I have just finished watching a film about Centralia, Pennsylvania entitled “The Town that Was.” Of the various types of coal, anthracite burns the hottest for the longest and the town of Centralia, PA sits upon an extensive anthracite coal mine. In 1962 Centralia had a population of around 3000. The town dump was somewhat near the cemetery and as Memorial Day approached it was decided to burn the contents of the dump so as to not offend all those making their yearly return to the cemetery to pay their respects to their departed. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable idea. The fire, however, worked its way down into the soil and eventually deep into the coal beneath. The fire has now been burning throughout the mine for 53 years, giving off not only heat, steam and smoke, but also carbon monoxide which has forced most of the town’s population to move away. The government purchased all of the empty homes and bull-dozed them, effectively wiping away traces of the town! Remarkably, there are still 11 people who refuse to move away! The town, however, as a town, no longer exists and the remaining 11 people can no longer even use the town’s old zipcode since there is no zipcode for a town that does not exist!
Sadly, the Centralia fire is not the only instance of mankind’s choices having unseen consequences further down the road. In the news I heard about an Eskimo community which caught a 200 year-old whale, cut it up and distributed the meat throughout the village. Does not even a 200 year existence give us pause? This is like eating your great-great-great-great-great Grandmother! While I realize that people need to eat, I was horrified that a 200 year-old animal had been regarded as no different than hamburger meat… a LOT of hamburger meat; this is like viewing giant Sequoias as simply a lot of potential 2-by-4’s! There’s got to be more to our residence on this planet than eating and using everything in sight just because we can!
And then there are the consequences further down the road in regard to our use of plastic for the sake of convenience: bags, containers, wrap… none of which dissolve. In the oceans plastics break down into tiny pellets which the fish eat and which enables them, after ingesting enough of it, to starve to death. Sea turtles become caught in plastic 6-pack holders. Why do we think that it is all right for us to do what we do simply because we want to do it? This narcissistic mindset of convenience-at-all-costs blinds us, the highest life-form on our planet (although that assumption seems more questionable every day)… to our spiritual responsibilities to be stewards who foster the well-being of all lifeforms. From a spiritual point of view it is not acceptable to view everything as simply commodities for our use. Black Friday sales are an excellent example of one of the crass manifestations of this mindset. When will we learn that our planet is not one giant supermarket?
I have come to discover that, from a spiritual point of view, in the end it is not enough for me to be distressed by these things; the only way that the world will change is by my changing my habits and customs, by my becoming more responsible in how I live, by my growing in understanding about why I purchase what I purchase… because there is no zipcode for a town that no longer exists.