Even Killer Whales Are Not Sharks

Not to keep beating the dead horse of Star Trek, but I stumbled on an article just now that does an amazing job of illustrating the difference between Star Trek and what I’ll now label “conflict sci-fi” that we were talking about earlier.

This article does a great job of capturing, as it calls it, the soul of Star Trek, but what’s particularly astounding to me about this article is the shocking synchronicity with a dream I had last night. The article talks about the fiction of the conscious versus the fiction of the unconscious, the story of the whale versus the story of the shark.

My dreams last night were all about conflict and anxiety and impending pain and loss. They culminated in one where I was swimming in shallow, rough, but also clear, tropical waters barely in sight of land. And I was surrounded by killer whales. They continually breached near me and seemed to be watching me, circling me. I was scared. Adding to the fear was the fact that waves were constantly breaking over me, pushing me under the water, sometimes down to the bottom (which was less than 20 feet down at any given time). So I was spending quite a bit of time under the water, where it felt like I was even more vulnerable to attack. During one of these struggles back to the surface, I finally found the courage to open my eyes. And there, not two feet from me, was the huge face of a killer whale. Immediately the apocryphal shark attack advice came to me–if you’re attacked by a shark, punch it as hard as you can, in the nose if possible. But looking at this huge thing before me, that seemed absurd. It’s mouth was closed, but all I could think about were its teeth and how it could so easily bite me in half at the waist. Of course I knew it wasn’t a shark, but still it seemed aggressive, dangerous. Still, I reached out, maybe even intending to punch it. I closed my eyes again and imagined that the next (and last) thing I would feel were dozens of dagger-pointed teeth sinking into my arm. That was the scariest moment, expecting to feel those teeth.

But what my hand fell upon was not teeth. It was flesh. Not exactly soft, but smooth and warm and clearly alive. I opened my eyes and saw my hand laying perfectly on the animal’s expansive black forehead. The whale turned slightly to the side and pushed past me and down. As my hand trailed almost lazily along its full length, I realized a connection: what I felt when I reached out and found smooth mammalian skin instead of predator’s teeth, the whale felt something akin to that at my touch. This was not the dynamic of shark and man, predator versus predator, our only options to kill, be killed, or ignore–unconsciously. This was brotherhood, symbiosis, tolerance, conscious acknowledgement of sameness. This all took only seconds, and when I reached the surface again the sea was still rough and the killer whales were still there, but they looked very different to me and my fear was gone.

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