Neal (aged 10): The world is big plank of wood and it's on fire. The only thing to save it is water. Sustainability is water - that's what it is.
Gabriel (aged 8): It's a big round book, the world is a big circular book, but it needs help to turn the next page, it can't do it by itself so we all have to help the big book turn its next page. That's sustainability – helping to turn the page.
Sid (aged 3): (Sid was asleep on the couch when we asked him. That struck a chord with us. Sustainability is Sid asleep, rapid eye movements, visceral dreaming, thoughts shooting round his brain, wiring and rewiring the connectors in his head, trying to sort out what happened today ready for some sort of tomorrow. But his body mass seems to rest, refuel. It digests its food, slowly, carefully, puts things in place biologically, mentally, spiritually even so that when he wakes up he'll have a good chance at getting what he needs and be in a good enough mood to share what he has with his mates at the nursery.)
Gary (aged 39): A family is the best metaphor I can think of for sustainability. Not the family that the Pope, in Croatia in June, said was in the midst of ruin under the new atheism of secularisation, but the queer family, the radical family, the family that depends - indirectly - upon the reproduction of itself with difference. That's what having kids has been for us. They are us, with difference. You don't need to be a biological parent for this to happen, though. It happens through friendships, encounters and love affairs.
It's the indirectness that is crucial. Indirectness is at the heart of all family-making, and sustainability has an element of indirectness about it. I won't actually suffer climate chaos in Bangladesh or the terrible local effects of the Alberta Tar Sands extraction, except indirectly. That's partly what makes it so tricky to get hold of. How can everyone act in all-powerful acts of solidarity with massive numbers of people? The indirectness is what stops us.
But we have to embrace the indirectness, like we embrace the difference that is produced in our own kids every day as they grow into and away from us. Embracing indirectness is the only way to be happy in the long-run.
The relationship between me and my kids is the best metaphor I have for sustainability. Maybe because it's not even a metaphor but a living, loving struggle.
Lena (aged 36): sustainability is allowing difference, allowing impossible encounters to take place and surprise you. sustainability is being naughty. sustainability is getting out of the box you are in, getting out of networks you belong to, seeing beyond your own group. sustainability is travelling the world, learning a new language, but a really new language, a new method, a new skill. sustainability is beyond the local. sustainability is the provocation that stops you being righteous.
fail. fail again. fail better. go for the impossible.