Anesthetized by homogenized urbanity and an uppity sense of being separate from everything else, most modern people forget we humans are animals.
I’ve had my own royal battle acknowledging that truth.
As a young one in the mid 1940’s, rolling around on the recently mowed suburban backyard grass, I felt at home in this green bladed tickly stuff, the cut emerald perfume inhaling me deeply. Flitting quickly, honey bees buzzed among the few remaining upright clover stalks, and I rolled carefully onto my back not wanting to smash a bee nor get stung. I faced the startling blue of sky, not yet dulled by pollution, a word not known to me then. Cupping my hands to screen out everything but sky, I plunged into the blue at the same time my shoulder blades dove out the other side of earth arriving in the country of China that I’d been told lay opposite me.
I lay there wondering at it all, wondering about property lines and my backyard. Where did our property end? Did it go six inches down, six feet up? Where did I really belong? What could I call mine? Why was there a fence keeping me out of my beloved woodland? I felt at home there where mystery and discovery flourished. But I knew the wood belonged to someone else.
My mother’s voice ripped me from my musing: “Deb, stop rolling around like an animal.”
“I’m NOT rolling around like an animal.”
“Oh yes, you are! You really are.”
“But, Mom, I’m not an animal. I’m me.”
“I know, Deb, but actually, humans are animals.”
“We are NOT,” I shout in horror.
“But we are. We’re animals, really.”
“We are not,” Doubt makes me cling stubbornly to my belief, “I’m not an animal. I can’t be. I talk. Dogs don’t talk. They’re animals.”
“But, honey,” she softens a little now, getting into her teacherly mode, “The scientists have figured it out. Biologists know. There are all kinds of animals…birds, reptiles, fish, spiders, bees, horses, elephants, all kinds… The humans are the kind called mammals.”
“But I can’t be an animal,” I remember my panic rising again. “I can’t be. I walk on two legs.”
“So do birds,” she says.
That memory rivets me.
My family values, my era, my community taught me to deny my animal nature, and yet, I knew deeply that I was most at home with dirt, sky, wood, creek.
I faced a huge crack in my world, a Catch-22 for my soul.
Childhood dependency exacerbated the issue. In my family, cleanliness was literally more important than godliness. Self-control, erudition, speaking perfect grammar with perfect pronunciation, those qualities ruled my days…starched and ironed dresses, white socks, combed hair, white gloves and purses on certain occasions – even at the age of 3.
My era compounded the issue. The phrase “women’s lib” hadn’t yet been coined in the 1940’s and 50’s. Girls in school had only recently been given permission to play sports and we did it with gusto. Half court basketball was better than no basketball. BUT I ran, dribbled twice and threw the ball scared to death the whole time. My one-piece, buttoned to the neck, cinched waist with elastic holding the fabric tight at the thigh, royal blue “romper,” the standard physical education class uniform, had elbow length sleeves. Sweating armpits turned royal blue cloth to black and life as I knew it would end if anyone saw those tell tale signs. . . Girdled and stockinged, brassiered and high heeled, bleached highlights and bobby pins to tame my hair, nose matted with powder, cheeks blushed with rouge, I lost the home of my body – a dis-ease wildly prevalent today in different ways with different symptoms but still a viral phenomenon in youth and beauty oriented cultures.
Growing up in Pennsylvania didn’t help either. Propriety ruled. I got a hint of what I was missing when an Australian artist woman moved into our suburban neighborhood with her German physics professor husband. One day I took them to the public pool and she expressed her surprise that kids had to wear bathing suits in America. She told me that in both Europe and Australia, kids under the age of six swam nude. Her whole family routinely went skinny dipping in German hot springs.
Those differences in lifestyles and cultural values unhinged the doors caging my psyche.
At this time on our planet, we humans need to claim proudly our identity as mammals dependent on nature’s largesse. Whether urban born or not, we are indigenous by being born HERE, all of us everywhere. We are one of the animals forming the skin over the bones of our planet.
But we are unique in the animal kingdom: we kill and manipulate all the others, including members of our own species. For life’s sake, we need to change that behavior. We are technologically capable and scientifically adept humans who are also indigenous, wild two-legged animals. Recognizing that evolution has brought us to an era of wholebrained and mindbody wisdom offers the potential for moving beyond chaos, conflict and crisis to full compassionate participation in nourishing the web of life.
That notion elicits an audible WOW from my soul.