Posts Tagged ‘survival’

Sharing

May 31, 2017

 

One summer a few years ago, I poured some old bird seed, a mixture of sunflower seeds and millet, into a child’s wagon in our back yard. I regularly saw five or six squirrels in the area and I thought they would enjoy it. What happened, however, was not the general feeding I expected.

One squirrel soon arrived and began to eat and eat and eat. Other squirrels arrived too and hopped frantically near the wagon. If they got close to the wagon, the squirrel inside jumped out and chased them away. When he was full he set about hiding the rest of the sunflower seeds, still not letting any other squirrel near the wagon. In squirrel world, it seems, there is no sharing even in abundance.

When I went out the next day I found only millet seeds in the wagon. I decided to scatter more seeds around and between our two large maples. Our bully squirrel could hardly defend the whole area. This worked to some extent, but there was still no doubt about who was lord of the bird seed and who had to sneak in and run. Eventually all the sunflower seeds were gone and only the millet remained, which the squirrels seemed to ignore.

Enter a dove with a taste for millet. He was a stranger. No doves had been visiting in our yard. He went contentedly pecking about the millet leavings while the boss squirrel chased the other squirrels about in the trees. As it happened the boss squirrel chased another squirrel down one of the maples as the dove was ambling about at its base. The boss squirrel altered course to jump directly on the dove, sending it flying. In the squirrel world, I guess, there is no sharing even of what isn’t wanted.

But it is not a great thing being a boss squirrel. You generally get enough to eat, but you must constantly fight off intruders. These squirrels seemed to spend half their time chasing each other up and down and through or flipping their tails at each other. No truce is ever called in squirrel land.

But that is squirrel nature. A generous spirit can hardly be practiced when the next month may bring starvation. Any sunflower seeds conceded to a fellow will be missed when there is nothing more to dig up. And millet is really much better than starvation. Squirrel survival depends on a selfish nature.

At first I shook my head at the squirrels because I like to share, within reason. Sharing has great social rewards and it makes me feel good, and I can be pretty confident that I am not going to starve. I have the luxury to share, just as I have the luxury to write these words rather than chase my neighbor Jerry around the trees. Well, all right, he would probably be chasing me. Or he and his wife Judy and their kids would probably be chasing me and my wife Vera and our parrot Walter. The point is it would all be very tiring if I lived a squirrel’s life and I don’t think I would be pondering how to live well.

You can’t concentrate on philosophy if you have to constantly guard your seeds. So I am grateful that I have so much leisure in my life, that I have the option of spreading some seeds around without starving to death. I could share everything I’ve got and still get by. Human society makes that possible. And I thank you all.

Fortunately being generous doesn’t absolutely require asceticism or washing the sores of lepers. I’m not ready for that. But I think I could give up some of my seeds and make more space in my tree. I have always wanted to be more consistently open with people. That’s why I write. And personal openness is probably the kind of sharing that people with full stomachs value most.

I am going to try to be more open when there are actual people around, not just while constructing sentences on the page. But don’t expect too much. I’m just a holiday hiker on the road to spiritual fulfillment. If I really knew where the answers lie, I wouldn’t still be squirreling up all these verbal seeds.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

An earlier version of this essay was published in 2010 in Brother Michael This Morning.

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer