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Excerpt from A Language Older Than Words

Fears (p. 99)

From chapter "Seeking a Third Way"

Fearing death, fearing life, fearing love, and fearing most of all the loss of control, we create social rules and institutions that mirror our fears and reinforce our destructive behaviors. Having surrounded ourselves with images of ourselves, and having silenced all others, we can now pretend that the false-front world we’ve created is instead the world we’ve been given. We can pretend the world is a very dangerous place, where dogs eat dogs, where children and others must be beaten into submission, where a fierce struggle takes place in which only the strongest, meanest, most unethical and hateful survive, and ultimately where we die alone and afraid. Any threat to this illusion must be annihilated before it reminds us of what we’ve lost, what we’ve destroyed, and of what could have been. And so we kill all witnesses: the vast flocks of passenger pigeons; the islands of great auks; the massive herds of bison; the great forests; each and every nonhierarchical and peaceful indigenous culture; each and every new child, wild and beautiful and free and creative as she is; even our own consciences and direct experiences of the world.

No matter how we try, we cannot eradicate every vestige of life and love. Each new child— human, plant. animal, stone, or star—offers a new possibility, and each new encounter an opportunity for communion, however great or slight. Just yesterday I drove to the grocery store to pull boxes of scraps from the dumpster. As I worked I noticed a man sitting on a curb, watching. His clothes were old, ill-fitting, and torn, his shoes falling apart. I couldn’t tell his age; the bottle, in a brown paper bag, from which he drank may have aged him ten years, or maybe twenty-five. I finished the boxes, and got in the truck. We made eye contact, and nodded. He stood and walked toward me. “Do you get food out of there?”

Homeless people ask me that all the time. Had I pulled anything of value, I would have given it to him.

“Sometimes. Today I just got lettuce leaves.”

He thought for a moment, looked away, then looked back to me. He reached in his pocket and said, “Can I donate a couple of bucks so you can get some food?”

Communion. “No thanks,” I said, “The lettuce is for my chickens.” I smiled, and he smiled back. “Thanks,” I said, “Thanks so much.”

Things don’t have to be the way they are.