Our last meeting for worship was a bit peculiar. Our family represented five sixths of the worshiping presence. That was not the strange thing. We're a wee tiny little meeting and in the summer months, people are often busy with other obligations. What was strange about the meeting was the bat that draped itself over the exit sign.
My youngest son and I usually go out of the meeting after half an hour. When the big bell in the tower chimes ten o'clock, we slip out together and find a place to sit in one of the hallways of the large academic building or else we wander outside. On that day, he wanted to sit on the couch in a lounge and talk. As we sat on the couch and began our conversation in hushed tones, I happened to look up at the exit sign above the door to the stairwell. On it was a little brown bat (a common American little brown bat my knowledgeable children later told me) which had positioned itself quite neatly over the X. (Here's a Wikipedia article about these bats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_brown_bat)
Very much like a bat, my eyes are not very good even with my glasses and I had not seen such a creature "in the wild" before. I was not sure that I was indeed seeing a bat. Maybe it was just a bit of brown-colored insulation. Maybe some zany college student had placed a toy on the sign as a joke. Perhaps it was a real bat, but was dead. Why would a real, live bat be hanging out in the building so close to where all the action was?
My little guy couldn't wait to go into meeting. He was miserable to have to sit for a few minutes in silence, then wait while we stood silently together holding hands as is our meeting custom and then, finally, when a Friend, perhaps seeing his barely contained excitement, gently asked if anyone had anything they'd like to share, his spirit nearly leaped out of his body as he burst out, "Yes!"
From there the meeting activities seemed to have a great deal to do with bat speculation, bat observation, and bat capture. My husband, concerned that the college staff would kill the bat if they caught it, insisted upon capturing it himself. Using a box and a shirt, he spent about an hour on bat safari. I checked in on him at one point to find him standing in the hallway while the bat swooped and swirled around him. Eventually, he was successful and the bat was released outside.
Earlier this summer, my gentle husband heard the high-pitched sounds of a fly trying to escape from a spider's web. As he often does, he took the fly out of the web then carefully unwrapped the silk from its body so it could fly away. I reminded him that now the spider would have no food. He responded that when spiders start to scream in distress, then he would certainly rescue them too. In fact, I'm the spider-rescuer in the family. They are safe with me as I carefully clean around their webs and carefully rescue them from sinks. Indeed, it is a family rule that no creature, large or small, should suffer death or injury at our hands if we can help it.
Sometimes, however, an animal's death cannot be avoided. On one occasion, we were driving along when the car in front of us struck a woodchuck. The driver in the other car stopped and so did we. My husband checked to see how the driver was doing. She had exited her car to see the woodchuck and was quite upset by the experience. The woodchuck was still alive. My husband told her very gently that she was not to worry about it and that he would take care of it. She continued on and he retrieved some gloves and a cardboard box out of our trunk and placed the injured animal in the box. I held the box on my lap as we drove to the veterinarian. We had very little money in those days, but he was willing to go into debt to try to save the life of this old, bloodied, beat-up woodchuck. And I was willing to let him. Perhaps fortunately, the poor thing died just as we pulled into the vet's parking lot.
I was sympathetic to that impulse because I once spent my entire savings from my first job as a teenager on euthanizing a strange cat that had been struck down the street from my house. It was clear that it was dying, and the neighbors were going to fetch a shovel to kill it. My cousin and I insisted that they give us the cat and we took it to the vet to be put down humanely. There went my savings, but I felt it was money well spent.
It was wonderful that in the case of our meeting for worship bat, the animal survived and went on to live another day. A happy ending. We left our meeting for worship with attention to bats in good spirits because it felt like time well spent. We are trying to teach the children to offer love to the little things. We want them to believe that it is worth spending an hour of your time ducking and lunging like a fool to capture a bat that might otherwise be killed. We want them to know that there is nothing unmanly (or unwomanly) about allowing your heartstrings to be tugged by the plight of an insect. We want our children to be moved by the suffering of others, especially if the creatures are feared and avoided by others, and to feel that as far as possible, we are called to alleviate that suffering.
I see this part of their education as the intersection between our Pagan and Quaker understanding of the world. It is important to me that they apply the principles of love and compassion not only to human beings, but to our animal brothers and sisters as well. It seems to me that if they, like God, keep their eye upon the sparrow, their measure of Light will shine more brightly.
I want us to remember to behave in a manner befitting Friends. One of my favorite songs of childhood included the words, "They will know we are Christians by our love." I don't much care if folks identify my children as Christians, Pagans, or atheists as long as the name they make for themselves is grounded in love. I want them to let their lives speak.
May they always remember that gentleness, especially to the most vulnerable creatures, is a mark of their love of the Divine in all Life. "I expect to pass through life but once," said William Penn. " If therefore, there be any kindness I
can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and
not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again."