Monday, April 20, 2009

quantifying worth

My second summer in the garden of my present home was a magnificent one. I turned a neglected weedy mud patch into an inner city oasis. I removed the unlevelled cheap industrial cement slabs, dug a trench, and re-laid them vertically to make a short cement wall. I turned the earth, enriched it with manure, added my first year of compost, dropped some seeds and watered and waited, watered and waited. Looking at the wet sludge, doubting that anything would sprout. After a good week, it happened. Like voodoo magic, from below the earth’s film, these ruptured seeds sprouted. And they grew. It was a wonder that a relative neophyte such as myself could help make this wild and thriving space in the confines of a dilapidated five by twelve plot. For my additional joy, the sunflowers seduced a family of goldfinches to hang out for the summer. As one yielding colour pulled another into this tiny urban pocket, I mused over how a few insignificant seeds could have done so much.

One morning as I got up from bed, I almost stepped on one of these goldfinch beauties, on the floor splayed and beheaded. To my horror I understood that my favourite kitty cat had done me this honour. I felt terrible for the finch. This was a beautiful unusual bird for my northern dirty city neighbourhood and had felt that a great misdemeanour had taken place. And as I sat at the edge of my bed, lamenting the tragedy of the situation I asked myself this; what made the killing of the goldfinch any more or less transgressive than the killing of a sparrow? What is the value of life; it’s beauty, performance, endurance? What makes one life more vital than another? What is my life over yours? How do we measure validity? And even if we got it right, that is to say; righteousness over patina, who are we to judge and deem the more worthy. We may read in the news of a victim of circumstance. We shake our heads and say, but she was such a nice person. He was so kind. And if she were ornery rather than nice, if he was not kind but sourly and mean; would their unfair victim hood fair more acceptance in the drop of their fall?

This is what I thought of as I stared at the dead bird.

Two weeks ago, my sister found a baby rat scurrying behind my parent’s fridge. A rat! We thought in horror, must get it out! I brought my young cat over to take care of matters. I caught glimpse of the rat and it’s trail the other day and realized it was just a mouse. Relief set in for everyone: After all, it was just a mouse.

Just over an hour ago the phone rings. I am informed that the cat found the mouse and is parading it up and down the hallway with its squirming body in its mouth. From Finch to sparrow to rat to mouse, it’s all about value, isn't it.

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