Saturday, May 16, 2015

On touching squirrels and the mystery of rebirth

If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God.

Thich Nhat Hanh

She showed up outside our door the very same day I confessed to God, to the skies above, my hidden, yet unspoken fear: “I’m no longer sure I believe in resurrection.” Not in the Resurrection, as in Christ's, but in resurrection within the casualties of hope. Resurgence. Rebirth. The dead of circumstances, of a marriage, of dreams, of faith, trembling to life again. Did I still believe in that kind of resurrection? 

I didn’t know. So I sat in the hollow space of that confession, feeling nothing but the weight of empty.

* * * *

We heard her cry, thinking she was a bird and finally opened the door to the night. To our great surprise, at our feet sat a tiny gray ball of fluff with the promise of a bushy tail. A baby squirrel. How she ended up here, at our doorstep, from a flight of steps and parking lot below, we may never know. But she looked up at us with bulging brown eyes and squeaked loudly, without a mama to be seen, and we knew we couldn’t do anything but pick her up and bring her inside.

From the start, everything about her was magical. A work of art only just begun. Her perfectly cylindrical ears. Her tiny mouth ringed in white with two slivers of bottom teeth. Her soft gray fur. Her penny-sized paws, itty bitty fingers ending in black pricks of nail. And her tail, Oh. That tail. How it already held a baby curve, light and wispy, flicking about her face as she slept and wrapping beside her like a feather. 

She utterly mesmerized me. It took no more than a second of time for her to blow past all my defenses and seize my love-parched heart.

* * * * * 

I wrapped her in my oldest, most precious towel, one of the few remaining childhood artifacts. She remained there, close to mine or Ricardo’s chests, the next hour as we figured out what to do with her. My face aglow, I told Ricardo I’d sleep in the spare room that night with Little Squirrel (my intentionally uncreative, non-name for her). He must have already known this because he smiled, as if to say, Of course you will. I placed a bowl with Pedialyte and a syringe nearby, set my alarm to wake me every three hours, and curled into the futon with her on my chest. 

I never felt more joyous or alive at the prospect of a night of little sleep. I wasn’t about to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

I drifted in and out of a light sleep, always aware of her half pound body resting atop my own, rising and falling with my chest. Her breaths, squeaks, clicks and sighs flitting in and out of my dreams. Maybe, I thought, this is what a mother feels like with her newborn. Even though I possessed no grand delusions of being hers, nor a smidge of desire to imagine her as a human baby instead of an animal. Even though I knew this would only be for one night.

It was deeper than that. 

More like stumbling upon a wild mystery baring its beauty only long enough to wreck the heart, yet never long enough to be grasped. The kind where the most you can do is be fully awake in its presence and pray it imprints your soul before passing translucently through your fingers. 

In this sacred moment, a baby squirrel curled in the innocence of rest on my chest, my heart began to tremor.

* * * *

The next day, Ricardo picked me up after work and we drove Little Squirrel up north to a wildlife rehabilitation center. I stroked her face as she lay in a ball on my lap, breathing so faintly I gently roused her every few minutes to make sure she was still alive. I couldn't bear the thought of her dying there, in my lap; of being so new to life, so near to help, and not getting her there in time. I carried her into the center, still wrapped in my old towel, and handed her over as an offering. 

The woman who took her from me came back to ask, with some curiosity, where we found her. She looks like a type of squirrel that’s not from these parts, the woman explained. We told her how the squirrel showed up out of nowhere outside our door, uninjured, no other squirrels in sight. 

A mystery? Perhaps.

When we came home, I cried. Not because I wished we had kept her, but because my whole body ached with a feeling I couldn’t put words around. The familiar emptiness no longer felt dull, accompanied this time by an acute hunger. And all the next day at work I thought of her, sneaking glances at pictures of her on my phone and feeling a knot in the back of my throat each time I did. At home in the evening, I reached to pick up our tortoise from her daily soak, wrapped in a towel, held her to my chest and had to set her down soon after as the tears fell stronger. I sat in the laundry room with the door closed, sobbing into my knees, wondering from where all this emotion flooded.

It only kept coming and I kept whispering, What is the point of all this? Of feeling alive only for a night, only to be emotionally wrecked?

And in the stillness, the darkness, of our laundry room, I felt a faint imprint of hope respond: Resurrection.

* * * * *

Almost a month later.

I saw the letter from the wildlife rehabilitation center, addressed to me, sitting on our dining room table this morning as I lay out breakfast for us. With a mix of dread and curiosity, I tore it open and read:

"Dear Amber
Regarding the Eastern Gray Squirrel you brought to us on 4/20/15
Reference # 15-0583

We at PAWS Wildlife Center are sorry to inform you that this animal was humanely euthanized after careful consideration of his or her condition...

Thank you for taking the time to help an animal in distress."

Humanely euthanized.  I shuddered at the words, and wept.

At the loss of life. The stabbing pain of hope. The yet-unresolved question of resurrection. The mystery of her brief, inexplicably disruptive role in rearranging my insides. My inability to convey to Ricardo that this was not "only a squirrel," as we humans are so quick to say to minimize the value of a life, any life, that is not human. 

The unmistakeable impression of, in this squirrel, having touched the cosmos, the Divine Presence, the Kingdom of God, and in them, an invitation to rebirth. 

And so I wait in the mystery, and I honor this little life.  

For more on resurgence, my choice for OneWord 2015, you can read here.


  1. I am so sorry! For the loss of this precious and tender life.

  2. Oh my sweet girl!! I'm so so sorry. What a precious little life that touched yours so briefly and yet so deeply and profoundly. I'm so thankful God brought this squirrel to you. You were the one with the huge heart of love.

    1. She definitely touched my life, and for whatever reason, seems a Godsend to me. Thanks so much for caring with me, Mom.

  3. I'm speechless and I'm wrecked. I started crying at the first paragraph and was full out bawling by the time I finished. It took me 3 tries to get all the way through this. Beautiful, and tender.

    1. Lolly, after reading a bit of your story over at your blog, I think I might understand - even just a little - how this wrecked you. Thank you for being here and seeing the beauty in this story with me.

  4. My heart broke while reading this. Poor baby. And the thing that makes me hurt the most is knowing that animals do not deserve to die. It was all our fault. Sometimes the enemy of my soul uses that fact as a hammer of guilt that batters me over and over again. I think I would lose all hope if I didn't remember the Cross, and the empty tomb. The Resurrection is the phoenix glimmer that arises in my soul and pulls me out of the ashes of despair. Because of The Resurrection I strive to look up and dare to believe in a future resurrection when all this *mess* will be made right.

    I love these verses from Lamentations 3:

    "I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
    Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
    The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
    Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
    I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

    In God's Kingdom, there is no such thing as "just a squirrel" - no such thing as any life minimized. And because of that, God will resurrect His perfection once again.


    1. Beautiful words, Sharon. And a beautiful hope. Thank you for sharing with me. And thank you for getting with me how there is no such thing as just a squirrel - or "just a any living thing" - in the kingdom of God.

  5. Amber... oh sister. I just love you. This is incredibly, breathtakingly well-written. And powerful. So, so powerful. Thank you for the ways you inspire me to take a second glance, to notice more, to see differently, to love deeper. Asking Jesus to hold your heart in its aching, treasured friend.

    1. I'm undone, friend, over and over, by the ways you see me, help carry my heart and walk with me through my days. I love you.

  6. Oh, this precious little baby and tender and beautiful you. Just because your words leave me speechless doesn't mean I don't want to try to tell you how they move and affect me. I cannot tell you how many times I've thought about resurrection and spoken to others about resurrection -- about the dying to life -- over these last months. I hadn't realized until coming back to this now how your words infiltrated my being, infused me with sorrow and hope that hold hands. Isn't that just what life with God does to us? And life with friends like you...well, it keeps changing me, keeps making me better, reaching for all of life. I am so grateful for you, love. I love you.