A Case for Vegetarianism in 3 Acts of Recognition.
As I reached over to turn on the shower, there it was in the tub.
Its legs were cracked and splintered like chewed-on toothpicks. Its nodular mid-section was large enough to see bulges and craters without having to lean in closer. My first instinct—pre-instinct, rather—was to jump back and shrill like a damsel from a bad horror flick. I am not a fan of anything small enough to crawl into vulnerable openings (ears, mouth) or crevices (beneath clothes and beyond), especially while I sleep. It’s a belief system that’s at least somewhat based on reality, as I have more than once been gently awoken by a spider as it scurried its way across my face, via forehead or cheek, in the middle of the night.
So there we were: the spider, and me, in the bathroom free of eyewitnesses and impending judgment. The plan should have been to catch him between a glass and postcard and take him outside, because that’s what a good Buddhist would do.
Rule #1 regarding sentient beings: don’t kill them.
But laziness—the multiple back-and-forth trips involved in sparing itsy-bitsy’s life—won out. I turned the water on full-blast, with the mindless intention of washing this inconsequential little speck of life down the drain and straight to his demise so I could get on with my shower.
The spider responded to the water with obvious terror. His whiskery legs scrambled for dear life, ineffectively attempting to grasp the side of the tub to escape. If he’d had vocal chords, I can assure you, he would have screamed, “Oh shit no! Not like this! I’ve got family!”
At the split-second sight of this, I lurched to turn off the faucet. Shocked at my own visceral response, heart racing and breathless, we were left staring at one another in the vacuum created by the absence of the rushing water.
It hit me clean, cold and somewhere between the eyes that this little creature could feel the very same panic and dismay that I, a presumably superior mortal, felt. A beyond-species moment of recognition, strange and absolute, hung in the air between us.
Then I rushed off for a glass and postcard.
I massage a sweet group of old ladies for part-time work, and I often park us in front of the fish aquarium at the residence where they all live as a lovely place to rub their tired old shoulders and spindly hands.
There, we attend to our aquatic friends by witnessing the marvels of their little lives, as contained within this little slice of a would-be ocean, complete with the backdrop-photo of a three-dimensional reef on the back wall.
The cast of characters is as follows:
There’s the blue-green fish that’s the shade of a synthetic kid’s popsicle, dancing and twirling as if it considers itself the headlining act. There’s the paper-thin trio of angelfish, striped in blocks of yellow and brown, moving their three bodies as one single unit. There’s the puffer fish with a thick and expressive face, resembling a mammal that’d been plucked clean of its fur and limbs and given fins as a consolation prize. He floats aimlessly in the corner behind a grove of fake sea anemone.
And one can’t miss the drag-queen fish that wears his fins as if they were custom jewelry and feathers. He prefers to stay in one place, like a swimsuit model striking a pose, allowing the water to tousle and shape his fin-décor like a breeze through the hair.
We approach them slowly, so as not to miss the moment when they realize they have an audience and their out-facing personalities switch on like a wild, marine-themed, motion-sensor lamp.
We currently have a family of mice squatting within the accommodating confines of the walls of our house.
I have lately been feeling like a well-meaning landlord who’s being duped out of rent by ungrateful, secretive little tenants who do very little to clean up after themselves.
We had professionals come out and seal up the holes and we placed a half-dozen live traps strategically in corners and under beds. But we caught nothing for weeks.
Then we cleaned out the garage.
It was being used as storage and had been unattended during the cold months. Here, the mice were provided with multiple food sources—pet food, bird seed—and many cozy spots to nest and defecate. This was the spot.
We set up traps in the garage and within hours, they filled, often with multiples, the doors clinking closed behind them like intermittent wind through a one-note chime. In the span of a few days, we caught between 15 and 20 mice. In most cases, the only way to know if the traps had filled was if we were there to witness the initial welcoming tink. Otherwise, we found them during our daily flashlight inventory.
Except for one mouse.
We caught him in the kitchen trap, the trap that was most noticeable from the upstairs living space. He was forced to stay there for a few hours until Opal and I were set to head out for lunch and during that short span of time, he made one hell of a ruckus!
A stream of scraping and clattering, throwing his tiny mouse body against the side of the trap. Not once did his clamoring pause. The life force, as it was expressed through his hysterics, was dedicated and impressive. More than once, as I refilled my tea or put a plate in the dishwasher, I whispered to him, “Hang in there. You won’t be stuck in there much longer.”
(It is worth nothing that this rodent was one of the many who had me feeling so terrorized less than a month earlier that I fled to my in-law’s house in tears.)
I set him free in a church parking lot approximately three miles from our house. He sprung from the trap with the velocity of a bottle-rocket. It was a blustery, frigid day and he was alone.
I spent the rest of the day, much to my surprise, concerned about how long it would take him to find warmth and companionship.
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