As I was watching two children from my porch one day I began to wonder; how does a person learn the values of life. More accurately how do we learn to value life?
These two children were the same children that had taken a baby sparrow from a nest Ė teased it to near death and left it on the cold ground to die. When I found the bird it was too late.
This time I personally witnessed the cruelty of these two children as they chased a baby sparrow across my yard. I stepped in and told them what they were doing to the little bird was mean and that the bird would die if they continued.
The children looked at me as if I was crazy; they knew nothing about valuing life.
After I took care of the little bird, making sure it was warm and in a safe place, so that the mother bird could find the little fledgling. I pondered how I had learned to value life Ė how I had learned the values of life as I watched the little bird from a safe distance.
I had witnessed many atrocities over the years. During the year we lived in Oklahoma, we went on a drive in the countryside; one of many. On this particular ride we witnessed a pickup truck deliberately swing to the other lane to run over a beautiful painted turtle. We could hear the teenagers laugh as they roared off into the distance.
We pulled over and walked up to the turtle. I could feel the ancient soul of the turtle as he watched me. At first I saw and felt the terror the turtle felt. Then I saw his eyes soften. Somehow he knew I was going to help him.
My husband, George, watched for traffic on the rural road so that the turtle would not be hit again as I evaluated his injuries.
His shell was badly cracked. There was no evidence of paralysis or limb damage. There also appeared to be no trauma to the head. It was near impossible to determine internal injuries.
George went to the car to grab one of the pet carriers we hauled with us for just such an occasion. I made the turtle as comfortable as I could and kept it warm.
We cleaned the wounds and filled the cracks with antibiotic. We also administered antibiotic via injection and repaired the shell so that it could eventually mend. We watched the turtle for possible internal injuries.
This time we were lucky, few turtles survive the impact of a car or pickup truck. Many turtles lay on the road dead. I donít see how it is possible for a slow moving turtle, and a very rural area with rare traffic to be hit by a vehicle.
What made us different from the teenager in the pickup truck?
I thought back to a time; I couldnít have been much older than a four. Our little toy fox terrier was very ill. My mother set on the floor with this little dog in her arms. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. She asked me to bring my blanket. She wrapped the blanket around the shaking little dog. She was waiting for my dad to arrive to take the dog to the vet. I could see the sadness and fear in my motherís eyes.
My parents boarded the little dog when they had gone out of town. Shortly after we picked up the dog from the kennel she became very sick. They had taken her to the vet and he had diagnosed the dog as having kennel cough. A week later our little dog laid in my motherís arms dying of distemper. Way back then, it was thought the first series of vaccinations was all that was needed. Now there is a yearly booster.
I felt something inside of me as I drew closer to my mother. I wrapped my arms around her. I kissed my mother on the cheek and then petted and kissed our little dog for the last time as the spark of life left my little dogís eyes. Neither my mother nor I felt the need to speak.
My dad knew the little dog was gone as he walked in the door. He witnessed us in our embrace and observed our tears. I could see the sorrow in his eyes as the tears began to well up in his eyes. He came to us to share in our goodbye.
Another moment now comes to mind, an event that further built my value system. My father and I had gone to the feed store to pick up hay and feed for our horses. I was still quite young Ė maybe around seven.
As one of the feed store employees was lifting down bales of hay my father spotted something lying in a nest of loose hay. He called me over. He had a mixed look on his face, a cross between bemusement and possible wonder.
He pointed to a pinkish spot in the hay bales. As I looked closer I could see movement. Finally, I was close enough to see pink things that wiggled. I smiled, my dad grinned as he told me they were newborn mice. I was able to watch for a few minutes. I knew what I was witnessing was a miracle - the miracle of life; a wonder that is so precious to most any mother; the miracle of giving life and nurturing life.
My father spotted the feed store employee returning, and my father hurried me out of the big building full of hay. I, of course, was curious as to why we left in such a rush.
We paid for the feed and went out to the pickup truck to sit and wait until the pickup was loaded. I saw in my fatherís face a look of discomfort. He was uncomfortable because he knew the question I was going to ask before I stated the question.
What was going to happen to the baby mice? I believe I felt something bad would happen because my dad moved me from the room where I was watching the baby mice.
I also knew my father would never lie to me, not even a little white lie, my brothers said were sometimes ok. I didnít have a full understanding at that young age as I do now. He was a person of integrity. When I asked the question he was dreading the answer he must give. He answered that they would be killed. He explained that mice could cause a great amount of damage, especially if the mice were allowed to proliferate. I didnít ask the twenty more questions a child would asked because I had sensed his discomfort.
My brother also added to my value system of respecting all life. After a wind storm a nest had fallen from a tree. Baby robins, all close to fledgling age, were scattered on the ground. He found a plastic bowl and placed the nest in a bowl. I had gently picked up the little robins and had them placed in my sweatshirt. He let me put the baby birds back in the nest. He placed the bowl with the nest next to the tree trunk where the birds had fallen.
A friend had told me if a human touched a baby bird the parents wouldnít return because of the human scent on the little birds. My brother told me that this wasnít true. We went inside the house and watched the nest from the window. Sure enough two birds began to fly near the nest. It wasnít long before the other bird did the same.
A couple of days later the robins left the nest to follow the parents. They would flutter their little wings; stick their heads in the air, making a very persistent sound. The parents would take turns feeding the fledglings.
In another day or two the little robins began scratching, watching for a wiggle, that would be food. The parents still took turns feeding them. I remember how excited I was the first time I saw one of the babies pull a worm from the ground. Soon, they were on their own.
I can remember many examples of compassion demonstrated by my family, like capturing spiders and insects that had gotten in the house and releasing them back outdoors. When I witness these things, in my private thoughts I compared it to a friendís parent who killed a spider in their house.
Now I realize no one is taught to value life or to learn the values of life, as one would learn in school or by reading textbooks. But, I had learned by example; by witnessing my family demonstrate their principles by living their values.
I pray I am the same example to my daughter and her children.
A tribute to all parents who set a moral standard.
Diana Geiger Exotic Pets Editoron
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