Being a Bear (or not)

Posted by on 12.11.07 | 1 Comment
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I don’t remember where I heard this, or read it, but I am going to pretend it is true anyway because maybe it is. They say that a fairly short time after their babies are weaned bears no longer recognize their own cubs. Suddenly, it is just another bear in the woods, one with which there is no special connection. I thought about that this past weekend as I sat in a gymnasium in San Luis Obispo, California watching my youngest daughter recieve her Masters degree in mathematics. It was a moment for which there was plenty of pride to go around, but it was also a moment for some wistfulness, and as it turned out, some tears as well. Now Karen is off to Connecticut to be with her quasi-fiancĂ©, get a job, and apply for PhD programs. We won’t see her for a long time, and so the sense of separation that begins to grow in children when they reach adolescence, and in parents some time later than that, now reaches a new level for my wife and me. Unlike bears, people never lose the sense of being parents, and so every new triumph for the child contains within it a small drop of pain for the parent, a little sense of loss as we give up something of what we had with the child that we will never have again. Ever.

The pain of course is worth it at several levels. Karen’s development is necessary for her; any effort on our part of maintain the kind of dependency that was crucial for her survival when she was younger would be terrible for her now. It is good for us as well; we too need to grow out of being parents into being, well I don’t know what, but not quite parents, and not quite not parents, any more. So with the sense of loss comes a sense of hope as well that what is to be in this relationship will be just as deep, just as rich, as whatever it was we have to give up. Moreover, I am well aware that every parent has gone through this, for just as there are rites of passage for sons and daughters, so are there rites of passage for parents, and I just went through one.

Nevertheless I don’t like feeling separated; just as I was undoubtedly traumatized by the realization I made when I was an infant that I was not my mother, so too am I now pained by the realization, made once again, that I am not my daughter, and mustn’t try to make my daughter into me. I am sure that some people like feeling separate, unique, alone in the universe, but I live with that feeling quite enough, and don’t much like it.

I have come to believe that all the separations I feel are simply pointers at that big sense of separation from God that is so much part of my life, and the life of everyone else I know. that is why I returned to one of my favorite poems by Hafiz, who really got it right about seven hundred years ago when he wrote “A Cushion for your Head.” “Just sit there right now/ Dont do a thing/ Just rest. For your separation from God, From love, Is the hardest work/ In this/ World. Let me bring you trays of food/ And something/ That you like to/ Drink. You can use my soft words/ As a cushion/ for your/Head.”

The Poet is Hafiz, but the speaker is God. God is right. Maintaining that illusion of separation from God is really hard work, and it is what makes life painful and hard. I am going to make a cup of tea and use those soft words as a pillow for my head. Being a bear is OK; it has its advantages, but there are times when I get reminded that I don’t have to work quite so hard to maintain that sense of separation, and at those times being a human is OK too.

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