Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fragile Things

Having read the entirety of Jack London's Call of the Wild last night on a whim, I marveled at just how much it was a product of its era. It I'd remembered...the furthest thing from a romantic image of the Wilderness. It was brutish, bloody and deeply steeped in an ethic that seemed two parts Darwin, one part Nietzsche, and a little smidgen of Ayn Rand the way she used to get after she'd downed her second 40 of Colt 45. Dang, that grrl could get MEAN. It was all about the noble futility of the struggle of life in the face of a vast and uncaring universe.

Today, despite the best efforts of both of my lads, the little caterpillar they rescued off of the sidewalk a week and a half ago finally stopped noodling around its jar. Fuzzy Munch Munch, which was apparently the tiny beastie's name, had been barely moving when found. It perked up a bit in the house, and briefly went back to it's task of eating and eating and eating some more. For those ten days, this little critter didn't drown during the storms, or gradually stop functioning in the face of near freezing temperatures. It was warm and surrounded with a constant supply of fresh leaves...and despite that, it just couldn't make it. 'Twas not to be.

This afternoon after school, there was a small impromptu burial and service. A headstone was prepared. Prayers were said. Taps was played on the recorder, and one of the billions of caterpillars to die this season was laid to rest with full human honors.

I found myself wondering what possible place this sort of overflowing abundance of compassion can have in the stark creation that Jack London describes. Where is the evolutionary value in it? Where in the implacable calculus of life's desperate struggle against a cold and cruel universe does such a gentle moment fall?

It seems not to compute, somehow. Perhaps it's childish. Perhaps it's foolishness. But it is, nonetheless, real.