This is me on my Sunday morning walk before church. Back in the early 90s, that apartment building behind me was a crack house. I stopped by it one time to talk to the residents. My brave days when I thought I could save the world from itself. Times change, and a lot has changed, but those apartments are still crap.
Four blocks after I took this selfie, I saw a falling squirrel and it fell to its death. It was running along a drooping electrical line when a cool breeze took it out. I mourned for a moment with a dark gray pigeon. She looked down and around as she swayed in the wind. Her metallic green feathers shone in the sun. I wanted to cry, but that was as far as it went.
I thought, life is just like this. We’re all running along doing our thing, and every once in a while, someone steps onto a line that is not pulled quite taut enough, and with no pomp and circumstance, doom. Every day, you hope it isn’t you.
That squirrel had no idea where it was going. Really, does anyone? I thought of this poem by Denise Levertov, A Day Begins.
A headless squirrel, some blood
oozing from the unevenly
lies in rainsweet grass
near the woodshed door.
Down the driveway
the first irises
have opened since dawn,
ethereal, their mauve
almost a transparent gray,
their dark veins
I wonder sometimes what I wanted when I was in graduate school indulging in Levertov and Roethke. I was basically trying to avoid student loan payments. This strategy involved taking out more student loans, which I lived off for a while. What a nightmare. Everything I’ve done since then has involved keeping my kids free from that kind of pain.
And yet, pain is what saved me…
Life changes very slowly, but eventually one day you wake up and realize all your wants have changed. I don’t read American literature anymore. But, I live in Oklahoma where the wind scatters particles of red dirt and creates suns at dusk that remind me of Crane’s wafer pasted in the sky. Whether in war or spirit, we die to save others. The sun was wine. The wafer was Christ.
Here is what I want today. I want my children to not get tattoos on their faces. I want them to not do drugs or end up in prison or become alcoholics. I want them to go to universities that teach them not only how to think, but how to do. I want them to marry people who will love them to the edge of doom. I want them to steer clear of lunatics. I want them to not be lunatics or cruel.
I want them to believe in God and heaven and prayer. I want them to find happiness in the little things because the little things are what we can count on. They represent small miracles. So many times, maybe a thousand, I’ve seen a squirrel in the rain make her way fast across an electrical line, and only one time did I ever see it go terribly wrong.