Reflection on Dana

Published: April 22nd, 2001

By Dennis Meadows

~University of New Hampshire Faculty~

I have had over two months to accept the reality of Dana’s passing; I have not managed it yet. I have had two months to find appropriate words to share on this day who all those who have gathered in her memory. I have not managed to do that either. There is just too much to take in. So I will offer a few personal reflections.

The thoughts I offer are on behalf of both myself and Suzanne MacDonald, my wife. Suzanne and Dana lived closely together in the same household for seven years, and they were very dear friends.

I met Dana 40 years ago when she introduced herself as my new lab instructor in a sophomore chemistry course. That started a relationship that passed through many phases and changed both our lives profoundly. Even though we ended our marriage 15 years ago, Dana remained for me an enormous source of inspiration and energy.

Life with Dana was a gift to me and to all who knew her. I want to acknowledge here Phebe Hager, Dana’s mom. She made that gift possible. Phebe had enormous reservoirs of integrity, ambition, curiosity, and humor. She was enchanted with the natural world, and she was a master gardener. As Dana was growing up in Illinois, she acquired all those traits from her mother.

Dana was fascinated with the phenomenon of leadership, visioning, and inspiration. She did not presume herself to have any of these qualities in great measure. But of course she did, and she applied them to the greatest problems facing humanity today. It is the measure of her genius that she understood and described those problems in ways that will be as valid and as inspirational in 2050 as they are today.

I have often asked myself what made her so special. The best answer I have is the one that Dana provided herself with the brief statement she taped onto her office door, “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.” Dana refused to give up on her hopes for the planet.

She and I always disagreed on the last chapter of our books, the chapter where we summarized the results and told what needs to be done next. I was always pessimistic; she was always optimistic. But I knew in my heart that hers was the right way. Of course, Dana always knew she was right, too. So we always used her version. Let me quote here from her last chapter of Beyond the Limits, it captures for me the essential character of Dana,

“It is difficult to speak of or to practice love, friendship, generosity, understanding, or solidarity within a system whose rules, goals, and information streams are geared for lesser human qualities. But we try, and we urge you to try. Be patient with yourself and others as you and they confront the difficulty of a changing world. Understand and empathize with inevitable resistance; there is some resistance, some clinging to the ways of unsustainability, within each of us. Include everyone in the new world. Everyone will be needed. Seek out and trust the best human instincts in yourself and in everyone. Listen to the cynicism around you and pity those who believe it, but don’t believe it yourself.”

Emily Dickenson said it in another way:

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

Dana loved to sing, and she was never afraid of the dark.

It is wonderful that we can assemble here to share our grief and to celebrate the enormous accomplishments of Dana’s life. But we all know Dana would not want us to spend much time on that. If we really want to honor her and express our love and appreciation, it is time to go out and start planting more trees for Dana.

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About The Donella Meadows Project

The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

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