This was first published in the Western Advocate, March 5, 2022
Do you know about the word ‘solastalgia’? It was coined in 2003 by the Australian academic Glenn Albrecht. It’s meaning is not quite melancholia not really nostalgia. Albrecht describes it simply as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home”. In recent years it has been used more to describe a kind of existential dread that many are feeling as climate change ramps up towards 2030.
We have bushfires, and now floods, that are increasing in size, frequency, and intensity. The word ‘unprecedented’ is being used more and more to describe these events. Solastalgia is the response of many to all of this.
I remember, when I was young, collecting tadpole eggs from the local creek. When I remember this, I feel quite nostalgic. However, when I go back to that creek now, during what would be tadpole season, and find no eggs, then the feeling I feel is solastalgia: the eggs are gone and yet I am still here, looking for them.
What could be a response to all of this? Climate change, biodiversity collapse, and now war spreading to Europe – how is it not possible to lose hope?
Hope. Here’s an idea: maybe hope is not something that we are, ultimately, responsible for; maybe we don’t have to make it happen or create it. Maybe hope exists of itself. Our invitation is to remain somehow in it, to keep in touch with it as we can. How then might we do this?
Hope exists, powerfully and empowering, in the everyday and the ordinary. So, we attend lovingly to our children as they do their ordinary things; we practise simple kindness to people we don’t know; we pause to grin at the magpie on the roof and the wind in the trees. All this can help the mind still. As the mind stills, hope has a change to be felt, seen, and expressed.
In effect, whatever helps the mind to still, be it bushwalking, meditation, jogging, coffee with friends – all of this and more can help us live with hope.
Hope helps us to live in context. When solastalgia is an existential dread, it can be hard to see past the current circumstance. Hope encountered and lived in the ordinary gently convinces us that all will be ok. The age we are in will pass. Our young are now learning the lessons they need, and their children, too, will be born into hope.