Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food for Thought - Maternal Instincts

Night before last, I lay in bed asleep. In a dream, I saw a winged creature circling low over my bed. So vivid was my dream that I leaped from my bed and ran into the hallway, shutting the door behind me. After about ten minutes, I reentered my room to find it devoid of life.
Last night, I found out it wasn't a dream. A bat had somehow found its way into my bathroom and, consequently, was now stuck circling my bedroom. My first reaction was terror, of course. I knew that some bats carry rabies and I'm sure the fact that I was in a state of delirium at 4 in the morning didn't help. I was finally able to release it into the hallway and it went to hide somewhere in the house.
Later that morning my mother and I discovered it hanging off one of the rafters in the parlor downstairs (Yes, we have a parlor). We decided to let it be and deal with it later, but by mid-afternoon the bat hadn't moved - obviously because bats are nocturnal. Since it hadn't eaten in two nights, we feared for its health and my mom decided to take action. She used a broom to lift the bat off the rafter and into a hat. She came to show it to me. The tiny brown fuzzball sat calmly in the upturned baseball cap. My original apprehension turned suddenly into warmest affection. This creature I had seen as a threat was now in our care and under our protection. I realized how defenseless it was. In a moment my instincts went from that of fight or flight to the natural instincts of a mother.
What is this sense of kinship that exists in humans and animals? Countless stories exist of mother animals who share their milk and warmth with infants of other species, especially humans. According to mythology, the founders of the Roman Empire, Romulus and Remus, were raised by wolves.
Some scientists signal the hormone oxytocin, which scientists have attributed to love, rapport, and maternal affection. Some people say it is instinctual while others argue that we have long since lost our animal instincts. Regardless of where the feeling comes from, it is undoubtedly there. It is this thing that makes children and adults alike coo over babies of both human and non-human species. Some evolutionary scientists have argued that a baby's cuteness is a survival mechanism encoded into our DNA. In other words, if babies weren't cute, would we really go through the trouble of caring for them?
Perhaps in a more logical sense we humans tend to care for other animals (especially in cases when they're injured or otherwise helpless) because we subconsciously hope other animals or people would do the same for us; like a dolphin rescuing a shipwrecked sailor. Perhaps we see in these animals a bit of our own humanity and seek to do good by the creature because we understand that they have feelings just as we have.
It might even be a way of postponing the inevitable - knowing that we helped an animal in distress comforts us in the acceptance of our mortality.
This comes from the fact that after the bat suddenly flew from the baseball cap in which it was so quietly swathed, we spotted a butterfly with an injured wing, flapping feebly on our gravel driveway. I used a stick to move it into the flower patch so it could rest and probably die.
It's part of the circle of life. Helping an animal in distress makes us feel that we have some sense of control in the grand scheme of things.

Think about it.
Nostalgically Yours

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think?