Yesterday, I found myself singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with my family just as we have done many times over, but this time our tone was gentle and elegiac because our intended audience was a dying rabbit in a cardboard box, wrapped in my jacket. I know, for those who know me, that yes, it seems like injured and dying animals flock to me, but it might just be that this is the condition we all are in: living in the borderlands where a dominating human presence presses up against nature’s tenuous domain.
The bunny, who happened to be lying in the dirt path on our routine evening walk, seemed to have a leg injury and a scratch on the nose, perhaps a result of predation by a cat, a coyote, a raptor, a bicyclist, who knows.
As occurred to me when a bloodied raven worked his way out of my green Whole Foods bag onto the front seat of my car, I again had a fear of driving off the road if the bunny might leap from the box into my lap. But I reasoned that it was more likely this bunny, lying awkwardly in such bad shape and with an inherent fragile heart, was dead.
A few miles into the drive, wondering if indeed Bunny was still alive and finding my NPR show jarring, I decided to peel back the fabric to see what Bunny was doing. And there suddenly was a fur-lined, big, black, round eye staring straight up at me — and a look of fright and curiosity and concern exchanged between us. I quickly covered Bunny back up.
I immediately recalled the image of another big, round, animal eye that had also poignantly looked up at me. An adult pelican, with an injured wing wrapped in a towel, sat on my lap as my friend drove us to the same shelter. En route, feeling the bird’s heart rate progressively calm, I peeled back the warm, wet towel to glimpse Pelican. Pelican’s eye was questioning and fearful, and I decided the darkness of the towel was more comforting than my own questioning, strange, and incredulous face.
So it seems fitting that I have been thinking about an amazingly beautiful film recently screened at the Experimental Film Festival in Portland, by a friend and colleague, Catherine Fairbanks. You can watch it for yourself here.
Catherine wonders whether attempts at empathy reach an impasse or dead end; the failure to completely reach another. And yet her beautiful imagery and wistful narrative embodies a transcendent poetics of the human condition. As Heidegger writes about this impasse, there is something about a thing that cannot be appropriated by us. Like walking out towards a horizon. We occupy that horizon, yet there is an out there that remains away from us. Likewise, a horizon, or object or thing, has a thereness that precedes our cognition of it. But he also describes those moments where we glimpse something otherwise, when a thing things itself. For example when the presence of his Van Gogh painting, beyond its pigment and canvas and brushstrokes, reaches into our being. Or when the culmination of instruments, rhythm, and tones arrives in an untranslatable and indescribable music that stirs something within. Steiner says we experience this presence “‘[i]n moments of great despair when things lose all their weight and all meaning becomes obscured,’ or in flashes of vital brilliance.”
“We feel, we know, urges Heidegger, that there is something else there, something utterly decisive. But when we seek to articulate it, ‘it is always as though we were reaching into the void.'” It is the possibility that the horizon, the impasse between two beings, is only the something we know — the consciousness of objects. Because also therein we are offered (and it almost always feels like a gift) “an opening to what is beyond the horizon of such knowing.”
The felt love between the two mythological entities in the lake surrounded by a loving voice; the moment of knowingness between the birds and animals and myself; and a lighting that occurs between a passage of painting and the viewer. Indeed, says Heidegger, without these moments, we forget to be astonished.
“The world’s darkening never reaches to the light of Being.” Heidegger