The Journalist, the Dolphin, and the Evaporation of Cynicism

Saturday, 8 October 2011

There are moments in life when we experience something out of the ordinary.  Moments when we feel the trembling and then a long silence.  Something shakes us out of our daily world into something new and we feel an ecstasy.  We get caught up in something outside of and greater than the self.  We feel a moment of what Garcia Lorca called duende.  We get entangled in a direct experience of meaning without having to go through the medium of language.  We have an experience like this ...
The reporter had been assigned the story by his editor.  Human interest story.  Kids, dolphins.  You know, are they intelligent, aren't they cute.  But this guy wasn't interested in the story and resented having to do it.  He was someone to whom the concept of intelligence in dolphins was a joke.
Bored, his disdain under the lightest of social controls, he accompanied the scientists to the long glass wall of the lab where the dolphins waited, as they did every morning, to say hello.  He watched the scientists go through their morning ritual, watched the dolphin family respond.  Made nice noises over the six-week-old baby dolphin, took a short tour around the lab, went through a desultory question-and-answer session, drank the obligatory bad coffee that scientists can never seem to remedy, and then spent the rest of the time leaning against the glass wall of the dolphin tank, chain-smoking cigarettes.
Now, for whatever reason, the young dolphin was fascinated by this guy and instead of swimming off with his family, he just kept floating there looking at the reporter in the curious way that the young of many species have about something new.  The man, with his back to the glass, ignored it as long as possible, but the young dolphin seemed to possess inexhaustible patience.  He just kept hanging there.  Staring.  After awhile the reporter began to get twitchy, then mad.  So, he took a deep drag on his cigarette, turned, and blew smoke at the glass, directly in the dolphin's face.  The dolphin back-pedaled in surprise, looked at the man for a moment, then swam rapidly off.  The reporter, at peace, leaned back against the glass, and continued to smoke.
But in a minute or two the young dolphin returned, swam up close to the glass, and waited for the man to notice him.  And, of course, eventually the reporter did.  In irritation he turned and glared at the young dolphin, and at that moment, the young dolphin blew a cloud of smoke directly in the journalist's face.
And the whole room stopped.
It took awhile for everyone to figure out what had happened, for of course dolphins don't smoke (and anyway, even if they did, it wouldn't work under water).  The dolphin, who was still nursing, had gone to his mother, taken some milk, and come back and puffed it in the man's face.  A very sophisticated response, especially in a six-week-old infant of a species considered to be inferior in intelligence to humans.
But something else happened in that moment, something that caught up everyone in the room.  It was not simply a series of mechanical behaviors that occurred.  A then B then C.  Some living essence came out of the dolphin and touched the man.  A communication occurred.  Some deep meaning came reverberating up and out of that moment of touch and swept away the statistical mentality.  For a moment in time every human in the room swam in deeper waters.  They stopped thinking, caught up in feeling the meaning that had entered the room.  Time seemed to stop and each human there was caught up in contemplation of an invisible thing, something that captured their whole awareness, the attention of the deep self.
A person who observed the interaction said he had never seen cynicism and skepticism evaporate in a human being so quickly.  In that one tiny moment of time, the journalist's separation from the other life forms with which he shares this planet ended.  He was touched by a living, aware, caring, intelligence from the world and he could not deny it.  Some door in him opened and the whole aware universe came flooding in and he was never the same again.  For him, the long loneliness of the human species ended.
Stephen Harrod Buhner - Ensouling Language:  On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life

Pic by David Blaikie

This true tale is recounted in Lyall Watson's piece, 'The Biology of Being' in the book  The Spirit of Science, NY:Continuum, 1999.


  1. thanx for sharing this soul story Sue
    oh to be a fly on the wall ... or a sea anenome on the coral


  2. Another jewel, Sue. Thanks. Trust kids to make a game out of it:)

  3. That's simply amazing, what a beautiful story. On so many levels.

  4. This story is heart-warming but makes me think of the documentary The Cove and then makes me sad. Have you seen it?

  5. Hey, there, Ms Emma.  I haven't seen The Cove.  I've just had a quick look at it on IMDB and I just don't think I could watch it.  :(

  6. Tess - Isn't it just :)

  7. Harry - yeah.  Trust them.  Gotta love that kid energy

  8. Kel - you're welcome.  That would be an interesting perspective, wouldn't it - an anemone :)

  9. with friends like these, who needs anemones?
    (sorry, couldn't resist)

  10. oh, I signed in with google and it put my full name. I'm not happy about that. Are you able to delete my comments? Not that your blog is full of stalkers, I'm just mad at google.

  11. sure. shall delete now

  12. Only just found this, Sue, and it's glorious! Thank you!

  13. You're most welcome, Mr Farley.  I get to experience that feeling all over again whenever anyone comments on this story :)


Newer Older