One week ago tonight I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of being able to see the incredible Jane Goodall speak here in Austin. I was completely mesmerized from the very moment she stepped on the stage and started telling us the stories of where her love of animals began. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely head over heels in love with animals of all kinds. As a young girl, I often carried around a styrofoam cup filled with dirt and earthworms as little pets; Mom would occasionally receive a call from a disgruntled mother telling her that I had, yet again, forgotten my “cup o’ worms” at their house and I’d be sent back over there to collect them immediately. Turns out, that was one of Jane’s first experience with critters as well; when she was very, very young her mother had found that Jane had taken a handful of earthworms to bed with her. She gently reminded Jane that without dirt they would die so the two of them went to the garden together to return the worms to their home. That began her journey with animals and Jane’s mother is the person she credits the most for supporting her in carving out a path for herself in her lifelong career of studying, caring for, writing about and sharing her knowledge of animals with the world.
That part really struck a chord within me having just lost our Momma, Brian. I recall Mom telling me stories not only about my worm friends but of injured birds, bunnies, toads and mice as well as crickets, grasshoppers and snakes. And when I would find a dead bird in the yard, I somehow thought, at such a tender, young age that the bird deserved better than to lie there in the grass alone– that it needed a proper and respectful burial. I’d collect the bird and gently place it in a little box (usually the boxes that Mom’s checks from the bank were shipped in) lined with Kleenex I had constructed into a little bed, blanket and pillow so the little winged creature could spend eternity resting comfortably. Nice thought and all, but sometimes I would forget to bury them and Mom would be alerted to their presence in my room by a persistent odor… only to find that I’d placed the box under my bed and had proceeded to forget about it. I know it must have frustrated her, but she was always so loving and never got angry at me when she’d find a decomposing bird in my room, when she’d wake in the morning to find that my giant grasshopper had somehow escaped from the jar I’d placed it in and was lurking somewhere in her kitchen or even when I set up a little “morgue” on the back patio and was performing an autopsy on a dead mouse to determine the cause of death. (She gave me the freedom to be curious instead of ruining my experiment by pointing out the obvious– that a mouse found floating in the dog’s water bowl likely died by drowning.) So to hear Jane speak so highly of her own Mom who encouraged her love of animals really touched me deeply. And of course, we had a father who was a veterinarian; that only furthered my interest in creatures of all kinds. You and I both loved going for rides to the farms and visiting the clinic to watch him work.
She then went on to speak about a stuffed animal, a cow, given to her by a friend. She named it “Cow.” Again, that rattled something deep in my insides as I recalled a stuffed cow I had purchased for myself in college (yes, in college) and I too named him “Cow.” From my lofty seats in the upper stratosphere of the Paramount Theater, it looked shockingly identical to my own Cow and I felt an increasingly deep connection to this famous, gentle stranger standing behind the podium below.
So many things she spoke about resonated with me but I’ll share just a few with you. One thing in particular that hit home is about “stuff” and America’s obsession with collecting “stuff” we don’t need. I was reminded to shop more thoughtfully in the future– if not only by shopping more frequently at thrift stores to purchase used items then by really thinking hard about what I’m about to purchase and considering if it is truly something I need. She offered this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.
We are destroying our planet with greed. I want to be more aware of how my actions affect not only those humans around me, but also the humans, animals and environment all around the world. Every action we take has a reaction elsewhere. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the effects of your actions when you aren’t immediately effected by them– but I want to try and do better by the world. And I was reminded during every single second of her talk that I still feel this ache so deep in my heart and my soul for not having a career working with animals. It’s where my desire has always been. I need to really figure out what I’m so afraid of in terms of trying to make that a reality for myself someday. I know both you and Moooomie would want that for me, too.
I was also reminded of how shockingly similar animals, particularly chimpanzees, are to us humans. They too display bouts of anger and rage, of sadness and grief, of joy and love, and they can show among each other acts of greed and acts of altruism. I’ll forever possess a desire learn as much as I possibly can about them and all animals, really. I’m constantly reading books about them– canine massage, Tellington Touch, stories about animal intelligence, dog breeds, cat breeds, rescue stories… I can’t ever learn enough.
Jane also spoke of what we call promoting”tolerance” in our society. She proclaimed how she prefers the idea of respect over tolerance; because, as she said, “You tolerate roaches in your kitchen. You should not tolerate a human being for their differences, you should respect them.”
After I’d already been waiting in the autograph line for nearly an hour, the man behind me began to grumble to me about feeling slighted because those who were waiting in line with young children were allowed to go straight to the front of the line (being a school night and all.) I couldn’t have cared less that I may have waited in line an extra 20 minutes if it meant making room for her to spend some time with those kids that are showing a passion for the future of their world. I told him I thought it was very kind of her to do that for the kids and I didn’t mind the extra wait; then I turned my back and continued to dig deeper into the book that I knew by end of the evening would contain her hand-written signature.
The line twisted around and around and at times it didn’t seem to move at all. There were a few moments when I thought about how tired I was, how much my back hurt, how I shouldn’t have skipped dinner and how badly I had to pee and almost left the line to go home. But a little voice inside kept reminding me to wait it out. As I approached the end of the line and she was only 10 feet away from me, I spotted a little arrangement of purple and gold flowers and instinctively knew that was a reminder that the little voice inside me was you and Mooomie all along. And then, after a nearly 2-hour wait in line, I found myself standing just inches away from her as she signed my copy of “In the Shadow of Man.” I was utterly humbled and awestruck. I only managed to barely choke out the words “thank you” as she handed my book back to me and our eyes locked for just one brief second. For her, I realize that moment was no different from any other interaction she’d had with the hundreds and hundreds of people in line before me; but for me, that moment was life-changing.
Seconds later, I stepped out of the theater into the night air I burst into tears and cried all the way back to my car… and continued to cry the entire drive home. Like ugly cry.That was just the kind of moment I would have called excitedly to share with you and Moooomie and it made me ache so badly for both of you. I know you were with me, I could feel it the whole time… but it’s just not the same. It’ll never be the same.