Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Loving Memory of Tolkien (Nov. 2010 - Sept. 2011)

Tolkien, caught in a moment of surprise :)
   You don't appreciate what you have until it's gone. So goes the popular platitude of social wisdom, though I don't know who coined that saying. But what if you appreciate what you have, and it's still gone? That's one of the thoughts that occupies my mind right now, a few hours after discovering that Tolkien, my pet hamster, had passed away sometime between yesterday night and today morning.

    I'm not one of those people who treats their pet as if it were human. I have never lavished extraordinary amounts of affection on any of the pets I've had before, though they've been few and far between. But it still shook me, nonetheless, when I checked on her after 11:30 AM and found her lying on her side in a corner of her cage, with her eyes closed. That was the first sign that something was wrong; Tolkien had always curled up into a ball while sitting, head tucked between her feet. I clicked my tongue in the pattern that she had always recognized and instantly responded to. She didn't move. I waited a few more seconds. Nothing. I think that's when it began to register - Tolkien was gone. Even as I type all this out, I find it interesting how I've used the word 'gone'; I don't wan't to write 'dead'. It feels uncomfortable.

    It's amazing how the human mind goes into default 'emergency response' mode, when caught off-guard by unexpected events that tend to deliver shocks, whether large or small. Without really waiting to digest what had happened, I found myself thinking of how to respond and what to do next. I would have to bury her immediately; I could not leave her lying in her cage, and did not have anywhere to temporarily store her body. I needed to figure out where to bury her - along a trail in the woods nearby, perhaps? The cage and all her stuff would have to be cleaned, disinfected and put away. I would have to thoroughly clean the area of my room where her cage had been placed. And on, and on. Within minutes, I found myself in the bathroom, carefully trying to take the top of her cage off without disturbing her body. It felt strange to look down on her motionless little body, expecting her to raise her head and look around with eyes half-shut, like she usually does when awakened from sleep.

    I suddenly found myself at a loss for how to handle her. I had always picked her up with my bare hands, but this wasn't "her". I didn't know how to describe what I was actually trying to pick up. "She" wasn't in there anymore, that was for certain; "It" was now a dead body. I don't know if the sight of death tends to produce those reactions in people when looking at loved ones that have passed away - confusion, fear, uncertainty and a whole host of other strange feelings. I finally ended up pulling on a pair of blue rubber gloves that I used when cleaning the bathroom. Even with those on, it felt strange to touch her body. It was hard and stiff, unlike the small soft pillow it had usually felt like. Putting her body into a plastic bag with some of her bedding, I put that along with my camera into my backpack and headed out to the woods to bury her.

    It was overcast and windy outside, with intermittent drops of rain beginning to fall. I made my way a few streets away to the trail that began into the woods, and to a spot that I had in mind. I temporarily lost my balance while trying to make my way along the rocks that formed a path across a shallow stream, and stepped into it. My shoes, socks and the bottom of my jeans got soaked instantly in cold water. Finding the secluded spot that I had in mind, I dug a grave among the roots of a tree, placed Tolkien's body and bedding into it and covered it up. While standing over the grave for a few minutes in silence, a text message arrived from Jamie, with a prayer thanking God for the blessing and joy that Tolkien had been in my life. The words 'Amen' came to my lips in thankful response. As the occasional raindrops began to transition into a slow drizzle, I covered the grave with leaves and made my way back home.

Tolkien's Burial Place
    Along the way back, the words of Psalm 104 came to me, which speaks about the blessing and provision of God for all His creatures:

        "Oh Lord, how manifold are your works!
        In wisdom have you made them all;
        the earth is full of your creatures.

        These all look to you,
        to give them their food in due season.
        When you give it to them, they gather it up;
        when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
        When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
        when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
        When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
        and you renew the face of the ground.

        May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
        may the Lord rejoice in his works,
        who looks on the earth and it trembles,
        who touches the mountains and they smoke!
        I will sing to the Lord as long as I love;
        I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
        May my meditation be pleasing to Him,
        for I rejoice in the Lord."
- Ps. 104:24 - 24

    It is good at times like this to turn one's thoughts to God, even with something that may seem as miniscule in the large scheme of things as the passing of a pet. It is true that I will not wake up in the mornings to see her curled up in her cage, climbing the walls of her cage in the evenings, pausing to sniff the air in my direction when I pick her up and she catches my scent and all the other little things that made her so lovable. "It's just a hamster", some might say, but as much as Tolkien's passing is beginning to sink in and the implications of her absence beginning to be felt, it cannot just stop at that. Even in this, there is the glory of God manifest. Tolkien came into being, to life because God willed her to live, because He sent forth His Spirit and created her. Her little heart beat and she lived because He sustained her life by the power of the same Spirit, and provided food for her. And she died because He decided that the time had come to take away her breath, and for her to return to the dust.

    God blessed my life through Tolkien. I loved her from the moment I saw her at the Petcetera store where I bought her, till the time I put the last bits of dirt over her grave. She comforted me during my times of loneliness, when I was looking unsucessfuly after graduation for work last year. I came home from a disappointing interview that I had had high hopes for, looking forward to seeing her at home. I wrote about this in a poem remembering the occasion, titled "Interview Blues". It was raining hard before, and I worried about her grave getting soaked. But it's sunny now. Thank you for being part of my life, Tolkien. God gave you, and God took you away. Blessed be His name.

- The Wisdom Seeker