Barbara Kingsolver likes to tell the story about the 16-month-old son of a nomadic Iranian couple who wandered away from a group of youngsters being minded by a teenage girl looking after children while their parents worked.
For three frantic days the group searched inside the yurts in which they lived, turning over and looking under their meager furnishing believing the child to be nearby as he'd only just learned to walk and unlikely he could have wandered far.
When the child was not found the search extended to some caves set deep underground in connecting chambers. The caves were known to be occupied from time-to-time by bears and, indeed, as the searchers began their descent into the caves the odor of bears was overpowering. Were it not for the faint cry of what they believed was a human child the rescuers might have turn back.
The child's father crept toward the
back of the cave where, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was
able to make out the silhouette of his son
in the embrace of a very large bear.
How is it possible that a huge, hungry bear would take a pitifully small, delicate human child to her breast rather than rip him into food?
But she was a mammal, a mother. She was lactating, so she must have had young of her own somewhere -- possibly killed, or dead of disease, so that she was driven by the pure chemistry of maternity to take this small, warm neonate to her belly and hold him there, gently.
You could read this story and declare "impossible," even though many witnesses have sworn it's true. Or you could read this story and think of how warm lives are drawn to one another in cold places, think of the unconquerable force of a mother's love, the fact of the DNA code that we share in its great majority with other mammals -- you could think of all that and say, Of course the bear nursed the baby. He was crying from hunger, she had milk. Small wonder.
I hope they didn't kill the bear but instead simply reached for the child, quietly took him up, praised Allah and this strange mother who had worked His will, and swiftly left the cave. I've searched for that part of the story -- whether they killed the bear. I've gone back through news sources from river to tributary to rivulet until I can go no further because I don't read Arabic.
This is not a mistake or a hoax; this happened. The baby was found with the bear in her den. He was alive, unscarred, and perfectly well after three days -- and well fed, smelling of milk. The bear was nursing the child.
What does it mean?