The Wisdom of Whales

IMG_3501There have been many times in my life when I believed the main reason I was put on this earth was to learn patience. Often, the second I walk out the door following a job interview, I long desperately to turn back around and say to my potential employer: “Can we just be frank? Are you going to hire me or not?”

There are also the sad or sticky moments that inevitably rise with a friend or lover that bring tension, uncertainty or confusion. The bottom line in those instances is that I don’t want to see anyone get hurt (including me). I wish I could ask the other person (and I sometimes do) what I can do to fix it. But, like it or not, I know human emotions are not mathematical equations—the outcome is never certain, which is both too bad and extremely fortunate.

Sometimes it helps to take the long view and to try to step out of my own cozy but confining skin. It might be easier to be patient if I could remember that whatever I’m feeling today will be different tomorrow. This is not to say that feelings are unimportant. For me they offer lots of muck to wallow in. After a great deal of angst I’ve learned to allow the creatures from my black lagoon to simply tell me what they need to say, to rant and rave if they must. Like the best of friends I try not to push them away but simply listen without judgment. After those unruly feelings have said their piece they’re usually willing to quiet down and give up a little space beside them on the bench.

There are also moments when feelings can cast a glow on forms and figures outside my (perceived?) boundaries. Like Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Present raising a torch in the night, their light offers the chance to move beyond myself toward a more expansive IMG_1657communion. When this happens, I recall how blessed I am to be on this unpredictable ride. I am also reminded how little control I have over anything. Perhaps that also includes my own, seemingly intractable, impatience.

Sometimes I find solace thinking about other creatures on this earth and wondering how they face life’s challenges. Is the hummingbird as impatient as he looks, flitting from one flower to the next? Is his attention span really so short or is he on some quest for sweet enlightenment? And then there is the whale. Imagine rising over the tops of waves touched by sunlight only to sink again into depths darker than most of us have ever visited. I find myself projecting an unplumbed capacity for patience upon those grandest of creatures. Perhaps, if I manage to master lessons in patience in this life, I will return as a whale in the next.

I’ve been captivated this week by Antonio Tabucchi description of “A Whale’s View of Man” in his book titled The Woman of Porto Pim, which offers an interesting perspective on the human experience:

“Always so feverish, and with those long limbs waving about. Not rounded at all, so they don’t have the majesty of complete, rounded shapes sufficient unto themselves, but little moving heads where all their strange life seems to be concentrated. They arrive sliding across the sea, but not swimming, as if they were birds almost, and they bring death with frailty and graceful ferocity. They’re silent for long periods, but then shout at each other with unexpected fury, a tangle of sounds that hardly vary and don’t have the perfection of our basic cries: the call, the love cry, the death lament. And how pitiful their lovemaking must be: and bristly, brusque almost, immediate, without a soft covering of fat, made easy by their threadlike shape which excludes the heroic difficulties of union and the magnificent and tender efforts to achieve it.

They don’t like water, they’re afraid of it, and it’s hard to understand why they bother with it. Like us they travel in herds, but they don’t bring their females, one imagines they must be elsewhere, but always invisible. Sometimes they sing, but only for themselves, and their song isn’t a call to others, but a sort of longing lament. They soon get tired and when evening falls they lie down on the little islands that take them about and perhaps fall asleep or watch the moon. They slide silently by and you realize they are sad.”

The Woman of Porto Pim by Antonio Tabucchi was published by Archipelago Books, a not-for-profit press devoted to publishing excellent translations of classic and contemporary world literature. For more information, please go to:


About HomenDunRoamin

Teaching Artist & Writer: fiction, poetry & nonfiction. Recently completed work: a hybrid memoir. In progress: a novel set in an unnamed Latin American country on the brink of war. The book examines violent and nonviolent resistance and the choices women are forced to make to survive.
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