Years after I stopped working at the vet, I still find myself thinking about that look. It makes me wonder what must be escaping me in my own bounded life at every instant, occurring beyond the scope of my understanding and the range of my senses. Based on Waffle's experience, when things appear to be tanking in our lives, when we are left behind or leaving someone, when a job disappears or a parent's health fails, or when we feel lost and bereft, trapped in a black place, howling questions at a seemingly deaf universe, are we supposed to conclude...what? Somewhere angels or extraterrestrials are removing basketballs from our stomachs? Or, God forbid, actually spaying all of us? In some figurative sense?
Oh, no! At least, I sure hope that's not what I'm suggesting. I'd hate to present some weird, furry allegory whose moral punch line is "Everything, ultimately, can be understood." Just opening the newspaper, there are stories I can still only greet with dumb, animal incomprehension. Sometimes it can feel like the whole globe is spinning with irredeemable losses, capricious natural disasters and crimes so outrageously evil they dismantle any attempt to solve or explain them.
But I guess what the vet experience did reinforce for me was a growing suspicion, humbling and reassuring, that I might not have the right language or vantage to correctly judge the mystifying events in my life, or anybody else's. Like Waffles, I live low to the ground. Given the brevity of our time here, it does seem likely that our species, too, must have at best a blinkered understanding of the shape of things, the import of certain events and what distinguishes "good" from "bad" luck. Let's hope our darkest moments might not be as nonsensical and endless as we believe them to be while they are occurring—and that there might be not just 7 a.m. but also a 7 p.m.
This was the hour of the evening when the waiting room once again filled with the lavender schoolgirls and their parents, the teachers and the lawyers, the clown who belonged to that convalescing rabbit. It was pick-up time, my favorite part of working at the vet. I brought their pets out to them, one by one, and watched as a tremendous happiness rumbled out of everyone—elation and relief on the part of the humans and the purest shock from the animals. It's YOU. You're BACK. For the second time each day, an interspecies Babel shook our clinic walls, but its tenor was totally transformed—these were Joy-to-the-World cries and howls.
Karen Russell's new book is Swamplandia! (Knopf)
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