Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I pass death with the dying

I buried a squirrel today.

It was 2:40pm, the final bell had just rang and I had a million things to do before 3:30 when my carpool left. A student was planning on staying after school for help, I had referrals to write, and there were some emails that needed replies. I walked out of my classroom, intending to quickly handle the paperwork so I could work with my student. As I walked towards the office I noticed a group of students staring at something on the ground: an injured squirrel, helplessly flailing around. I quickly shooed the students away and then stood there.

I watched the squirrel flail.

I had no idea what to do.

No idea what to do, no desire to watch an animal suffer, yet a strange feeling that if I didn't give it my full attention I was somehow disrespecting a fellow creature. So I watched, and soon other adults came and stopped to help me figure out what to do.

After much discussion and a frustrating call to Animal Control (who, by the way, do not deal with "wildlife"), the squirrel died. I felt both relieved that it was no longer in pain, and also sad that I wasn't able to help it.

I'm not even sure how it ended up on the ground, or how exactly it was injured. But I realized that when I have children of my own, teaching them to not only respect living things, but also to respect death and dying is going to be one of my top jobs. Before other adults joined me there were a couple students gawking nearby. One of the students made some very disrespectful remarks about the squirrel and its situation. I pulled him aside and explained to him that watching an animal suffer caused me to suffer, and that his words were not only insensitive, but that they added to the suffering of both myself and the squirrel. The look on the student's face confirmed that he understood what I was trying to say.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg
of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress'd head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

-Walt Whitman


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