If it’s fight-or-flight, I’m not much of a fighter. I mostly fly. So when I read these words by poet John Martin, I knew they were meant for me.
See if they’re meant for you.
Bear In Mind
by John Martin
A bear is chasing me through a meadow
and I’m running as fast as I can but
he’s gaining on me—it seems
he’s always gaining on me.
I’m running and running but also
thinking I should just
turn around and say,
“Stop it! Stop chasing me. We both
know you aren’t going to catch me.
All you can ever do is chase me. So,
think about it—why bother?”
The bear does stop,
and he sits on his haunches and thinks,
or seems to think. And then
the bear says to me,
“I have to chase you, you know
that. Or you should. And, sure,
we both know I’ll never catch you.
So, why not give us both a break and
just stop thinking about me?”
But, with that said, he gets back on four feet,
sticks his long pink tongue out, licks down
both sides of his snout. Then he sighs, looks
behind himself, then at me and says, “Okay,
ready when you are.”
Are you laughing? I’ve read this poem to several friends, and they always laugh. The bear is comical of course, sitting on his haunches and advising his prey, but the whole chase scene is a crazy charade. We laugh in double recognition: I do that…and it’s completely avoidable. Both the bear and the runner know it has to happen, we have to get chased by some bete noir. And they both know, at least theoretically, that the bear never catches you. That’s the special, low-grade terror of this thing: it never ever ends.
Until one day when you’ve had enough. You say, Stop it! You sit down on a stump and the bear pulls up and sits on its haunches, panting, and you say, What is it with you and me? And the bear says, I didn’t start this game—you did. (Note, it’s “Ready when you are.”)
Now it’s time to sit on that stump and stare at that bear, the one you sicced on yourself. How did that garden-variety failure from ten years ago morph into a criminal offence bound to hound me forever? I guess that was me. Who said I was worthless underneath the patina of my success? I must have chosen that storyline, whistled for the shame bear to come after me. After that doctor visit, the MRI and all, I guess I just couldn’t embrace my fragile bones and love the only life on offer. I guess I had to run.
The bear listens for a long while. Then says, You ready to go?
You mean the chase thing again?
No. That’s ok, though. Thanks for offering. I know you have to.
I guess I’ll go then.
Actually, I’d like you to stick around. Could we, um . . . take a long walk together? Be good to get to know you a bit better, and maybe—who knows—maybe I might find out what makes you so strong, so quick. And—so funny!
The bear rumbles a low growl. You flinch, and the bear nods.
He says, Say where.