The Curious Reason Why Greta's Heart Stopped Beating
By: Walter Giersbach

"Why you don't you just call a heart attack a heart attack, Dr. Fred?" Lorraine Vanderzanden wasn't being snide — just curious. She hoisted her belt with the automatic pistol till it rode more comfortably and unconsciously lifted a breast. That way her silver police badge could be seen better by the customers standing in Bob's New Age Organic Grocery. People in Boulder were still learning she was the new assistant chief of police. It didn't hurt to display the badge of office proudly.

"Because I don't think it was a heart attack," Frederick Schwartzman said with academic pomp. "You have to label a thing for what it is. There's no point to having science if you're going to call periphrastic nomenclature a 'doodad.' I'm a registered psychotherapist — a very trusted one in this city — and I know whereof I speak."

Lorraine huffed. "I don't know what you just said, but since you're also the medical examiner you tell me why Greta Lindstrom's lying in the checkout aisle, cold as a snowball in winter."

Her new job policing this city was getting her down with all the environmental procedures to follow and policy papers to file and political niceties to observe. Life used to be simple. Accounting for bullets, for example: where they went, whether they entered perpetrators or a wall. But in Boulder, for heaven's sake, shooting guns was the only thing not outlawed, however much lead poisoning was frowned upon. Why couldn't death also be simple?

Dr. Fred seemed to glory in his doctorate from Freiburg, returning to be appointed coroner and become a forensic pathologist — plus being a pretty good shrink. He rose on his toes and laced his fingers under his little pot belly. "I would hazard a guess," he began stentoriously, "that Greta — my patient, may I remind you — suffered from solastalgia."

Assistant Chief Vanderzanden shook her head. This man's words were like so many ice cubes going around in a blender. "Solas…? What the heck's that? Something like psoriasis?"

"My dear police officer," Dr. Fred said, allowing a smile to creep over his lips like a small bird trying to escape its cage, "solastalgia is a condition of depression caused when your local surroundings are damaged significantly. With Greta, it connected with her eco anxiety — what Al Gore might've called the Waking-Up Syndrome — recognizing the world will never be the same." He stroked his thin goatee, as though trying to encourage a full beard to grow. Waking up to global warming, economic inflation and commodity shortages, he said, was not unlike Kübler-Ross's stages of grief — anger, denial, despair, bargaining, death.

"Well, we all want to save the environment," Lorraine offered. "Heck, I started hanging my wash on the line to save the electric."

He sniffed clinically. "This is a severe condition. I was treating Greta for her issues and anxiety attacks. She and her husband had invested forty thousand dollars in solar panels on their house. They garaged their cars and rode bikes. They installed waterless toilets and showered together. She came to me last week in tears," and Dr. Fred squinted at Lorraine, daring her to mention his breach of confidentiality. "The neighbors had come by to visit and a snotty acquaintance asked, 'Don't you recycle?' Greta's efforts had been all for naught when there was no apparent evidence of her social conscience."

"Dr. Fred!" Lorraine was getting irritated. "Get to the point. Greta's heart stopped beating because of…recycling?"

"The social pressure here to be environmentally correct is intense. Eco anxiety means you want to be anxious enough to take action, but not so anxious that you become paralyzed."

"Dr. Fred!" Lorraine shouted.

"The cashier told me Greta was in line to check out her groceries, chatting amiably with a neighbor. Suddenly she realized she'd forgotten her canvas shopping bag to carry the groceries home. Bagging groceries raises existential questions about our ecological footprint. The cashier told me there was an audible gasp from the people around her when Greta asked for plastic bags. That was the moment Greta pitched over dead."

"Of humiliation," Lorraine concluded.

"Of eco anxiety." Dr. Fred stared at the supine figure clutching her credit card. "It's just another inconvenient truth," he sighed.



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