Let me now share with you the New Year message that I wrote very early on the last morning of 2017. It summarizes what I am feeling as we enter 2018.
On December 23, I finally returned home (to The Birches, the house where I grew up in Bournemouth, UK, where my sister lives with her family and where I retreat between tours) after more than two months without a break, “on the road”. Which means airplanes, airports, hotels, lectures, meetings and so on. It was a crazy schedule that took me in that time period to Osaka and Tokyo in Japan, many cities in the USA and Canada, Buenos Aires in Argentina, various European countries – London for JGI events, Vienna, for our JGI-Global biannual meeting, and then lectures, media and so on arranged by Belgian and German JGIs in Brussels, Dusseldorf, and Munich. In Munich, wearing borrowed boots that were too big, I tripped on a freezing railway station landing most of my weight on one knee. Ouch! Then hobbled through Kuala Lumpur, back to San Francisco and Los Angeles for three more screenings of the National Geographic documentary JANE, created in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute — which may well be nominated for an Oscar.
In LA, in addition to a very successful and prestigious screening hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio, I was finally forced to go and have my knee looked at and discovered I had fractured the knee cap. So, how lucky that I am now at home until January 17, by which time the knee should be healed – if I am careful. And I must be careful or else, the doctor told me sternly, I would have to have surgery that would put me out of action for a couple of months – and there is absolutely no space in my 2018 schedule for that!
As I write this, it is just getting light. Outside it is chill, grey, damp, and windy. It has been like this throughout the Christmas holiday. And I have been thinking about the events of the past year. For me, and for most JGIs, it has been a successful year. I have been perhaps too busy, but every single event has gone well.
But for so many people around the world, 2017 brought hardship and suffering, because of the hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires due to climate change that have caused some to lose their homes, their possessions, even family and friends. And climate change has caused others to migrate from increasingly hostile environments. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence, war and genocide. The horrifying number of people subjected to domestic violence. The poverty, the rising number of the homeless and the millions, including children, subjugated to modern day slavery. And we have inflicted unimaginable suffering also on billions of animals in factory farms, those subjected to wildlife trafficking, or to medical or pharmaceutical testing. And let us not forget the shocking destruction of the rainforests, the pollution of the ocean, the devastation caused by the unsustainable demand for the finite resources of Planet Earth, the clearing of land for development and for industrial farming with its chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. The loss of biodiversity, the increasing number of animal and plant species listed as endangered. A daunting and depressing scenario indeed. The list is endless.
But as I was thinking about all of this, a little robin, with his cheerful red breast, flew onto the bird table outside my window. I could just see him in the bleak morning light. And before taking a beakful of food, he perched there singing his little heart out. An exquisitely enchanting matins that found its way into my soul. I realized then that he was delivering a message: reminding me that there is still so much in the world worth fighting for. So much that is beautiful, so many wonderful people working to reverse the harm, to help alleviate the suffering. And so many young people dedicated to making this a better world. All conspiring to inspire us and to give us hope that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part.
With his bright, beady eyes shining in the light from my bedside lamp, the robin gazed at me through the glass before flying off. He had played his part, rekindled the hope that leads to action. Prepared me for the challenges that lie ahead.
So this is the message I share with you now in the hope that throughout 2018 we shall be energized by the beauty that is all around us, and rather than becoming discouraged and rendered helpless by the ignorance and evil that is so obvious, we shall become strengthened by the goodness and love that is also everywhere. And then we shall be able to use the gift of our lives, to make the world that little bit better – every day.
And, by the way, we must take time to make merry, to have fun – and to laugh!
Let me wish all of you a successful and fulfilling 2018.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.