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Current Mood: exhausted
Today happens to be Taylor’s birthday. This is dedicated to the memory of her snail, Huey.
When I was a kid, maybe five years old, I was living in a condo complex in the South Bay. My dad used to play tennis a lot, and when one of his buddies would come over to play, I’d usually follow them on my Big Wheel and hang out in the surrounding park. This particular afternoon, I found a big green caterpillar that I was playing with, and when it was time to head home, I guess I thought I’d keep him. I set him on the Big Wheel equivalent of a dashboard and set off down the hill towards the house. Well, I didn’t get very far before he of course was rumbled right off of the dashboard… and right onto my front wheel. I had squashed him. I don’t remember how upset I was, but the actual event is one of my most vivid memories from childhood. I remember feeling responsible.
Almost 20 years later, I’m walking around the Cal campus on a break between classes. There’s the main thoroughfare that gets a ton of foot and bike traffic all day, and I’m walking along headed who knows where. For whatever reason, I’m looking down and I see a green caterpillar inching his way across the walkway. I avoid stepping on him, but I don’t stop. I take a couple more steps, and it dawns on me that it’s a very wide and very busy walkway that he’s crossing, and there’s no chance he’s gonna make it all the way across without being crushed. That Big Wheel memory comes flooding back, and I think: this is my big chance to save this caterpillar and make up for the one I killed when I was little. Sounds dramatic, but honestly, that’s what hits me. Not more than three or four seconds have gone by before I stop and go back to where I had just seen him inching along. And it’s already too late. There he is, squashed onto the pavement.
At that moment, I learned one of the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned in the realm of “my place in the world.” I usually hear it summed up with something along the lines of, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Now, I realize that there was no “evil” at work here, but the spirit still applies: laziness, selfishness, indifference, isolationism, even simple neutrality can all be “evil” depending on the context. In the same way that not telling the whole truth is basically lying… not doing the right thing is doing the wrong thing. In those couple of steps, that three or four seconds when I was thinking to myself that it wasn’t my responsibility, that I was in a hurry to get to wherever I needed to go… that caterpillar died.
I know I’ve alluded to this story at least once in the past. I imagine to most of you, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but it’s hard to write about even now. It was one of those seemingly-small life experiences that really and profoundly shapes who you are. It’s why I try to be gentle in all things. It’s why I’m so infuriated by the tyranny of the big guy taking advantage of the little guy. For that reason, it’s why I abhor hunting. And I guess by extension, it’s part of why I went vegetarian. In any situation from nation vs. nation to man vs. man to man vs. caterpillar, when you are the one in power, when you have all the advantages, it is your absolute and sacred responsibility to help protect others who are not so fortunate. And even when in conflict, when the balance is already far in your favor, ideally both parties recognize that, and a vulgar display of power is unnecessary. The end result of all this is that I try my best not to abuse power in situations where I’m fortunate enough to have it. I do what I can to help the proverbial little guy. I don’t ever kill anything purposefully. And when I see a caterpillar in danger, you can be sure I pick it up.
A side note: Part of what moved me to write this tonight is I randomly had occasion to look up Saint Blaise this afternoon. We share a name, but I always remembered him as the patron saint of throat ailments. Not exactly glamorous, but you know. Anyway, digging more into it today, I discovered that he is also the patron saint of wild animals and veterinarians… known for healing and saving animals, including a story in which he saved a pig from a wolf that was attacking it. Anyway, it all seems fitting enough.