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Kathy Bradley - Hidden lives of water bears and us
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    I was reading about water bears the other day. They are microscopic creatures that look like tiny little bears with eight legs; their scientific name, tardigrada, means "slow mover." They can live for up to 50 years and at temperatures as low as -400 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water in which they live dries up, they go into a state of hibernation called cryptobiosis, "hidden life."
    It was hard not to make a comparison between the water bears and people. They have eight legs, but move slowly. We have two legs and, most of the time, move too swiftly for our spirits to keep up. We generally live longer, but our range of livable temperatures is so small that we find it necessary to destroy much of the natural environment to produce fuel for the heating and cooling of our buildings.
    The only thing, it appeared from my reading, that we large mammals with the abilities to reason and elaborately verbally communicate have in common with the invisible water bears is that hidden life.
    Call it hibernation or cryptobiosis or privacy, the reality is that when our water dries up, when the environment in which we have thrived is suddenly and irrevocably changed, it is the nature of men and women to shut down, close up shop, board up the windows and make sure that those around us see the sign on the door that says, in big block letters, "Do not disturb!"
    When I was in Girl Scouts part of what we had to learn to earn the First Aid badge was how to treat shock. To be honest, I don't remember much beyond the elevated feet and warm blanket parts. Gratefully, I never had to use that knowledge, but it bothers me a little that the instruction was limited to responding to physical shock.
    No one, not the Girl Scouts or my Sunday School teachers or youth group leaders or, later, my psychology professors offered any instruction at all on how to address emotional shock, the feeling of numbness that engulfs you when the world cracks and dissolves into a million tiny shards of glass. The petrification of all thought, the inability to make even the smallest decision.
    The truth is that there is no stop-drop-and-roll prescription for that kind of catastrophe. No acronym to remind you of the steps to take to make everything right again. No instructions that, if followed, guarantee a return to normalcy.
    Like the water bears, we humans react without thought, with only instinct: We draw ourselves in and wait.
    When the water bears are in the dormant state, they are as light as dust particles and a breeze can pick them up, toss them around and deposit them somewhere else. No resistance, no questioning. Yielded to the wind, sailing through the sky, eventually landing in a new place, a place where the water puddles or streams or falls from the clouds in syrupy drops. A place where the hidden life ends and the real life resumes.
    Last week as I stood at the altar and received the ashes on my forehead, I was struck, as always, by the fragility of life. We are so vulnerable. Naked we come into the world, naked we leave and, in between, if we are to experience anything of love or joy or contentment, we must remain naked, exposed to the elements, exposed to each other.
    There is always the chance that the water will dry up. Drought. Evaporation. The thirst of a passing dog. But when it does, when the unbidden and unwanted change occurs, it is good to remember the water bear who allows himself to become still and quiet and light as air.
    It is good to remember that a breath of wind is coming. It will lift you off the dry and empty ground and drop you gently in a pool of water where the hidden life will thaw, where the boards will come off the windows and where the sunshine can trickle in.
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."  -- Antoine de Saint Exupery
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