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It's Nelly's World

What Will Save Us? Biology Has the Answer

alec vanderboom

I want to let you read something. It's written by a man incarcerated at Attica state prison, apparently forever (he did something very bad). I've been corresponding with him for years, and have found him a deep-thinking, and deep-feeling, man. He is black, by the way.

A quote I heard yesterday on a radio show: "Rosa sat, so Martin could ride; Martin walked, so Obama could run; Obama ran, so our children could fly." When I look back over my nineteen years in this hell-hole I will forever lament the fact that I could not vote for Barack Obama. I've voted in every election since I was eighteen, and even voted in 1990 while on Riker's Island. I can't ever remember voting for anything, I remember voting against things. . . . All I know is that the world looks a lot brighter today than it did yesterday, even the sun is shining brighter and the air tastes sweeter and once again I am proud to be an American and so proud of my brothers and sisters who took such a leap of faith in our future.

I cannot comment further on that. It is everything already.

Because it is about what we are in our cells: bonded as a species. And therefore made to survive, which we can only do together.

As an example, take the local Moto Guzzi listserv I'm on. Usually it's about get-togethers, finding parts, connecting with like-minded others (um, yeah, then: species bonding again). But a couple of weeks ago someone posted an idea that, given the economy's meltdown, any list members with knowledge of available jobs let the rest of the list know. You know, altruism. Assistance. Love (dare I say it).

This is the tenderness of bikers. It sort of cracked open my heart.

Last night I was at a party. I didn't know many people there, and I'm not good with meeting others, alas. So I sat on the couch and watched. This put me near the front door. Which turned out to be the prime stage for a beautiful drama: the care of fathers for their children. They knelt and made sure the hats and gloves were snug before their offspring went outdoors into the chilly evening to play. From across the room, I saw the mothers quickly glancing to make sure their children were being cared for; they were satisfied. I don't think the parents were aware they were exchanging information across a crowded room: the drive to do so is instinctual, hormonal, built into the pair bond. And the pair bond is one of the most naturally gorgeous things in all of nature.

The evening before, I had sat in a large gymnasium as an Arctic wolf was led around on a heavy chain-link lead (and how do you teach loose-leash walking to a wolf?). The representative of the Wolf Conservation Center was telling us about pack structure, about how the whole extended family cares for the young in equal measure. They must have very subtle methods, built deep into their biological essence, to communicate to one another this information about the pups. Suddenly I realized it was that same language that caused our two dogs, Mercy and Roscoe, to exchange information on which one of them was to take care of us when we were out on walks together. They would take turns, one staying with the human "young," the other going off to forage and hunt. Then, wordlessly, and sometimes we did not even know it had happened (they were both black dogs the same size), they switched places. But one was always there.

Watching by the door the impossibly lovely concern displayed by these fathers--remembering my own pair bond, lost--did something. In the vernacular, it slayed me. I could not stay at the party, so overcome was I by both grief and thankfulness for this transporting vision. I left, and I left my own offspring in the care of my pack. In my absence they would watch him as their own.

I drove home quickly, the tears pouring down my cheeks. Then I realized they might be tears of joy, for I had been allowed to see what it is that will save us, from all we currently face. It will be called forth by the needs of others, and we will be powerless not to hear it. It is a part of our fluid, our cells. And some people call it love.