Tuesday, August 04, 2009

It's not QUICK being green: Furniture Update

First off, a hearty thanks to all those who commented via Facebook about ways to locate an environmentally friendly dining room table. I wanted to report out that my partner and I have ordered a table that will be made of reclaimed maple from (most likely) a barn in Pennsylvania Amish country. That’s the short version of my tale.

The longer story is that we learned a lot in this process. Some of the tips were encouraging—we discovered that Maryland has charming little towns that feature consignment and antique shops. We were reminded of funky stores in the Baltimore neighborhood of Hamden (think John Waters, Hon). We also learned that yes, the source of wood is important, but the stains potentially do damage to the planet too. I will be honest that we didn’t dig too deeply into that element, declaring victory that we had hired a local carpenter in our new hometown of Kensington, Maryland. Being that he is a smart sort of fellow we assumed he probably didn’t expose himself to too many toxic materials.

No, it wasn't about the making of the furniture that we gained the most knowledge. The biggest lesson we learned was to wait.

Instant gratification is a feature of mainstream U.S. culture. This is especially true these days as nanosecond technologies begin to dominate our lives. I was in a meeting recently where someone called the US, a “microwave society: we want everything quick and easy.” Given these cultural pressures, I can forgive myself for feeling a bit crestfallen when Carol, the lady who sold us the table, predicted six to eight weeks for delivery. Eight weeks? Come on, that’s really two months! Fortunately memories of time in Chiapas, Mexico did an allegorical shake of my shoulders.

The highlands of Chiapas is where I first encountered Fair Trade through a visit to the survivors of a 1997 massacre in the community of Acteal. (Thanks to Chelsea Bay for the photo above, which I downloaded from Picasa). I also learned a little about the philosophy of the indigeneous people in southern Mexico. Generally speaking, these cultures respect the sweep of history, not just the demands of their immediate realities, even when those involve hunger and political repression. They seem to have a deep sense of acceptance of what is true and steadfast optimism about reality. After a short time in that region, I got a sense of the need for perspective. Deep in their bones they seemed to believe that to get the right results against a dominant and different military power might take a while, but the results would be worth it.

My disappointment over a two-month wait for a functional piece of craftsmanship is somewhat insignificant in comparison to Chiapas communities struggling for autonomy and justice. But I don’t make the connection to belittle my desire or to aggrandize anonymous farmers. I offer it because by buying a reclaimed, handmade piece of furniture I can do one small, slow action to preserve the ecosystem that makes survival of both the highlands and the rainforests of Chiapas possible. My inconvenience serves as a reminder of the values I aspire to—patience, respect, gratitude. I invite you to make your own discoveries of the connections between our lifestyle choices and the the lives of the majority world.

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