If each of us dwells in nihilism or despair then we cannot do anything.

Phoebe Barnard

Reflections of Life produces powerful short films that uplift the personal stories of ordinary people, with the goal of sharing ideas and inspiring change. We feel blessed to feature video-stories that filmmakers Michael and Justine capture with expertise, and which so beautifully illustrate grateful living principles and themes. In this short film we hear from Phoebe Barnard.

Note: The poem read at the start of this film is “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry.

Learn more about Reflections of Life (formerly Green Renaissance) through our Grateful Changemaker feature.

Video Transcript

[Reciting poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry]

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Still and at peace with the world. And that’s the thing that one really needs when you work as I do on biodiversity loss and climate change. The loss of trees, the loss of wetlands, the loss of beautiful places, the loss of beautiful people, all can bring me to tears. And you don’t have to be a conservation biologist to feel that way. Anybody who loves nature loves not only the beauty but the tranquility of it. And so when these places are lost it changes us at our core.

I looked and looked and looked for a home that would have peace and lessons, wisdom. And I was so lucky to find this place. This land, tragically, had all been beautiful old grove forest until about seventy years ago when it was pretty well clear cut for human suburban development.

We found this little area with one third of an acre in northwest Washington State, which had a beautiful grove of young cedar trees, young but tall cedar trees. And yet the land also had these sad and beautiful and wise stumps of old Western red cedar, some of which had probably been about 600 or 700 years old before they were cut. And they remain a beautiful ecosystem each and every one of them unto itself. They have rich, deep, dark soil. They are nurseries for little tree saplings that grow out from them. I think of them as my ghosts. Their spirit sits here in this land and reminds me of its history every time that I walk among them. I sometimes go out sit out there to be with them, to remember what the land was like when it was deep, dark old growth forest.

I always find it funny when people ask why do we need nature, or why do we need old nature? Why do we need wilderness? The world was not put here as a playground for humanity. We value convenience over wisdom. We value comfort or immediate gratification over the survival of life on earth and this planet that sustains all of us. And it’s our mindsets of entitlement, that the earth is just put here as a food pantry for humanity. It’s not. And the faster we shed ourselves of those notions, those attitudes, and shrink back into a state of wellbeing, a state of balance, the better off all of us will be on this planet.

I’ve known for decades where humanity could go if it was not mindful about its future. And decades later, here we are. One of the things that disturbs me most is the feeling that a lot of people have got about it being too late. And I don’t think it’s that people wish to be nihilistic or paralyzed by grief… they just are. And I don’t blame them for that. But if each of us dwells in nihilism or despair then we cannot do anything.

When I consider the things that are lost, I bring them into me. They form part of the fire in my belly. They are part of the anger that fuels me. They are part of the passion, of the love, that I have for this earth and this humanity. If we cannot use anger to fuel us, but in a way that is driven by love and compassion, then what are we here for?

My mum was blessed with a really heart centered personality. She was focused on love and generosity of spirit and bringing the life of the world into her family and her community. I would come into the room and she would be watching the news in tears because of some grievous conflict somewhere in the world. And I would be saddened by that. And then I just realized as I grew up as a kid that she was simply a woman who felt deeply, and that I was a woman who felt deeply. And so early on, even before I became a scientist, I realized that emotion was a currency of our interaction as humans. And it was more powerful at changing us than any number of facts.

I think almost everybody would say that we are human if we can love. And we need to keep hold of that love now more than ever. Everything that we know and love is at stake here. Our planet, our society, our families, our children, our friend’s children, every other species with whom we share the earth, and their children and grandchildren.

Remember that you are just one of many millions of species. Take the gift that you have been given and honor it and honor everything around you. And live more kindly and wisely and with much more humility.

To support Michael and Justine in their film-making journey, visit Reflections of Life.

New Live Course Grateful Hope: Passion for the Possible

Grateful hope is a radical stance that empowers us to move beyond the limitations of our individual dreams and opens us to what is possible in the absence of despair. It is not the way out of life’s uncertainty. It is the way through.

Join us this April for our brand new course!

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Reflections of Life

Reflections of Life

About the author

Justine and Michael are a creative couple living in South Africa.  Their project, Reflections of Life (formerly Green Renaissance), works to spread positive stories that reflect the wonder of the world. With the goal of sharing ideas and inspiring change, they produce gorgeous short films that are posted online and available for anyone, anywhere, to watch and share freely.


Through their films, they explore what it means to be human. They touch on topics that can often be difficult for people to discuss – from loss of a loved one to aging and retirement to friendship to love and courage – universal themes that we all deal with at some stage in our lives.


By sharing these stories, Justine and Michael hope to remind us of one simple truth – that we are all human – that inside our hearts and minds, we are all facing similar challenges.  We have so much to learn from each other, and our connections run so much deeper and stronger than we think. Learn more and support their work at reflectionsof.life.