As I discussed in a previous blog, Ptolemy Tompkins' book, The Divine Life of Animals, is intriguing, well written, provocative, and analytically grounded. It will open readers' minds to interesting philosophical and religious discussions. Our book trailer is reprised below.
I revisit Tompkins' book to mention an experience that personally validated the divinity of animals. Skeptics will scoff that my interpretation is anthropomorphic, and that the displayed behavior was nothing more than a bizarre instinctive ritual. (In critical thinking circles, the previous sentence is called "setting up a straw person," meaning that a statement is submitted solely for the purpose of being subsequently struck down.) But, instead of countering the proposition, I merely smile and, seeing no need to say anything, say nothing. I gave up trying to convince people of my opinions when I changed careers over two decades ago, when formerly I was paid handsomely to persuade ordinary people that my clients' positions were valid, truthful, and, usually, worthy of compensation. Arguing was great fun, especially when I was a high school debater, but that was so long ago that hardly anyone living would remember it.
The divinity of animals was convincingly demonstrated to me one summer day a few years ago, when one of my cats, an adult marmalade male named Jack (for Jack-O-Lantern) was sitting a few feet from where I was finishing some minor landscape repair. I noticed that Jack was casually watching something in the tall grass a few feet further from us. From the grass emerged a field mouse, who walked slowly and deliberately toward a piece of limestone. This was about three feet from me and a little over a foot from Jack. The cat and the mouse eyed one another with mild curiosity. Then, an incredible thing happened. Jack and the mouse simultaneously stretched toward each other and affectionately touched noses, as Jack was prone to do when he expressed affection to other members of our family (humans, cats, and dogs). A moment later, Jack carefully reached out with his right paw, the thumb of which he routinely sucked like a human baby, and, rather delicately, flipped the mouse onto its back. The mouse promptly righted itself but did not run and did not seem overly concerned. Jack repeated the process a couple more times, with the mouse merely turning itself back on its feet and awaiting the next flip. I decided that it might be best to separate the pair, in case instinctive predator/prey behavior surfaced violently, and so I reached out to pick up Jack. He stepped lightly sideways to avoid my grasp, and the mouse, apparently sensing that the game was being interrupted, turned in a most emotionally detached fashion and sauntered into the tall grass again. Neither animal moved quickly. The mouse clearly felt no fear, and Jack showed no predatory interest, although Jack was an accomplished hunter and routinely left partially mangled carcasses of mice and moles on our front porch for our inspection and praise.
Both Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson remind us to recognize divinity in surrounding nature. Jack and the mouse gave me a fine display of their spirituality. It was one of the most amazing sights I've been blessed to witness.
Jack was killed by a motor vehicle nearly four years ago. Although I still grieve his physical absence, I am convinced that we will meet again and will touch noses, so to speak, in a different type of existence. I didn't need Tompkins' book to satisfy me at a deeper emotional level of this truth (I have had other, further experiences that convinced me beyond reasonable doubt), but I admit that, intellectually, Tompkins' rational analysis was, at times, compelling.
William R. Buckley
MPL Reference Coordinator & Indiana Room Historian