Alleluia Buist, an alumna of Act Five (‘22), recently completed a 3-month internship at A Rocha Canada’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre. Here she shares her experience and learning from her time there.
Almost everyone in the A Rocha Canada world and the Act Five world knows the Steven Bouma-Prediger quote: “We care for only what we love. We love only what we know. We truly know only what we experience”. It was one of my favourite quotes from my time in the Act Five program, but after my time at Brooksdale, I think I would change Steven’s words a little bit: “We care for only what we love. We love only what we…” what?
To say “know” in our educated world is to imply the ability to regurgitate fact—ferns do not flower but reproduce asexually with spores, a²+b²=c², North America is the 3rd largest continent. No, I don’t think knowledge is the prerequisite to love.
What is, then? It makes me think about the classic verse John 1:14, but not in the usual NIV way: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (sounds like a stiff dictionary way of putting things to me). In Eugene Patterson style: “so the Word became a child, a skin-and-bones boy, and moved into our neighbourhood.” That’s a lot easier for me, a child-teacher and Hamilton-dweller, to understand. Understanding love is a lot easier when we look at the non-dictionary definition of it. Moving into the neighbourhood, and not as a posh lawyer, or mayor, or ward councillor. Moving in as a child.
Neighbourhoods and children. I’ve got more than a bit of experience with those. And this past September, I hopped on a plane to A Rocha BC to experience even more.
Now, I’d like you to take into consideration a couple of things before you imagine a young adult excitedly moving cross-country. When I moved into 75 Blake Street to do the Act Five program, I was moving a whopping two blocks from my house, to a place where I already knew the faces of a fair number of the inhabitants. And I was moving in with my best friend as my roommate. Still, I was trembling-in-my-shoes terrified.
So now, I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise that when I finally arrived at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Centre in BC, I immediately regretted it. I had signed up for an internship there on a whim, and the whole prospect of me doing it had felt like a fever dream, but there I was. Within the first couple hours of me being there, I was sitting alone on a couch, fighting off tears. My only thoughts were, “What the HECK have I done?” and, “How do I un-do this?”.
And so, I took my turn becoming a child and moving into the neighbourhood. And man, was it scary.
Almost every person I met was new and cool and intimidating. I tend to shrink away from situations with a lot of new faces, falling back on the people, places, and plants that I know and then slowly incorporating the new stuff in. But this time I had no such things to lean back on. I had just moved across the country alone, so I didn’t know any places. The most familiar face was a much older girl I only kind of remember from high school. And the plants? Even they were completely different. I knew nothing and no one. I felt small and childish—figuratively, but also surprisingly literally. If you’ve ever spent some time on the West Coast, you might have noticed that everything in nature is massive. The towering douglas firs, the giant western cedars, and even the slugs are huge! I was proportionally smaller to everything around me than I was used to.
I was just about to be hurled into teaching environmental education, where kids bombard you with questions, and I had none of the answers. I had a choice, to try and fake it till I made it, attempting to look smart and put together, or I could let myself be completely honest. I could let myself feel small and childish and be curious about the answers for myself.
Being the good Act Five alumna that I was, I made the excellent decision to fake it. (I hope you can sense my sarcasm here.) I desperately clung to the things I already knew to make it seem like I was competent and capable; like I definitely belonged with all these cool and smart people. To no one’s surprise, I just felt more like an imposter with even fewer answers. So I went back and actually reflected on some of the things I had been taught while I was at Act Five. This internship was going to be like my 10-day canoe trip all over again… including the rain. But this time, I had some better gear. It was time for me to lean in.
I forced myself to check my pride and seem a lot more stupid. I watched how the children I was supposed to be teaching were learning and started to do the same. I asked the questions I thought I was supposed to know the answers to. I spent hours just sitting and watching the ducklings. I stared up at the unknown massive cedars. I went back to looking down as I walked, only needing to pay attention just around my feet to find a world of life. I allowed myself to squeal in awe of the mountains, to giggle over the saltiness of the ocean, to be dumbstruck over how tiny the farm-fresh watermelons were.
There is so much magic to be discovered in the unknown, so much freedom in childlike wonder—not the grown-up kind of wonder that demands to know everything, but simply seeing what is shown, hearing what makes noise, and touching whatever crosses my path. I felt so much freedom in unbridled curiosity. I climbed mountains, licked slugs, slept under the stars in the middle of the woods, blew bull kelp trumpets, dissected dead fish impromptu, played music with my new friends without fear of perfection, and prayed with the salmon because I knew they would understand. I lived in a sacred world because I didn’t need to hold onto the pride I had. I loved, not because I knew, but because I was right there beside it all. I stepped off the pedestal of “ruler” over nature, and became a child, simply a creature of the earth, and just sat together with nature in the same story, realizing that to be a creation carer, you need only be a storyteller.
We have grown older than our God and the rest of creation. Our role as stewards is not to know or understand better than non-humans could, not to use power as a way of ruling; but to let ourselves come back to children, to love because we have moved into our own neighbourhoods.
For we care for only what we love. We love only what we are neighbours to. We are only truly neighbours to what we see through childlike eyes.
(Oh yeah, and a great way to learn to move into your own neighbourhood is by emailing Whitney Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org and asking her what the Tatalu Conservation Residency is. Or do Act Five. Your choice.)