Eliza, Maybe by
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(137 Stories)

Prompted By Imagined Lives

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Eliza Judy on her second BD

When I was younger, I had a hard time imagining my own life in the future.   Nothing I saw of work, family, travels or friends seemed right—maybe I would transform into someone else and fit in.  To my great relief, the world around me seemed to transform instead and I found my niche.  I have been lucky.  I don’t imagine my own presumably limited future much now either, but I do think about others.

Two years ago, my grandniece Eliza Judy was born.  I haven’t met her yet, but the postings show a smiling and adorable little girl, hugging her stuffed animals, running with toddler steps, dressed in a cute Halloween costume, laughing when parents or grandparents interact with her.  She is healthy, well-off and well-loved, bright and radiating hope for the future. 

Two years ago, my grandniece Eliza Judy was born.  I haven’t met her yet, but the postings show a smiling and adorable little girl, hugging her stuffed animals, running with toddler steps, dressed in a cute Halloween costume, laughing when parents or grandparents interact with her.  She is healthy, well-off and well-loved, bright and radiating hope for the future.

What can I imagine for her life if she makes it seventy more years to be the age I am now?  Remember, I am not good at this.

10 years:  aged 12, 2033 Eliza will have learned about the animals, how to share, how to recycle, and how to do an active shooter drill in class.  She has her own water bottle and grows plants in the classroom. She has traveled to England several times to see her maternal grandparents and family and maybe has a younger sibling too.  Computer skills are a given, and she has her favorite princesses and heroes and music. Remarkably, she is a bookworm, encouraged by her mother, despite e-everything else. Her parents provide generously and she is surrounded by love. She knows how to shelter from the heat and storms—it has always been that way in her world. She is a child of the Anthropocene, as privileged as any on earth. The goals set for 2030 to keep the global temperature less than 1.5 degrees above baseline were blown past but wind and solar and improved microgrids are making a difference.  She will have eavesdropped on her parents’ worried conversations about the political turmoil at home and abroad.  They drive an electric car.  She will have wished for peace on earth and an end to climate problems; she already has a deep foreboding about the future.

20 years:  aged 22, 2043 Teen years are tough. Who is she, how does she identify, what lies ahead?  The popular kids, the rebel kids, the smart kids, the lost kids—those distinctions still exist.  The school has had more than one shooting incident.  She is a full-on vegetarian and impatient.  Flirtations and at least one deeper relationship eclipse other worries for a bit.  She joins clubs that plant trees and she hoists sandbags down by the Tidal Basin.  She posts regularly using the media of the day. Everyone knows everything about her, or at least AI predicts it.  The more she learns about the world, the angrier and more despondent she becomes, feeling an unbearable sense of responsibility laid upon her generation.  There have been hurricanes, floods, fires, droughts and rising seas that raged into the headlines on a regular basis—half a country submerged, a coastal city abandoned, islands almost underwater.  Technology has surpassed expectations, but implementation is not easy.  War.  Always a good student, she gets into a good college, where she tries to choose between Eco science and political science.  She marches and paints her face, cries and rages to her lover, finds out how much marijuana and alcohol can ease the pain, takes trips into the hills to seek trees and nature when the heat and smoke allows. There are still deer and racoons and pigeons in the suburbs.

30 years:  aged 32, 2053  Her grandparents are dead, her parents at retirement age but mostly they worry about how to navigate the coming years and to support her.  The latest pandemic had slowed things down for a bit but the shift into virtual activity was second nature, and her family mostly survived, as did she.  She joins the youth conservation corps and then an overseas NGO project, which affects her deeply.  Goals for net zero by 2050 have not been reached, but there is a bending of the curve.  Misery and death persist in rampant inequality throughout the world, and no one has been unscathed.  Travel is increasingly fraught–although there are more eco-friendly options than ever, war and climate instability and travel disruption are always a risk.  Better to concentrate close to home. She takes a variety of jobs in progressive community organizations before deciding to get further training in policy or healthcare or bioengineering.  Despite living with groups of other twenty-somethings, she still has a place back at home, and sometimes returns for a long time.  HEPA filters and good insulation help with the smoke.  The solar panels on the roof and heat pump are working pretty well. Peak oil has passed. She finally but reluctantly buys a gun.  She has no plans to have children of her own. She has grown up knowing the movies, music and stories of her parents’ time before she was born but they seem more like ancient history than ever.

40 years:  aged 42, 2063  The population of the world has almost leveled off, and she wonders if she should have children after all.  They might be needed.  She has tried, with little success, but at least she has bonded with a steady partner, and is still close to her parents, who are nearing the projected ends of their lifespans and own a nice retrofitted home, which she does not.  Her work is all-encompassing and she is alternately buoyed with sense of purpose and overwhelmed with the challenges. There are ever-more creative technical solutions, and it seems that the entire human race is doing nothing but developing clever ways to adapt, when it isn’t at war. Democracy, autocracy and theocracy are still slugging it out but anything that seems at all stable has its attraction.  There is no perfect place to go.  She is elated to see parts of the world set aside from human development, but still mourns the loss of biodiversity.  It would have been nice to have seen coral reefs or polar bears. The seasons are fire and flood still.  Getting insurance is laughable, but there are some government programs that sometimes help.  The melting of the permafrost and the ice sheets cannot be fixed with solar panels and recycling, although it has long been unthinkable that anyone would plan for fossil fuels expansion.  She tends her garden, as everyone does, rations her water, and wears clothes for a long time.  Her trusty electric bicycle is still in use and all new roads have “active transportation” lanes.  She has gotten to know her neighbors better.  She loves her dog.  Sometimes there are nice days and she celebrates.

50 years:  aged 52, 2073  Her parents died a few years ago, this time unable to fend off the recent pandemic with their previously damaged lungs.  She misses them terribly but is happy to permanently move into their house afterwards.  She is also busy raising the child she adopted after a catastrophe in the same country where she had worked in her twenties.  No one else stepped up, and their family and home were gone.  It seems right–she is still in one of the countries that had produced the most CO2 emissions yet managed to survive better than other parts of the world.  At least there is a chance.  Despite the massive loss of communications from the solar storm, the grid has been able to recover with the help of AI microgrid control, and the communications and GPS have survived.  Housing and food are still under constant threat due to the unpredictable devastating weather events, but there are some successful greenhouses, and farming practices have changed dramatically.  Most communities have some centralized services under the massive department of continuous emergency management; because just about everyone has had to use this assistance at some point, the community supports the services. Life is a lot slower. She hasn’t traveled outside the country in years, though transportation options have really cut down on emissions.  Local is paramount and precious.  She has advanced to some prominence in her field and works long hours with wonderful colleagues who keep her going.  The countryside has become overgrown in parts, but not with the same plants and there is also desert.  Still, there are moments when the sky is blue and it is not too hot and she spots a bird and she thinks all is not lost.

60 years:  aged 62, 2083  She cherishes her friends and her younger sibling.  She never had any cousins and the aunts and uncles are all gone.  There is no reliable retirement system but she is living in her house and has some assets.  She will work and contribute as long as she can anyway. Her child is still in the house and somehow seems to take their existence in stride, knowing that weather is almost unrelentingly scary but also knowing how to shelter and ride it out, help with the cleanup, repeat.  It is the rhythm of their lives.  There were not enough changes fast enough to keep the temperature tolerable everywhere, but they say there are signs the worst may have passed and there will be improvement eventually, if not in her lifetime.  They are still finding friends, finding ways to laugh, learning both old and new technology and trying to garden.  They can’t imagine how anyone could have let gas and oil rule the world for so long despite knowing better.

70 years:  aged 72, 2093  She has reached my current age at last, and she is still alive.  The next century is coming up fast.  There are fewer people in the world, fewer animals, fewer plants.  Maybe not fewer insects. Coastal cities have largely contracted or been abandoned and people have given up trying to inhabit some large areas of the earth.  Trees and any surviving wild animals are precious. Conflict has not gone away, and the seasons are still chaotic for everyone on the planet.  Although technology has been dazzling, the old advice still holds–to live smaller, listen to the ancient voices, respect the earth, and rely on the sun, wind, tides, and magma for energy still. The political and economic transitions remain fraught.  Her adopted child has been able to have a child so Eliza is a grandmother.

Somewhere in a pile of family memorabilia she finds a scrap of yellowed paper from ages ago, musings of a great aunt.  She reads it, amused at how wrong the predictions for the future were.  So many good parts were missing–the astonishing progress and simpler but better life, the personal triumphs and relationships. Missing too was the crisis when the international banking system collapsed and barter became routine, or how people nonetheless profited off trades and amassed power. Nothing about adapting the techniques developed for living on Mars to protect from severe weather and agriculture failure on earth.  Nothing about getting most of the drinking water from the air, removing carbon from the air or what happened to the abandoned oil pipelines. Nothing about the permanent refugee crises, the supply chain disruptions.  The aunt had no clue how AI had shaped everything for good and for bad, and the stratagems used to circumvent its reach. She didn’t know when it had happened, when after lurching from crisis to crisis but still somehow managing, everything had suddenly changed, when the unsustainable finally was not sustained, when the power of nature could not be denied despite the hubris of the people.  And she didn’t know how Eliza had been able to find love, joy, community, food and shelter, and to carry on.

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh Khati, I think you are quite good at this, don’t sell yourself short. You have imagined a very real world for your dear little niece, Eliza; one that could likely come true, given the path we are on. I hope she finds the happiness, fulfillment and sustainability that you imagine for her. I pray that the world does a better job of bending the curve away from climate change and the horrors of war that we seem so bent on sooner than you predict, but we can’t seem to muster the courage to do that. Thank you for imagining so far into the future.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Of course we will never know, but we will have to continue to do what we can today in hopes that things are tolerable for those who follow, and maybe ultimately even a little better in some ways. But for sure there are troubles ahead.

  2. Oh dear Khati, you’ve reminded us of some of the inconvenient truths about where our planet is heading, but glad you ended with some positive twists to your imagined future for your sweet niece.

    We’re on vacation in Florida at the moment and yesterday went to the aquarium. There in addition to fascinating facts about seahorses and sharks and all the other amazing marine life, we were reminded of the havoc global warming is wreaking on our oceans and their ecosystems, the bleaching of the coral reefs, the red tide endangering the seabirds, and more depressing stuff.

    But then at home I happened to read the poem Invitation by Mary Oliver who urges us to listen to the song of the goldfinches for a bit of solace in our otherwise troubled world!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, we have to hold the conflicting feelings of despair and hope at the same time. It is the human condition. As you note, it is important to treasure what we have; that can help inspire us to do what we must, to protect and nurture those precious things.

  3. Khati:
    Your wise and supportive forecast for your daughter strongly supports the view of life I have for our daughter—even the decision not to have children as well as to find fulfillment in nature. Ariel and her husband have bought a 40-acre farm covered with trees and ponds to raise horses, garden, and protect the environment. At the same time, both are energetically engaged in social and climate challenges: Ariel works with the Minnesota Famers Union in promoting rural policies regarding climate change and sustainability; Brian is a computer specialist working with liberal political organizations. Ariel commutes daily to St. Paul, while Brian works at home with their two cats. I want to thank you for the tone and details of your literary flight through a perilous yet beautiful life. I will share them with my daughter and son-in-law.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks Richard. Reading about your daughter and son-in-law is inspiring and hopeful–I certainly wish them every success and happiness. And in the meantime, it makes it easier to carry on while we are still around, doing what we can while there is still time to make a difference.

  4. Nice. Helps me to believe some of my old deceased relatives have continued to watch over me and wish me the best.

  5. Khati:
    Just read Robert Kagan’s article in the Washington Post. A grim if not threatening future. I hope you will publish your prompt on some social media or in an appropriate column. It is necessary to help people avoid the cynicism that may result from Kagan’s depiction of America’s future. He may be correct, but we still need your spirit to deal with it. (Along with voting!)

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I didn’t see Robert Kagan’s article, but it is pretty easy to become pessimistic. I am flattered that you think my writing might help address cynicism. Finding a balance between realistic fears and hopes isn’t easy.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    Wow, Khati! You responded to this prompt with a science-fiction short story worthy of John Wyndham or John Christopher.

    The current state of the world, especially the denial of climate destruction and the weakness of democracy in democratic nations, make me glad I have no kids or grandkids to fret about. Although my beloved niece and nephew do, and I fear for their futures.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks Dave, but now I have to admit I am unfamiliar with John Wyndham and John Christopher—maybe should check them out. Like you, I have no children and in part because I couldn’t justify bringing them into this world even back then, and I do worry about those entering it now including my nieces, nephews and their kids.

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