The Last Bear

ANDREI CODRESCU

December 07, 1992|By ANDREI CODRESCU

New Orleans. -- Years ago I wrote a lament about the fate of the bear. I mourned the passing of that great animal from the forests where he had once lived into the captivity of zoos and the pages of children's books. But I refused to believe that the end of the bear had truly, truly come. ''Where could all that bearness go if not in us who so delight in it? It is possible that at any given time, in any gathering, a number of us are bears.''

That's what I wrote in the bittersweet optimism of a decade ago when nasty as people seemed to be there was still a hope that something natural and uncontaminated still lived in them. But I believe it no longer! We have killed whatever redeeming bearness still attended us. Listen to the news:

A bear, the last survivor in the Sarajevo zoo, died of starvation. He died after eating his mate, as did all the other animals: the eagles, the leopards, the lions, the tigers and the pumas. They ate those closest to them, their mates, the members of their own species and then starved to death. The bear held on the longest, waiting, perhaps, for some bearness or at least for some pure animal nausea to put an end to the shelling.

Of all the horrid news coming out from Bosnia these days, this seems to be most poignantly criminal. It brings home what the pictures of murdered children, raped women and executed civilians have failed to. Namely, that nothing of the sense of fairness, justice and, yes, compassion that prevails among animals exists in us any longer. There is no pure hate among bears. They do not kill each other because they do not like each others' way of eating, singing or living. They do not destroy each other in the name of ideologies; there are no hate-mongering Nazis, nationalists and communists among them. And no members of their species stand by watching the slaughter of their kin on television without lifting a finger.

The last surviving bear of Sarajevo accuses Europe and the United States of what used to be called inhumanity but which is, I'm afraid, humanity at its barest.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of Exquisite Corpse.

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