|Storm Warning (2012)|
When the chesty, fierce-furred bear becomes sick he travels the mountainsides and the fields, searching for certain grasses, flowers, leaves and herbs, that hold within themselves the power of healing. He eats, he grows stronger. Could you, oh clever one, do this? Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers? Have you ever said, “Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know.” - Mary Oliver, Upstream, p. 7.
|from here: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/bearseason_info.htm|
I share woods with bears; my home situated between multiple state forests in northern New Jersey. We moved here nearly 15 years ago to be close enough to Manhattan and to still live where trees aren't something that simply line streets. I walk in the woods (not this week) a good portion of the time unless hunting is happening. Sometimes, especially in early spring, bears wander from the woods and can be seen lumbering across gravel roads and asphalt; across newly greening lawns. People come to ZONE 3 to kayak, hike and run trails, ride bikes, walk in the woods, and apparently now to use bows and arrows and guns to kill black bears.
Death is so final, so absolute. There is no going back, There is no do over. Losing my husband, seeing Rob die last March taught me that. Once dead, you remain dead. The 104-pound bear is as dead today as she was yesterday afternoon. And we are the worse for that. Perhaps my sensibilities about death are heightened given the last 15 months, but when I read about the bear killing it gutted me. When I read about the 'bear problem' in New Jersey, I thought how very foolish we are. And so it was with this on my mind that I started to read Mary Oliver's new essay collection, Upstream. I stopped two pages in when I came across the paragraph at the top of this post. It offers such a sharp contrast to killing bears--a contrast worth our notice.
Oliver situates a bear as knowing differently than us. Bears know stuff we don't. She asks, "Have you ever said, 'Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know.'"
Have you? Have I? What might we learn if we had the courage to do so?
Maxine Greene wrote about the need to become otherwise. Becoming otherwise is to consider points of view that feel foreign, not as some exotic exercise, but rather as a way of being in the world. Rather than judge it wrong--there is an interest in understanding, in not naming too quickly, too singularly. I think of this stance--this way of living in light of the presidential election that seems to have gone on for more than a epoch. Has there been in recent memory another election that has so divided a country? That has set us against one another? That we are more nation of us and them, than we the people?
How do we mend what we have torn apart? How do we gather up the courage to become wise about others who are not us? How do we resist harming more?
You may have read about the recent O'Reilly Factor debacle that found correspondent Jesse Watters loose in Chinatown (NYC). He was sent there by the show's host, Bill O'Reilly because "China" has been so often mentioned during the election. In what has been defined as vile and racist by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Watters conducted pseudo-interviews on the street. Interspersed among the interviews were video of Watters "getting a foot massage, playing with nunchucks and asking loaded questions that some residents appeared not to understand or couldn’t answer." (from here). Watching the segment left me disheartened, my stomach clenched, and stench of fear and anger. This was a stab at humor? How is this even possible in 2016?
I have been thinking about this a lot. Thinking about the country my 17-year-old Korean son will be claiming for in a few brief months as he sets out from home to go to college. What world will this young man find? How safe will he be? How loved? Misunderstood? Demeaned? How dare Watters and O'Reilly determine my son's worth by their narrow white privilege. How dare them. And how dare anyone who laughs alongside this 'news' show.
We must demand more of ourselves and say loudly NO to such depictions of others/selves.
And perhaps this demanding more our ourselves is at the center of what we must do regardless of the election outcome. We cannot delay such actions. To make a kinder, better, brighter and more humane life in this country, we need to cozy-up to other. Learn to love what we don't like.
That means all of us, although I need not wait for you to start.
I'm taking an inventory of what is other in my life. At the top of the list are Trump and his supporters. I don't understand the motivation to support this candidate, but that doesn't mean that I need to hate him or his supporters--for I don't know even one of them. It's easy to dislike a group--easy as it is foolish. It's far harder to dislike a person with whom you share a story. I know I don't need to be perfect at this embrace of other, I just need to do it.
Oliver closes the essay by reminding us that "[a]ttention is the beginning of devotion" (p. 8). How observant she is. How wise.
And so tonight I am praying that I might practice noticing and learn how to resist the too easy naming that blinds me. Let me take notice of what is in front of me--be it the bear in nearby woods, the voter I don't understand, the candidate I can't seem to respect. Let me pay attention so I may better love.
Sir/Madam, teach me. I am a customer of death coming.