that is me—my sorrows, my longings, the strange welling I feel in my breast when I think of you. I love you, more than is comfortable for me. I would do anything to be able to know that you—and our world—were going to be OK.
“I love talking to you, too,” I say at last.
Ness Mountain is a counselor and urban shaman living in Portland. Your comments on Leaving Home are welcome: respond to Alternatives or to Ness at (503) 335-8761 or by email.