16 December, 2020

Bloody, Awful Morning

Buddhism's first precept, "Refrain from killing," isn't what I think of first. That comes later, when I set the little mouse in the grass. She got stuck on one of the gym's glue traps overnight, and my coworker Gary made the grim discovery beside a supply closet. He lifts the paper trap two-handedly, holding it level while traversing the basketball court.

"What's that?" I ask as he passes me.

"We caught a mouse. I'm looking for someone to take care of it."

I feel sadness drape me like a soiled old shirt. "Take care of it?"

"I can't," Gary says, sounding so much like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh that a moment passes before I register what he's saying. "I just – I can't."

Sighing heavily, I consider what's going to happen. No good outcomes are possible. Whether or not Gary and I act, the mouse will die, and die awfully. She's been on the trap long enough that her tail, her feet, her belly, and even her little face stick firmly to the glue. An extraction attempt will probably cause injuries worse than death. In an even more urgent sense than applies to the rest of us in the world, she's doomed.

Glistening black beads, her little eyes, peer uncomprehendingly at this terrific world. Inside her, I imagine, ticks a tiny terrified heartbeat, lightning-fast. My own heart breaks. I don't want this. But what else is there?

We work in a gym, not a kitchen. There are no foodstuffs here for her and her rodent kin to despoil, no real harm to be done by their gnawing and nesting and other mousy business. Why must we have traps set at all? Must we humans exploit our primacy on Earth at every single opportunity? Is coexistence so untenable?

When I was three or four years old, my parents took me on a month-long Jamaican vacation. Our budget globetrotting skirted what most would call "roughing it." My parents had no problem sleeping every night, side by side, in a tent barely made for two.

One of the places where we spent a week was a coastal town whose cliff face was ceaselessly massaged by Caribbean waves. Free-range chickens had the run of the property where we stayed, fluffy chicks trailing them like iron filings drawn to a magnet, and I, in turn, was drawn to them – to almost every animal I encountered, really. But my inept fingers, when I reached down to cuddle one of the skittering yellow puffballs, either grasped too hard, or the animal writhed exactly the wrong way in my hands, and suddenly it lay, warm but still, in my open palm. I ran, crying, to my father, cradling its limp body like my most precious possession, now broken. As if Papa could undo what I'd done. As if anything at all could.

My father held me close. He reassured me. I wasn't bad; I hadn't done this on purpose. I had been clumsy, though. That alone fueled my sense of shame; I was normally such a conscientious boy. When my sobs eventually diminished, Papa walked me to the cliff. We cast the dead chick into the blue sea and I watched it bob along on the swells while the weight of the world pressed down on my narrow shoulders and I wished the little bird could just be okay again, just as it had been before my hand carelessly ended its life. This first encounter with death lingers with me somehow, like a phantom limb that tingles weirdly before a hard rainstorm.

My throat constricts as I walk out of the gym with the pitiable creature on this despicable trap. Lunch is finished. The yard is almost deserted. The bracing morning air stinks of a nearby trash fire. The mouse appears petrified, and so many things run through my head as I set the trap down on a firm patch of level soil. I think of pets I've loved and meat I've eaten, of dead philosophers and living dharma, of the insects I so often move from sidewalks to safety and that chick I killed thirty-eight years ago. I open my heart to the tiny creature whose impulses and terror I will never be able to comprehend. Tears blur my vision. Welling with a primal sadness that I haven't felt in years, I fold the trap in half and do the awful thing that has to be done. The entire world fails to fall silent in its grieving.


  1. A few tears leaked reading this. You did the right thing though. Thank You.

  2. Ach wie traurig. In meiner Kindheit waren Maeuse Charakter, lieb angezogen u. schuetzten sich vom Regen unter einer Blume sowie Aster, Margarite usw.


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