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Janet Thomas: The Fall Of It All

  • Written by Janet Thomas

There is nothing objective about these times. And there is nothing objective about this opinion piece. I am struggling with it all--the diminishing daylight, species extinction, and COVID isolation and its accompanying disconnection from friends and freedom. So many connections with others that were such a normal part of life are now missing, and it feels like I am missing too. The depth of this distress is sad and startling. I had no idea of the deeply nurturing nature of spontaneous connections to friends. The ways in which our need for connection could be so easily satisfied without much thought or planning.

I also had no idea of the essential human warmth that accompanied Monday Night Contra Dancing at the Grange. It is something I have done for years and only now that it is missing am I fully appreciating its importance and comfort. Then there is the lack of instant recognition on the streets and in the stores because of masks. The free-flowing spontaneity of it all is no longer. It often feels like the life of it all has been taken out of life.

It is also triggering the isolation and abuse I experienced throughout my childhood. And as it does, it brings to life all the essential people I now know and love--from dear friends to familiar faces at the grocery store. The gift of you all is being illuminated nonstop. Even as my heart breaks, the deprivation of these times is shining a very bright light upon the gifts in my life. And if you are reading this you are one of them.

And if there is one thing I have learned, it is that my writing knows better and more than I do. As a child I was rarely allowed to speak. But nobody ever told me I was not allowed to write. It started with poetry way back when and was nurtured by two very special poets in my life-- Kenneth Rexroth and Philip Levine--with whom I took writing workshops in Port Townsend at the Writer’s Festival way back when. Poetry taught me to get out of the way and let the writing emerge. It is something I have learned to trust in every way. And it is all done with the right hand of writing.

As a child, I was experimented on. Nerves were cut in my left arm and then stimulated to grow through electric shocks. As a result, I have a small thumb that does not bend, two shrunken fingers, and a left hand with very little feeling. Writing was not a likely activity. But it was where my freedom reigned--and still does. I write to find out what I know, what I think, what I feel, and who I am. Writing about it all via two fingers and a thumb that hits the space bar.

As I write this, Facebook posts me a morning memory and photo from three years ago, September 28, 2018:

This morning. There are feather tides these days. And a story that goes with this pic--about my left-hand fingers. I was going to edit the fingers out of the photo--but then I thought, "No." My left hand matters. It has three five-year-old fingers and a thumb that does not bend. Inside my left arm is a scar four inches long. I was told I “Fell through a window." But every physician I ever saw asked me about the "incision." I was an adult when I started having memories. I went down for the count and that is why I landed on San Juan Island where the shorelines became my healing curve through time. I am part of a global survivor group that was experimented on and exploited by Nazi-based mind-control and body experimentation and exploitation that became global after WWII. When I was five- and six years-old I had electro-shock treatments three times a week on my arm to see if it would regenerate nerve growth--from the surgically cut nerves. I would not be here if it was not for my survivor community. You know who you are. I love you all. "The difference between the truth and a lie weigh no more than a feather." (Egyptian Saying) Some things cannot remain unspoken.

Tragic truth is all over the planet these days and it accompanies my job as Executive Director of Orca Relief Citizens Alliance. www.orcarelief.org This is a complexly simple position as I am the only staff person which means my title encompasses every role necessary including janitor, editor, and arbitrator. It also includes womaning a booth at the weekly Farmers’ Market in Friday Harbor.

At the outset, I was nervous about having this Orca Relief booth. I wanted it to support the survival of the Southern Resident orcas; I did not want it to be perceived as a problem for the whale--watching industry.

What has happened every week at the Orca Relief booth over these past months has been both heartening and heartbreaking. Somebody comes to the table, picks up a brochure, reads the poster board, or gazes at the material without making eye contact with me. I stay quiet, avert my eyes, and hope I am allowing the person the space they need. During the early weeks, I would also hold my breath and prepare to be attacked and insulted. But this has not happened, not even once.

What has happened are tears, gratitude, and fear. Fear of losing the Southern Residents to extinction, gratitude for our presence at the market, and tears for the plight of the SRKWs as they struggle to survive. These emotions are real and shared in ways that open my own heart and break it at the same time. They come from people whose lives have been personally impacted by the Southern Residents for reasons known only to them. I see it and feel it as they wordlessly share their love for, and their anguish about, these very special marine mammals.

The Southern Residents helped save my life when it was in question due to the after-effects of childhood trauma. I had moved to the island because of its protective beauty. The orcas were a surprise gift of healing and inspiration. Their playfulness and exuberance, their family loyalty, and their astonishing language and intelligence were complete surprises to me. They were my companions for hours back in the day when they had the waters to themselves for as long as they wanted. They frolicked with one another, and they fed on the salmon that migrated along the west side of the island. They were at home.

This early wordless connection to the natural world and its inhabitants saved my life--and it still does. There was also a human connection that anchored me in the language of healing. Shortly after moving to the island, I took a nature-connect workshop with Michael Cohen founder of Project Nature Connect-- www.projectnatureconnect.org

In this workshop I started on the PNC path of naming it all--the beauty, the brilliance, the profundity, and the perfection of the natural world. It was a lesson in life-changing language that has accompanied me ever since. There are words for the miracle of it all--as well as the blasphemy of it all.

So, this convergence zone of past and present weaves its own reality. The island saved my life and I’d like my life to save a future for the Southern Resident orca whales. They were, and are, sacred to the First Peoples of the Salish Sea. The SRKWs exuberant, family focused, fish-eating and highly intelligent lives deserve ongoing life in the unfolding of it all. I am writing a book about them, and the working title is: “As They Go, So Go We.” Every life on earth represents all life on earth. Knowing this means truly knowing ourselves. Life in all its manifest forms is a sacred thread that knows no bounds.

Currently, there are three pregnant Southern Resident orcas. May the babies, and their mothers, survive.

Janet Thomas has lived on San Juan Island for 29 years. She is the San Juan Islands Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance and was the Superintendent of San Juan County Parks when Jet-ski-whale-watching was prevented from launching from San Juan County Park, a decision ultimately upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. She is an author and playwright whose work has been produced in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her most recent books are: "The Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations" and "Day Breaks Over Dharamsala--A Memoir of Life Lost and Found."

Last modified onTuesday, 28 December 2021 01:08

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