Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

October 6, 2014

Mama Chimp

So yesterday I sat in church happy, heartbroken and annoyed.


Happy to be in that beloved spot, always terra firma in the uneven terrain that is my mind.


Heartbroken for the endless woes afflicting the earth and my human family. Such a hard time we’re all having – like collective, perpetual PMS.


And annoyed at the squirrelly, silly, distracting mound of flesh next to me, whom I call my son. Charlotte was angelic and removed, serving as an acolyte in another part of the sanctuary. Robed, crossed and mature, she stood in stark contrast to Master Bodhi, who divided his time between testing out pinches on me (“does that hurt yet? How ‘bout now? NOW?”) and scribbling in my journal, mama’s sancta sanctorum if ever there was one. The dude could not settle down. Perhaps it was because of his athletic cup, which he put on at 8 am for a 2 pm game. I know I’m not built that way, but I can’t think wearing that thing would make you open to the word of God.


After church, while waiting for our pizza joint to open (pizza dough the true communion wafer), we had a choice of two offerings: listen to a renowned Islamist speak about ISIS and the American Muslim community’s response to it, or listen to a woman named Nancy Merrick talk about the plight of chimpanzees, “our closest living relatives.”


Oh, ISIS. The tip of the Bad News iceberg. Always Bad News. “They won’t give peace a chance/That was just a dream some of us had.” Thank you, Joni Mitchell, prescient as ever.
It was not the moment to contemplate beheadings. We went with the chimps.


Nancy had worked with Jane Goodall in the Gombe preserve during that groundbreaking and heady time. She has written a book called Among Chimpanzees and has an organization called She is a physician and activist, is brilliant, clear and surprisingly hopeful despite the Bad News (really, is there any other kind these days?) concerning the habitat of these magnificent creatures.


Miraculously, Nancy cut through the doom and gloom – and so did the chimps. I watched a clip of a mother chimp and her baby. He climbed, poked, pulled on her nipples, looked in her ear. She swatted wearily and tried in vain to maintain authority. Exactly as I had just done in church. (The baby chimp did look a lot like Bodhi; I looked for his chimp athletic cup.)


This mama truly is my relative. She could use my mother’s support group, no doubt.


Bad News had turned to Good. Not that the chimps are in good shape – their situation is dire. (Go to Nancy’s website to learn more.) The Good News was that my petty, overwhelmed heart had been pierced – in the best possible way – by the look in that mother chimp’s eyes. We understand each other. We are weary mothers with rowdy little boys. And at this moment, she needs my help. Done.


My kids and I ate our pizza calmly and talked of Africa. A woman from church reported that the ISIS talk had been surprisingly inspiring; the American Muslim community is taking pains to reach out to disaffected folks who may be susceptible to terrorist recruitment. Good News. Not in the sense that a problem is solved, but in that there is thoughtful leadership in the midst of growing hysteria.


It is an overwhelming time – and a deeply inspiring one. In the midst of it all, I met a friend yesterday. Mama Chimp. I won’t forget you any time soon. Let’s make a play date. We’ll scratch each other’s backs and snack on termites and the boys can knock each other out.