First Letter

by Grace Ma
Winnipeg until a week ago - now in Toronto 

Late August, 2020

Dear J.,

Do you remember last September in the city, the largest climate protest under the big blue sky? We didn’t know each other then, but perhaps we had brushed shoulders or posters. I was walking by the marching band, getting over a missed chance—so trivial. I thought the fanfare missed the point. I later realized I missed the point: you can always feel gloom and optimism at once.

By the time I was marching in a country across the ocean, in December, you were in my mind more often than not. (Would you know this is a modest statement?). The atmosphere was very dramatic in the nighttime. We protested in a language I did not know; I left early to finish my essay. In that same country, at the same time, the largest climate conference in the world was happening in some ventilated gray venue with lemon tree decorations. They talked of transformative change and left after two weeks failing to make any.

During that conference, they said we had two choices: The Path of Surrender, where we continue business as usual, or The Path of Hope, where we change our systems, keep fossil fuels in the ground. I texted you this and you said, The Path of Hope is not enough, it should be the Path of Action. I lay on the gray carpet behind a policy negotiation room and thought of your words and your face. Months later, in the summer, I recalled Surrender and Hope, and thought: who is to even say that we are following the Path of Surrender? All around the world, grassroot activists, ethical businesses, nations who are disproportionately facing the effects of climate change, and countless people and organizations are not surrendering. They are pained by the truth but they haven’t surrendered. Hope is not the end and Surrender does not belong to us.

Although, I also shouldn’t speak so largely… Who knows how many times I surrendered this summer. Frozen in place, a statue in my room, unable to forgive you. Embarrassingly often, I would think about how if you had stayed, we could have talked about our own shortcomings and biases and how to transform our discomfort into action. I could have told you: despite everything I’ve been involved in, I don’t think I’ve woken to my conscience until now. Not even now. What are the barriers I must take down? How can I listen in quality and find space to speak to become a better human?

We must both have had these conversations, and I hope you were able to have them with others and not just yourself. On my side, I am learning that I must build grit and welcome acceptance. I am learning how to take care of myself, which has been so difficult in this lonely and strange time. It’s the little blessings and moments of sunny luck that remind me why I am here. Knowing you, you must be living through all of this too.

These times really do make me wonder, if we see each other again, do you think we’ll be able to hug? There’d be so much to say. Certainly, we would talk about the climate, and you know that I wouldn’t accept anything less than: “Did you hear about those new Arctic protection measures? I have a good feeling about them,”…“It’s amazing how quickly the investments in these marginalized communities have been transforming the healthcare services and increasing the number of green jobs,”… “You know, these new youth activists are really pushing this movement towards the right direction. I’m feeling old but better than ever.” If anything, I can guarantee you’d be raving about an up-and-coming business devoted to circular economy practices. I would listen intently—it’d be your business, after all.

I should say, I am back in the city now, and in three weeks the climate march will be happening virtually. Everything feels more real and urgent now that I am surrounded by people again. Your bonsai unfortunately did not make it through the summer, but today I went to buy a new one in Chinatown. These days, I can’t believe how far we’ve come and how far we’ll be going.


  Grace Ma is biking towards the forest meadow of her dream.
Her latest project is

Social Distanziner - Toronto, ON