Saturday, December 24, 2005

Humour, humiliation, humility, and humanity

I don't know the evolutionary history of those words. I suppose I could tack humus onto the list.

Anyway, I was thinking about humour, after Kate published one of her notorious cat posts, and someone angrily(?) demanded to know if it was a joke. (Or was he joking?)

Kate's links did make me laugh. Actually it was the image of the coyote hat, with the head and legs still attached so that it looks like the coyote has fastened its jaws on the wearer's head, that made me laugh out loud. Yet I love to watch a coyote hunting mice, or see its astute watchfulness as I drive past: if I slow down, it will run, but otherwise, it just watches calmly, biding its time until it is safe to resume the task of feeding itself and its offspring, while unconsciously(?) providing us with rodent population control.

And we have a cat, and he is well cared for, if somewhat developmentally twisted from his natural wild self by being kept indoors except when walked on a leash. Wild cats are not natural here, and wild birds are not adapted to deal with them, so he stays in. He welcomes his leash, because it's the only way he gets to go outside. I would rather not have him, since we have to restrict his freedom, and he is a costly contradiction to my minimalist tendencies, and he chews electrical cords whenever he can get his teeth on them, and his wild mother taught him to be fiercely aloof in the mere month she raised him. She has raised several litters in the neighborhood, and we saw her swat her own young far more often than grooming them, sometimes when they first walked towards her, as soon as they got within paw's reach. Weaning? Maybe partly, but that wouldn't explain all of it. We didn't "rescue" him from her; it was some well-intentioned children who brought him, thinking he had got lost or been abandoned, when most likely he was just parked somewhere partway through a move to a new nest. Then after our kids saw him, and since I had told them they could have another cat to replace the wonderfully loving cat that we originally got to control mice in the house trailer at the farm, the one that would sleep curled against my ankles every night when Garth was away, the one I had to have put down due to cancer, well, what could I say? I had them put the kitten back out in the original nest first, to see if the mother would come for him, with a little blanket to help him survive the night. Next day yet another neighborhood kid brought him back to us, so that was it.

All that was just to explain that I have nothing against cats, or coyotes, and yet I laughed at Kate's post. Actually I suspect that someone who actively disliked them might only chuckle grimly. And someone who bore a painful memory of watching an abused cat suffer, or seeing a coyote chased with a snowmobile until its lungs froze, or watching a beloved dog die in agony from eating a poisoned bait set for coyotes, might not laugh at all.

My mom watched that dog die. Her response was to research the practise of coyote baiting, as well as the reality of coyotes' relationship with farm production, and write an article for the Blue Jay. She was told that that article was instrumental in getting the provincial government out of the baiting business.

Sometimes I laugh at things and later wish I hadn't. I still remember vividly the day that a fellow student fell during a gymnastics lesson at school, and my nervous laugh rang through the silence. That student was more dear to me than I cared to admit. Another student said loudly, "That's not funny, Laura." I wished I could disappear.

More recently I stood silent, listening sadly, while a friend laughed at his own stories and jokes involving "Indians" and "squaws." Humour is complex and ambiguous, and I don't know what exactly he was laughing at; perhaps not directly at the people or even at the humiliating names, but more because of the tension in the situations where those names had been used. He may even have been laughing due to his own tension as to how I would respond. I just wonder if he remembered that I have an adopted brother whose ancestry is Cree and Saulteaux. This friend is a few years older than I, enough so that I don't remember him from school. It tears my heart to wonder if he was one of the big boys who used to pick on my brother just for fun.

All this is a rather dark post for the day before Christmas, no?

It's just a little late, I guess. I said a couple of weeks ago, just before my Advent Calendar project fizzled, that I would have something more to say about peace beginning close to home. I believe there is a growing threat to peace in Saskatchewan. I hear about rising tensions between First Nations students and other students in our local school. So, neighbours, here is my challenge for you. I have heard lots of stories about how the people on the reserves near here are given all kinds of opportunities to better themselves, and not much comes of it. But I ask you, what are you doing to make sure these people know that they are welcome in our society? What evidence are you giving them, that if they work hard and build a life with a job somewhere in the local economy, that their days on the job, surrounded by people like you, will be so much as tolerable? What are you teaching your children (or your nieces and nephews and your neighbours' children) by your own example, by the stories you tell, by the things you laugh at?

I'm not asking you to be perfect. I know I'm not perfect. I'm just suggesting that we give some thought, day by day, to the balance of what we are adding to the humus.

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