My Octopus Teacher

Craig in Alaska

Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery Leader
choward@glpby.org


Every now and then I see a film and just say, “Wow!” Last week I watched the documentary, My Octopus Teacher. It is a film about a relationship that develops between the film director and an octopus! The film shows how this alien water creature, whose brain is 200 million years less advanced than the human brain, still possesses curiosity, learning, and a sense of playfulness. The ways in which the octopus protects itself from other predators is most amazing. For example, it pulls other clam shells and rocks around itself and becomes a ball of disguise. It grabs hold of kale and wraps itself to disguise its appearance and smell. It can make horns grow on its head to look fiercer or shoot black ink while swimming to disguise its direction. Finally, the octopus changes colors to match its surroundings and blend in seamlessly to shells, sand, and rock.

One of the most powerful scenes is when a pajama shark attacks the octopus. There’s a dramatic chase scene with the octopus deploying tactics and strategies (including coming out of the water and walking across sand before diving back in!). Nothing works. The octopus hides deep under a rock and the shark still finds it. Everything inside of me is begging the director who is filming this adventure to help. Chase off the shark! Pick up the octopus and take it to safety! But he doesn’t. The shark grabs the octopus and rips one of its limbs off. The octopus nearly dies.

On a podcast about the film, the director is asked why he didn’t help the octopus. He explains that he’d been observing the entire underground forest and saw how the pajama shark lives too. He saw how when the baby pajama sharks are just about to break out of their eggs, a predator comes and eats it. The director talked about how he studied all life in the underground forest, including the pajama shark, the primary predator of the octopus. This gave him respect for the cycle of life and the ecology of the underground forest as a whole. His respect and understanding of the pajama shark prevented him from injuring the shark to save the octopus.

As I watched the film, one of the many things I thought about was the upcoming election. We have taken sides. Those on the left think the right is backward. Those on the right think the left are naive. It is as though we have forgotten that we share the same country, the same ecosystem. Our system is bigger than one election. In spite of the advertisement, fear- mongering, and threats, we have seen it and overcome it before in our societal ecosystem.

Perhaps by observing the whole system, we can turn down the hateful rhetoric and tune out the pundits that spout venom. Jesus taught love and forgiveness in the context of a hateful and unforgiving empire. This country is nowhere near as barbaric as Rome, even on its worse day.

Let me be clear, I’m not the best at this. I definitely would have saved the octopus and injured the shark if I had to. But I did have a vision of hope while watching the film. For a moment I saw the collective society more important than a historical moment.

As we finish off the last couple of weeks of commercials, yard signs, and crazy news, let’s keep our focus on grace, love, peace, and justice for all, especially for the other side of the aisle.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

5 Responses to “My Octopus Teacher”

  1. Paul Reiter on

    Thank you for the powerful reminder. The good news about the octopus is that it can regenerate another leg. What is also true is that the severed limb cannot regrow another octopus ! In these challenging days I hope we can strive to become more “whole” and “holy”. It can all be a sacred work

    Reply
  2. Ellen Gurnon on

    Great perspective!
    We have been studying the Horizons Bible Study “Into the Light: Finding Hope through Prayers of Lament.” Chapter 2 discusses individual and communal lament, which led us into the idea that we can lament together the state of our nation regardless of how we vote.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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