The twins ran to the kitchen shouting, “Mow! Mow!” and I followed to confirm the sighting.
For months now they’ve named and claimed every “mower” they see as we drive or walk through town. Every lawn mower, leaf-blower, golf cart, etc. elicits a liturgical call and response between the three of us:
“Mow! Mow!” they shout, cueing my, “Did you see a Mow?” and their reply, “Yep!”
They squeezed in together behind the wooden baking table and stood pointing out the window with looks of unadulterated glee. I bent down and squeezed in too, to confirm their sighting, and scanned the dirty concrete alley-way that divides our house from the next. The small alley is where we keep our trash in tightly lidded containers and the neighbor’s bikes and scooters lay scattered.
Looking out from where I crouched wedged behind the kitchen trash and between the window and wooden counter, I saw an old scooter handle that stood leaning against the wall and thought, “oh, that must be what they see.”
“Mow,” I confirmed, “you found a mower.”
But they continued to shout and point with bright expectant faces and I looked again, following the worn metal handle down toward the ground.
“Oh!” I thought, as my gaze came to rest with horror on an animal that lay dead against the wall of the neighbor’s house and I knew then what they were trying to say.
“Mouse, you found a mouse,” I said.
They echoed back, “Mouse! Mouse!,” their voices filled with even greater joy at my evident understanding.
They were giddy with delight and I was impressed that they knew the word, though there was no pretending that thing was a mouse. It was a long as my hand, a good eight inches from end to hairy end with another six to eight inches of tail – a RAT.
They loved it, of course, this wonderful, magical “mouse” that lay “sleeping” in the alley and they stayed, jubilant at the window, as I fixed lunch and texted my husband while the word “RAT” ran on an endless loop through my brain. We’d already dealt with ants and I expected to see evidence of mice when winter set in, but rats??
It lay out there in the sun all. day. long. giving me the heebie-jeebies and making it hard to think about lunch or dinner.
“A rat,” I thought, “a RAT!”
Would you believe me if I told you that earlier that day, sitting on the crooked gray concrete steps in the front of the row home we’re renting (as, I suppose, that rat lay dying in the back) I heard the voice of God? Sitting there in the crisp fall sunlight as the twins played “mow” with a variety of broken tree branches, a beautiful monarch butterfly landed briefly on the sidewalk and God spoke, I swear, straight into the heart of me.
The butterfly floated on large, unwieldy wings, looking like it was taking its first flight ever and I felt a glimmer of hope, that maybe things were going to turn out OK after all.
And then we came in and not thirty minutes later, there was the RAT and I was tempted, yet again, to despair.
But oh, that rat, it was a gift too.
That rat gave me the gift of freedom, the gift of laughter and astonishment, the gift of letting go.
A beautiful butterfly flitting is one thing, but a plump gray rat, laid out in broad daylight is another, and more than God’s words about the butterfly, which I have yet to fully embrace, that rat made it clear to me that God is here.
How can I explain it except to say that this is where I live, here where my feet crunch and track across the dry dirty ground, here where the cigarette butts float into our yard with the heavy rains. Here, in this place, where the smoke wafts in through open windows and a cabinet knob pulls off in my hand. In this place, I find the butterfly’s message hard to embrace, though I try.
That rat was a gift, it confirmed my despair, my frustration and freed me from unnecessary guilt over my own unhappiness. More than that, though, it invited me to surrender, to letting go, to looking out the window eager and astonished to see just what might turn up next.
My husband went out after dinner to bag the rat and our older two scrambled to get their shoes on in time to witness. He scooped it into a plastic bag and added it to the trash, but not before lowering the bag for the kids who were clamoring around him to see, to wonder, to marvel.
God comes to us all in so many guises, the bible confirms it – God in a cloud or pillar of fire, God in Balaam’s ass, in a fig tree, a wildflower. And so it is that God is made known among us, God with us, God in human flesh, God in a butterfly, God in the rat between two houses on West Louther street.