Early last week, I was listening to a friend describe how she had watched a cougar catch a baby gopher. What she observed, she recounted, did not strike her as predation – the strong perpetrating upon the weak – but as the flow of the life force itself. This is not the usual perception, and it gave me food for thought. The child’s story below (also for adults) is the outcome of the pondering. I share it with you; it is my take on the incident described by my friend. Perhaps you will have your own take and can write your own story.
Abuela, Marita, and the Baby Gopher
The old woman sat quietly on the round, weathered, moss-covered rock beside the path. Her eyes were half closed, and her face wore a look of deep content as she raised it to absorb the rays of the late afternoon sun. The path ran through a thicket of luxuriously full pine trees which adorned the thicket with their dark green needles and fresh aroma. Quaking aspen, their long trunks covered with black-striped white bark, punctuated the thicket with their flaming yellow crowns. The woman was waiting expectantly. The child would be there any moment now. She breathed in the calm of the forest as she waited. Footsteps were audible long before the child gave voice.
“Abuelita, Abuelita,” her granddaughter’s voice called out, as the fleet-footed seven-year-old rounded the bend in the path.
“I am here, Marita,” the grandmother responded. “I was waiting for you.”
“Abuelita,” the child cried out, racing into her grandmother’s welcoming arms. “Abuelita, I saw a bobcat.”
“How wonderful!” responded the woman. “You saw him, and he did not harm you. That is a good sign.”
“But Abuelita,” protested Marita, “he had a dead baby gopher in his mouth. He was going to eat it.”
“Why do you think that was?” asked her grandmother.
“I think the bobcat was hungry,” asserted Marita. “He was hungry, so he killed a baby gopher. But the baby gopher had not done anything wrong. Why did it have to die?”
“What do you think?” again queried Abuelita.
Marita thought for a moment. “I guess,” she finally offered, “that if the bobcat did not eat the baby gopher, he would go hungry and he would die.”
“Probably,” agreed the grandmother, “if the bobcat did not eat, he would die.”
“But why does someone have to die?” demanded Marita. “If we die, we aren’t alive anymore.”
Abuelita looked at Marita. “You are wearing a beautiful jacket,” she commented.
“Thank you, Abuelita.” Marita looked proudly at her favorite jacket. It was made of a soft, sky-blue denim cloth, and lined in flannel. “But I wanted to know why either the baby gopher or the bobcat had to die.”
“Take off your jacket, Marita,” instructed Abuelita.
Puzzled, Marita complied.
“Now turn it inside out.”
Marita put her hands deep into the sleeves of the jacket and pulled them out until only the flannel was showing. The flannel was pretty, too, checkered with bright red and navy.
“Look,” pointed out Abuelita. “Does your jacket look the same now, or is it different?”
“Of course, it’s different,” declared Marita. “It’s designed to be that way. It’s a reversible jacket.”
“Did the beautiful blue side go away?” Abuelita asked.
“Yes, replied Marita. “But it’s not really gone, it’s just inside and you can’t see it anymore. What does my jacket have to do with a bobcat or a baby gopher?”
“Look around you, Marita. Look at all the beautiful, wonderful life around you. For example, look at the pine tree beside you. Where did it come from?”
“From a seed in a pinecone, of course,” answered Marita.
“What will happen to the pine tree one day?”
Marita thought for a moment. “One day it will die, and turn into a log, and then into the dirt on the ground,” she said.
“Where did the pine tree go?” asked Abuelita.
Marita didn’t answer.
“It is like your jacket,” explained Abuelita. “On the one side, there is beautiful, wonderful life, and the pine tree is alive here. When you turned your jacket inside out, you couldn’t see the beautiful blue anymore. But it was still there. On the other side of being alive here is another side of being alive, just as beautiful. Because we don’t see it, we call it death and think it is not alive. But it is alive, even if we cannot see it.”
“Oh,” murmured Marita.
“Most people think that dying is the end. But it is just turning the jacket inside out. There really is no death, only life. Do you understand?”
“Kind of,” Marita hesitated. “It is like my jacket. I like to wear it blue side out, but I could wear it the other way, too.”
“Good!” exclaimed Abuelita. “Do you feel better about the baby gopher now?”
“Yes, agreed Marita, “but are you going to die, too?”
“One day that will happen, Marita,” averred her grandmother, “but not soon. And when I do go to life’s other side, I will still love you. And then one day you will meet me again.”
Marita gave Abuelita a big hug.
Why this particular story? There are many stories to explain death to children. However, this story is about more than death, or our perception of it. It shows also how strong is the connection between the two sides of the coin of life, and how ephemeral can be the veil between the two. Perhaps it is time we learn to access that unseen realm, and from it gain the strength, motivation, and knowledge we need to restore the life-sapping imbalances surrounding us on Earth, on this side of the veil.