Everyone who is a stationary enthusiast, like myself, knows that organizing drawers is at the same time a nightmare and a delight. You suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by piles and piles of notebooks and notepads you never knew that existed — maybe you don’t need another pretty journal, after all… but why not? — but it pays off when you find something precious among your old notes. The last time I dared to deal with what I call my “chaos cabinet”, my hard work was rewarded with finding a quote that I had scribbled a few years ago on the first piece of paper at the reach of my hand, while reading Ray Bradbury’s Something wicked this way comes: “our hour is short, eternity is long.” These words have a special place inside me since then, but they have been particularly resonating in my thoughts during the last days.
For the past weeks, Brazilians have been watching yet another tragedy take place in our country: the Pantanal biome, the world’s largest flooded wetland, which encompasses a unique biodiversity as well as a rich traditional culture, is burning — fires have been set in order to clean the terrain for agriculture, and they’re nowhere close to being controlled. Pictures of raging flames and wounded animals have taken over my social media, as well as pleas for help from environmentalists and from the inhabitants of the Pantanal.
Once more, our patrimony succumbs to flames under the negligent watch of the national government — it’s not my intent to dive into this situation, and all I have to say is that it makes it even harder to swallow. It is, without doubt, heartbreaking and despairing to witness all of this with hands tied behind our backs, but at this point you may be asking yourself what does that have to do with time and Ray Bradbury. Well, I’m more and more convinced that what’s at stake isn’t ““only”” the diversity of the Brazilian Pantanal. This is, also, a tragedy involving time — one could say it’s a tragedy that trespasses time, and to know that it’s happening so close to home, instead of in an apocalyptic science-fiction movie, is what scares me the most.
“What is a legacy?” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton asks himself (on a lighter note, I know I’m late to the party, but now that I finally put my hands on the movie, I, a history nerd and musical theater fan, won’t stop talking about it anytime soon). “It’s planting seeds in a garden you’ll never get to see.” Because our hour is short, but eternity isn’t limited to it — and, no matter how cruel and brief our time may be, it allows us to all leave something behind. No matter how big or small, I find the idea of leaving something behind, something that will outlive us, beautiful. Maybe it’s someone’s words that reach new readers across space and time, who’ll give them new meanings. Maybe it’s someone’s ideas that’ll only make sense a long time after their own time is up. Maybe it’s what we call art, what we call science, what we call history. Maybe it’s even finding traces of a version of yourself which no longer exist on the pages of a long lost notebook. Yes, we are bound to time, but to be in the present means to be in a constant dialogue with the past, with the legacy that was left to us, and, why not, to be confronted, once in a while, that there will be a tomorrow. This scares us, sometimes, such as all the things we don’t quite understand, but it’s also something that we rely on. And, above everything, something that we always take for granted.
What happens when the idea of a future itself becomes uncertain? We often compare the current state of our world with dystopias, but what if we’re closer to living inside a story about time? We all have read books or watched movies about time-travelers who mess with time: in the end, they learn not only that they shouldn’t change the past, but that fiddling with the future comes at a price, too. And what is sacrificing complex ecosystems in the name of profit but to do it? With the major Brazilian biomes at risk — unfortunately, it’s not only the Pantanal that’s at stake, but the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado savanna too — I can’t help but feel that I’m living the part of a story when humans decide to play chess with what we can’t grasp or understand. All of us who have read a little bit of speculative fiction know how this ends.
We’ll never be sure of the consequences of destruction. We can’t know what losing at least 15% of a biome means. 85% of the biggest reserve of onças-pintadas, the famous Brazilian jaguars, has succumbed to the flames — will this play a role in where we are in ten, twenty, fifty years from now on? How about the traditional communities who are losing the lands from which countless generations have made a living throughout history? We always talk about how the end of the world seems to be approaching, sometimes jokingly, sometimes with genuine worry, but we can’t forget that, for some people, it has already begun — and a long time ago.
We can never know what sacrificing our possibilities of a future means. Around the world, the concerns about sustainability and our relationship with the environment are growing as we realize that our predatory attitude towards what sustains and nurtures life as we know it is a threat that challenges more than we sometimes first think.
I hope that it’s not too late to understand something that the indigenous leader Ailton Krenak has already anticipated: “tomorrow is not for sale”. However, as I write this, the garden where we should be sowing the seeds of what’s yet to come is disappearing under a trail of fire.