By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock
There was no finer sight for a New Year’s morning.
At the edge of a freshly snow-covered clearing behind my place stood a whitetail doe and her fawn.
The white camouflage spots Nature gave to the fawn for protection at its June birth had faded. Its protection now was mom and it stood close beside her, ears twitching nervously as it awaited her signal on how to react to my intrusion.
Then they bolted and disappeared into an evergreen thicket.
Our meeting was very brief, only a few seconds, but long enough for me to recall lessons for living written by Felix Salten in his classic Bambi: A Life in the Woods.
Everyone knows the heartwarming children’s story of Bambi, mainly from the Disney film. Disney’s Bambi, although it has some sad and dark spots, is a lightened, whimsical adaptation of Salten’s original book.
Salten wrote the book 100 years ago as an adult story about life. It is packed with scenes of danger and death. Animals, notably Bambi’s mother, are killed by hunters. The leaves on the forest oaks ponder their inevitable deaths as autumn approaches.
Salten knew something about living in times of danger and death. He was an Austrian-Hungarian Jew born at a time when Jews were not allowed to have citizenship. Nazis burned copies of Bambi in the 1930s and Hitler banned all of Salten’s books in 1936.
Bambi’s life in the woods was filled with threats. To survive he had to learn to recognize and navigate them. He too was shot by a hunter but survived and grew into an adult stag, a strong example of how to overcome life’s difficulties and dangers.
We humans live in times of unprecedented difficulties and dangers, which have left us confused, unhappy, and angry. The result has been deteriorating mental health, increased domestic violence, abuse of medical workers, fist fights on airplanes and plenty of general unpleasantness.
Overall, our world has become less tolerant and more critical of everything. We are less friendly with each other – and less compassionate – than we used to be.
So, we stagger into a new year with one leg stretched forward in hope of better times, the other leg dragging the weight of the troubles and worries of the year just passed.
There is much to hope for in this new year, but plenty to worry about. COVID is not going away, creating uncertainty compounded by the lingering issues of racism, social inequity, and political and ideological conflicts.
Leadership, political and social, is floundering. And, without strong leadership many of us have been overcome by fear, negative thoughts, contempt and irrational anger.
Thankfully, there are signs of social leadership, some of it coming from unexpected sources.
Lady Gaga, the flamboyant singer-actress, has become a strong promoter of the belief that kindness is a powerful medicine that can lift burdens and heal mental wounds.
“I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself,” she has said. “And, I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”
Simple acts of kindness can ease the anxieties of our times and show us that perhaps things are not are bad as they seem. Slowing down in traffic so someone can merge in front of you, giving an unexpected compliment or paying for the coffee of the person in line behind you, are simple kindnesses that create smiles that soften distress.
From my point of view the best thing any of us can do is to stand at the edge of the woods, take some deep breaths and think about the lessons of Bambi: A Life in the Woods.
Bambi learned not to allow fear and anger to control his life. He listened to his elders and friends and learned that in times of danger, cautious actions are better than rushed conclusions.
Being cautious and thinking things through can help us get through our current difficulties. Simple acts of kindness can draw us closer together to engage our difficulties as a united force.
Bambi’s lesson is that all beautiful forests contain inherent dangers. Our lives are forests filled with dark spots. How we accept them and deal with them decides what kind of society we are.