When octopuses teach us curiosity and gentleness

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

This afternoon I do not want to write about cultural divisions, social injustice, the pandemic or even Goshen College. I want to tell you about a man and an octopus.

Kevin and I watched the film “My Octopus Teacher” on recommendation of my sister, Tina. “Watch it,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “and tell me what you think.” And so I did, and I keep thinking.

Like my sister, I don’t want to say a lot about this film to those who haven’t watched it, but I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking about.

First, our planet is astonishing. Beautiful, vulnerable and occasionally terrifying. It is good to realize how small we are, how alien we can feel even here on Mother Earth, and how prone we are to perceive the world to be revolving around us. It does not.

Second, how magnificent and painful it is to be human. I am stunned by what this man accomplished, compelled to dive day after day without scuba gear into the cold South African kelp forest to understand another creature. Reflecting on his quest after finally ending it, he comments, “It was taxing.” Oh my, yes.

Most of all, I have been thinking about curiosity and gentleness — words the filmmaker, Craig Foster, uses repeatedly to describe the octopus he befriends. Both of these virtues are enacted profoundly in this film, in human and non-human beings.

I am inspired: What if I would embody curiosity and gentleness to this degree? What if each of us did? How would we be educated by the creatures of this world?

Hmm. Maybe I am writing about cultural divisions, social injustice, the pandemic and Goshen College after all. Rebecca Stoltzfus