Today, a long time friend, Chris Douglas, shares a fable of kindness. As an international traveller and trader, he has had the unique perspective to witness and touch how other cultures embrace kindness. His vignette is a reflection of these experiences. Enjoy…
Thinking about kindness one warm and sunny day, I visited a family of crows roosting in Aesop’s head. We sat inside the old storyteller’s spacious and well-decorated skull. The Crows had set out an antique pitcher of wine along with a fine variety of cheeses.
“The line between kindness and cruelty,” Mr. Crow began, “might as well be traced by a snail. It’s too slowly drawn and too invisible to be of use to humans in this modern world. A translucent ribbon of slime measured out by an accident of nature. You know it to crisscross your lives but try very hard not to see it.”
“And you know what’s so weird about human kindness? Humans are so anthropocentric – sorry to generalize here – so anthropocentric that you think you invented it. Kindness. You think you’re the first creatures to like family and friends more than strangers.
“By the way this is a thing with you. You come up with a word and stick it on something that already exists. Then you plant it on nature like a flag on a mountain.”
Mr. Crow pointed his wings at unseen objects around the room.
“‘This is our beach! That’s our sun!’ That’s what you sound like. Oh here’s another example: ‘This is my slave.’ Thank you for bringing us into that slavery bullshit. Jim Crow? Only dark colored animal you could think of?”
My gaze drops to the plate in my lap. A tower of cheese and crackers seemed to have pecked itself to pieces.
“Ok it’s not like we crows don’t understand theft. We do. Especially when it comes to food. Sorry by the way.”
Mr. Crow made me a fresh plate of brie and crackers, then continued.
“The point is that kindness isn’t yours. Human. The only thing about it that’s yours is the inconsistency: when some people deserve your kindness and when they don’t. When they share blood? When they’re from the same neighborhood? It doesn’t make sense.
“Just look at…now where did I put them?”
Mr. Crow flew out of the room. In the pause Mrs. Crow poured me another cup of wine. We shared a knowing glance about her excitable and forgetful husband. Mr. Crow returned with papers in his claws: clippings from newspapers and magazines. Paragraphs were highlighted. Notes were added on the margins – some doodles as well.
“I don’t want to lecture you, but look at your poor people. You’ll begrudge them a miserable subsistence but you don’t stop their poverty.
And look at the situation with refugees from your Syrian war! You’ll take them in but you do not stop the fighting. You call this kindness? We call it prolonging the suffering and murder of your own species.”
“Not that we mind humanity’s homicidal tendencies,” Mrs. Crow said. She made a sweeping gesture at pictures on the wall.
Mrs. Crow came from a family of naturally gifted photographers. Verdun. Constantinople. Magdeburg. Sarajevo. Vacation photos from Mrs. Crow’s travels with Mrs. Raven, a friend since her college semester abroad. In one picture there’s even a younger version of my father smiling at me.
In the silence I pretended to scrutinize a few of these pictures for the first time. Mr. Crow put a wing on my hand. There is a shared memory of heated argument, sudden action, an accident with a hammer, and neighbors…no, friends…who could keep a secret.
“We don’t mind at all. Every animal has a reason to kill. We just don’t understand your idea of kindness and maybe we never will.”
Mr. Crow nods. This time it is Mrs. Crow who leaves the room and comes back with a book. An English translation of the Poetic Edda.
“You know about the Norse god Odin and the ravens. Huginn and Muninn. From your perspective the ravens are maybe Odin’s spies, bringing him information from around the world. In my opinion they’re not just spying for Odin – they’re spying on him too. They’re fascinated by this animal. They want to know how this god nearly gets his entire kind killed, lets the End of the World happen during his rule, how this supremely powerful creature gets himself eaten by a dog.
“Ravens and crows are different birds, you know, but they have more in common than ravens and wolves. Still…did you know that ravens and wolves will sometimes share a kill? Do you wonder if they had a bite of Odin, too, when Fenrir was done with his corpse?”