Canis and Ursus
My dreams are often so vivid that the dominant emotion requires a shaking off when I wake, even if the details escape me. I’ve never kept a dream journal, or delved much into interpretation; dreams are the efforts of our subconscious, and I’ve always believed that thoughts and ideas slip through that permeable membrane when we’re ready to receive them. Mining the fog for insight just always seemed a little backwards. Every so often, though, a dream is sticky enough to warrant my attention, like the one I had on Sunday afternoon.
From the driver’s seat of an old truck, I looked down a hill at a fork in the road. A man, a dog, and a bear walked determinedly but uneasily along the road to the left, and I intended to take the other. The bear had an obvious limp in one of its hind legs, keeping a steady pace with the man, who was lost in thought and oblivious to either animal.
The dog kept an overall forward motion, though he darted in and out of heel between the man and the bear, back arched, fur standing on end. He suffered a terrible internal conflict- dancing between concern for and fear of the wild, wounded creature. Whether the bear turned around or they were actually headed towards me and I didn’t notice before I’m not certain, I only know that familiar weary pain behind soulful black eyes. No fear, no anger, not even some sense of resistance or resignation, only the wince of bearable anguish. My heart filled with compassion and concern for the poor thing, lumbering along, waiting patiently for some comfort and respite.
At that point, I was distracted from the bear’s plight, the setting changed completely and without transition, and both the dog and the bear were nowhere to be found. I woke up shortly afterward.
Bears often symbolize independence. They are solitary animals, powerful but reclusive, wild by nature but deliberate in temperament. Dogs are a well-known symbol of loyalty; their social mentality is so instinctual and intense that it compels them to consider the needs of even a wild and potentially lethal pack member.
The struggle between independence and loyalty is a familiar battleground. I’ve given too much, and suffered that brand of regret. I’ve given too little, and chosen most of the time to make amends, which eases regret but still leaves a battle scar of its own. Humans, it seems, are forever destined to tread the middle ground between Canis and Ursus. Unable to survive a solitary existence, yet conflicted in our loyalty to the pack. Most of us would keep our distance from a wounded bear- the consequence, if not the risk, would compel us to honor our strongest instinct: self-preservation.
So often we struggle with the demarcation of that sacred boundary, wondering how much is too much. At what point does one fail to retreat, shedding blood and tears to hold precious ground? When does an advance become too selfish and self-serving? One would think that where the advancing party leaves too little space to occupy comfortably, the answer becomes clear, and perhaps in war or business, it truly is that simple.
In life and love, however, we expect to bear discomfort in relationship, we are encouraged to break ranks in sacrifice. The troops on the other side of the battlefield are our allies more often than our enemies, and so are deserving of mercy and consideration. Mitigated only by the threat of ceded ground, we feel compelled to retreat peaceably in the name of love.
I think the lesson here isn’t so much about territory as it is about resources. Territorial strategy is awfully short-sighted. The most productive long-term strategy is to manage resources effectively, which places that battle line at the exact point in a relationship where it becomes a liability rather than an asset, since that subtle shift is the true threat.