Most very young children have no understanding of death. They hear fairy tales about Snow White and a poison apple, and a kiss bringing her back to life; and the whole concept of the finality of death is just lost on them. In my life, I was very lucky growing up; I didn't suffer a true lose - a real death in the family, until I was a teenager.
Yet, there was this one little incident early in my life that showed me just how fragile life is; and it revolved around a baby duck. When I was about six or seven, one of the "older kids" found a dead baby duck down by Sunset Lake. We - all of us, Reed, Jimmy, Eddy, Lisa - the whole gang, were fascinated by it. I can't speak for the rest of them, but it was the first dead thing I'd really gotten to see close up. Back home in Arlington, one winter, there'd been this dead dog on a neighbor's lawn that I'd looked at. But, I was too scared to hang around it for long. Its eyes were open, and that was real creepy!
Yet, here was the "older kid" holding the duckling up for all to see. He even made a game of it, using it like a ventriloquist's dummy, and talking in funny voices. We laughed and giggled all afternoon at his antics; he was a regular Robin Williams with the things he came up with. But, eventually, there came the question of what we were going to do with it when we were done having our fun?
We hadn't thought about that. What to do when the "day" is done - so to speak, and it's time to end things. We decided we would do what's proper - we'd have a funeral. So, getting a small garden spade from the laundry room, we dug a small hole in the Loebeck's backyard. The big kid was about to just drop the duckling in, when he stopped, and got this strange look about him. And then, very gently, he set the duckling in the hole. Little Craig, I think he was all of about four or five, put a few pieces of grass in the hole with it, and then we very gently sprinkled the dirt on top of it.
Lisa plucked out one of her long blonde hairs, and we tied two little sticks together as a cross. When it was in place, we all just stood there for a moment, and no one said a word. It was then that I saw the cyclic nature of life. As we might say today, "The Circle of Life" - to quote "The Lion King".
After that, we turned and left, and never spoke of the baby duck again. The rest of the summer was filled with the usual activities of youth. The cross was gone the next summer, and no one ever spoke of the duckling again. Yet, I still remember it to this day, and it took me a while to understand why. When I finally suffered a true lose of the heart, it was my dear old grandmother; she left us at the age of ninety-three. While deeply saddened by it, I also accepted it; as she had led a full, rich life. And that's when I understood the feeling I'd felt at the death of the duckling. It was because it was a "wrong" death, an early death - a life wasted. Now sure, in the natural world, that is the rule. You know, the old "Survival of the Fittest", right? But in our world, the young aren't supposed to go first. It's certainly not the rule, but it's how it should be.
And each summer, standing near the Loebeck's backyard, I remembered that life cut short, and made a silent pledge that I would always strive to help young lives. I nearly became a doctor because of it, but I couldn't stand the sight of needles! That's another story. Still, I always found it interesting how a tiny event of childhood could be so important. That's the way it is for kids; their "life-altering moments" occur in the backyards, the playgrounds, and the classrooms. Adults may pooh-pooh them, but they are the individual threads that weave the tapestry of who we are.
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Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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