Reflecting on these times
My grandfather Dante was an Italian immigrant, a brilliant man, always hungry for knowledge. He would do crossword puzzles in Italian and in English, a language he did not even begin to learn until he was thirty. Under a different set of circumstances he could have been a professor, novelist, or another manner of intellectual, but the realities of arriving in a new country, living in a new language, and all the fixings of his family life made it hard to head down risky paths. He ran a machine shop at Dexter Paper in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, for his entire career, and he found it incredibly rewarding to invent and create daily.
I tell you this story not just to honor a man I loved but also because it is the source of my reflection during this odd time. I think about the bravery it must have taken for him to leave behind all that he knew just for a glimmer of hope that his new life could be a better one. Today, the life we knew seems increasingly distant – just a few months ago most of us never thought about face masks or humming “Happy Birthday” to ensure we had washed our hands for long enough, but today here we are. I read endless news stories about how we might actually be forever changed as a society. That may be, or not.
The same guy who came across the ocean in search of a new life, the tireless thinker who loved to create and tinker, would often recite a Latin phrase he retained from high school: Mater artium necessitas – necessity is the mother of invention. We are faced with a new slough of necessities, our economy, society, culture, they’re all shifting around us. So, we can either take the path of panic where we spend energy pining for what was, or we can choose to embrace some of the unexpected opportunities these turns of events have offered us.
I am not a fierce optimist by nature. I am not trying to prescribe any psychological outlook; I am just hoping that the necessity we find ourselves in does in fact lead to important invention. We will all have friends and family affected by COVID-19, either financially, physically, or emotionally. We have all experienced vastly new realities over the past months. We will all continue to face new patterns – it may be some time before we hug or handshake normally, but none of that has to be a source of fear.
I vote that we celebrate the silver linings we can find. When else in our lives have we been handed a moment to reflect on who we are, what we do, how we do it, why we do it? When else in lives have we been faced with the crushing weight of necessity to seek new paths? This can be a way for us to dust off the creative folds of our brains and figure out how to live in our new reality. When in our lives have we been forced to be creative in order to function? This could truly be a gift.
Nature and its circles of life are inherently creative. Species fill niches and adapt over time to persistent changes. Our natural world is caught in a constant stream of disruptions: droughts, floods, storms, fires, diseases, famines, the list can be long. Humans have largely crafted methods to outrun or overcome these upheavals, but as we are seeing today we are far from invincible as a species, a society. If we look to nature, we realize that those who succeed are those who find new ways to exist within turmoil and disruption – those who successfully adapt to the world around them are indeed the most enduring.
Organizations like the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation are seeing rapid changes, tightening belts, and some perplexing projections. I have asked our incredible staff to be creative and find new ways to exist, and in that process, we have found ways to be more efficient. We are refining our fundamentals, and while this downturn could prove lengthy and trying for our institution, we are facing it bravely. Mater artium necessitas, necessity is the mother of invention – we’re inventing who we are in this new reality, and I encourage you to embrace these moments to help us all refine who we are and who we can be.
I am sending you all my warmest thoughts for safety and calm in all the chaos.
Ryan Orgera is the chief executive officer of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Founded in 1967, the SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.