The girls and I were rushing to Greta's piano lesson when I saw a squirrel in the middle of the street. Completely unconcerned over my approaching vehicle, he was touching his head again and again to the asphalt as if he were tasting something. As I neared, I could see blood pouring out of his mouth. I grabbed a t-shirt out of the car and carefully inched toward him. He stood there rocking and shaking his head. My heart ached for him. I knew he was a goner, but I couldn't just let him die in the street. So gently, I wrapped him up and carried him to the house, where I placed him in a cat carrier. "We'll take him with us," I said as I got back into the car.
Sensitive to how frightened he must be, we were quiet as we drove to Greta's lesson. About halfway there, he flipped out of the t-shirt suddenly and I was surprised at his strength. The bleeding had stopped and his eyes were bright. My eldest daughter was holding the carrier in her lap and I warned her to keep her fingers away from any of the holes. "He has a lot of fight left in him, poor baby." He fell over and lay still, breathing hard, and I sighed. "Poor baby," I said again.
Over the next 45 minutes, as Greta had her lesson, we sat vigil with the dying squirrel. There is a certain ceremony that should be observed at the passing of a life, any life, and the girls and I were silent witnesses to this little being struggling against the tide. I respected his wildness and tried not to peer too much into the cage. He lay there, eyes open, rib cage working, head pillowed on the folds of cloth.
That very morning, we had had the difficult news that John's father, Steve, was fighting for his life in a hospital several hours away from us. John has had a complicated relationship with his father, who has always seemed to make the wrong decisions in life. Three times divorced, a lifetime of alcohol abuse, morbidly obese since his early 20's, unable to raise his own children at various points in their lives, supremely self-involved yet always rather proud of his handsome, accomplished son. In his way, Steve has taught John to be a good father by providing the case study for what not to do in life. John loves his father, even while recognizing each and every fault. Sometimes forgiveness is the only way to ever move forward.
It had already been a long day and I was jumpy every time the phone rang. So I slowed my thoughts down and waited, with my hand caressing the carrier every once in a while. But the squirrel didn't die right then as I believed he would. I brought him home and left him in a dark room when he could rest undisturbed and I began making calls. It took a couple of hours to actually make contact with a wildlife rehabber and I was amazed that the squirrel was not only alive but beginning to stumble around a little, disoriented but relatively calm and responsive.
I drove him up to the Heights to a facility where they immediately administered pain killer and a steroid to take down the swelling. The director of the wildlife center felt he had probably been hit by a car and once the swelling was down, they would x-ray and evaluate. I stood there in the lobby, amazed and humbled at this roomful of volunteers that were dedicated to doing all they could possibly do to help this little squirrel. I realized, beyond a doubt, that I had found a good place for me. "What can I do to help?" I asked and the next minute I was signing up for an orientation and looking at schedules and carpool lists.
The squirrel survived his critical first 48 hours and so did Steve. I cannot pretend to know the future for either of these souls, but I do know that I am pulling hard for both of them. Life is precious, a gift. It doesn't matter how canned that sounds. In the space of 18 months, I lost my mother, my grandmother and two of my dearest friends -- terrible losses that have irrevocably shifted the direction of my life. I will say it again -- life is a gift. Live it.