YOU CALL THIS COMPASSION?

I’m used to the fact that long before 6 am, when I get up, Aussie is already out the dog door and in the yard, ready for action. This morning I got up later than usual, went down to make coffee, put on boots over my pajamas and walked out. Didn’t see Aussie till I went round the corner of the house, and there she was, chomping away on a dead squirrel. The snow around her was dotted with bloodstains.

Not hard to work out what happened. Two bird feeders hang from our lilac trees and the squirrels like to hang upside-down there and feed. One was probably dawdling around the base of the trees, sprinkled with birdseed, Aussie went into hunting mode and got it. I later discovered that the squirrel got at the tip of her left ear and gave it a good scrunch.

I confess I didn’t call her off; my dogs eat all kinds of horrible things. After all, she did get the squirrel. After all, she is hungry before breakfast. Instead I went back upstairs, did meditation, went again outside to do service by the Kwan-Yin that stands cheerfully in back, and there was Aussie right in front of Ms. Compassion, and there was the dead squirrel, rigid from death and cold. Aussie had brought it over and laid it at Kwan-Yin’s feet, some hair and skin nibbled off.

By the time I took the photo below Aussie had picked it up, swung it around in her mouth, then put it back down on the ground, but when I first saw it, it lay on its back, eyes staring right at the smiling wooden face, as if asking: You call this compassion?

In Rapid City, South Dakota, you hear story after story of teens committing suicide. You call this compassion? Or of men beating up their women, people dying very early from effects of alcohol and drugs. You call this compassion?

Closer to home, hawks circle over our house, eyeing our birdfeeders for prey. The body of a male human was found on nearby Mt. Toby, frozen. You call this compassion? The principal of the neighboring Turners Falls High School quit her job among accusations of racism running rampant in the school, not to mention a long battle around the use of the Indian as a mascot for the school’s sports teams.

Turners Falls itself is named after Captain William Turner, who massacred the inhabitants of a nearby Indian village and subsequently was killed himself by avenging warriors. Nearby Amherst is named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, whose idea it was to supply smallpox-infected blankets to the local Indians. Yes, that same Amherst that gave refuge to its Maid, Emily Dickinson, hiding in her safe home and writing poetry.

For me, Emily Dickinson is part and parcel of Jeffrey Amherst and the thousands of Indians dead of smallpox, while Jeffrey Amherst will always be part and parcel with Emily, Maid of Amherst, the one who wrote: .“They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as something of a recluse.”

I returned from Rapid City in the middle of snowfall. But the next morning I went out to do service by Kwan-Yin and found that a long path had been shoveled in the snow and ice, going straight and then turning left towards the wooden statue.

“Tim,” I ask the man now living in the house, the quiet bodhisattva who fixes the ceiling where a leak appeared, patches up the holes where pictures once hung, moved 4 desks out and brought my office downstairs to what was once Bernie’s office, “did you shovel a path to Kwan-Yin?”

He nods while eating his breakfast cornflakes. “Yeah, I know you like to go there in the mornings.”

Aussie knew, too. I suspect that’s why she brought the dead squirrel and laid it at Kwan-Yin’s feet for me to see as I prayed for compassion.