This is long, but this is my Workshop piece for my Essay class. I have to turn it in next week, so if you DO make it through this, I would love to hear any advice or critiques or comments to help me polish it up a little.
I am still unsure about the ending, I might add a little more to conclude it better (I am always most uneasy about my endings). I might also add a little more to the first three paragraphs if some more ideas come to mind. But for now..this is what I got.
There is safety in words; similar to how there is safety in numbers. They are a cloak of protection. They are a wall to safeguard. Intentions can be hidden so delicately within the lace of words. As blatant and revealing as words are, their bareness can serve instead to turn eyes away or even to blind. Their subtlety can allow revelation, but only to those who are prepared to delve, who are bold enough to expose.
There is safety in fiction. It shrouds reality; it shrouds actuality; but not sincerity and not honesty. Lies can abound, but they serve to illuminate the truth, truth that would otherwise be ignored or pushed aside. They present the truth in a way that makes it acceptable or at least tolerable, occasionally even desirable.
There is safety in creating characters. They can speak and they can act in ways we would only dream of. We can transpose on a character all the parts of ourselves that we are not yet ready to divulge or even to personally acknowledge. All the ugly or even stunning parts of ourselves that we cannot readily admit to for fear shocking and frightening others with the reality that such an ugliness or such a beauty really does exist in day-to-day reality, are free to roam in the land of make-believe, in the world of created characters. There is no such thing as too beautiful or too wretched in fiction, as long as the context qualifies it. There is rejection of character in fiction, but only if the character and context of the character cannot be equally crafted. And therefore, molding characters into a fitting context or creating a fitting character for a given context lifts the weight of discomfort and disunity we so often feel in this existence, where such molding and creating to match our surroundings are not so easily attained. It is an escape then, crafting character; it is a place where reality can be shifted into an acceptable form.
“Drive safely,” he told me as we said our goodbyes on the street outside his apartment building. “Sleep safely,” I responded, “And dream safely; but don’t live safely..” I paused, knowing he understood, but clarifying anyway, “The Christian life is a dangerous one.” Even in that clarification I knew I could barely conceive what it meant. Maybe that’s why it happened then and it wasn’t just some odd, perfectly-timed coincident. While saying goodnight two nights ago, we saw a possum outside my house, scurrying with a lopsided shuffle through the dark neighborhood. Not two seconds after our dialogue on safety a bulky movement caught my eye on the sloping hill that rose across this street. It wasn’t a possum, thankfully, but as it paused and rose alert, sensing our presence just as we had sensed his, the raccoon’s distinct markings gave him away. He stood on three legs, half in searching curiosity, half in ready caution. He wasn’t frightened, but he was wary. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw that his partner crouched a few feet behind him, closer to the short brick wall that separated the sidewalk from the hill. “Let’s be dangerous then,” he said, grabbing my hand. We walked audaciously towards the creatures, abandoning notions of safety to pursue the smallest adventure that had fallen into our laps.
The first raccoon, that I assumed to be the male but that could have very well been the female, loped up the hillside and disappeared into the brush. The female (again, as I assumed and so will henceforth refer to her as) cowered where she was momentarily as we broke the distance between us, gaining proximity, thirty feet to ten feet in only a few moments. She turned with a shudder, but instead of sprinting up the hill after her protector, as I would have expected and even admonished her to do, she turned back in the direction where she had come from, clambered over the short wall to the sidewalk and slid under the gutter where a storm drain allowed her a risky crawl space. I assumed that was that, as we slowed to a stop, a car’s length from the sidewalk and from the storm drain. I assumed our adventure was over. She was gone, out of sight. In that short distance that took on a long spread of time, moving across the street toward the raccoon, thoughts raced through my mind such as, “It’s a wild creature, what if it turns and attacks us?” “Aren’t raccoons known for having rabies?” “It’s a Southern California spring and we just encountered two raccoons together. The most natural conclusion is that there must be baby raccoons somewhere close by, putting mommy and daddy on high alert and quick defense mode.” “Or is that only mother bears?” “No, it must be most animal parents; raccoons already seem to be the feisty type anyway.” This was mostly interior dialogue, a few of the comments spoken in a half-joking manner to ease the intensity that was irrefutably building up. As it gradually diminished, due to the anticlimactic event, I peered up into the hillside brush hoping to catch sight of an animal outline or even to hear rustling leaves, some sort of closure. In vain, I turned back to the gutter, but the one who stood by my side was still attentive to it. Peeking from the shadowy crack of concrete was a nose. As my eyes adjusted to the added darkness of the shadows of parked cars, I could see the entire silhouette of the second raccoon, huddled there, waiting for a clear coast. She pulled out further even though it was obvious to her we were still there, her eyes were locked on us the whole time.
What struck me is that they weren’t cat eyes. They didn’t glow uncannily or sinisterly. They were curious and about as giving as they were taking. She didn’t seem wild. Her attentive posture, as she pulled herself to gutter level, was not wild and unruly. She was not frightening and she was hardly even frightened. She was confronted with the realities of life and faced them expectantly. We were not enemies but we were a potential threat and she was going to treat us as such. I had to remind myself this was a wild, through probably suburbanized, raccoon. It was not a neighbor’s cat or dog that was out on a joy run, she was not domesticated even though she constantly struck me as tame and controlled, as if she might come over at any moment to rub against our ankles. We stood there in silent interaction with this curious creature, neither us nor her quite ready to back away and definitely not ready to make a first move toward any pursuit or attack. There was no move that was called for to be made. She understood she was safe enough to allow for our proximity, as she drew out and then retreated and then drew out again from the storm drain. But she also understood that she was not safe enough to remain there and she kept intent on getting to cover with her partner. She drew back again into the shallow part of the storm drain, no part of her revealed in the dim shadows though her entire silhouette was still discernible in the dark shadows. It became a silent agreement for retreat, as we slowly walked away from her and back to our goodbye. We heard a scratching and scattering sound of her undoubtedly leaping from her temporary shelter to the sidewalk and then the hillside. We turned to look back, but she must have already ascended the hill to the brush at the top, to her partner, and to due scolding for abandonment that probably ensued, for all we saw was dark stillness. And we all were safe again, even though, amidst the adrenaline rush, we knew deep down that we were safe all along.
There is safety in cloaking reality with suitability. This reality I had no need to cloak but still it serves its purpose and illustrates acceptably. We can’t turn our backs on reality. We can’t cloak ourselves too deeply in safety; there may be more of a danger to that than confronting the initial danger. There is a danger in sidestepping and evading life – even a life of danger or potential danger. There is safety found in stepping out from the hoards of protective yet cowardly Israelites. There is safety found in standing alone without an entourage, shield, or even a sword. There is safety in the reality of a child facing a giant; because there is safety in the name of the Lord. There is safety in defending that name and in not becoming defensive of lesser names or lesser lives. There is safety in God. There is safety in righteousness. Therefore there is safety in confronting reality and accepting reality; because only in reality are God and righteousness and safety to be found. Only in reality can a battle be faced so it can be given to the Lord. Only in reality can creatures interact in a way that supersedes predatory or protective natures and considers for a moment that we both breathe the same air and tread the same ground and can for two minutes out of a single night, meet each other in the eyes.