Saturday, July 25, 2015

Parable of the Dead Baby Rat

Unlike some of my other Blogs, I have tried not to post to this one unless I feel truly inspired. Unfortunately, that has not happened very often, which is why there are so few posts here.  I have also tried to stay focused on Biblical instruction rather than my own views.  But today is an exception to that rule.  Today's post is a reflection on a personal experience I had years ago and how it applies to my understanding of God in our world.

About 20 years ago I was walking from my home to a train station on a nice spring day.  On the sidewalk, I saw what appeared to be a newborn rat.  It was hairless, still had its eyes closed and was screaming for its mother (nowhere in site).   Sure, adult rats seems disgusting to most of us and are considered vermin.  But thinking about a helpless baby screaming for its mother, as it slowly died of exposure/starvation/dehydration has got to pull on the heartstrings of most of us.  It sure did for me.

I paused for moment, but realized there was little I could do.  First, it was a rat out in the wild.  Who knows what disease it may have?  Second, I was late for work.  I did not have time to provide any assistance.  Third, even if I was so inclined, I had no idea what I could do for the creature.

I figured, perhaps my walking along the sidewalk had scared away the mother who would return after I left.  So I continued on to work and soon forgot about the matter.  On my way home that evening, I saw that the mother had not come back.  The baby had died on the sidewalk.  Saddened, I brushed the body off the sidewalk into the grass nearby and continued home.

I returned home then to find a baby squirrel unattended in the front yard of my home.  Again, the same concerns that confronted me that morning came back again.  It's a wild animal, don't mess with it.  I don't really have the time or skill to take care of a baby rodent.  But my recent experience with the rat made me rethink my feelings. Could I really just watch another baby die without doing anything?

Considering what to do, I went inside for a while, hoping the mother would return, but kept an eye on the baby squirrel.  The mother never did return as the sun began to set. So, I brought it in the house and put it in a shoe box with tissues.  My wife contacted a relative who was involved in animal rescue, who advised us to buy some kind of animal formula that could be fed to the baby.  He seemed to thrive over time.  We eventually weened him off formula and started him on nuts and fruits.  He grew and continued to develop.

I'm not sure whether it was something we did or some pre-existing condition that caused the mother to kick him out in the first place, but our squirrel was disabled.   He behaved as if he had some squirrel form of cerebral palsy.  He could only seem to walk with great difficulty.  He had tremors and was always very weak.  By this time, we had become emotionally invested in him and realized he could never be released into the wild.  So, he became a permanent pet.  We named him Scratches.  He loved to cuddle up on my lap and snack on berries.  We bought him a cage and he became part of the family.

That said, I never recommend anyone have a squirrel as a pet.  He chewed on everything.  His claws became very sharp as an adult (hence his name) and he required an incredible amount of care.  But we took care of him because, once having taking responsibility for him, we could not bear to release him to certain death or have him put down.  He lived with us for 7-8 years until he finally passed away.  Despite being a pain to care for, I still cherish his memory and miss him, as I do other former pets.

During the time he was with us, I developed an interest in squirrels more generally.  My wife and I became involved with the local nature center near our home and ended up adopting dozens of baby squirrels over the years.  Unlike Scratches, these squirrels were perfectly healthy.  They just needed a few weeks of care and formula.  We would start them off in a box with a heating pad.  Eventually they would move to a cage on the back porch.  When we thought they were ready, we would open the cage and allow them to venture out.  Typically, they would wander around the porch for a few days, then eventually wander out into the large forested area in our back yard.  They would come back to the cage to sleep.  After a couple of weeks, they would stop coming back completely and would take up residence as wild squirrels in our yard.  Despite our early intervention, they developed a healthy fear of humans and almost never came back to the house once they had acclimated to the outdoors.

Through our work with squirrels, my wife became good friends with one of the people who ran the wildlife center.  They were close for many years until she later passed away from cancer.  Before she passed away, my wife encouraged her to reconnect with her estranged children, which thankfully she did before she passed.  This connection was a very meaningful event to everyone involved.  I don't want to get into too much detail, but if you have ever had a serious rupture with a close family member and then were able to reconcile, you might understand.

So where am I going with all of this?  If you stuck with my ramblings this far, I'll get to my point.

Twenty years ago, there was a baby rat lying on the sidewalk who lived in this world for only a few hours.  He never opened his eyes nor did anything in this world other than lie on a sidewalk, scream and die.  Yet he had an impact on my life that caused me to take in another creature, who caused me to take care of even more baby creatures over the years.  That led to our involvement in the nature center, my wife's friendship with the worker there and her encouragement to get her to make up with her children before she died.  It is amazing to me to think that a baby rat with only a few hours of life could have such a wide ranging indirect impact on so many others.

It causes me to wonder how many ways we have an impact on others.  An offhand comment or a seemingly insignificant act can trigger a chain of events that eventually lead to something completely unforeseen.  We sometimes do something we know is wrong because it's "no big deal" or "it's not really going to hurt anyone". But we really don't know the indirect impact of what we do.  Similarly, an act of kindness, love, or charity can have consequences far beyond what any of us might foresee.

I've tried to come up with a way to tie this into a biblical teaching.  But I have not found anything that really ties in directly to unintended consequences.  But it does lead me to the idea found in the Bible that we must sometimes trust in God rather than ourselves, since we mortals cannot always see the big picture.

It is why the prophet Isaiah wrote: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV).

It is why Proverbs tells us "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7 (ESV).

We often find that we are tempted to follow our own will.  But that is an act of pride. We might justify something in our own mind with our limited understanding. We might even look to other people to justify things we want to do.  But we are not called to follow our own will, or even those of the people around us.  We are called to follow God's will, since God understands all.  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  Romans 12:2 (ESV).

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