Without the Mother of Invention
Yesterday, before I turned it off, I heard a story on NPR about how in Spain, an old tradition is returning: hunting wild boar on horseback with spears. To my mind, something happens when we enact a tradition that is no longer a necessity. We no longer examine the thing itself, and maybe we divorce ourselves from the need that gave rise to the tradition in the first place. We lose something important in the process.
In Hawaii, we had a day when we ate almost exclusively things grown on the island. It was a cool experiment, and it was also devoid of any requirement. If we grew tired of the experiment, we could go to the store. Sometimes I spin wool into yarn and knit things to wear and use. It is for the pure pleasure of it. I could buy basically the same thing for a fraction of what un-spun wool and yarn cost.
I don’t exactly think I’m suggesting that continuing traditional practices are suspect. Obviously, there can be artistry and pleasure involved in many things that are no longer essential, and I happen to think the world is sorely lacking in artistry and pleasure. But I feel stumped by how to honor not only the historical necessity of something but also the fact that it is still a necessity in so many parts of the world. And even if few Americans have to go hunt and gather for our food, more and more of us scrounge for the means to buy our food.
I am wondering how to carry my privilege honorably in a way that does not minimize the struggles of others (and perhaps even lightens their burden a bit). Maybe something on the order of how Native Americans thanked (and likely many still do) the spirits of animals they hunted and killed for food. I am eager for your thoughts about this.
I bet that none of the Germans who end up eating the meat of a boar killed so cruelly in Spain will bother to thank the spirit of the animal. I appreciate what you are after here, but I don’t think the way we live on earth is fair or just and there is really not much honor in it, toward animals or toward one another. I wish I could be more optimistic.
Andrea, I don’t think you said a single thing here that I disagree with. And I strive (at least sometimes) to turn my attention toward fairness and justice and honor. Somehow I believe that most of us actually want to be better people than we are at a given moment in time. I hope that the more I remind myself to honor those things we have forgotten to honor that I will be a deeper, more positive presence in the world. Or maybe I just like to see myself think. 🙂
I do agree that on an individual basis we can do our best to be honorable and just, but the tide of cruelty runs high. The nicest people eat veal, for example. Can they be any nicer? Yes, in my opinion they can be. In their opinion? It probably doesn’t occur to them, or if it does, only as a fleeting thought.
You’re talking about gratitude, yes? You’re aware that you don’t have to dig, spin, hunt, scrabble, and you’re grateful for that. My very religious grandmother’s two favorite (and therefore most mocked) words were “lovely” and “grateful.” She found a way to say “I’m just so grateful” about almost anything that she found “lovely”. Health. Eyeglasses. Lawrence Welk. Life. Pancakes. “I’m just so grateful for those lovely pancakes.” We tittered like crazy about this but I think she was onto something.
I have always said that it’s gratitude that draws me towards any kind of religion or spirituality (and of the two, you know I actually like religion more). There has to be a place to say thank you for the wonderful bounty of my life. Church was that place for so many years. I miss that more than just about anything else; being still and quiet in a beautiful place, and letting gratitude suffuse me. I was never much of a believer, and now I am no believer at all, but that gratitude was precious. I bet you experienced quite a bit of that in Hawaii.
As far as that small sense of foolishness you’re expressing regarding traditional practices, yes, it’s slightly foolish. But the human urge to elevate necessities to arts is as old as we are. So just forgive yourself for the privileged life that allows you to live artfully, rather than needfully.
Karen, this is me sighing in relief. Right: gratitude!