Robert Mann: First encounter with death
In my corner of the world, there is a ritual repeated each generation in which young boys try to catch blue-belly lizards. I do not even know the proper name of the little reptile, but on its belly are two faint stripes of blue.
The only known risk of pursuing a blue-belly is stumbling upon the long and menacing alligator lizard (with teeth and a sharp bite). The blue-belly is a boy’s best friend. I remember placing the creatures on their back in my hand, and gently rubbing the belly with my finger. The lizard would hold perfectly still and make no effort to escape.
The first capture by my own children came when my 6-year-old son managed to hold on to a juvenile with plenty of spunk. He placed the frightened creature in a large Tupperware bowl with steep sides, and added some weeds and a dead fly for sustenance. The bowl was placed next to a rock under a dwarf maple tree - the exact spot where the lizard was found.
My son named the little creature Lilly, which surprised me because I had never heard him mention the name before. Needless to say, Lilly did not spend much time in the bowl. My son would take her out for constant excursions both inside and outside the house. We would also find his younger brother next to the bowl, holding the little lizard high in the air despite severe warnings not to touch her.
On the second day of Lilly’s addition to our family, my son came to me perplexed that Lilly had not moved for a long time. One look at the still body and a tiny blood spot at the edge of her mouth let me know that she was dead. At first my son did not understand, with repeated questions as to when she would wake up and try to escape again. Then came a new and crushing understanding, followed by a flood of tears that would not stop.
There comes a moment in every child’s life when the mental ability to conceive of death collides with the event. The seeming permanence of experience is interrupted with a jarring and permanent absence. Often the event centers around a beloved animal, with the tragedy sometimes escalated by the passing of a family member or in the worst case a parent. In the words of author Sam Keen, my son had started on the lifelong journey from the “certainty of illusion to the illusion of certainty.”
I comforted my 6-year-old with the words of Isaiah 65:17, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Creation would be made anew with a radiance that would cause us to forget our former sin-plagued world. As impossible as it seemed, death itself would expire as a result of Christ’s love.
My son continued to carry Lilly with affection and care through the remainder of the day. He would open and close her tiny mouth with the tip of his finger, and examine the translucent blue stripes on her white belly. I felt his sorrow acutely. When night fell, he placed her by the rock under the dwarf maple tree.