The cardinal waits at the fence, his red plumage a sentinel in the frozen landscape. The sharp-shinned hawk towers over the feeder from the oak tree, waiting to swoop up its own dinner from the feeding songbirds. A murder of crows already sounds the alarm. They circle, caw and harass the hawk. Finally the hawk flies away, a trail of crows in tow. Each day past the solstice is another day closer to spring. In these gray days of snow and ice, it would be easy to give in to the darkness and stay there, a human reaction to overwhelming elements. The other response requires the vigilance of a bird whose body fat is nil and still it survives these days of barren trees and frozen water.
If the birds can endure another night, then so can I is the philosophy. How many people this evening are questioning their survival while they sleep under the highway bridges? The numbers of homeless families rise. Shelters are full each night. Single men often have the hardest time finding a place unless they arrive by a certain cut off time. I know a man who spent 2 years living along the river, packing up his tent and carrying everything up the park trail to the nearby gas station where he ate breakfast and washed in the mens room. At the end of the day, he headed back to the river to set up his campsite. “Not so cold.” He once told me when I asked him how he survived the below zero night. What is lost in this survival story is the beauty and possibilities of this man’s mind, the urge to create and leave a message for others to read.
The sacred paintings of the Lascaux caves in France are a reminder of the human need to create art. It is believed that the 600 animals painted on these caves were painted by artists of the Magdalenian people from the Upper Palaolithic culture. These hunter-gatherers were well-off. They had plenty of food and thus could afford to have artists spend years on developing these sophisticated paintings. The largest animal, a bull, is 16 feet long. In addition, they explored astronomy through their cave art. These drawings are a reminder that humans have a need to produce art for the sake of beauty and self-expression. In addition, art is an expression of an individual’s awareness of his/her place in the world as well as an awareness of collective identity. With an understanding of collective identity, people nurture trust in each other. With trust comes an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition and domination. The anecdote to violence and war. How much human potential is lost due to economic poverty? How many creative visions will be lost, visions that inspire and urge us to trust our innate abilities as well as look beyond ourselves? The whole world suffers when people live in poverty.