Saturday, March 2, 2013

Grief in the Animal Kingdom

The following lines I lifted from Amy Hempel's story In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried. You should really read the whole story, I just copied the portions about the chimp:
"Tell me," she says, "about that chimp with the talking hands. What do they do when the thing ends and the chimp says, ‘I don't want to go back to the zoo'?"
"Did you know that when they taught the first chimp to talk, it lied? That when they asked her who did it on the desk, she signed back the name of the janitor. And that when they pressed her, she said she was sorry, that it was really the project director. But she was a mother, so I guess she had her reasons."

"Oh, that's good," she said. "A parable."
"There's more about the chimp," I said. "But it will break your heart."

In the course of the experiment, that chimp had a baby. Imagine how her trainers must have thrilled when the mother, without prompting, began to sign to her newborn.

Baby, drink milk.

Baby, play ball.

And when the baby died, the mother stood over the body, her wrinkled hands moving with animal grace, forming again and again the words: Baby, come hug, Baby, come hug, fluent now in the language of grief.
But the story really isn't just about a chimp. It's about anyone whoever became fluent in the language of grief.