Saturday, July 4, 2020

I am the Other

     I heard the truck before I saw it, a clinking, clanking, clunking sound that came closer and closer as I weed whacked along the dirt side road. Finally it appeared, a rusty old farm truck leaning to one side due to a flat tire that a young man was driving on the rim. The engine was chugging badly and lacked power to get up the steep slope by the barn. I watched as the truck came back down and the driver backed it into the side road near me. I went over and asked if I could help. No, he cheerfully replied as he called someone on his cell phone to bring the tools he needed to make the necessary repairs.
     I returned to weed whacking and soon two other trucks driven by young men arrived and it was a team effort to fix the vehicle. I left to make supper and eventually heard all three trucks come up the slope and past the pond on their way to the upper end of the valley.
     Soon my brother rushed to the patio, where I was grilling, to angrily say that one of the trucks had struck and killed an old male Muscovy duck who stayed at the edge of the road each evening. These older ducks are heavy and can't move quickly, so if the driver expected it to get out of the way in time, he was mistaken. And, rather than avoiding it by going around the old fellow, he simply struck it.
     Another possibility that we know from many previous experiences is that the driver deliberately killed it. Either way, it was no accident but a callous disregard for life, for “the other”. We see this repeated daily and countless times by so many and all across the planet and against all kinds of life. We see it in a white cop kneeling on the neck of a black man until death; we see it in straight men abusing women; we see it in the callous murder of queer youth; we see it in the rape and pillage of the planet for profit. We see it everywhere we look and always against who and whatever “the other” might be. What the perpetrators of such heinous acts don't seem to understand – perhaps because it has never been explained to them – is that there is no “other” or, rather, because they are “the other”.
     These acts exist in a world of separation, where each life, each object, is distinct and apart from everything else. But the world really isn't like that illusion. The world is actually a single organism. Visualize a giant human body in which I could be a bone cell and you a brain cell. Or maybe you're a finger while I'm a toe. Now we are no longer apart from, but a part of, the same living creature; we are contained in it. The result is that what I do to someone or something else I actually do to myself. It puts our lives in a new context with a changed perspective.
     There are many ways to conceive of this new relationship: the world as jewel of which we are facets; the world as one of those aspen groves in the Utah mountains that cover acres, yet all share a single root system and are actually a single tree.
     I like to see the the world as a single flowering plant, rooted in soil, growing into the light with a beautiful bloom on top. Like all plants, it grows where it finds itself, but grows best with fertile soil, sufficient water and warm sun to become the healthiest flower it can be. As humans, with our self-awareness and our physical ability to shape the world around us, our job, if we recognize and accept it, is to nurture this giant flowering plant spinning in space. The plant, the planet, can care for itself through us.
     The Muscovy duck couldn't move in time to avoid the killing machine that crushed it. Even for humans, sometimes we can and sometimes we can't. Sometimes there is an implacable knee on our neck; unwanted lips forced on our mouth; shadowy figures calling us names and chasing us down dark alleys; a polluted and desecrated world in exchange for consumer goods we really don't need. It's time to change such outdated thinking. It's time to recognize we are parts of a giant, beautiful flower spinning in space.

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