When I was in high school, I took confirmation classes so that I could be confirmed in the Lutheran Church (the “liberal” ELCA branch). In addition to memorizing bits of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, our pastor had us read a very mild sex ed sort of book, and another book called Bright Valley of Love, about (very loosely) a Christian community for disabled children in Germany during World War II.
I do not remember if it was a good book, but because of the subject matter and when I read it, parts of it stick with me. The main character, at a particularly painful moment, says, “The world is cracked.” And it is cracked. I see the cracks everywhere now, and while Leonard Cohen’s hopeful refrain of “that’s how the light gets in” seems to bring comfort to many, I’m not sure that light is what I see in the cracks, at least not yet.
One of the small comforts of my winter has been filling two bird feeders in our back yard and watching the flocks of house finches, junkos, sparrows, and the occasional brave nuthatch or chickadee filling their bellies there. Because of the hungriness and cleverness of the squirrels in the neighborhood, I’d started leaving some raw peanuts out for them, too, at first so they wouldn’t steal all the bird seed, but now I enjoy watching the way they hide the nuts in the snow, dig them up again, and eat them with obvious relish. Recently, a bevy of quail (with charming, silly feather topknots) has started coming into the yard to gather up some of what falls under the feeders. It’s quite the mini Wild Kingdom out there, and it makes me feel less lonely and useless to feed these small, wild things.
Which is why, probably, seeing a couple of neighborhood kids sauntering around the alley with a BB gun, shooting at birds and squirrels (and they killed at least one bird while I was watching from the window), was more heart-rending than it usually would have been. I grew up in a hunting family, so I know about guns, their fascination, their use. But I have no patience for anyone who kills an animal (even a sparrow) for sheer amusement. And what makes this so personal and horrible is that I’ve lured a whole community of innocent creatures into my back yard, into the proximity of these idiots who are just killing things to kill them.
I also don’t want to get on their radar any more than we already are, so I let my neighbor yell at them while I hid upstairs in a most cowardly fashion. They’ve already, apparently for kicks and giggles, cut the string of white lights I had in the back yard into tiny pieces and trampled it into the ground. We think they did it because N, who has become a sort of den father (more like a den uncle, really) hadn’t paid them any attention for a while, but we aren’t sure. I know one of them has a dad in jail and was expelled from school (rather than being provided with any help or counseling) for writing violent poetry. I know they haven’t been given a fair chance in life, that they don’t even think of college as an option, that they’re not bad kids but that they may become bad kids.
And it’s horrible to think this way; it’s one of the reasons I’m glad I don’t control the universe, but why do these kids get to be here, to walk in the cold air, laughing at fools like me who get worked up about the fate of birds and squirrels, while our Teddy couldn’t even stay with us a full day? Why don’t they get parents who are able to take care of them and make them believe they have futures worth finding when my boy gets no future to speak of? Why couldn’t one of them have died instead?
See? I told you it was horrible thinking. However, having thought it, I feel I have to recognize it, own it, and eventually do something with it. If nothing else, these thoughts are a clear sign that I’m still very angry, even though I thought I was leaving anger at Teddy’s death behind me. And anger is frustrating because there’s not much to do with it besides acknowledge it and wait for it to fade. I’m angry at the lost lives of small creatures who’d come to trust me, at the way a very small pleasure was turned into a small heartache, at the stupid waste of human potential I see around me, and at the random horror of my child’s death.
The world is cracked, and just now I feel too fearful, tired, and broken to mend even the cracks under my nose. I think bravery will come, that hope will revive, that eventually I’ll be able to recognize the wrongness of the world without falling apart, without taking it all personally, but for now I just wish that all manner of things were different.