Waiting to hear Dr Goodall speak

Sunday afternoon, my friend and I attended a talk at the Michael Fowler center in Wellington. The speaker: Jane Goodall.

As we made our way through the crowd to our seats, I was happily overwhelmed by the wide range of generations in attendance surrounding us. Some with white hair, well into their seventies; some younger generations sporting baseball caps, probably college aged, and even kiddos as young as three. The majority filling the seats were probably thirty-somethings.

After a brief greeting from a member of  Wellington Zoo staff and the mayor of Wellington, they introduced Dr. Goodall, who approached the podium. I’d only ever seen pictures of her and for some reason her signature hair was her most recognisable feature, at least from a distance: long, soft, greyish white pulled into a low ponytail. Behind her, a large screen projected her bigger for those of us in the upper levels to see.

She greeted with a Chimpanzee calling— the way chimps announce to their pack their presence. Chuckles among the crowd, Jane Goodall smiled with lips together, not revealing teeth. This call familiar for her a sound perhaps, of her home in Gombe.

Moving on, I don’t think there’s any better way for Dr Goodall to begin than by sharing a story about her mother. As a young girl she’d bring worms into bed with her. Her mother, instead of getting upset with the dirt in bed, reminded that worms “need the earth to live” and helped her daughter bring the worms back to the dirt. For Goodall, this was the beginning of a deep understanding and appreciation of her environment and thus, led to her physical anthropologist career.

As Dame Goodall thanked her mother from the stage, I witnessed a mother in the row in front of me reach to pat her teenage daughter’s hand. Her daughter returned the gesture, holding her mother’s hand.

Dr Goodall spoke about her studies among a chimpanzee tribe, observing good mothers and bad mothers, the difference mostly attentiveness and playfulness. She spoke about how the chimpanzees care about and use their home to help them survive. Obviously we humans are more intelligent than them, so why don’t we use our wisdom to care for and respect our home as well?

 

While waiting for Dr Goodall, we are graced with this picture of David, I believe

 

What caused me to pause and reflect was my favorite quote from the day, “When humans reach their full potential, the head and heart will be in harmony.”

I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable with my own hypocrisy. But Dr Goodall made it clear she wasn’t there to make anyone feel guilty. She did not push her beliefs. There was no accusatory tone in her message or finger wagging. She was only there to share her observations.

The 80-year-old woman travels 300 days a year, remarking that everywhere she goes she has friends: in nature, in animals, in the people she meets. In the many children she meets, she sees anger and even violence over what has happened to their sacred home that we, the older generations have wounded. But in many of them she also sees hope, courage, and determination to make a difference. And she reports, “they are” making a difference.

With that, the audience thanked her with a standing ovation. To my left, a teenage girl accepted a tissue from her mother, both wiping away tears. It was clear this event was in honour of her mother, our mothers, their mothers, and Mother Earth.

Still appearing on the big screen, she slowly glanced at the hundreds standing before her, hearing her message. Quietly she said into the microphone, “That is enough to maintain hope”.

Afterward, I had to buy her latest book, Seeds of Hope. Not just for myself, but to give to my son as he gets older, a lover of all things nature. He’s the boy who stops to smell the flowers even if they are weeds. He’s the boy Jane Goodall refers to when she says there are future generations full of hope that we can replenish and nurture our nature.

With the purchased book in hand (after waiting in line for thirty minutes or more) my friend and I merged to a different line for a signing, which took another thirty-forty minutes. They were moving people through quite quickly, no dedications, only signing her name, so it didn’t take long.

halfway through the line for signing

My turn to step up, I had to say something even though it felt we weren’t supposed to. I handed her the book, page open to sign, “I’ll give this to my son.”

She glanced up to make eye contact- her hair no longer the focal point of recognition, overpowered by the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen- and in her hushed voice said, “Wonderful.”

Her assistant beside her asked, “How old is your son?”

Surprised I was spoken to and not ushered aside, I said, “Two.”

The assistant said, “Oh probably a little too young for the roots and shoots program then…”

Dr Goodall finished signing, handed the book back, and without missing a beat of conversation jumped right in and said, “Oh no, we have children that young who join… preschool age,” she said as our eyes locked.

The assistant continued to speak but I didn’t hear. I knew at any moment another person would pull me away to keep moving, so as I was very slowly walking away I just said, “He’s a helper.”

Jane Goodall smiled, “Is he?”

I continued, taking baby steps away, “He likes to pat-pat trees.” She grinned as I walked away. I managed to hurriedly get out one last “Thank you”.  She smiled and nodded again.

A very brief exchange but one leaving a lasting signature in my heart. My friend and I walked out onto the street; both of us giddy and full from Dr Goodall’s speech. Hopeful. 

Dr Jane Goodall signing copies of her book, “Seeds of Hope”

 

Looking into Dr Jane Goodall’s eyes, incredibly compassionate eyes maintaining the innocence of a child, inspired me not to become discouraged or hardened. She’s reminded me the importance of perseverance, compassion, and hope. She’s inspired me to accept the dirt in life and turn it into knowledge. She’s shown me of the importance of observation- you never know what might inspire you just by watching others. Embrace warmth, know it’s okay for there to be mistakes and flaws- as long as there is a desire to make it better. Hopefully my son will carry such messages, too.

Resilient, enlightened, hopeful and caring… Mother Earth… Dr. Goodall.

I must honor her mothering spirit.

For more information:

Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots And Shoots Program

Jane Goodall Institute

What We Can Do

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