It all began with two simple questions.
A few years back, my husband was a well-respected physician at the top of his career—director of emergency services and chief of medical staff. He loved taking care of patients, and I loved caring for our family. We lived with our children, Clark and Emma, in a picture-perfect town in a three-story New England house, complete with library, guest suite, and four bathrooms. Our kids took sailing lessons in the summer and skied in the winter. We ate lobster fresh from the wharf. We were enjoying the good life and living out the American dream.
But something was missing. We had all the nice things that were supposed to make us happy, yet at the core we still felt hollow.
Around this time, we went on a family vacation to a barrier island off the coast of Florida. The island is idyllic—no cars, no roads, no stores—just sun and surf and beautiful sunsets. After playing in the ocean all day and running around trying to catch geckos, the kids went to bed early, exhausted. Adult time, at last! Matthew and I relaxed on the upstairs deck, watching the palm trees waving in a cool breeze and enjoying the silence of the stars.
We stayed like that, just sitting in the tropical moonlight, for a long time. I couldn't help but compare the peacefulness of the night air with the busyness of our lives back home. So rarely did we have time to stop and think, to discuss the big questions of life. Our conversation rambled from art and music, to books we were reading, to the state of the world.
And then I asked two questions that would change our lives forever.
"What do you think is the biggest problem facing the world today?"
I could just about see the wheels whirling in Matthew's head: Hunger? Poverty? War? AIDS? There was no shortage of potential answers.
After a few minutes, Matthew offered a reply that I was not expecting: "The world is dying."
He explained his reasoning. "There are no chestnuts left on Chestnut Lane, no elms on Elm Street, no caribou in Caribou, Maine. The oceans are just about fished out, and the songbirds are disappearing. Rainforests the size of North Carolina are being cut down each year—and more than 20,000 species go extinct annually."
Matthew took a long sip from his glass, and then sighed. "For the first time in history, the amount of living matter on earth is actually decreasing—there's no good ending to this story. If we don't have a healthy planet to sustain humanity, none of the other problems will matter."
It didn't take much to convince me that Matthew was right—our planet is indeed dying. I could see the changes in my own lifetime. As a child, I remember frequently stopping to help turtles cross the road—and seeing frogs, fireflies, honeybees, and butterflies everywhere. Seemingly endless flocks of birds would fly overhead every spring and fall. But in just a few decades, nearly all of this wildlife had disappeared. The meadow behind my childhood house had been replaced with ChemLawn green grass and cookie-cutter McMansions. When I approached the nearest major city, I saw a dome of smog covering its inhabitants. Without clean air, clean water, and healthy soil our children would face a turbulent future, with people struggling for increasingly scarce resources.
The more we talked about the demise of the planet, the more depressing it all felt. The problems seemed so overwhelming. But Matthew is a big-picture thinker, a problem-solver, a man of action.