This morning I opted to walk in Central Park with William instead of going to the gym. It’s great for marital bonding, but I have a hard time with nature. Even when it’s a managed and manicured city park, there’s the “red in tooth and claw” thing. And sure enough, as we strolled along the wide walkway by the Harlem Meer, I looked down and saw a creature that looked as if it could have lived alongside dinosaurs. “Is that a crab?” I asked William. “No,” he said, “It’s a crayfish.” (My husband is brilliant and I felt a little dense, until a guy came by and asked, “Is that a lobster?”)
The little guy was trying to get back to the water, but the grass was twice his height and apparently insurmountable. “Does he bite?” I asked William. “I don’t know, but he’s got claws.” So we walked on, but I couldn’t get him off my mind. “Honey, you’re going to have to walk by yourself” (I knew William wouldn’t mind: his walks are his thinking time) “so I can try to save the crayfish.”
It’s a curse, this caring about every troubled being that crosses my path. I was raised that way: the woman who took care of me as a child rescued every animal who needed rescuing, and she’d have brought in needy humans, too, except that my parents wouldn’t have stood for that. Anyway, I dug in the Dumpsters for appropriate crayfish-rescue implements—the molded plastic lid from somebody’s carryout dinner, and the plastic bowl from which someone had recently consumed chopped pineapple. A man on an adjacent bench reading The New York Post was obviously curious. I explained the situation. “I’ll help you,” he said. What luck! Out of a city of 8 million, I’d found the one guy who didn’t think that saving an errant crayfish was insane.
We walked back and forth looking for the refugee, but he was nowhere to be seen. As we searched, we talked. This man had once had seven dogs. He’s now down to two, and they were the lights of his life. We talked about how all beings are just trying to live. We understood one another perfectly.
But our lifesaving mission failed. Either the little guy had made his way back into the Meer, or somebody else had tossed him back, or he’d become breakfast for a bird. I guess any of those was an okay outcome. We’d done what we could.
William had the keys so I went to the gym to get in half-a-workout and come home to an open door. A trainer there told me it was against the rules to work out in jeans, but since she saw me there all the time she wouldn’t ask me to leave. I was embarrassed and explained that I hadn’t meant to come to the gym, that I was walking in the park and tried to save an animal. “What kind?” she wanted to know. I so knew that the correct answer to that question was: “Puppy!” but my primary spiritual path is based on “rigorous honesty.” So I told her it was a crayfish and expected her then to say, “You could have stayed wearing jeans, but now that I know you’re crazy: out!” Instead she said: “After my dog died, I missed her so much it took me four years to get another one.”
Among my favorite quotations is one from Mahavira, a saint in the Jain religion of India: “To every creature, his own life is very dear.” This is about the most sensible and obvious sentence I’ve ever heard, and because I believed the sentiment before I ever heard the quote, I do what I do. And every Dumpster is fair game.