Through the maze of misery and confusion, an elderly fox appeared – and metaphor flowed, showing the way to the centre…
The sun was high. Warmth spiked the air with fragrance. Colours weaved, natural ribbons beneath a cloudless blue sky.
Shaken, I was, and saddened, but also beginning to un-bow from the hoop of tension that had kept me hunched for nearly four months. Tension and acute, though largely buried, fear. I knew, pretty quickly, that opting to do supply teaching was a backward step, but kept saying to myself, ‘Just give it another week…’
But the fear rose like a tsunami. Threatened, I felt, and inadequate. The children, of course, picked up my animal scent, knew that I was vulnerable, went for the throat or the soft underbelly (whichever metaphor the particular group resonated with). Perpetually unsafe. An animal stalked, hunted; hiding, head-down, in unfamiliar staff rooms at break times, eating nothing, trying to out-think the vicious pack of hounds, failing.
The fields of most lessons seemed cavernous, without boundaries, never ending, nowhere to hide. My olfactory nerves picked up the baying of the leader in each case, saw its domination over the lesser dogs, saw the way the Beta animals followed slavishly, determined to please, afraid of travelling any other way.
Cornered eventually, I listened in sweating terror as the harsh barking of the Alpha Male poured threat of injury and death upon me: Teeth and claws would stab and rend me, flesh from bone, limb from limb and the well-fed pack would find a small corner in which to digest the ripped remnants of Reynard.
In human terms, a child I taught threatened to stab me. The shock was cosmic. I had nothing in the armoury with which to defend myself against attacks psychic or physical. There was nothing I could do to hide my all-too-obvious wounds, vulnerabilities, uncertainties. I was attracting savage glee and the urge to bully, to hurt, to destroy.
Not all. Of course not. But the Alpha Males (of both sexes) dominate class rooms just as effectively as they do nations, and the rest are, often, too frightened to intervene.
The field I bolted into on Wednesday was zinging with the special tension bullies use when they scent a victim; I could smell the ghastly hormones leaking from the snarling bodies, the slavering mouths, the need to taunt and then terminate.
Six of them, led by an Alpha Female, circled me and darted in, never quite touching, but using all the nasty weapons at their disposal to force me into retreat. A nightmare of whining and tooth-showing, of gutteral bad language and the clear desire to draw my rage or my tears, or both.
I, as Ali, knew what the fox went through at that moment, at least in part: No means of escape; nowhere to hide; at the ‘mercy’ of the unmerciful; facing obliteration at the savage paws and teeth of a stronger being or beings.
At that precise moment, I knew I had no control left to whistle up. I was empty, out of strategies. They could – and would – lord it over me, even murder me in cold blood (metaphorically speaking) and there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had lost my nerve.
Fast forward to Thursday – was it only yesterday? – and the morning after the wonderful Full Moon in Scorpio Ritual (which told me, with utter clarity, that I had to get out of teaching altogether): Ten minutes after tendering my resignation, I walked Jumble down the track, at peace for the first time in weeks, taking it slowly, enjoying the beauty surrounding me.
Leaning on a gate, I saw an elderly fox just standing, at ease, in the field before me. It did not seem to be worried or threatened, could, I swear, just have been enjoying the warmth on its coat, the scents on the breeze, the soft grass beneath old pads, the memories of other foxes on the balmy wind.
There we stood, for ages, two old foxes, russet of coat with the grey seeping in, taking a break from the world of horses and hounds and violence and death. Fox was not aware of me initially – or if it was, I did not strike it as a threat; it was only when I rattled the metal gate inadvertently that the vulpine head came up and, sensing my presence, the animal sloped away across the field and under a hedge.
I mourned its departure. But I could see that it had done what I was in the process of doing: It had stood its ground for a long time and then, when threat rattled the gate too much, it had withdrawn from the potential fray.
That sense of running scared, out in the open, is all too familiar. It happens in life, often, and we cannot always predict or prevent it. But to put oneself voluntarily into this scenario is senseless and self-destructive. I am not Reynard to be hunted, torn apart and then used, the bloody part, to mark the faces of novice hunters. For that, in the symbolic sense, is what all bullies do – and packs of children, or adults, are no better than the animals they look down upon when the meaty, bloody urge to rend and destroy comes upon them.
I, like Foxy, have sloped away under the hedge to another field.