Saturday, February 28, 2015

2.28 (Saturday) Refulgence of St. Norbert

According to the BBC News, a Canadian man was rescued from a snow storm after being mistaken  for a seal by another Canadian man. As the BBC News is not a notable source of merry japes, the story bears further consideration - particularly so in a zealous age in which our animal natures are cause for so much unseemly embarrasssment and hotly denied by right-thinking evangelicals on all sides of the monotheistic divide. (I also note in passing that, to my scant knowledge of hagiography, there is no patron saint of seals, so I have had to invent both St. Norbert and his liturgical day for this occasion.)

St. Norbert (So? He's Canadian.)

At the start let me assure everyone that this is not an aspersion on the perspicuity of the Canadian - one mistaking another for a seal. It seems that this chappie was making his way across the snowy Nova Scotian landscape, much in the way a seal might do, wending his way to a hospital appointment, when his car failed him. He exited his car and began to walk to a nearby house, but his arthritic knees quavered. Seating himself in a snowbank to rest, he found himself unable to right himself again after the fashion of humankind. So, fearing hypothermia or some other hazard constitutionally unknown to pinnipediae, he began to crawl along a darkened and snow-covered road toward the nearest lights in the landscape when he was discovered. 

"Well, he was obviously here."

His savior cannot in the strictest sense be called a samaritan, since he thought it was a seal in distress - orthodoxy requires that samaritans come to the aid of their fellow humans alone, any other creature in distress being fair game, so to speak, for the table. So the second man's act of kindness was perhaps doubly creditable in that he went willingly to rescue what he supposed to be a dumb creature and no christian at all. 

My alter ego was forever exercised by the similarities, even the superiorities of animals over humans ("there is no animal in the world as treacherous as man," he thought). He paid attention to his cat and his dog and rarely resisted their attempts to distract him. A fox, he remarks, stopping to listen before crossing a frozen brook, is making the same causal inference, using the same faculty, that supposedly marks humans as superior rational beings. 

The story of the man walking like a seal is just another case in point, another argument, a fortiori, for the very point I am making - though seals do a seal walk so much better than we do, we can clearly emulate them well enough to fool the average person of good intention. We are (literally, in this case) on all fours with the animal kingdom. And a man out on a wintry night stopping to help a distressed seal is a purely human moment, a recognition of our common animality and an implicit wish to coexist peaceably. The subsequent discovery that it was a person and not a seal adds nothing to the kindness.

"On behalf of all seals, I'd like to thank him for his interest," the rescued seal quipped. And well spoken, too - what better spokesperson for the world's pinnipeds than the man taken for a seal?

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