Another Way," by Elizabeth Dodson Gray wrote:
In the ancient
days a solemn council was called to consider the origin of death. Great
men, movers of empires and corporations, assembled to debate the
question. "Death came with our bodies," they said. "Our natural world,
of which our bodies are a part, is full of death. Only our minds and
spirits are immortal, akin to the gods. And that is why we sharpen our
minds and toughen our spirits, and gird up the loins of our souls to be
heroic, to project such a magnificent trajectory of a life-span that we
conquer the ignominy of our beginnings in the blood and humanness of
childbirth, and the dependence of childhood, as well as the humiliation
of our endings in the weakness of old age and the blotting-out of
As the men talked,
they paced the floor and filled the air with their dreams of glory.
Great martial adventures, great philosophical and theological systems,
great scientific and technological advances, achievements of epic
proportions were planned and executed with courage and strength and
daring which surely would conquer the beginnings and the endings of man.
"We are like gods," the men rhapsodized as they erected. "We are a
little lower than the angels, and all other creatures who do not erect
as we do, are below us and subject to us. All of nature itself, like the
ground we walk upon, will reverberate to the majesty of our footprints
upon the sands of time."
But a funny thing
happened as the men worked. Some of the vast heroic enterprises, instead
of conquering death, began to cause it. Toxic substances, iron laws of
economics, megaton killbacks, and blank-faced robot machines began to
stalk the earth and "hunt for humans" like demented snipers of the
rooftop. Benign Mother Nature turned on her children with murderous
ferocity, slowly choking off the air and water which had flowed freely
from her abused breasts. Men were cast back upon the despised dependence
of their infantile memories.
intolerable!" the men cried out. "We cannot live as we desire. We cannot
control the world and all that in it lies. If we live like this, we die
and the world dies with us. But not to live like this, not to control
and subdue the world, is still worse for us than death! What shall we
do? Who shall we kill to make it right?"
In the silence
that followed, an old woman sitting in the corner knitting clothes for
her grandchildren finally spoke. "You men live your lives in agonies of
striving, you kill and take the world with you. And for what? You do not
know who you are. Always you try to escape your bodies, to put down your
flesh, to conquer nature, and where does it get you? He who cannot deal
with his birth from a woman, cannot deal with his death. Life comes from
death, and death is in life. They are all of a piece."
The men stared at
her in disbelief. What could this woman, this other-than-man, know of
life or death? Only men cast their cosmologies out upon reality; their
metaphors of dualism and hierarchy had etched the ontological skies for
so long that they seemed embedded in truth itself. Could it be that
there was another way to perceive? Another standing point? Could it be
that erection itself had betrayed them into thinking linearly about
everything? Could it be that they had missed the basic metaphor of life?
"All right," the
men taunted her, "you tell us a story. You tell us about the beginning
and the ending, and about the meaning of the middle of life. You tell
"I am not like
you," the old woman said slowly. "I do not tell stories. I see visions.
I see that life is not a line but a circle. Why do men imagine for
themselves the illusory freedom of a soaring mind, so that the body of
nature becomes a cage? 'Tis not true. To be human is to be circled in
the cycles of nature, rooted in the processes that nurture us in life,
breathing in and breathing out human life just as plants breathe in and
out their photosynthesis. Why do men see themselves as apart from this,
or above this? Is it that the natural reproductive processes surge so
little through their bodies that they cannot feel their unity with
nature in their blood and tissue and bones as women can? Or is it that
they so envy and fear women for their more integral part in nature that
they seek to escape from both women and nature into a fantasy world of
culture which they themselves can control because they made it up?"
The men roared in
anger. "How dare you question the world which we have made, woman, you
who were not made by God but made from our rib! We have given birth to
you! How could we possibly think that we were born of you, or envy you,
or fear you? It is against all rational thought!"
But the old woman
merely looked at them and said, "To be human is to be born, partake of
life, and die. Life itself is the gift. It does not have to be wrenched
out of shape, trying to deny both the borning and the dying. Women
produce children, and they and the children die. But they know that it
was good to have lived. Perhaps someday men too can rest upon the
affirmation of being, and there find reassurance and an end to their
ceaseless striving. Perhaps someday they shall come to know the circle
which is the whole -- that which validates being -- without achieving,
that which allows one to rest and stop running, that which accepts one
as a person and not a hero. The sweet nectar of that whole awaits you in
the precious flower of the Now, not in your dreams of glory. Perhaps,
someday, men will find their humanity, and give up their divinity." The
old woman had finished speaking and there was silence in the great
council room. It was a time for silence.