Unpleasant talk ahead. In lieu of that, and to keep it from being too easy to read, here is a video of a wombat playing with a zookeeper. If you’re not in the mood for unpleasant talk about violence, consider going elsewhere and not reading this post.
The rest is after the fold.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
– Song of Solomon 2:15
The ideas that are used to teach you as a child will shape you as you grow. My father spoke with a smile on his face about how teaching children was modelling in clay rather than carving in stone, and that didn’t seem to be horrifying in hindsight. For example, there is the lesson my father taught me – from a pulpit – about large foxes and little foxes.
The metaphor is that large foxes are visible, and they hunt for big prey. Large foxes can hunt and eat big things. Large foxes show up on the borders of vineyards, but they’re big foxes, they don’t care about your vines. They can eat what they want. The foxes you have to look out for, the things you need to be careful about are the little foxes. The little foxes are small enough to sneak into small spaces. Little foxes are desperate. Little foxes will wriggle through any boundaries and they will steal from you.
In this metaphor, the little foxes represent small sins. The large foxes are large sins. Obviously, it’s easy for us to say you shouldn’t kill people or steal from people (this is particularly funny, and by that I mean horrifying if you know how that generation of that church eventually dissolved), and that’s not a hard thing to push back against. The urge to murder’s not super common and all that. But the little foxes, we were told, things like gossipping and coveting and singing rock music, those things would slowly erode you, they will corrupt you in tiny ways and by the end of it, you’ll be doing drugs and dancing and stabbing people and going to public school.
Another thing that this upbringing instilled in me was that anger and violence were completely reasonable ways to solve your problems. Oh, we’d make lip-service against it, but we were so convinced that the government would crack down, that there was going to be a literal apocalypse, that we were going to be drawn to kill people and all that. Then there was the fact that violence was a daily constant, that the threat of eternal violence was another dialy constant, and that violence from proper authorities was seen as an appropriate punishment. I remember one preacher saying that the death penalty is acceptable from a godly government, but a godless government – like their current one – had to be kept from it, because it would be turned against True Christians. Simply put: We were pro-violence, we were anti-admitting-we-were-pro-violence. Especially if you were in a marginalised or oppressed position; you were there to accept violence.
Weirdly, I remember that students with learning difficulties were given freedom to inflict violence, ‘because that’s the way they were,’ so like, I guess we weren’t actively ableist against them or something? I dunno.
Anyway, the point is, violence has been one of my foxes. Inflicting harm on people around me, this radioactive core, this urge to lash out against the world around me is my big fox. It’s a large thing, it’s a thing I know is stressing me out. I know I have to remove myself from some situations.
Oh, and by the way, nan, every time you tell me ‘I’ll have kids eventually,’ I bite my tongue and say ‘not unless I can be sure I won’t beat them like your son did.’
The problem is the little foxes. The problem is the constant vigilance of perfect language, of hiding emotional reactions, of restraining my rage, of keeping my need to lash out, to uncage the monster inside me in moments. And while I’m trying to stop hurting people in the big ways, the little ways happen. I slip. I say something untoughtful at the wrong time. I chase an argument longer than I should. I fail to notice when I’m upsetting someone. And I do it, and it happens and in the end, I’m sitting back, looking at what I did, and feeling like… this walking plague. That it’s a matter of time before it happens again and again, before I drive away everyone, slowly but surely.
I push back the big foxes. I look at the damage I did by not guarding against the little foxes. I remember what it felt like to sit in church, and wonder if I was really ever saved, given how hard it was to be good.