What Pets Teach Us
My Road Goes Ever On
A Timeless Truth
What Pets Teach Us goes far beyond an animal’s silly antics but reaches the core of what love looks like, even from the vantage of a distant memory.
Henrietta has escaped, and my daughter is dearly worried. Henrietta has been missing all day. Henrietta is a hamster.
The truth is, I heard Henrietta scrabbling at her cage, saw that it was two in the morning, mumbled, “No bloody way,” and pulled the covers over my head to keep out the cold. And any furry visitors.
My daughter got up, comforted her progeny, and went back to bed.
But did that satisfy the quadruped? Nope. Henrietta chewed a hole through a cage any decent rodent would be proud of and ran off to golly-knows-where.
As my kids searched the house from top to bottom, I tried really hard to get emotionally invested. I squinted so I could remember what the tan and white critter looked like, squeezed my heart into kid-remembrances of former rodent pets, cajoled my mood to get into the spirit of concern…but…frankly, it was a losing battle.
I’ve had too many episodes with mice in the cabinets, rats in the outbuildings, possums in the feed sacks, and countless other run-ins with wildlife to get overly upset over a missing hamster.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about Henrietta. I do care, for one very good reason. My daughter cares.
There have been many instances in my life where I have had to stretch my emotional bank account into new territory. Many the time I have stood before an array of photos while family members gushed through wonderful memories, smiling, giggling, outright belly laughing at memories of so-and-so doing such-and-such and nudging me in the ribs as if I shared their glorious past. I had no clue. No memory. No warm feelings. No shared gush of any kind.
I learned after one particularly dramatic episode when a friend laughed till she nearly cried to look—not at the photo—but rather at the person remembering. The one still loving. Then I discovered that I could join in. Sort of.
In some weird, mysterious way, I could then see the baby, the brother, the husband, or the mother through familiar eyes and gain a semblance of the reality they were seeing. I never actually co-opted their memories. I could never go back in time and experience those exact memories of nights rocking the little one, sibling pillow fights, intimate spousal lovemaking, or parental forgiveness, but I could love the person standing next to me as they remembered. That act of love crosses time, distance, and even death itself. The remembered loved one might as well have been perched on the arm of the couch, filling in the details. They become that real.
So now, when photos are pulled out, I don’t pull away. I look, listen, and watch the walls of reality open to a timeless truth. Sincere love does not die. It may lie quietly on a shelf for years but pull out the photos…and it lives once again.
As for Henrietta, she must have been sleeping. Once night fell, her tummy awoke, and she sashayed into the middle of the bedroom looking for all the world as if she owned the place and expected room service. My daughter scooped her up, offered a minor scold, fed, and played with her. Lucky rodent.
Okay, the truth is, I don’t feel any closer to Henrietta…but I still care. Because love can be shared. Even with a hamster.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
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