Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Family Ties That Bind....

Once upon a time, a storm-tossed ship gave up one of its passengers. He clung to debris that had gone over the side with him and floated for a few hours. Finally, he could hold on no longer, and he let go. When he came to, he found himself on an un­charted island. The island was perfect. Tall palms, ver­dant brush, sparkling hills. Hardly believing it was real, he tried to wake himself from his dream, though with some fear that if he succeeded, he would find himself dead. It appeared, however, that he was very much alive. Curiosity and hunger moved him to explore. As he invaded the jungle's depths, he was struck by the calm. There were no loud cries of birds or beasts, and there seemed to be, if anything, a certain order everywhere.

He spent most of that first day feasting with his eyes and mouth. Many delicious fruits and nuts were easily available to his reach, and his stomach was soon satisfied. But so wondrous were the colors, the more his eyes took in, the more he wanted to devour. As the first evening came on, and he prepared for sleep, he found that the climate, while cool, was in no way chilling. Wearily he lay down to bed upon a mattress of soft leaves, thankful to be still alive, yet a little scared at being so alone.

When he woke the next morning, he was no longer by himself. Sitting all about him in a circle were men, women, and children. Some of the most beautiful men, women, and children he had ever seen. They had taken care not to awaken him, and they had brought gifts. Did they think he was a god? As he bestirred himself, they came over, offering food and drink. One who seemed to be a leader appeared to be asking if he were ill or hurt. He did not speak their language, but they easily under­stood his gestures. He quickly discovered that theirs, too, were easily understandable.

Indeed, he found that everything about these peo­ple was simple and graceful. They accepted him imme­diately and made him one of them. He learned their ways of communication.
But there was one idea he was totally unable to convey, that at times he wanted to be by himself. On this island, no one was ever left alone. When a baby was born, the people did not sever the umbilical cord. The child thus remained extremely close to its mother throughout its infancy. If the mother wanted to have an­other child, the umbilical cord was severed, but only from the mother, and her end was then reattached by a simple surgical procedure to one of the older women, who-con­tinued to care for the child until it was ready to mate. As part of the wedding ceremony, the future partners' cords were severed, but again, only the ends that were con­nected to the parent surrogates, and, as each loose end was attached to the intended spouse, the bride and groom were thus united. In those cases where a mother had had only one child, the cord was reattached directly from natural mother to spouse.

Shortly before a wife was to give birth, the hus­band and wife had their cords unjoined and the husband could then become attached to another female ready to leave her mother or mother surrogate. He also had the option of rejoining with his own mother, if she had not rejoined with her husband, or he could join again with some mother surrogate, perhaps his original one.
While to our modern sense, this way of bonding might seem primitive, even uncivilized, the effects of this constant attachment on society were astounding. Anger was unknown, depression was easily cured, crime was unheard of, envy and jealousy never spawned, and com­petition and rivalry were totally absent. There was no such thing as embarrassment, nor any of those behavior patterns that we have come to call neuroses. If there was fear or anxiety, it was experienced only during that pe­riod of time when someone accidentally "lost" a partner. Such loss was always replaced as soon as possible, how­ever, and the anxiety would quickly subside. Indeed, it was probably only because the islanders remembered these instances of loss that some sense of aloneness was known at all. Despite this, the expected death of a family mem­ber never increased anxiety greatly, because everyone had the assurance that the family would quickly make a re­placement available. Such back-up also may have meant that individuals were freer to die.

The man spent many years on the island, at one point becoming attached to a woman with whom he found mutual attraction. But he soon realized that he could not suffer her omnipresence, and rather than introduce the spoilation of bickering to these lovely people, he asked for a "separation." There was perhaps one time when he thought he had found a woman who might have tried his way of life, but she changed her mind at the last minute and soon tied the knot with another. As he retold it later, her change of mind seemed to have less to do with any failure of nerve on her part than with a concern to calm her own family. They seemed to be becoming increas­ingly upset over the prospect of their daughter's living unattached.

After several years, the proverbial ship appeared and he left these wonderful people sadly. As always, he was astounded by their reaction, this time to his depar­ture. For as kind and close as they had seemed, they now appeared to take his loss with perfect equanimity. In fact, he found himself wondering if they had ever cared at all. Whereas he, though he had been unable to be totally a part of their life, now found himself almost totally unable to separate.

When he returned home, his family was over­joyed to see him again, though his wife, thinking he had died, had soon remarried. He himself remarried shortly thereafter, and the pain of the loss subsided. He tried to publish an account of his experience in several scholarly journals, but they all said it was too fantastic. He finally sold it as a fantasy. One reviewer thought his style too realistic.

Many years later, a ship traveling in the same waters happened upon a gloriously beautiful, uncharted island. A crew went forth to explore. They were met by a patrol who ushered them firmly to headquarters. When it was seen that the men meant no harm, they were freed, and their ship was allowed to come into the port of the island's bustling metropolis. The men were quite sur­prised to see such an advanced society so far removed from the rest of civilization. Newspapers contained all the sections of any modern daily: current events, crime, economic issues, sports fashions, the usual range of ad­vertisement.

"You know," said one of the crew, "as a child, I once heard a story about a beautiful island just like this. A man claimed to have lived there for several years. He described it as one of the loveliest places he had ever seen, with the kindest and warmest people. In many ways he could have been describing this very place. Except that he said it was very primitive, and there was one other thing also. he said, "If you could feature this, everyone went around constantly tied to someone else by their umbilical cords."

"Oh, I remember him," the tour guide said, as he ushered them all into a waiting hovercraft. "That's just the way it used to be here," he continued, straining above the noise of the motors as they exploded into full throt­tle. "But after he left," the pilot shouted back through the spray, "we all cut them off."

From the library of: John Mark Trent, PhD

Excerpted from: (1990) Friedman, Edwin H., Friedman’s Fables, Guilford Press

Thoughts that were prompted as you read this fable?? Don't you like stories?

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