i am witness

by tobias crabtree

there is a plaza about a mile from here. there are little tiendas and vendor stands lining the walkways and there are park benches to sit. yesterday i had finished some business and sat to wait for my ride. two little mexican girls, sisters for sure, were playing in the bushes behind their mom. they were in their school girl outfits, one was about 8 and the other 6. as they crawled around in the dirt and their mother sat and read, they glanced at me, the younger one wrinkled her nose. i was reading as well as watching. the youngest was picking up a cigarette butt and holding it close to her lips and pretending to smoke with mock pleasure, the older was in a fit of hysterical laughter. over and over, the little show went on. finally the mother asked what they were doing and, as if trained, they chimed, “nothing…” in perfect unison. they both looked at me and i wrinkled my nose.

it was summer time, i was in a squad bay in southern california, it was friday afternoon with the boys of recon. we had libo for the weekend and some were already tuning up for the endurance type drinking that allowed them bragging rights over other units. i was packing some things up for a trip to san diego…surfing was the plan. one of the boys nicknamed “pig” came out of the showers naked with a bucket. he came to me, i’m a bit of a hack zoologist and have always geeked out with animal books and nomenclature, he had a tiny animal in the bucket. “what do ya think?”

“it’s a shrew, pig.”

“that’s what i thought. it’s so little.”

“yeah, man, that thing is tiny. (it was no bigger than a dime)”

suddenly it jumped straight up into our faces, it cleared the rim of the bucket by inches and was bouncing between naked marines and drinking marines and wrestling marines and marines who were just trying to leave to go surfing. it ran through all those jumping, yelling men and was under the door and into it’s gigantic world. i thought about the little shrew later. i wonder if it went back and told it’s tribe about a race of giants that smell terrible and carry around cages that are difficult to jump out of. i wondered about how fast it’s tiny heart was beating as he bounded toward freedom…back to his ken.

years ago is saw a fisherman chop the wing off of a pelican that was grabbing bait fish from his bucket. i really did want to board his boat and chop his arm off. i realize that we are animals. i know we compete for food…but i sometimes like pelicans more than people. i have seen many one winged pelicans since and they always make me sad.  i am more than aware of the brutality of survival. i’ve seen a pelican eat a pigeon and that seemed brutal. my problem with humans is that we think we are too important in the scheme of things. we aren’t. the world would do fine without us.

but we are here. and what to do about it?

there seems to be a lack of connection. walk down the sidewalk and watch how many times approaching people look at their phone when there is a possibility of interacting. we are desensitized and spiraling off. it is hardly different than the fisherman who hacks the wing off a bird; he is desensitized to the value of a thing he is tired of competing against. we are responsible for our headspace. it’s not up to anyone else to figure it out. we are all overwhelmed with posturing and posing. perhaps we can, for once, stop polishing our precious carcasses and do some internal tune-ups. i know i must.

it’s not like i’m trying to jump up on a soap-box here. i’ve been tossed from bars for being an idiot. i’ve hurt people i love with intentionally barbed words. i’ve lied to evade and i’ve lied to imply…hell, i’ve lied just to lie. i certainly ain’t no Dalai lama (although he’d say i am the buddha…and i’d believe him). i just worry some for the little ones. i worry for the shrews and the pelicans. and sometimes, late in the night, i worry for whatever reason about myself.

and then today and the now of it. them rolling waves and their constant song. the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea and the meeting in the distance. the spinning world and it’s lovely secrets. they are all there for the having and the seeking. they are there to be witnessed.