I recently spent a few days in NYC with my wonderful friend, Linda. She, like so many of us, saw and loved Avatar. I, of course, have my reservations about the film (see previous post). But Linda observed something powerful in the film that I wanted to share with you.
For those who have not seen the movie, I need to fill you in one element, which will not at all be a spoiler so it is safe to keep reading.
The indigenous population on the planet Pandora have long, flowing hair which they braid and let fall down their backs. At the ends of these braids are what can best be described as a cluster of tendrils - loose, gently flowing strands of gossamer.
It was through these tendrils that the natives communicated with the world of nature.
Their mode of rapid transportation was the native birds, and they connected and communicated with their birds by entwining their tendrils with the birds’ tendrils. They offered messages to their most sacred tree by whirling the tendrils around its gracefully drooping branches (much like those of fibre optic threads).
These tendrils reminded Linda of tzitziot, the delicate fringes that grace the four corners of the tallit. That, it seems to me, is a most intriguing thought.
The tallit is a central symbol of the Jewish people. It distinguishes us, carrying in its folds memories and stories of individuals, families and whole communities. In practice, each tallit is worn by only one person, perhaps for a lifetime. Over time, it assumes their identity, personality, smell. When worn over the head, it covers them almost entirely, creating their private, cocooned world. It is a momentary, physical refuge from the world swirling around them.
And yet, they would not be able to breathe if they and the tallit were hermetically sealed, all shut up. They would shrivel, both spiritually and physically, if there were no exchange, no communication between them and the world beyond. It is the fringes, then, the delicate and controlled unraveling at the edges of the garment, that safely create that bridge between them in their inviolable integrity and the world in its fullness. The tzitziot are the tendrils that bond the discrete self with the elements beyond.
Like all else in the natural world, no one individual and no one people can live alone. On the one hand, we must defend our boundaries and borders so we do not go spilling out all over the place. On the other, we must engage and connect with the nurturing and vibrancy that surrounds us. It is in the secrets of managing this exchange, in the details of building and crossing this threshold, that the magic of life is most fully found.
Such an awareness could be the beginning of a response to my third critique, showing us a way to both celebrate our unique tribalism, and celebrate and join with those who are other.