Recently a new small animal came under my care. He is a very friendly, curious little newt, with a bright red belly. His companion is a catfish. The two live together in a tank that glows green with tiny plants covering the surface of the water.
A small cadre of snails helps the catfish maintain the tank. But the snails don’t socialize with catfish, newt, or human visitors.
The catfish is fat and wiggly. The newt, on the other hand, is skinny and slow. I might even say he is malnourished. But I don’t know how to diagnose newt ailments.
I went to Noah’s Pet Ark and asked Graham how to feed the newt. Graham owns Noah’s Pet Ark, and he knows everything about pet care. He advised me to buy some frozen bloodworms for the newt. The worms come in tiny foil-wrapped squares. Today I thawed a package and hand-fed the newt a few worms.
I think the worms are dead but I don’t really know.
The newt was weak but he opened his mouth wide and ate right off a fork.
Once or twice he paused to chase the catfish away. The catfish seemed to defer to him. Or maybe the catfish doesn’t think the worms look like food. I don’t know which.
Each time the newt paused, a few worms floated to the bottom of the tank. I hope the snails will eat the worms that accumulate there. But I don’t know if they will.
I don’t know much of anything about my newt.
And yet, here is this tiny bright spark of life: eager, interested, interesting and terribly in need of care.
I need to learn enough to help him.
So often creatures, animal or human, wander into our lives, and we don’t know anything about how to care for them.
We don’t always have a Graham who gives us the resources to begin. We don’t always live near a Noah’s Pet Ark whose mission is to provide safe passage through life’s storms.
We may only have ourselves: our over-commitments, our yearnings to help, and our guilty sense that we have not done enough.
All around us people are doing their best, and yet our media industry viciously criticizes them for not doing enough.
Early rabbinic tradition criticizes the Biblical Noah for not doing enough.
Noah, they say, was an inferior righteous man. When God told Avraham that God would destroy the wicked city of Sodom, Avraham bargained to save lives. But when God told Noah that God would destroy the wicked world of humanity, Noah did not argue.
The Biblical text does say that God informs Noah of the coming flood, directing him to build the ark and save the animals. And that Noah immediately gets to work.
As I read it, God gives Noah the news and the instructions in the same breath. Noah does not have time to argue about God’s drastic approach. He focuses only on the task set before him: to build the Pet Ark and save the animals. He does not know much of what he needs to know to care for the diverse lot, but he plans to get right to work and learn on the job.
Noah is doing his best, and today, I take my inspiration from him.
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