“Don’t be alarmed,” says the big gruff man as he plops down in the seat next to me on the airplane. Then he gently pulls from an old ski hat a tiny, baby squirrel. “He was abandoned by his mother,” he explains, “So I’m taking ‘im home to my daughter.” He is gleeful, almost childlike; because he knows just how happy he will make his little five year old girl. I have a little boy, I know the feeling.
He is a big man – burly; says he installs solar panels. Manual labor in our nation’s capital – to be sure not the normal type of character you meet in DC. People in DC don’t have time for freezing baby squirrels. He goes on, “I found ‘im in a little nest on the roof – it was really cold. Poor little guy was abandoned. Doesn’t eat much, some milk; a few times a day. I think he’s over the hump now.”
“How did you get him through?” I ask.
“Oh – went through the metal detector instead. He likes to snuggle up here on my chest when I lay down,” and he pulls the imp from its hat and puts him on his shoulder to nuzzle around – eyes still not fully open. Then, returning the squirrel to its nest he pulled his ball cap down over his eyes. He has fallen asleep, the big man seated next to me – with his hand inside the ski hat; he wants the little creature to know it’s OK – through human contact to know its cared for.
Suddenly he wakes up. Quickly seeking out the flight attendant for a box of Hershey’s children’s milk with a straw which he uses to feed his little life a few drops, until it wants no more. Back to sleep.
That little squirrel is gonna be just fine. A four hour flight – a whole country away is a five year old girl who will carefully feed him milk, waking up multiple times in the night to make sure he’s ok. Who will build a cozy nest for him probably in an old shoebox; who will eventually dress him up in little hats and have tea parties with him or invent a light thread leash to walk him without letting him escape. This little squirrel is in for quite a life.
Where does goodness come from?
I look down on Washington DC as the airplane takes off. Over the Capitol; over the memorials of foreign wars; the White House and the Pentagon. We are told so often that goodness comes from our government; from our elected officials vying for our “rights” and “entitlements”, protecting us from an evil world (and each other) and advancing our interests against those who would treat us unjustly; unfairly. “What would you do without us?” They tell us so often, usually with a tone that suggests anxiety; lest we truly ask ourselves that question.
Could it be that they’re wrong; that we’re wrong? That the greatness of America does not emanate from the hallowed marble halls of power; from the men in expensive suits drinking at fancy restaurants? From our big armies that our enemies fear? Even, dare I say it, from the twisted gaze of a few grayed men cloistered away, deciding for us what is right and wrong? Could it be that perhaps, instead, our grand country is so because there is still a burly solar panel engineer who would take the time and nuisance to try and preserve the life of a tiny squirrel – and half a country away there is still a little girl who is being taught that each life matters; and will get immense joy out of protecting this one?
Food for thought.