The UUWorld’s Family Pages section is always a delightful and beautifully crafted magazine insert that offers stories and resources appropriate for children and people of all ages along a common theme. I’ve always enjoyed reading it, except on one memorable occasion. The Fall 2012 Family Pages section offered a story based on an Aesop’s Fable, entitled “Why Bat Has No Friends.”
In the story, Bat kept switching sides in a war between mammals and birds, and his lack of allegiance resulted in the other animals banishing him to the night, telling him: “Because you could not choose your friends during war, you will not have them during peace. From this day forward, you will only fly at night when everyone else sleeps. You will have no friends among the mammals or the birds.”
I’m here as a friend of Bat to set the record right.
I’m here to tell you that this telling got the story all wrong. To the mammals and the birds, it may have seemed as though Bat kept switching allegiances in an attempt to always be on the winning side. But did anyone ever ask Bat for his side of the story?
If they had, they would have learned that Bat couldn’t choose to be a bird or a mammal, because Bat felt himself to be a little of both. He loved his fellow winged creatures and he loved his fellow furry, toothy creatures just as much. When war broke out he was devastated. After each battle he would go to the winning side and plead with the creatures there to stop the violence. “Don’t you see?” he’d say. “You’re not that different from them. We all feel love, and hunger, and pain.”
“Look at me,” he’d say. “I can fly, yet I am also furry and have sharp teeth. I am proof that there’s no real divide between mammal and bird.” But the other animals wouldn’t listen. They had been told all their lives that birds and mammals were at odds with each other and had nothing in common. They had been taught to fear one another.
“Pick a side and stay there!” Cougar ordered Bat, at the mammal’s camp. “Stop pretending to be something you’re not! What are you really?” Crow cawed the next day, when Bat joined the birds’ gathering. “I am both, and neither,” Bat said. But that was inconceivable to the other animals. They laughed in Bat’s face, scorned him, derided him, pushed him aside, and kept on fighting.
The war didn’t end until both sides had exhausted each other. There was much suffering, pain, and grief. Finally, a wary truce was called. Even then, Bat’s voice and perspective were silenced, despite the fact that all along he had called for peace.
“Until you decide whether you are a mammal or a bird, you can’t be trusted,” the other creatures told him, and Bat was shunned for speaking his truth about who he was and about the community that could be built together in peace if the animals could only imagine it to be possible.
Little did the other animals know that banishing Bat would not banish the truth that Bat embodied, and they couldn’t keep Bat from having friends. I’d like to introduce Bat to Platypus, who has no wings yet has a bill instead of sharp teeth and lays eggs, or Flying Squirrel, who is furry yet flies through the air. I’m sure Bat noticed the birds who did not join in the war because they are not fliers—Ostrich and Penguin and Kiwi and others. They were overlooked because they could not take to the sky.
And did you notice how those bully animals claimed that everyone sleeps at night? What about Raccoon and Hedgehog; Owl, Badger, and Fox? The night is far from a lonely place; plenty of animals prefer the comforting, rich darkness of nighttime.
Don’t believe the animals that claim that all things can and must be divided into two opposing camps. Let’s all learn to be friends of Bat and affirm the wondrous variation of life. May we honor creatures like Bat as the prophets they truly are.