Is this penchant born of my former profession, or a natural part of my personality? I suspect the latter, but here it is: I constantly see metaphors in the world around us.
My wife and I have been watching a documentary called Kingdoms of the Sky. It overviews landscapes, animals, and people that inhabit the Andes, Rocky Mountains, and Himalaya.
The Andes episode startled us with facts and images: birds that nest in glaciers; Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat that becomes an immense natural mirror when glazed with rain, reflecting clouds by day and the Milky Way by night.
Then came the portion that screamed METAPHOR! It chronicles four family groups (tribes) that trace their lineage to the Incas. Separated by peaks and chasms, they come together annually to build Q’eswachaka, the last surviving example of a woven Inca suspension bridge. Recognized by UNESCO for its “intangible cultural heritage,” Q’eswachaka spans a section of Collasuyo, an ancient Inca road that connects Cusco to Titicaca.
Building the bridge is a three-day, communal project, performed annually because harsh seasons erode last year’s work. Villagers of all ages harvest grass that forms the rope’s fiber, then weave it into strong cords using pre-Columbian techniques. Priests bless the process with offerings and prayers in Quechua, dedicating the effort to Pachamama (Mother Earth).
The metaphor is that the bridge leads to community, and it raises a vexing question. In our culture separated by peaks and chasms of race, class, and ideology, will we ever find ways to build new connections?
This insidious division affects all of us. Like many Americans, I am tempted to “write off” whole groups of people. Be honest. How about you?
Mitt Romney did it when he said, “There are 47 percent of the people who…are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.…These are people who pay no income tax. …and so my job is not to worry about those people.”
Hillary Clinton did it when she said, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables…some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.”
I’m not immune to these broadsides. I feel like saying, “If you shrug at the separation of women from their children on the border, or want to strip reproductive rights from women, or support the proliferation of AR-15 blueprints for 3-D printers, then ‘unfriend me’ now. We don’t live in the same universe!”
At those exact moments, I succumb to the cancer; I have become part of the problem, not the solution.
Let’s not burn be bridge burners. Let’s challenge ourselves (once again) to build new ones, no matter how difficult. Let’s establish space, both literally and in our souls, where we can listen to others no matter how disparate their views. For me, this means returning to the core of my beliefs: Ahimsa, Matthew 5:43-38, and M.L.K., Jr., saying “The chain reaction of hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
Back to the Andes. For the tribes building Q’eswachaka, it is a sacred expression of their bond with nature, tradition, and history. Their shared work reestablishes communication and strengthens bonds that are centuries old.
The final image in the Inca segment shows an aged woman carefully making her way across the bridge, the abyss below her, secure in her knowledge that she is supported by the communion of four different communities.
Now THAT’s a metaphor!