Has Your Message Chosen You?


Sense of Wonder

Sense of Wonder

This week I saw the inspiring film A Sense of Wonder made from interviews with Rachel Carson in the final year of her life, in 1964. As the government marine biologist spoke of the critical acclaim she received for her book Silent Spring, she said, “In some ways, the subject chooses the writer.”

Carson had made a seven-month commitment to write a book for which she received a publishing advance from Houghton Mifflin in 1958. It became the culmination of her life’s work when, two and a half years into her research, she realized she was just scratching the surface. When Silent Spring was published in 1962, the critics in the chemical industry were louder than the initial acclaim. (She noted there were few dissidents but they had a lot of money.) Her book catalyzed investigation into the destruction of life that comes from synthetic pesticides and catapulted environmental concerns to the forefront of public discourse, where they have remained ever since.

This story is of personal interest to me because around that time my brother was working with my dad to spray lawns in Florida. One day he fell off the truck, fully encased in his protective suit and headgear, became delirious, and nearby died from chemical poisoning. It was only then we learned that poisons that were previously used only in warfare were being applied to lawns and crops with little warning of the extent of the dangers.

“I didn’t want to write this book. I wanted to write about children and nature,“ Carson recalled. But when the biologist received a request to get involved because of the devastation of a Massachusetts bird sanctuary due to DDT, the subject chose her. Recalling the moment, she said, “I wanted to write about life, not poison and death.”

Despite the negative aspects of her exhaustive exploration, Carson never lost sight of her fundamental sense of wonder for the natural world and her core message: “As we focus on the wonders of the Universe, the less taste we will have for its destruction.”

When Silent Spring was published, Carson said of the work that would define her public life, “I’d done what I could. Now it has its own life.” The life the book took on had far-reaching effects. So strong was the opposition by the chemical companies, the controversy resulted in a level of acknowledgment a publisher would find impossible to duplicate through promotion. Carson was summoned by President Kennedy to testify before his Scientific Advisory Committee, which validated her thesis. DDT was banned and the Environmental Protection Agency came into being. Many of the Clean Air and Environmental Acts began with the Kennedy administration, thanks largely to Carson’s work.

How long would reform have taken had this devoted woman not answered the call?

Key questions for your consideration and reflection: What message is choosing you? What has your life prepared you to talk about while you were busy making other plans? If you were to see yourself as a courageous pioneer, like Rachel Carson, bringing a new perspective to the forefront, what is it you would say?

What will the world lose if you do not deliver the message for which your life is preparing you?

I invite you to find a still place within you each day for the next week and write down what emerges. I’d love to hear your answers! Send them to [ email ]
1. A Sense of Wonder available on DVD or through private screenings in 150 cities. Click here for the trailer and screening dates. I’ve ordered the DVD to be inspired again!
2. My brother’s experience with pesticide poisoning has come full circle. Check out what his son Tomm Becker is doing as manager of the Student Organic Farm at Michigan State.


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