This post is a little different than the usual. This is a strange time we’re living in, and through all the uncertainty we can find refuge in nature. I was musing over an interaction I had a few years ago and wanted to put thoughts down on paper (or rather, my laptop).
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. (Kitty O'Meara)
In this time of isolation many people are finding themselves listening more deeply, as the frantic scurry and distracting white noise of a greedy, coarse, misaligned world subsides into stillness. That world is gone, for now – in it’s place, introspection and peace between humans and the natural world.
For some people, a life cut off from nature is all they know or desire. Some years ago I accompanied a friend to his work dinner, and conversed with his bosses’ wife. She nattered about brands of lipstick, current makeup trends, and how worried she was about her teenage son who preferred studying to drinking, and who never brought girls home. As a blonde who wears makeup, I suppose visual impressions based on cultural assumptions dictate my interests too must lie with appearances and boys, so I often find myself an unwilling participant in ‘girl talk’ at social events (though maybe just being a girl in itself is a ticket into that conversation). Although I’d much rather forgo it altogether, such superficial conversation can sometimes be familiar and welcoming territory, bridging the gap between two strangers – I’m a firm believer in the futility of first impressions. People are complex, and it’s foolish to close the book on a person’s character based solely off one or several superficial encounters. I do believe, however, in the old saying: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals”.
We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animalsImmanual Kant
I glanced jealously across the table at the men and my friend, inaccessibly closed off in their own conversation huddle discussing something which I’ve now forgotten, but which I distinctly remember wishing I was discussing too. His bosses’ wife asked what I worked as; I said I was a student, and I’d like to work with animals. I’ll never forget her response, because it saddened me so much; with disgust written plain across her face, she repeated “animals?” in denial, and with a sideways glance to the other woman in our trio, confessed “I don’t know why anyone would want to work with animals, how disgusting!”. We (the other woman and I) chuckled politely with raised brows at her tongue-in-cheek response, to smooth over any potential for offence she’d caused, and the conversation moved swiftly onward. Despite my rule about first impressions, as the night went on it became harder and harder not to draw a definitive box around this woman’s character, which seemed to me to be caged in materialism – shiny, but cold and hard. To this day I can’t comprehend how one could feel so averse to animals; does it stem from the Ego, an automatic disregard for anything not human? Is it fear of the unknown, or the different? Or is it the result of a life so many humans are living today – rich in material success, but poor in meaningful fulfilment and utterly disconnected from the other kinds of life that share the planet with us?
It takes a lot for me to dislike someone, and I can’t even say I dislike that woman, whose values made such an impression on me that she’s stuck in my head several years later (though I’d bet my right arm she’s forgotten I exist). We all have individual truths, but it’s hard to accept that some people don’t share the one truth I always believed to be universally recognised – that the natural world is beautiful, and must be protected and loved. Not everyone has such a connection with the natural world as to revolve their careers and so their lives around it, but I believe people are born with an inherent affinity for nature: after all, we are a part of it, whether we like it or not. Some people surf, some enjoy forest walks; others like to paint flowers or watch David Attenborough documentaries or volunteer with local wildlife charities. People take holidays to see places of natural beauty and an insurmountable amount of people keep pets. To meet someone so steadfastly content in an existence governed by highs and lows set out by ‘the concrete jungle’, in which nature was so renounced in its entirety that it held not even the faintest glimmer of appeal, was … frankly, unsettling. It was like meeting an alien from another planet.
This period of isolation has forced many people to become still and find new ways of being, as the poem hopefully describes. At the risk of sounding too philosophical, perhaps this time of stillness will spark something buried deep within people like the bosses’ wife; a long forgotten empathy and connection with other living things that they didn’t even know was missing, until it was found again.