Travelling today by train somewhere, a nice young woman sat down across from me. Perhaps a Millenial. She laid out a tissue cloth, and then set out an apparatus of three bottles of lacquer and paint, and proceeded to dress up her nails in a beautiful color (I like it!) with painstaking attention. This, despite a shaking train, crowded with people on a Saturday morning. I admired her focus and attention despite the chaos situation surrounding us in this packed train, loud with the screams of children.
Forgive me for these reflections, because such a basic ritual like this is very exotic and unfamiliar to my everyday lived experience. And I am very aware of the evolutionary pressures causing this lifestyle perhaps to be inescapable for someone like her, for many women. (And it’s a total shit that this sort of evolutionarily pressure is borne mostly by women, and in many aspects of the way society wishes them to present themselves.)
And, a young millennial not glued to their phone? This is already an epic achievement of sorts.
From the view of society, I am all on her side.
But the existential view is never far from sight, unfortunately, for whatever I regard: I don’t know the typical lifespan of a set of nicely painted nails, but for this ephemeral presentation, which might last a few weeks, tops, those three glass-and-plastic bottles will remain in someone’s earth somewhere for 300-500 years, probably more, since we continually unearth ancient wine bottles many many centuries of age. These bottles might never decompose: perhaps they will be fed into some vast industrial-sized trash incinerator somewhere. (And this says nothing about the enormous industrial processes that go into sourcing and producing those primary materials, shipping them to various manufacturing sites, shipping to sellers, and then ultimately transporting their emptied bodies somewhere, and the energy used for white-hot incineration or —yikes! — transportation to burial.) And need we mention (yes, we must!) the unseen torture of how many rabbits or other animals in order to perfect the paint-substance and its binders, pigments, and fragrances so that it does not irritate or injure the oh-so-precious human bodies for which it is ultimately designed, marketed, and sold?
With all of my ongoing concern and even dread for turning around our climate destruction, it is in little factoids like this – – prosaic episodes like this on the train, unexpected – – that make me wonder if we are even a species worth saving after all. When I hear people say, “We must protect the climate for our children!”, I find the simultaneous thought traversing my skull: “Yeah, but these little cuties eventually grow into beings with the same arrogant self-given right as us now-adults to live on this earth through constant pollution and degradation of the very womb that gives us all life!”
And yet, however much I strive with constant effort to limit my own damaging presence in this web of destruction, I am also complicit (if hopefully to a far lesser degree): stepping off the train at my destination, this is my first action:
The fact that I habitually make a point of never ever accepting the throwaway plastic lid, is such a microscopic consolation.