By Tim Hayes

Remember “Bambi?”

All anybody wants to talk about is his mother getting shot by hunters, and that’s surely a very sad element of the story. But there’s another part of the movie I always found fascinating. It parallels Bambi’s own trajectory, from naïve waif to majestic adult stag, after enduring the tragic loss of his mother.

The forest fire. And, most important, the renewal and rebirth of life in its aftermath.

Forests need fires to keep them healthy. It sounds incongruous, but it holds true. In the densely wooded Pine Barrens of New Jersey, for example, fires occur every two to three years. In the aftermath, wax-covered pinecones that open only under extreme heat release their seeds. Grasses that flower only after fires spread quickly. Fresh pine needles grow straight out of scorched trunks, the result of interior sap boiling from the flames.

Recovery happens quickly, as well. Most times within a year, the patch of burned forest has recovered with new growth, animal habitation has returned, and the level of carbon dioxide being absorbed (a measure of health) matches that of the pre-fire period.

But, wow, as the fire tears its way through the forest? Terrifying. Confusing. Paralyzing.

The world, the nation, each state, your neighborhood, your home, your family, yourself – we’re all in the middle of the fire right now. And you bet, it’s terrifying, confusing, and paralyzing, all at once.

But as governors and local health officials take control of the situation, anxiety can begin to lessen a bit. The truth-tellers out there stress that the flames will get higher and hotter before the curve flattens, but at least we can take some solace in at last understanding and admitting the scope of what we’re up against.

On the other side of the ordeal – just as in the aftermath of a forest fire – a new world promises to rise up. And I think that may be the most hopeful part of this entire corona crisis.

Think of all the complex systems, rules, exclusions, exceptions we had put in place to govern every aspect of professional and personal life. Structures and scaffolds, fences and fortresses, prohibitions and prejudices. So much of it representing just piles and piles of unnecessary and sometimes harmful horseshit.

My fervent hope is, as the coronavirus finally ebbs and we all emerge again from our cocoons, that the world and our American society have the courage and will to strip away those traps. Those shackles. Those dangerous assumptions and irresponsible actions that have led us to this moment of truth.

On the other side of the fire, let’s always remember that…

— The people some think don’t deserve a decent living wage, were the people who saved the rest of us during this emergency. Nurses and other medical providers, food service workers, pharmacists, grocery store employees, truck drivers, delivery service staff, janitorial workers, and so many more. Pay them what they’re worth, for God’s sake.

— The arts – movies, plays, music, opera, and on and on – helped to keep us sane while spending weeks indoors. So the next time some politician talks about slashing funding, send that person packing. And support your local arts organizations moving forward. As Robin Williams’ character said to his teenage students in “Dead Poets Society,” “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

— After having to home-school one’s own kids, the realization has finally – finally! – arrived that teachers have the most honorable and the most impossible job in the world, and deserve so much more respect, support, and pay than they get. For non-education-related politicians who continue to trash-talk teachers, see the item directly above. We need to treasure our teachers, at long last.

— Elected officials are meant to serve us, the people. They are given a sacred public trust. They are not sent to Washington or state capitals to sop up as much personal wealth – at the public’s expense, and in some cases, their very lives – as possible. Vote them out, then throw the damn book at every last one of them who violated that trust.

We are enduring a cleansing fire right now. It burns. It hurts. But it won’t last forever. Life will reassert itself – a new life, with new rules. Simpler, cleaner, fresher, fairer rules.

That is, if we follow the lessons of nature.

Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes