Friday, November 16, 2007

From a friend.

This story from a buddy is a tad long but inspiring.

Bill I was reading that collection of essays by Barbara
Kingsolver when I came upon that one. When I
Googled, there it was! ENJOY! Paul.

Small Wonder

Lorena Province in Iran, a lost child was saved in an
inconceivable way. The news of it came to me as a
parable that I keep turning over in my mind, a message
from some gentler universe than this one. I carry it
like a treasure map while I look for the place where
I’ll understand its meaning.

I picture it happening this way: The story begins with
a wife and husband, nomads of the Lori tribe near
Kayhan, walking home from a morning’s work in their
wheat. I imagine them content, moving slowly, the
husband teasing his wife as she pulls her shawl across
her face, laughing, and then suddenly they’re stopped
cold by the sight of a slender figure hurrying toward
them: the teenage girl who was left in charge of the
babies. In tears, holding her gray shawl tightly
around her, she runs to meet the parents coming home
on the road, to tell them in frightened pieces of
sentences that he’s disappeared, she has already
looked everywhere, but he’s gone. This girl is the
neighbor’s daughter, who keeps an eye on all the
little ones too small to walk to the field, but now
she has to admit wretchedly that their boy had strong
enough legs to wander off while her attention was
turned to—what? Another crying child, a fascinating
insect—a thousand things can turn the mind from this
to that, and the world is lost in a heartbeat.

They refuse to believe her at first—no parent is ever
ready for this—and with fully expectant hearts they
open the door flap of their yurt and peer inside,
scanning the dim red darkness of the rugs on the
walls, the empty floor. They look in his usual hiding
places, under a pillow, behind the box where the bowls
are kept, every time expecting this game to end with a
laugh. But no, he’s gone. I can feel how their hearts
slowly change as the sediments of this impossible loss
precipitate out of ordinary air and turn their insides
to stone. And then suddenly moving to the fluttering
panic of trapped birds, they become sure there is
still some way out of this cage—here my own heart
takes up that tremble as I sit imagining the story.
Once my own child disappeared for only minutes that
grew into half an hour, then an hour, and my panic
took such full possession of my will that I could not
properly spell my name for the police. But I could
tell them the exact details of my daughter’s eyes, her
hair, the clothes she was wearing, and what was in her
pockets. I lost myself utterly while my mind scattered
out, carrying nothing but the search image that would
locate and seize my child.

And that is how two parents searched in Lorena
Province. First their own village, turning every box
upside down, turning the neighbors out in a party of
panic and reassurances, but as they begin to scatter
over the rocky outskirts it grows dark, then cold,
then hopeless. He is nowhere. He is somewhere
unsurvivable. A bear, someone says, and everyone else
says No, not a bear, don’t even say that, are you mad?
His mother might hear you. And some people sleep that
night, but not the mother and father, the smallest
boys, or the neighbor’s daughter who lost him, and
early before the next light they are out again.
Someone is sent to the next village, and larger
parties are organized to comb the hills. They venture
closer to the caves and oak woods of the mountainside.

Another nightfall, another day, and some begin to give
up. But not the father or mother, because there is
nowhere to go but this, we all have done this, we bang
and bang on the door of hope, and don’t anyone dare
suggest there’s nobody home. The mother weeps, and the
father’s mouth becomes a thin line as he finds several
men willing to go all the way up into the mountains.
Into the caves. Five kilometers away. In the name of
heaven, the baby is only sixteen months old, the
mother tells them. He took his first steps in June. He
can’t have walked that far, everybody knows this, but
still they go. Their feet scrape the rocky soil;
nobody speaks. Then the path comes softer under the
live oaks. The corky bark of the trees seems kinder
than the stones. An omen. These branches seem to hold
promise. Lori people used to make bread from the
acorns of these oaks, their animals feed on the
acorns, these trees sustain every life in these
mountains—the wild pigs, the bears. Still, nobody

At the mouth of the next cave they enter—the fourth or
the hundredth, nobody will know this detail because
forever after it will be the first and last—they hear
a voice. Definitely it’s a cry, a child. Cautiously
they look into the darkness, and ominously, they smell
bear. But the boy is in there, crying, alive. They
move into the half-light inside the cave, stand still
and wait while the smell gets danker and the texture
of the stone walls weaves its details more clearly
into their vision. Then they see the animal, not a
dark hollow in the cave wall as they first thought but
the dark, round shape of a thick-furred, quiescent
she-bear lying against the wall. And then they see the
child. The bear is curled around him, protecting him
from these fierce-smelling intruders in her cave.

I don’t know what happened next. I hope they didn’t
kill the bear but instead simply reached for the
child, quietly took him up, praised Allah and this
strange mother who had worked His will, and swiftly
left the cave. I’ve searched for that part of the
story—whether they killed the bear. I’ve gone back
through news sources from river to tributary to
rivulet until I can go no further because I don’t read
Arabic. This is not a mistake or a hoax; this
happened. The baby was found with the bear in her den.
He was alive, unscarred, and perfectly well after
three days—and well fed, smelling of milk. The bear
was nursing the child.

What does it mean? How is it possible that a huge,
hungry bear would take a pitifully small, delicate h
uman child to her breast rather than rip him into
food? But she was a mammal, a mother. She was
lactating, so she must have had young of her own
somewhere—possibly killed, or dead of disease, so that
she was driven by the pure chemistry of maternity to
take this small, warm neonate to her belly and hold
him there, gently. You could read this story and
declare “impossible,” even though many witnesses have
sworn it’s true. Or you could read this story and
think of how warm lives are drawn to one another in
cold places, think of the unconquerable force of a
mother’s love, the fact of the DNA code that we share
in its great majority with other mammals—you could
think of all that and say, Of course the bear nursed
the baby. He was crying from hunger, she had milk.
Small wonder. 

1 comment:

theomer MSN said...

Thank you for this touching piece, Bill.  When I was reading it, it reminded me of something that I saw not too long ago ... about a wild polar bear and a husky playing with each other:   Enjoy.   Jack   P.S. I checked out this with Snopes before posting it: