Running through the park yesterday, I passed a woman with her arms wrapped around a tree. With her cheek pressed to the bark, her eyes closed.
And with all due respect for literal tree huggers, I wondered how the tree felt about this human pressing her physical presence in that way. I mean, it is an odd assumption – that all (potentially) sentient creatures want that kind of contact with humans.
We seem to have this compulsion to want to handle what we find attractive. We cuddle small children. We are cuddled as small children, yet seem to forget how we resented it. We want to reach out and touch otters, lambs… bear cubs. We want to infantilize the other. Keep it under our dominion.
“Trust me.” Says the man. The teacher. The expert. The child to the hampster.
There are plants that, when attacked by aphids, call out to wasps for help. I wonder if the tree was calling out for help as this woman pressed herself along its trunk. I wonder if the moment of blocked sunlight, blocked air made the tree gasp.
I think of all the video clips passed around social media of rabbits “relaxing” under the flow of water from a bathroom sink’s faucet. The sense of absolute righteousness revealed in the admonishing comments.
We try so hard to disentangle our presence in the world: the good from the bad. But even empathy brings with it elements of oversight:
1. an unintentional failure to notice or do something
2. the action of overseeing something
for example: effective oversight of the financial reporting process
It makes perfect sense to me that this single word encompasses both of these meanings.