And then they were upon her. That's a line from Shirley Jackson's chilling story The Lottery, and even though I was probably about fourteen years old when I read it, I can still remember the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck rising up as my bewildered brain took it in and figured it out. If you've never read the story, go and do it and then come back.
God, I love a good short story. That one and Faulkner's A Rose for Emily are seared into my consciousness, and the line I quoted above is one that I kept thinking about over the last few days as the news of the big game hunter dentist's quarry trickled and then gushed out on social media. I find big game hunters just laughably gross, and this guy looked to be typical for the -- well -- breed, but honestly, I'm way more scared of the response I've seen on social media and in the press. There have been people with tiny stuffed lions and people dressed like lions lurking and protesting in the streets, people storming the guy's dental office and shaming him over and over. The internet mobsters have hounded him and his entire family, outed them and forced his business to shut down. I imagine they've gotten death threats, and you could probably figure that their lives are irrevocably changed, if not ruined. Whole businesses are already sprouting up selling lion tee-shirts, and it seems that nearly everyone seems to be caught up in it, jumping on the bandwagon.
I feel uncomfortable. I find it terrifying that this asshole dude is figuratively being tarred and feathered, pilloried and otherwise destroyed because he killed a beloved lion in Africa. I'm aware that he perhaps is a stand-in for nearly everything that's going wrong on our planet -- the rape and exploitation of all that's beautiful and natural -- but I still can't shake the dis-ease.
On the other hand, I'm complicit in feeling a simmering rage about the apparent daily collision of civil servants and black people. The clusterfuck of cops shooting black people every single day for minor traffic violations or perceived insult is beyond belief, even as the deadly force is a stand-in for racism -- a deep-seated and pervasive disease that you could say is the rotten core of this country. The response, though, compared to that of the lion and the dentist, seems tepid. I'm not a moral relativist, but I find this unsettling.
The hysteria around the dentist is scary to me. I think everyone has gone out of their minds. They are literally upon him. Evidently, hundreds and hundreds of animals are illegally poached and slaughtered each year, yet the outrage is directed at one human being and his family. What next?
While I wouldn't want an angry mob with pitchforks and burning torches to descend upon any number of police officers who have shot and killed black men and women for minor traffic offenses, what do we do with the rage?
I don't have any answers, but I do think people should knock it off with the lion and the dentist. As for the rest of it, my own rage, simmering, is but a tiny drop and it behooves me, like many white people of privilege, to sit in the moment and listen. These are intense times, and during intense times, I'm going to go deeper within even as I listen, remain open and increase my awareness of what my fellow citizens of color are telling me.
I think the palliative for fear and anger is to stand firmly and wakefully in the moment. It’s like the old Zen master saying, “Come with me. Let’s fill the well with snow.” It’s a hopeless task: The snow melts; the process is endless. We don’t take action because we expect a certain result; we do it because it needs to be done. We pick up the shovel not because we’re going to fill the well with snow but because shoveling is the dharma activity of that moment. We show up for the impossible.
Bonnie Myotai Treace