Monday, May 29, 2017

Whale Tale Rerun

This blog is a summer rerun from a year ago, but hopefully you will enjoy it anyway.

It was the day after Labor Day and my spouse, CB, and I were headed out for a whale-watching adventure. During our drive we saw plenty of school buses packed with children ready to start the first day of school. Some of the kids looked excited, others nervous. I can appreciate both sentiments.

As a child I started off the school year with one of two new outfits I would wear that year. I remember wanting to put my best foot forward. I was a scruffy-looking kid, but a new outfit managed to put a coat of varnish on my otherwise rough exterior. My family wasn’t exactly impoverished, but we weren’t well off either. Plus, I did not take a lot of care in how I looked. My mom made sure my hair was brushed before I left the house, but I never gave it another thought the rest of the day. And as a kid who loved to play outside, hang upside on the monkey bars and chase other kids around the school yard, I’m sure I was a big mess. Actually, I have school pictures to prove I was a mess, but I digress.

When a new school year begins, I feel a nostalgic desire to learn something new. However, over the years I have found life’s lessons do not always come as a result of traditional education. While I do enjoy reading, taking classes and watching documentaries, I have found that some of my most valued lessons have come from observing nature. 

However, fun, rather than education was my goal that September morn.  We hopped into the truck and set off to the dock where we would take our four-hour tour. If the theme song from Gilligan’s Island comes to mind, remember that their ill-fated journey was a THREE-HOUR tour. That extra hour makes a big difference and we suffered no shipwrecks.

We enjoyed learning about the geology of the nearby terrain, history of area, as well as information about the mammoth Stellar Sea Lions. However, what impressed me most was s story our captain told us about orca whales.

These creatures (also named killer whales) swim in pods. When one of the females is about to give birth, the other females surround her and buoy her up so she is able to take in some oxygen. Once the calf is born, the entire whale community celebrates with breaches and tail slapping. One of the resident grandma whales in the San Juan Island area (reported to be more than 100 years old) recently had a new great, great grandson and researchers saw that the old matriarch was showing the little guy the ropes. The other whales chipped in doing what they could. The male orcas let the youngster ride on their backs. 

I found this whale tale inspiring. I know humans are supposed to be the superior species, but I think all of us could learn something from the community spirit of these sea mammals. 

In school, in our spiritual communities, work and our daily lives we have the opportunity to be a part of a supportive environment, or we can turn our backs on others. We can offer words of kindness and encouragement, or we can gossip, tease and humiliate others. Ironically, a child’s introduction to the latter is often in a classroom or playground. I’ve even witnessed snobbery, prejudice and cruel remarks snickered about others in a spiritual setting where some well-dressed hypocrite feels the need to measure some “poor unfortunate’s” worth by their bank account or the cost of their apparel.

That is why I was impressed by this quote from Daisaku Ikeda from the August 2012 edition of Living Buddhism magazine.

“Religion must contribute to the elevation of the human spirit. It must be a force for developing the inherent goodness within us with the aim of happiness for all. It must be a force promoting respect, wisdom and personal empowerment.”

I find this quote profound, but not unique to the teachings of spiritual sages and philosophers. I learned about it from an orca and I hope you will pass this whale tale on to others as well.