Tonight, as we got ready to welcome friends, we noticed a very still squirrel taking a nap in the middle of our street. Terrible place for a nap.
Of course I knew at once that the squirrel was dead, but D, having much less experience with such things, was going to need some convincing.
Remembering one of my partner's guiding philosophies of parenting – say yes as often as you can, and no only when you feel you must – I answered "yes" when D asked if we could go see the napping squirrel.
Except for the blood, she looked quite peaceful, and relatively unharmed. Her fur ruffled in the breeze, giving D false cause for hope, and he just couldn't seem to believe that something that looked so close to alive could be so far from it.
"Squirrels are so fast," he said, "why didn't it just run away? I don't see any holes. How could just a bonk on the head make you dead? What about the squirrel's spirit?" I don't remember wrestling with these questions as a child, although I guess I must have. D was at once fascinated to see something that was truly dead – a close inspection of the squirrel over time showed that she wasn't breathing – and sad that there was one less squirrel to watch. (We had just been talking the other day about how much fun they seem to have as they play tag around the tree trunks, and we couldn't help but wonder if the squirrel lingering in the front yard was a special friend.)
I don't like squirrels, particularly. One less squirrel in the world isn't much to me. But I had this instinct to model a deeper reverence for life, and found myself asking D if he thought it would be a good idea if we moved the squirrel out of the road, so that she wouldn't get hit by any more cars. He immediately assented.
So I put on a disposable glove, steeled myself, went back outside, and lifted up the squirrel. She was still supple, even a little warm. Now I did feel sorry. I gently carried her out of further harm's way to rest at the base of a large street tree at the edge of our property. Having seen enough up-close sadness for one day, D watched from our livingroom window, trying to work out the puzzle of life and death.