Wolf in the City
Last night I returned home from a lovely party where I felt loved and wanted; the food and drink were delicious and the night was warm, but not too warm; dark, but lit with candles and lively stories and laughter. I came home to the wagging tail of my dog, always and unequivocally glad to see me, whether I've been gone an hour or a week. What could possibly be missing? But I went back out into the night and looked up at the stars. I felt inexplicably hungry and desperate, wanting to reach them somehow, wanting to disappear into their sharp, shining depths, their moonless eyes.
Can it be I'm the only one to feel this way, this wild wanting in the dark of the night? Like an animal in a cage, craving to be let out. It's no surprise to feel pent-up; I came here from the wild, comparatively speaking. From a place where you can drive for a few minutes and be out of civilization, into the mountains, away from human habitation, out where your place on the food chain diminishes appreciatively. Grizzlies, black bears, wolves and moose take their place above you; the weather might swerve at any moment and collide with your lack of preparation and--just like that--you're dead. The wild is a fierce, relentless, indifferent place. And I absolutely love her. I walk up into her mountains every chance I get. I bury myself in her snowdrifts. I dip into her glacial rivers. I thrill to see her citizens when they show themselves to me.
And yet, I left her and moved here because I was lonely; fiercely, unbearably lonely. I felt like I was the only animal of my kind; like the zoo had somehow made a mistake, and collected only one specimen instead of two or more. How could you have taken one wolf and missed the rest of the pack? What if I was the only wolf left on earth? It was a breathtaking thought: no more wolves. No others like myself. I thought I might have a better chance of finding others in a larger population. I was wrong, naturally. I have a few good friends back home who are wild like me, who are unafraid of my weirdness. They'd scare the devil out of hell if god ever sent them there, so it's no wonder we get along. But they're already paired up, and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to take up residence in their living rooms--much as I might desire it. So I came out into the wider world, hunting. Hungering to be understood. One shadow among many, moving through the mystery, looking for my reflection smiling back at me from the soul of the world.
I've found so many things out here, but maybe the most unexpected is this newfound softness in myself. This vulnerability. If you take that word apart it is simply another ability, isn't it? From the Latin we get "vulnus," or wound, and so we have an ability to be wounded, and to live with the wound, that open place where, as Rumi says, "the light enters you." Thinking back on my life, I can't remember a time when anyone, any wise teacher or mentor of any consequence, ever told me that life wouldn't hurt. No. In fact I think every single one of them, from Christ to Buddha to Mahatma to my own mother, told me it would hurt. How right they were. And so here I am, wild and wounded. Strange and lone and vulnerable.
Something is changing in me since moving to the city. It's not that nothing is missing; it's not that I am always satisfied--I am beginning to accept that something will always be missing, and that I will always have a hungry wolf inside. But I am beginning to notice that the creatures around me, human and animal alike, are suffering and vulnerable, too. Today I went to use the ladies' room in a restaurant and looked down at the floor to spot a cricket hiding in a corner. Does a cricket count as a wild animal, a sentient being? We don't speak the same language, so there's no way to know. Normally I would have recoiled--it started crawling along the wall, then stopped when it perceived my movement--but I felt a sudden surge of empathy. We looked at each other. Probably that was a fantasy; probably I imagined the little bug saw me at the same moment I saw it. Either way, I couldn't squash it. I tore off a piece of paper towel and gathered it up, gently, and ferried it through the restaurant and safely outside under a bush. This little bit of the outdoors, this tiny wild creature who, after all, wants to live as much as I do, never mind that our thought processes differ.
I don't know what's precipitating the change. I still feel like a lone wolf trapped in the city. But I am seeing people differently. If a cricket gets a magic carpet ride on a piece of paper towel, how much more do the humans around me deserve compassion and warmth, especially in the crush of this too-crowded town? How much love can I direct toward my own crazy, sweet, weird and wild self? So I still want to make a run into the night whenever I hear a train clattering by. So I still want to disappear into the stars. That doesn't mean I can't also love and be loved; it doesn't mean I can't approach the warmth of a candle-lit night with a group of kind souls, and come in from the wild for a few moments of rest.
Maybe those moments could stretch into hours, days, of satisfaction. I don't know, because I am still learning the language. I am learning to say to myself: Go to sleep, wolf. You've had your moment with the night, and you've been fed. It is alright. You will find your way home again.