Finding inspiration from another’s legacy

August 10, 2015

I totally admire and hold up as heroes and heroines those people that constantly leave their comfort zones and bravely head out into the public arena as social or environmental activists.

Why? Because activism carries a price tag that can be costly on one’s mental and physical health. Along with the good one does (or, seems to do), there are others who will view your actions with distain and seek to punish.

It is definitely easier to remain hidden from public scrutiny and carry on with one’s own private work. Therefore, I can understand why people might choose the safer option.

Basically, we’re a world of cowards, full of fatigue of one sort or another. Myself included. For the past few years I can describe myself as a “lapsed activist” as I found it easier to stay in the more comforting confines of my own backyard rather than poking my opinion publically into the underbelly stench of our political system.


Two weeks ago today I was up in Sydney attending the funeral service and celebratory (Irish inspired) wake of Neil Lawrence. On the morning following, I flew back to Tasmania with one objective: to find a way to keep Neil’s legacy of social activism alive by contributing — even if only in a tiny way — what I could as a re-invigorated social and/or environmental activist.

What had happened was this. By rubbing shoulders with the open, grieving, articulate stories of the “alive ones” and their connection, through eulogy, to the dead one Neil Lawrence and what he stood for, my activist door, though shut, reopened.

A good eulogy not only honours the dead, but can bring hope and inspiration and motivated action to the living.

It did for me. And upon my return I “stuck my foot in my mouth” yet again, and wrote an opinion piece for the state’s main newspaper The Mercury on logging within World Heritage Areas.

The article got published on Saturday (see below)

As a form of ritual, I burned a copy of the article yesterday beneath the tree I planted in honour of Neil when hearing of his death. I hope the smokey words waft through his nostrils and sends a clear signal that we’re all in this together, doing all or what little we can, to make the world a better place.

The pacifist William Stafford wrote a poetic dedication to a book of his. I include it here to help explain why it was important for me to build a little fire under Neil’s tree.

Smoke Signals
-a dedication-

There are people on a parallel way. We do not
see them often, or even think of them often,
but it is precious to us that they are sharing
the world. Something about how they have accepted
their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them,
helps us to hold the strange, enigmatic days
in line for our own living. It is important
that these people know this recognition, but
it is also important that no purpose or obligation
related to this be intruded into their lives.

This book intends to be for anyone, but especially
for those on that parallel way: here is a smoke
signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive — we are
following what comes, going through the world,
knowing each other, building our little fires.

William Stafford

Click here for the online copy of the letter to the newspaper

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzi Banks Baum September 17, 2015 at 11:43 am

Thank you Peter for this post. I was so sad to hear of Neil’s death. I had begun a friendship with him that sprung from my collaborator and I hosting an event for the Paulus documentary here in the Berkshires last year. What a dear soul. And yes, my activism is alive and well, moistened with tears at times, but on fire. I have long admired your work and love hearing stories via Melanie M. Paulus once included a photo of himself with the walking stick you made him in one of my journals. So, we weave together, over all these miles. All my best to you. Your remembrance touches me. S

PS I am from the Upper Peninsula. xo

Philip Harrington August 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm

It was a strong and right and beautiful piece you wrote for the Mercury, Peter. And courageous, as all activism is. My hope is that more people come to know that Windgrove, too, is activism, as is the life you are leading there.

peter August 11, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Very, very kind and warm word, Philip.

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