Monday, May 21, 2007

Long Time Gone

I've been MIA for a week or so. We've been hosting my son and his family (the kids are 3 and almost 1) and there hasn't been time to teach and entertain and play with the kids and keep the blog going. The family is only going to be here until tomorrow, and I've got the rest of my life to write, so I've put myself on family leave. I've been thinking of it as a little breathing space, a moment to recharge my batteries as we head into the last few weeks of school. I've got some ideas taking shape that I'll get into later in the week. In the meantime, for your deliberation, here's a quotation from W.S. Merwin that a colleague sent along today:

At least in the Western world, we have persisted in defining our species in terms of intelligence—human intelligence, which is certainly distinct—and the distinction, we have maintained, confers upon us superiority over any other kind of life. Whether our intelligence exceeds that of any other form of life depends upon the criteria devised only by ourselves, for our own interest. But our intelligence, in any case, has enabled us to do two things that have magnified it. One is the articulation of language, effecting the communication of feeling, information, and varieties of order. The other is the recording of what has been expressed and thought and felt, allowing us to refer to the past intelligence and language of others.

But if we are to define and exclude ourselves from the rest of life on the basis of intelligence alone I can see no hope. Intelligence itself is morally indifferent, and as we see daily it can be bought and sold and used to advance any enterprise—including the most ruthless and ruinous.

I believe that our real superiority as a species is not our intelligence itself but the quality of imagination and compassion (in itself perhaps, one of the blessings of language) that allows us to care about the welfare, suffering, survival of lives far from our own, and not immediately or obviously related to our comforts, our prospects, our acquisitions. Whatever we may call the sympathy that involves us with the fate of victims in war zones half a world away, the sonar torture of whales, the mutilation of women and the tortures of bears in Pakistan, or the last members of a species of rainforest honeycreeper, this regard for life apart from our own is something that, so far as I know, is unique to our species. We can glimpse ancestral forms of it in the family and group behavior of other animals, but its broader emergence is a mark of humanity. It is our talent and we have developed it in our own way. It is something that we cannot altogether account for. But if we do not live up to our gifts they do us no good. And what this gift demands of us constantly is a change of heart. What hope there may be depends upon whether or not we can believe in such possibility.

- W.S. Merwin, from the forward to Remains of a Rainbow: Rare Plants and Animals of Hawaii.


Sarah McIntosh Puglisi said...

How lovely.....I bet those moments are so fast going I'd love a baby to love up..all I see are my teens disappearing into their rooms. day.

Poets Online said...

from one thinking blogger to another...