I came across a striking image of a cave painting in Patagonia that was thousands of years old. It shows dozens of human hands reaching upward. How did it come about? Did our ancestors sit around a fire in their cave and notice the dancing shadows their hands made on the walls? Did they feel the need to recreate it — to give it permanence?
The hands appear to be different sizes. Were many members of the tribe involved in this creation? The group painting was not made by an imprint of a hand dipped in color and pressed on the cave wall as you might think. Rather, it was made by placing one hand at a time on the wall and blowing a color out around that hand through a reed, I imagine. Then the next hand would be on the solid color area next to the impression of the first hand and a different color would be blown around it and so forth, the hands seemingly reaching higher and higher all the way up to the cave ceiling like some desperate act.
This is not like the famous hand of God touching Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel nor that of a child in art class dipping a solitary hand in a favorite color and pressing it to paper. For me, this dynamic piece of art represents a community with a deep need to express itself for some reason or another.
I saw a documentary the other night that asked some very profound questions. In one scene, scientists were trying to figure out how it was that a large herd of deer would go to the watering hole en masse at the same time each day. Contrary to their expectations, the alpha buck didn’t make this decision. It was a complicated decision to make. Going too early would risk many predators. Going too late would risk dehydration of some of the more sensitive members of the herd. The researchers ultimately found that one by one, the deer would point their heads in the direction of the water and as soon as 51% of the herd did so, they would all go together simultaneously. They were voting. I didn’t even know deer could count, let alone figure percentages.
I recently heard several wonderful interviews with sociologist, researcher and author Brené Brown. She said humans “are hardwired for connection, curiosity and engagement.” We are at our best when we are at our most vulnerable. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” To be human is to be vulnerable.
Yesterday I was listening to my radio while I was making my bed. My first news of the day was that a 24-year-old man in China stabbed 18 children as they were entering their school. A half day later we heard about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. How does this happen? What would our ancestors in the cave think of one of our own committing an act that would attempt to destroy our own future lineage? What would those deer think of our lack of sensitivity? How would our researcher explain the faulty hardwiring that is supposed to make us connect to one another?
We all hear the reasons people give: the guns, drugs, violent video games, lead paint, chemical imbalance, the economy. Maybe we could throw in the looming Mayan prophecy as well. But there is something else: These men were both described as loners, unreachables, unsociables — we could say they were unable to participate in the full human experience.
I would like to challenge the notion that we are only responsible for ourselves.
I would like to challenge the phrase “that is not my problem.”
I would even like to challenge the Serenity Prayer about what to accept and what to change and the request for wisdom and discernment.
We forget to re-examine these ideas, to reflect on their complex meaning, to the grow with them, and to redefine them as we redefine ourselves and as the world around us gets redefined
Martin Luther King talked about the arc of the universe bending towards justice — but I challenge this too. I think goodness exists at any point in human history where emotions and vulnerabilities are expressed and human connections are honored. An arc can be a long linear line — something too far away, something too intangible. Perhaps the image of a web would be better — each of us knitting our own web right now in all directions that gets a bit tangled with everyone else’s web.
Couldn’t we allow ourselves to be bit more vulnerable? To err on the side of getting out of our emotional comfort zones and dare to engage and connect just a bit more. I wonder if we could see emotions not as signs of weakness, but of strength: Our president unable to speak for the tears in his eyes?
As the winter solstice comes, as Christmas, New Year’s and the other beautiful holidays come, couldn’t we reconnect with the purest part of ourselves and encourage others to do the same? And wouldn’t that be the best way to prevent so many of the tragedies around us that keep occurring by individuals who feel so isolated and so alone.
I was changing in the locker room at the gym some time ago when a reporter was eulogizing Steve Jobs. An error in the closed captioning said that Jobs practiced Dwarfism instead of Buddhism. I was the only person in the room who saw the caption and I thought it was the funniest thing in the world. I didn’t feel like explaining the joke that no one saw to a bunch of naked strangers so I just stifled my laughter. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy. Too bad, I don’t laugh enough as it is. But more importantly, what I really wanted was for them to laugh with me. I wanted to feel like that herd of deer and the tribe of ancestors in the cave — connected and engaged and loved.