Column 35 Published in the September 20, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer
I was sweeping out the garage when our kitty, Gypsy, meowed something unintelligible in Cat, waking me from my absent-minded reverie. “Come on, little one,” I told her. “I want to show you something.” Suddenly and randomly inspired to visit the fort Iris and I are building, I dropped the broom and walked straight into the woods.
All of my spiritual study lately has me much more in tune with what many religions call the “Holy Spirit,” even though a few of the more rigorous practices believe I shouldn’t yet have access to it, not having taking their prescribed steps towards salvation. In all my earthiness, I’ve often interpreted “spirit” over the years as simple intuition, and now, with a bit more awareness in the mix, heeding its call has taken on almost a game-like quality.
Dropping most everything to do what feels Loving and True takes tremendous fortitude, of which I usually have very little. But I’m becoming more trusting, curious, and playful. And, surprise, the Universe is responding. So, when something told me to go for a walk in the woods with my cat – a definite first – I listened.
Halfway to the fort, amidst rotting twigs and wet moss, was a still-blind baby squirrel chirping weakly and fumbling about. My cat and I walked right to it, and a second before she could pounce I cupped it in my hands protectively and looked skyward for the nest. Waiting quietly for many minutes, I half-hoped the parent squirrel would return and start scolding me. But somehow I knew I was supposed to find this little one.
The baby was defensive and scared, but with only soft claws and two tiny bottom teeth just barely breaking through its gums, it couldn’t yet scratch or bite. It was flea- and mite-covered, which I would later read means the mother has been gone for days. It likely bumbled its way out of the nest in response to hunger. Talk about fortitude and a blind leap of faith – rather than lay curled up, growing colder and starving next to its siblings, out it went into a world it couldn’t even fathom. I checked back many times over the next few days hoping to find others from the invisible nest but never did.
My own little one and I set about taking care of it as best we could. She quickly named it Herbie, and I shortly thereafter deduced it was female. Warming it, slowly rehydrating it and painstakingly de-lousing it, we bathed it gently with soft cloths trying to simulate a mother’s tongue, which even cleans away their urine and waste after each feeding while they’re this little. We bought a bag of pet infant formula on our next trip to town and started feeding it slowly. Eventually, little Herbie would grasp the medicine dropper with both tiny paws and drink desperately before losing her latch. One morning, she had an eye open. That afternoon, the other one opened as well. The cuteness factor multiplied exponentially, but we purposely didn’t spend a lot of time with her. She needed low stimulation, lots of rest and nourishing warmth. We were not growing a pet, and we knew it.
That Sunday afternoon, my Uncle John died.
As soon as we could, we took the trip down the quick gravel road to be with my mom. Thinking about his wife and two teenagers brought me to tears many times, but as You do, I did my best to explain to a three-year old what had happened and that her grandma and great-grandparents might be quiet and sad.
“Why?” slipped into my mind inadvertently several times, and in her little voice, Iris wondered it as well. Uncle John had been retired not even two years. His children were in huge transitional phases in life, his wife as steady and their faith as solid as ever. He was kind and good and worked hard for what he loved. It was hard not to suffer over the Why?
Byron Katie teaches that the only possible answer to “Why?” is “Because.”
I understand this intellectually and do my best to practice it, but then I forget and find myself demanding to know WHY from my three-year old about some perceived grievance, some mess she made, some instructions she didn’t follow. I demand to know Why of my man, my partner about some past decision that still hurts my heart. Is it my irrational need to blame? My unfounded belief that I deserve a different or better reality? My ego’s need to subtly attack or feel “special?”
Asking why about death is especially painful. It keeps you there, focused on death. Separated from life. From love.
Truly, the only answer to Why is Because. Yes, I can always point to the events leading up to a specific circumstance as the cause, even getting scientific if need be, but still, that doesn’t explain Why. Ultimately, things are the way they are because They Just Are. It is what it is. I am what I am. You are what you are. Reality doesn’t cause my suffering. It’s my wanting reality to be other than what it is that causes suffering.
A Course in Miracles teaches that the only proper question in all of humanity or at least the only one that will have more than one answer is “What is it for?” All other questions come from our ego’s unquenchable need for more and its thinly veiled attraction to fear.
But, what is it for?
In many cases, we won’t know the true answer until years pass, lifetimes even.
We spent until late afternoon with our grandparents, sharing stories and tears, apple pie and mostly quiet, together-time gently talking about things that mattered not.
When we came home, after far too many hours for an infant of any species, I found the baby squirrel cold and barely moving. While still damp from the morning cloth bath we awkwardly administered, she must have crawled out of our hastily assembled nest and fallen asleep from a full belly on the bare cardboard. I did what mothers do and took her to my bare skin.
I went to sleep that night with a tiny rodent on my chest.
She pawed and nuzzled weakly from time to time, but when I woke hours later, she was dead. I don’t know if I smothered her in trying to get her warm, or if she’d gotten pneumonia from fluid in her lungs – our initial feedings were less than graceful – or if the guestimate mixture of rehydration liquid and pet formula had seized her digestive system. Who knows?
But I wept. I had tried and I had hoped to do something that felt Loving and True. And it felt like I failed.
Of course the emotion wasn’t just for Herbie the squirrel. I wept for Grandpa Dale and Grandma Grace, losing a son at an age when life isn’t getting any easier. I wept for my mom, losing a sibling she had grown so close to in the last few years. I wept for cousins Brandon and Brianna, who would face so many new adventures and challenges without one of their two most important people in all of life. And oh, I wept for Kay, just into the slow-down and be-together-time with her husband of 26 years. It all felt so fiercely sad.
What is it for?
What is it for?
Maybe we won’t know for ages, maybe until our last breaths.
But the squirrel’s death, I knew what that was for as soon as Iris woke up. I told her that Herbie had died in the night. She was quiet and solemn; a few dramatic tears forced their way up, as if it were expected of her.
And then she said softly, looking at the squirrel she held in her small hands, “Grandma’s brother died.”
“That’s right, honey,” I whispered into her hair.
And when the Why didn’t come for either of us, I held on to her and I held on to the “Because” that was whispering itself in my head. I held on to the last images I have of my uncle, smiling as he worked on a driftwood lamp with his family hovered ‘round.
I held on to that love, that truth and togetherness, and knew that That is what it is all for. Lessons come hard in this life of suffering, but when I put the Why? away and ask What is it for?, the answer is always given. Even if we have to wait.