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A Week’s Lofty Distraction

2008 November 21

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

I think you’ll understand why, as a Jewish father, my thoughts late last month were a bit more lofty, maybe more cosmologic, than usual: After two weeks of religious holidays that commemorated the birth of our planet and our purpose on earth, my family celebrated my daughter Miriam’s bat mitzvah, when she became responsible as an adult to follow life’s rules. Coincidentally and adding to what distracted me that week, which portion of the Torah did Miriam read from? The first portion of the first book (commonly known as Genesis), both called Bereisheet, describing creation of the heavens and earth, the flora and animals, and our traditional early generations.

You don’t have to be an environmentalist, and certainly not a believer, to appreciate how the first words of Miriam’s reading (“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”) — with its endless, hopeful possibilities — contrast with the last (“The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on earth, and his heart was saddened.”) Colorful, provocative, judgmental language, yes?, and what’s more human and easier to understand than receiving a nurturing, pristine garden of eden and promptly squandering it?

What a profoundly disappointing shame, just pages after “In the beginning….”! And what an apt metaphor for what we face today, but with our greatly enhanced tools for assessing, preventing and countering what we’ve done to Mother Nature! Responding to this challenge is what crosses my mind when friends and colleagues (lately, more frequently—is it the thinner, grayer hair?) ask if I’m getting ready to retire from EPA (no, not even close). Thinking of our stewardship of earth and people – Tikun Olam, our mandate to improve the world – doesn’t just sustain my devotion to EPA’s mission. It’s also a big part of why I was all verklempt (choked up—remember SNL’s Linda Richman?) while Miriam embodied the future as she invoked our origins three weeks ago.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Max permalink
    September 18, 2009

    Yeah I believe you, people miss that point there. They tend to forget the value of the natural resources in our life. At the end it was us who are going to suffer.

    Vision Board

  2. Ed Hagerty permalink
    May 26, 2010

    What a nice article Larry, my old friend! What, may you ask, is a fellow USAF reservist doing perusing the EPA blogs. Suffice it to say that I have seen the error of my former ways and am turning thoroughly green–and I don’t mean transferring the Army (-;

    Ed H

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