Prayer for My Granddaughters

Hurricane Irma pounds Puerto Rico

Spiritual Sunday

As I was thinking about Hurricane Irma and the people it has hit and is about to hit, W.B. Yeats’s “Prayer for My Daughter” came to mind. It too features fierce winds, which feel all the more threatening given the vulnerability of his child:

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on.  There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

The poem goes on to describe the kind of woman Yeats hopes his daughter will grow up to be, but I want to send my prayers in a different direction. The scientific evidence is now irrefutable that climate change is causing increasingly frequent and intense EWEs (extreme weather events), and we are on the verge of leaving these events as our legacy to subsequent generations. These include my granddaughters, who are sleeping peacefully in Georgia as I write this.

How can people be so selfish and insensitive, caught up as they are in denial, hatred and greed, not to do everything possible to avert the oncoming catastrophes? How many more Hurricane Harveys, Irmas, and Josés are needed before climate denialists wake up and work together with the rest of us. We need all hands on deck to fight rising temperatures.

The image of angry winds runs throughout Yeats’s poem, but it ends on a note of “innocence and beauty.” Julia and I used this passage for our wedding invitation, and it is the future that I pray awaits my granddaughters:

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Americans are great at coming together when the disaster is upon us. May we create the kind of society, filled with custom and ceremony, that addresses future threats as well. The lives of our grandchildren are at stake.

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