Veterans find joy in their own back yards

You can’t know how much pleasure there is in feeding a squirrel until you open yourself to the wonders of nature . . . and of course . . .  feed a squirrel . . . daily.   

I didn’t understand that until visiting the Philadelphia Veterans Adminstration office several months ago. A great big African American vet sat across the table from me as we made small talk about what branch we served, our MOS  (Military Occupation Speciality) –mine was 11 Bravo — Rifle Infantryman, and, of course, our VA disability rating (both 100 percent).

He was  soft spoken and surprised me when he confided how much joy he gets in feeding “his squirrels.” No, he didn’t raise squirrels, nor keep them as pets in a cage. He spoke of the everyday, climb-down-the-tree critters that appear in most wooded areas and back yards.

A squirrel needs feeding to strengthen itself

The fellow, (I never did get his name) spoke with a flow of words that was poetic, and I could feel how much he enjoyed providing nourishment to his little friends. How they would come running  after climbing over the yard behind his row home in North Philadelphia. They’d scramble to get close to the food, slowly approaching while overcoming fear of this huge man. They knew he served them, and somehow figured that he’d care for them again. Without harming them. Without attacking. While projecting a sense of goodness toward them.

I recalled my contact with the veteran after noticing a squirrel had come into my “personal space” twice in one week, clutching in its mouth a shell containing peanuts I had placed in our back yard moments earlier, but some 75 feet below where I now rested. I don’t know if it was the same one, the same squirrel, that is. They all look alike to me. (Shoot, I know I should have never written that last phrase, but when it comes to gray squirrels you never have contact with them up close; it’s difficult to see distinguishing features and various aspects of another creature. It is when you have contact, when you look into another’s eyes and share your self, you can see a difference, you can see individual traits, you can see a brother . . . see a sister; see their differences, their similarities). 

The squirrel stopped on the grass some eight feet away, the same distance I had seen a similar squirrel earlier in the week. That time, the animal climbed a small rock decorating my upper lawn. Each tilted its head looking straight at me. I said “hello,” using that friendly tone of voice, almost a high pitched child’s voice,  — you know, the kind of girlish voice they teach you at dog obedience school to show friendliness to a canine — to greet the little fellow (could have been a female, but this is my Blog and I’ll present reality the way I want to, thank you!) 

Once again, I felt . . .”blessed.” Too religious for you?

I felt “gratitude to a Power Above Me that allowed me to fully engage and somehow “touch” a creature with such caring and happiness. Watch it St. Francis, your teachings may be rubbing off onto this old city boy.

I felt the kind of happiness that convinces me that we all can be as one with the ceatures around us. Just like that football-player-size vet, this small Greek has learned to start the day in serving all of God’s creatures. Expecting nothing, but receive so much unexpected joy in return.

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