The day is one of those sun-kissed days with bright blue skies and as many red and orange tinged trees as there are green ones. A few still succulent leaves litter the ground — not yet the big piles of brown, crispy wisps that will drown dry lawns in a few short weeks.
It’s a beautiful day for a walk, and I donned my iPod and new running shoes, never intending to go faster than 4 miles an hour. I wanted fresh air and sunshine, not a sweaty workout.
Plain gray squirrels skittered out of my way as I approached, apparently intent on chasing each other or hiding acorns.
Two of them were crossing the street in front of me, one in front of the other. One of them noticed neither me nor the oncoming minivan.
The minivan wasn’t paying attention either.
As the second squirrel and I watched in horror, the van hit the fast-moving first squirrel.
For a second, while the van still obscured my view, I considered looking away. But I didn’t. Or couldn’t. The van kept moving, oblivious to the potential carnage, and I saw the first squirrel on its back in the street, its little body sort of convulsing for a few seconds.
Then he flipped over and finished crossing the street, climbing into the wheel well of a parked pick-up on the other side of the street. No traffic in sight, the second squirrel crossed the street, too, to join his friend under the pick-up.
I could have kept walking.
I see unmoving carcasses of dead animals on the side of the road all the time and barely give them a second thought.
But this time, I witnessed the accident. I thought of my cute little 8-pound doggie, too stupid to look both ways before crossing the street, just like the dumb squirrel. It was like watching an African documentary where a hungry lion claws down a slow-moving baby wildebeest. It made me want to cry.
I had no intentions of rescuing a wild animal, but I had to know the extent of its injuries. I couldn’t stand the thought that he might have been eviscerated; I had to put that bloody nightmare back on the shelf. So I doubled back and inspected the roadway where the squirrel encountered the van.
No blood. No evidence.
I tilted me head to look under the pick-up. The second squirrel scampered away. The first squirrel was nursing itself on the ground beneath the pick-up, unwilling or unable to move away quickly. I couldn’t tell what was wrong, but he appeared somehow wounded. Maybe he was just dazed, but I think his hindquarters were hurting. Maybe he broke something.
I wasn’t willing to take action, so I turned around and walked away, Freddie Mercury singing in my ears.
I don’t know why this squirrel bothers me. Probably thousands of plain gray squirrels inhabit the trees in my little village. Squirrels die all the time in probably much more graphic fashion.
But I was sorry he was hurting. What is the point of suffering? If he dies anyway, why not die quickly? If he lives to cross another street in hair-brained fashion, why did this van hit him on this otherwise beautiful autumn day in front of my eyes?
I don’t have any easy philosophical solutions to the question of pain in this blog post. Perhaps the whole story is a metaphor of the last day of September. I’m sorry if I depressed you.
But the next time you cross the street, please look both ways.