Friday, July 20, 2012

Animal Brain

Oddly, last night before we heard about the horrible shooting in Colorado, my husband and I were discussing violent acts. Admittedly, this discussion came in the context of just having watched an old ER episode, the one where Mark gets beaten up. I wondered aloud how people can stand to inflict such violence upon one another. This question always brings to mind a friend many years ago whose fiancee was beaten to death when walking home from a basketball game one evening. He had an open casket and forever will I remember the artificial attempt to reconstruct a beautiful young face, and the very real and visible breaking heart of his lover at the casket's side. My husband and I pictured our reaction if we were called upon to protect each other or our 3 cubs. At work, I am known as the den mother, the "ubermadre", and have more than once stood against my better judgement to defend my team. God help someone who comes between me and the wholeness of my family. I believe, at that point, I would switch over to the animal brain.

This, in the context of running deep into the peaceful and pastoral woods, has been on my mind. As I contemplate a 50 mile trail run, hopefully at the side of one of the strongest women I know, my fear does not settle on the magnitude of distance, nor the conundrum of feeding oneself properly during such an event. It does not shiver at the inevitable blisters and lost toenails and the risk of hyponatremia or rhabdomyolysis. But my fear settles and sinks its anxious teeth into the frightful imaginings of creatures lurking in the dense overgrowth that is the redwood forest.

Our neighborhood has built itself against nature's door, and we have no reason to complain if She comes knocking on a regular basis. The family of bears, 2 cubs included, are a cute addition in theory. But the banshee scream of a mountain lion through an open window at 2am is scarier than Voldemort and The Gentlemen combined. I saw a lion once, as it skulked away into the brush on trail 11 in our forest. I almost vomited out my heart, and am ashamed to say I ran away while my trusty dog ran toward the catamount as if he thought himself a match. I prayed, swore and ran and was so relieved when my dog appeared at my side again. He seemed a little shaken. It took me 6 months to go back to trail 11.

Truth be told, our lions are well fed. Fat deer (thanks to my garden and others) are the main course. How often has a person been attacked? Not all that often. But it is the idea of the thing.

I run in the woods often. It is safer than driving to work. It is good for my soul. It is where I find solace. It smells nice. Strangely, I find that the more I run into the woods, the less I am afraid. Wendell Berry calls it "resting in the grace of the world".  So maybe the violence, even the violence in protection of loved ones, is not the animal brain, but rather the fear brain. And to find the grace of which Mr Berry speaks is to find a path to be truly free. Without fear.

Also, find the strongest girl you know and bring her along for the ride.

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