My wife, Susan, and I emerged visually sated from the National Art Gallery last Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Paintings and sculptures I’d only known from large, coffee table tomes were mounted on flawless, white walls and floors of pink marble mined from Kentucky. But the most breathtaking work of living art was nowhere within the museum.
We were waiting curbside for our Lyft ride when he poked his head through the manicured bushes, then jerked it back like a mole about to be whacked at a carnival. Seconds later, he shot out onto the sloping lawn, a shock of white fur dancing and darting over the grass.
I’d never seen an albino squirrel, much less known that they existed. The pink hue of his eyes and ears radiated Picasso’s palate during his Rose Period. His pure white face and body were quite conspicuous — and, as we would soon learn, made him an easy mark.
He zigged right in the grass and we saw it emblazoned on his left flank, smack in the center of his body: a brownish, crusty dot ringed by a lighter circle. Rogue pigmentation in his otherwise pristine coat? He zagged left, hiding the mark, then bounded along the margins of the museum’s shrubbery as if playing with an imaginary friend.
Two minutes before our ride arrived and my curiosity piqued. Wondering how close I could get for a better look, our furry friend leapt toward us and exposed his left flank again.
The round bullseye of his wound was spotted with tiny bumps like a once burbling volcano capped by a cooling crust. The circle around it, probably a mist of blood spattered when the projectile entered him.
There was no question in my mind; our friend had been shot.
Before I could sink into sadness or roil with rage, our friend stood on his hind legs, galloped in a circle and rolled over in the grass like an old dog learning a new trick.
And so did I.
Our friend exposed more than his wound to us and the world. His body had been wantonly violated. But that did not stop him from romping with full abandon over the velvety turf looking every bit the pint-sized clown: a white, neon streak of celebration.
Susan smiled and gently pushed my slacked jaw toward my upper lip as she often does when I’m amazed. We climbed into our driver’s SUV and headed off to Georgetown where we later watched the setting sun stretch gold over the bridges and locks of the Chesapeake and Ohio Creek. But the photos I snapped paled to the images I saw earlier.
How many times I’ve been leveled by someone’s contemptful glare or scornful words! And here was this little guy — a beebee or bullet in his side — living his life, blissfully unaware and uncaring of what drove his assailant into his state of unconsciousness. Just like the cat who was skewered by an arrow or the dog used as bait for the fighting ring.
Oh, to be wise as a “dumb” little animal. To live fully in the presence of one’s deepest wounds.