The Reading Life

In a video that I watched yesterday, a bear cub made several attempts to climb up to his mother waiting on the top of a mountain that was hiding under the snow. The cub climbed a few scratches higher every time he tried but skidded down the slope on each of those spirited attempts. His failure didn’t bother him. He grew up again, gathered a lungful, and scaled a greater altitude than the previous time. He tried straight up, he slithered, and he traced his mother’s paw-marks, all to end up at mark zero. It was a devastating sight. A fall further from his start and death would have engulfed him with love much before his due time. He was beginning to look like a play-ball trying to get back to the shore riding on current knowing well that it had no utility in the ocean and in any case, the child at the shore expected the ball to rebound when he threw it away into the waters! So, the ball keeps riding the waves one after the other till it reaches close enough to be pulled up but the child falters, the ball gets withdrawn again before finally getting thrown outside on the sand with a splash on the child’s face. The cub likewise, kept on rising and falling till he finally conquered the peak and joined his mother. As I write this, my mind also wanders to Christopher Nolan’s treatment of the Batman in his third installment in the series. Bane puts Bruce Wayne in ‘the pit’ and we are treated to, artistically speaking, one of the most breathtaking sequences we will die having seen when Bruce attempts to escape the pit and after many failed leaps, conquers his fear of failure.

I watched this cub video more than once and kept thinking about what I saw. I gave my mind some time, an optimal pace to play and replay the cub’s conquest in slow motion in my head, and kept thinking about the myriad other ways it could have unfolded in. What if the mother bear had come down to rescue the cub? What if the cub had given up and stayed at one point without making any further attempts? What if the cub had continued falling never to reach the summit? What if the cub had renounced his yearning to reach the top?

The last bit lingered over me for some more time. I wondered about the possibility of the cub developing a taste, a fondness for the struggle itself. If the cub kept floating high and below over the snow, if Bruce found a liking for the hymns and cheers of other members of the pit, would we stop longing for the end of the conquest? What if the end of our struggles also means the end of our purpose? I read Annie Dillard’s ‘The Writing Life’ yesterday. She constructed a snow laden mountain for me to climb. She threw me into the pit of death so that I could come out alive. I kept at my futile attempts to reach the top. I studied the contusions on my knees, the concussions to my head in that one moment when you reach the zero velocity just before falling back from no matter how high. I held the doorknobs of time in that instant and stretched the doors to as far I could between my arms and looked carefully into myself – the reader; and just before I could let myself fly down to the boundless abyss, Annie held me by my neck and pulled me up. The reader they say, must behave himself.

Source for the image.