[Ed. note: From the archives. Originally published July 25, 2006. "Lost" in the transition to the WordPress site and found just in time... Additional pictures were added for this republication.]
The Search Party
Little Alice had made a place in her heart for Lucy, her pet snail. Lucy was the first and most beloved of Alice’s changing stable of racing snails. She spoke of them often and had traded with other Snail trainers (aged, I guess, three to nine) in the neighborhood. I even have an aerial photo of one of their races. But regardless of her speed, as I said, Lucy was special.
I was at Alice’s house today when she let “Lucy” out for a “walk” on the front lawn.
So while Lucy (presumably) luxuriated in the grass, Alice and her mother cleaned out Lucy’s jar, and chose a stunning variety of newly picked garden leaves with which they refurbished it. We sat on the porch and talked and Alice is not hesitant to express her ideas. But during the jar renovation and the conversation, Alice lost track of the pet snail. We quickly formed a search party, looking from the edge of the sidewalk into Greater Front Lawn, mostly on hands and knees. No one attempted an amber alert; it was the prevailing theory, among the adults, at least, that Lucy couldn’t have gotten very far. (Alice, however, searched out even to the next door neighbor’s yard (which is, I think, testimony to the tremendous potential Alice ascribed to the little mollusk)).
But the discovery of Lucy, or I suppose I must say, Lucy’s remains, was a tragic event. It was obvious that one of the search party had trodden on the little shell and the tiny creature had been crushed. But not more so than Alice.
Alice had lost her beloved little companion, the protagonist of so many conversations, an utterly harmless and innocuous, but blessed, being that had received from her owner a measure of a four-year-old’s love. And Alice began to sob, without reservation, great sincere tears that fell on the dress of a mother whocould do nothing more, at that moment, than hold her and will her, somehow, to be comforted. I left them that way.
And I almost shed tears myself reflecting on that scene while I drove homeward.
A Friend’s Sorrow
Among the stories (that claim eyewitness status) of the life of Jesus (feel free to disbelieve it, as you choose) we have the account of how He announced plainly and repeatedly, four days after the man’s death, that he would raise Lazarus from the grave. Yet on encountering the grief for Lazarus by loved ones whom Jesus also loved, He cried along with them. (This is the appearance of that famous “shortest verse in the Bible,” “Jesus wept.”) It was not for the “departed” he wept, for Jesus would shortly (according to the account) call Lazarus forth (successfully) from his tomb as he had predicted. He knew the outcome. He was, instead, weeping for his friends’ sorrow.
And I was not sorry for the loss of a snail named Lucy. We adults, many of us, have been accessories to the execution by poison, without trial, of many such gastropods (and their disgusting cousins who exhibit no shell). We can see that they are, understood in the proper context, irrelevant to virtually everything except the destruction of our horticulture. No, I was sad that Alice was sad. But it was much more than that.
Because in the pouring forth of that little girl’s whole-hearted anguish there was an expression of the beauty one can often see (if one is fortunate) in children, usually one’s own. It was the girl’s unspoiled love, a grief uncluttered by the complexities of concealed self-interest that grow up like weeds about the life-habits of the “mature.” In those glimpses of the innocent, uncorrupted soul, a parent may often peep, however briefly, into heaven.
Such beauty is so breathtaking it brings tears to your eyes.
And it is beyond all feminist imagination. It is foolishness to the selfish, but even the highest pinnacles of their shallow ecstasies are outshone by the beauty of these lowly sorrows.
And I tell you that it is such beauty that permeates the Culture of Life. It is the fruit of fathers and mothers whose commitment and willingness to sacrifice, each for the other, lays the foundation for a HOME that money can’t buy. In those HOMES grows the true Love and whole new lives that both give and receive the joy of living.
It was there I saw a moment flash out from behind the veil that keeps eternity from blinding us.
Little Alice had made a place in her innocent heart for Lucy.
In honor of her confirmation, December twenty-first, in the year of our Lord 2013.