Sunday, September 21, 2008

Communing with Nature 5: Jenny Jump Musings

Well, here we are, finally, the end of my Jenny Jump posts.  It is hard to pull exact thoughts from an event that occurred three weeks ago, but I remember generalities and certain images flash through my mind.

Fear.  I wrote briefly about this in the last two posts, but I would like to elaborate on it here.  I freely admit that I was deeply afraid at moments on this trip.  Black bears are not normally a problem in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain ranges of Utah (at least not that I can remember).  So, though I have been camping before, I've never had to think about bears.  Our first night in Jenny Jump, I lay awake for several hours after Sarah had finally gone to sleep, jumping at every noise, wondering if we'd left any meat residue on anything outside, pondering whether or not woven plastic and fiber-glass poles were enough to keep out a four-hundred pound bear.  Rest eventually came by way of shear exhaustion and the uncomfortable realization that if we were attacked by a bear, at least we were together and it was our time to go.  As I lay thinking the second night, my mind went to our distant ancestors, cave-dwellers, roaming nomads, sheepherders.  How could they have done it?  They must have either just been used to the fear, or must have had a higher tolerance for frayed nerves.  No wonder everything was turned into some type of deity.  No wonder so many of the first stories involved animals as characters.  Anthropomorphizing something frightening and strange, by its very definition, means to make something more human, more acceptable, more like us.  And communal stories of tricksters and lovers and the comedy of tragedy turn the frightening night into something known, something contained, something that can be passed on from parent to child, a secret.  When we can name something, we have power over it, we can classify it, make it more manageable.  

Now we live in a time when the mystery of the animal and the danger of the night have shifted.  We constantly assert our dominance over all of nature.  We have declawed our nightmares.  Yet we still cling to our old tactic of naming things, categorizing them, telling stories.  But now we tell these stories about each other, turn each other into archetypes.  Fear of animals has become fear of each other -- or perhaps the fear was there all along, but now that we have conquered one, the other has moved forward in our minds.  Tribalism has existed for millennia, of course, and prejudice right along with it.  Still, we are now fighting against our very "nature," that engrained habit that tells us labeling something makes it more safe and more close, even if it also creates an artificial distance between souls.  

I will not comment here on the candidates in our current political race, neither the one for whom I would vote, nor the one for whom I would not.  But I will write that I have heard many pundits and political know-it-alls questioning the role of racism and sexism in our decision-making. With a woman and an african-american both running, they assume, race and sex will have a huge part to play in this election.  During a special on CNN hosted by Roland Martin, one commentator even ventured to assert that more people vote on feeling and on who is most like them than on the issues.  What bothers me most about this is that it is, itself, a classification, a labeling, a naming.  The "american public" will most likely vote thusly because of their collective trending toward being like this or like that.  I ask, can we not conquer our nature?  Can we not bridge the distance cultivated by our need to name?  Whether you are against Sarah Palin because she is a woman, John McCain and Joe Biden because they are old, or Barack Obama because he is an African-american, can we not do better?  Or are we doomed, for now, to stay bound to our old ways and the fear that informs them?  Because it is fear, as far as I can see, that is the true determiner in this election.  Fear of war, fear of loss, fear of poverty, fear of the other.  I find it ironic that we are engaged in a "War on Terror."  Are we truly fighting our fear?  Or are we fighting the things of which we are afraid?  The title of this blog is "There is no fear in love."  The wider context of this quote is: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment." (1 John 4:18)  The true test of our times is whether or not we can overcome our fear with love.  At least that's my take on it.  Please leave comments, faithful readers, and thank you for staying with me.

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