One evening over Christmas break we went to the zoo to see Wild Lights. The weather was mild, the light displays were beautiful, and the polar bear was asleep.
Penguins and puffins were still awake, most of them, but the polar bear was sleeping (for the night? for the season?). I stood in a short line to see the bear, and there he was right on the other side of the glass, his belly sloping like a yellow-white hill.
At this first glimpse of the sleeping bear my heart swelled with a strange sort of awe. The part of my brain that lights up when I see my daughter sleeping was bright pink like the LED-lit flamingoes. This glimpse of one polar bear sleeping sparked a flame of love for polar bears everywhere. In that moment I was St. Francis. The next moment I wondered if this is what it feels like to lose your mind.
But I hadn’t lost my mind! (Famous last words?) No, the snoozing bear reminded me of the battle between hope and futility.
A few days earlier on Christmas I’d played my usual role of recycling police, carefully separating plastic from wrapping paper, setting aside boxes for reuse, and hoarding ribbon for my craft closet. On the appointed day, I set the overflowing recycle bin on the curb with a sense of satisfaction and waited for it to be hauled off to some mysterious redemption.
But the recycle truck didn’t come. The bin sat on the curb another day; still no recycle truck. On trash day, I put the trash can on the curb next to the brimming recycle bin, but instead of two separate pick-ups, the garbage truck emptied both bins. So both bins went to the landfill—obsessively rinsed plastic bottles and used Kleenexes all meeting the same end. Redemption, mysterious or otherwise, wasn’t gonna happen. Not this time. And I felt the futility of my little one-family recycling effort.
Sadly, when I think of plight of the polar bear, I feel the same sting of futility. A mascot of the effects of environmental destruction, the polar bear I glimpsed that night at the zoo was not an emblem but a real creature, vital and precious. And my heart swelled for him.
In order to overcome futility with hope, I have to focus on particulars, on each of us doing our little part for the cause of hope. I believe in a mysterious future redemption when Jesus will make all things new, but I also want to do what I can to conserve this amazing world for future generations–of all creatures.
Even when such efforts feel small or futile, each one holds significance. Each one is a prayer for the polar bear.