And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
On Monday, I was tired and grumpy, deep into the I-have-too-much-to-do blues. I grumped my way through morning clients and through Monday business errands. Then I grumped my way toward home.
On a busy street, I saw a little squirrel take off from the curb to my left. He had to get across oncoming traffic, and then my lane to reach the other side. I slowed to let him go. And then I shrieked when an oncoming truck hit the gas. The little squirrel dodged like a soldier under gunfire, made it before the truck caught up to him and then crossed in front of my stopped car.
I got a glimpse of the truck driver as he roared past me. He was laughing.
What makes people do such things? Why would plowing a multiple-ton truck over a tiny squirrel give someone a jolt of power? Why would it make anyone happy?
I don’t like squirrels. They give me the willies, and I see them as bushy-tailed rats, which I don’t like either. But I slowed my car. I stopped it entirely when it became clear the squirrel was charging out of sheer terror and might not see me. I would never want to kill it, and I would have felt bad if I had. Yet this guy was laughing.
Way back when I was fifteen years old, I witnessed a boy a few years younger than I was, playing in a field with his dog, a German shepherd. Except this play wasn’t play. He kept lighting a tennis ball on fire and throwing it for the dog who obediently tried to fetch it. He picked it up, dropped it, picked it up, dropped it. The boy, like the truck driver who tried to kill the squirrel, was laughing. Loud. Boisterously.
This was well before cell phones. I ran to the corner where there was a phone booth and I called the police. They were there in minutes. While I know the dog was taken to help and safety, the image of that dog trying to do as his boy wanted him to do has haunted me for years. But so has the sight of that same boy, leaning against a police officer and crying when his dog was taken away.
Those images came roaring back on Monday morning, as I saw the squirrel leap the curb, then run up a tree, and as I watched the man drive by me, laughing.
This morning, during a meeting with a client, she told me that she stopped her car the other day because there was a turtle in the road. She got out of her car, checked to make sure it wasn’t a snapper, which would have been dangerous to touch, then she picked it up and moved it to the other side of the road. “I think it hissed at me,” she said. But she moved it anyway. And then she drove home.
The turtle, though it hissed, is safe, thanks to kindness. That little squirrel, though terrified, is safe, despite cruelty, but thanks to my kindness at stopping my car to create a clear path in the midst of panic. The German shepherd is long gone by now, hopefully peacefully and gently. His boy would be a man, somewhere in his mid-fifties. Maybe driving a truck. Maybe laughing as he attempts to run over small animals.
But maybe not. I hold on to the hope that those tears transformed. That they led to a healing from whatever it was that caused him to harm his own dog. A dog who was willing to do anything for his boy.
The laughing man has haunted me this week. And so has the memory of that crying boy. I’ve realized that, despite the fact that I work hard at empathy, at understanding the best in people and the worst, I am just not capable of ever understanding how someone can go out of their way to harm an animal.
And my moment of happiness? I’m grateful that I’m capable of not understanding. And I’m happy for that German shepherd, that squirrel, and that turtle.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.