Happy Earth Day to everyone and especially to dear Mother Earth!
Forty years ago, on the first Earth Day, I was a freshman in college. Though I was pretty much unaware of what was going on across the nation that day, I was painfully aware of the environmental problems in my own backyard. I had dealt with some minor allergies as a child, but that first year away from home had put my health into a tailspin, as I grappled with reactions to cleaning products, air pollution and my roommate's shampoo. By April of 1970, my dorm mates had dubbed me "Puff the Magic Hive" for my chronic hives and facial swelling, and just breathing had become a daily challenge. My roommates were concerned and sympathetic, to a point. The university officials were not. Had I dropped out of school and gone home (as my doctor and parents urged me to do), I would have lost a semester's tuition and rent. (There was no clause in my housing contract allowing me to leave because of health problems.)
Those who know me know that I can be pretty stubborn, and at eighteen, education was the most important thing in my life. After all, how was I ever going to write the Great America Novel if I couldn't even make it through my freshman year in college? I did, however, drop a couple of classes (keeping only my favorites, of course) and stayed with a friend off-campus during cleaning week (the annual spring cleaning in the dorms--very, very toxic). But I have to say that by the end of April and that first Earth Day, I was actually starting to feel a little better. Spring in Utah can be beautiful, and warmer temperatures meant open windows in the dorms and in classrooms (pretty common in those pre-air-conditioned days). I took to doing most of my daytime studying on the lawn outside the dorm or sitting on a bench in the student quad, and I had long since found a quiet corner on the top floor of the library for evening study sessions.
So, even though I didn't know about that first Earth Day at the time, I had learned a lot in the previous months about chemicals and pollutants and how they affect the human immune system. I may not have been part of any environmental sit-ins or "teach-ins" (as they were called at the time), but that was the beginning of my own environmental consciousness. Sown in a time of personal peril, those seeds of eco-activism have grown to maturity for me and for the world in a way that gives me hope for the next generation. I can't bring major corporations to their knees (though I do try) or have much influence on corrupt foreign governments, but I can change the environment in which I, and the people I care for, live. And, I can teach others and help change attitudes, one person at a time. That's why I celebrate today, because Earth and the people who live here are worth it. I hope you all have reason to celebrate too.