Yes, that is an alligator in the street.
Before my move I lived in the middle of noplace in the hinterlands of the Midwest, so I was used to seeing wildlife – deer, coyote, fox, raccoon - but not wildlife like this. I learned first-hand that all those old saws and clichés about the cardinal rules of real estate being “location, location, location” and everything being “relative” are absolutely accurate. If you’re walking, a block and a half in the sweltering heat and humidity of summer in central Florida seems like an excessively long distance. An alligator lounging in the street a mere block and a half from your front door feels way too close for comfort. And that wasn’t all I saw this week.
On the same day the gator was wandering my block, I also saw one of Florida’s fabled walking catfish strolling – well, wriggling - down the street at the West end of the neighborhood. A trio of sand hill cranes was cruising the area of the neighborhood that faces the lake, and one of my granddogs, Harry, found a very vigorous looking black snake in his backyard. The next day, when I was on my way to the grocery store, traffic was backed up in every direction at the entrance to Best Buy while we waited for a turtle to make his way across US 98. (Yes – he arrived safely. A Good Samaritan got out of his car, picked up said turtle, and deposited him in the grass by Taco Bell before he got run over or caused a fender bender - or both.)
I feel like I’m living in the middle of an episode of Wild Kingdom. The only thing missing is Marlin Perkins. (For all you young whippersnappers out there who aren’t familiar with the reference – if there are any – Wild Kingdom was a 1960s TV series about, well, wildlife. Kind of the original incarnation of Animal Planet except it was just one show a week, not a 24/7 channel. If you’re curious, there are episodes on YouTube.)
In a curious God-incidence (my friend Alissa would assure me that none of this is random), I’ve also been reading Annie Dillard this week. She writes compellingly about seeing and experiencing the Holy in unique and unusual places and circumstances, both in the outdoor landscape and internally. Dillard’s words grabbed my attention because not only has it been wild outside, it has also been a bit of a ‘wild kingdom’ inside my heart and mind this week as I face a trio of unhappy anniversary events. (You can read more about that in my May 25 “Both/And” post.)
The wild things and places in our lives can evoke lots of different reactions. Some, like the alligator on my street, elicit feelings of fear and uncertainty; they cause us to want to run and hide; they make us feel small and insignificant; they leave us feeling overwhelmed, uncomfortable and out of control. Those unhappy anniversaries are often like that for me.
But wild things and places can also spark curiosity, instill a desire to learn more about something that we haven’t seen or experienced, and prompt us to try new and different things. Moses stopped to look at what could only be described as a “wild” thing - the bush that was on fire but was not consumed - and found God there.
Most years I’ve wound up focused on just getting through those unhappy anniversaries, and I give myself permission to do whatever it takes: cry, talk to friends, take multiple trips down Memory Lane, avoid Memory Lane, have a family dinner, go to Disney World, whatever. I’ve done that this week too, but I’ve also been asking myself “where is the Holy in this wild kingdom of emotion?”
What about you?
Are you dealing with wild things and places in your life right now? What are they?
What is your first reaction when you encounter those wild things and places? Does that reaction serve you well, or might another one work better?
Have you glimpsed the Holy in any of those wild places?
This day, and every day, may you be gifted with strength and courage to seek the Sacred in the wild things and places of your life.