I am afraid of everything at that age- the dark, my dreams, sleeping alone, snakes. And I hate masks, because you can’t breathe right, or see very well through the eyeholes – I must have still had my wits about me. But I love my silky costume. I remember picking it out all by myself, for the first time ever, at the five and dime. It is black, with a white oval on the chest. I am a panda. We walk along on the scariest night of all, one of my father’s hands holding my mask, one holding me lightly through the darkness.
- Anne Lamott, “The Muddling Glory of God,” Grace (Eventually)
I don't know what I'm doing, because I don't do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. (Romans 7:15 CEB translation)
For a while, I was irritated with pandas. Several years ago, my son made a panda at Build-A-Bear workshop. In his excitement about his new friend, he wanted to learn more about her. What does she eat? What would make her comfortable in her new home? Call me old-fashioned, but this time we did not turn to the internet for our quick and easy answers. Instead we went to the library in search of a book on pandas.
And there was a book, devoted totally to pandas. Here is where my panda discontent begins. That very informative book told me more about pandas than I ever wanted to know. Details such as that the panda, like most bears, has a digestive system built for consuming meat. But the panda only eats bamboo. The panda is not built for eating bamboo, so 80% of the food the panda takes in has no nutritional value for the panda, and is expelled. This means a panda has to eat way more bamboo than if he just had a steak now and then. But the steak does require the panda to get off his butt and hunt something. Too much trouble. So, the panda will just sit in his little bamboo forest and munch away, thank you very much.
Oh, but there is also that small problem with bamboo, that every 100 years or so, a whole species of bamboo forest just dies. No particular explanation, just the whole forest keels over. When that happens, all the pandas in that forest also die. Seriously, they would rather die than go hunt something. What is up with these pandas?
And heaven forbid one panda ever run into another panda. They do not seem to like other animals, even other pandas. A female panda will go in heat once every two years, but a male panda may or may not be anywhere near the female panda, and again, both of them would have to put some effort into finding each other. It seems so troublesome. Plus, they have all this bamboo around them that they want to eat. Why expend the energy looking for the other panda? And if they do find each other, and the female panda does get pregnant, maybe she will be interested in raising her teeny tiny baby, maybe not.
If I were to build-a-bear, I would not build this bear. Sure, it is cute and all, but come on! This panda book made me wonder, if God did guide the creation of all things, why in the world did God make the panda? This bear was causing me to ask questions like, “Why are pandas not extinct yet?”
The answer to this question is why I once again love the pandas. The pandas are not dead because of the Chinese people.
The Chinese have made it sort of a national mission to save their pandas. We all know that they coordinate the mating of pandas in zoos around the world. They, and the zoos around the world, have created an environment in which the pandas do not have to expend the energy to find one another to mate. And then the panda caretakers help the mom with the raising of her baby. They give her a chance to bond with baby bear, sometimes helping the process along by keeping the baby alive until mom and baby are accustomed to each other.
The Chinese also have devised a plan to keep the bamboo forests from taking out every panda in the area. Since the forests die one species of bamboo at a time, they are cross planting bamboo forests, so more than one species of bamboo makes up a forest. That way, when one type dies, there is still plenty of bamboo to keep the pandas alive.
If God did build this bear, God did not make the bear live only on bamboo. As far as I can tell, that is a choice of the pandas. God also did not make the bears anti-social; they have the same reproductive abilities as any animal, and presumably the same potential for raising their young. Again, it is the panda who has gone a different route.
I am a panda. That is what Anne Lamott writes, describing her four-year old Halloween. She, as a forty-eleven year old, did not write, “I was a panda.” And that is because she is a panda. So am I. So are you. So was the Apostle Paul, who penned the words from Romans above. We all make decisions we were not created to make. We all take this beautiful creation of God and do something else with it than was intended. We eat our proverbial bamboo when we should have a steak from time to time. We get hooked on things that aren’t good for us. We withdraw from others. We are sometimes bad parents. And who comes to our rescue? A community of others. Our Chinese people. Our zookeepers. The people who love us just for the sake of loving us.
I love the pandas now because they remind me that we all need each other. In fact, we cannot survive without one another. We all get lost in our own bamboo forests, places that look inviting but that in reality are places of death. God has sent us others to take our hand and lead us out of the forest, out of the darkness. Out of darkness, and into the light.