When I was 16-years old I entered into a very basic, rather profane covenant with some of my high school buddies. (And I do think this story will help us to get at some of the basic features of living in covenant together with sort of a Lord of the Flies twist.) When I was 16-years old, planning a camping trip with some friends and our fathers, my buddies and I swore a sacred oath that while on the trip we would hunt, butcher, and eat—a frog.
I’m not exactly sure why we decided we needed to do this, but the decision was made. The original plan was to catch enough frogs for everyone to have one for dinner one night. We told our fathers and they said no thank you. We thought that was weird. We’d caught fish on camping trips and eaten them for dinner. But our fathers still expressly forbade us from eating frogs on the trip, sighting questionable health concerns.
So, to prepare for the trip we had to disguise our frog-hunting sticks as hiking sticks—a frog-hunting stick is just a hiking stick with one very pointy end. After all, we had made a sacred vow, and somehow it seemed our very identity depended on doing this thing together—what we promised one another we were going to do.
I’m moving to Glen Ridge, New Jersey in three weeks. It’s a little shocking to say it because if you were to come and visit my apartment, it wouldn’t look like I was moving anytime soon. Well, we do have boxes. We just haven’t put everything we own into those boxes yet. It’s hard, sometimes, to know where to start.
So, as a sort of warmup I’ve been binge watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. If you don’t know of Kondo, she’s a Japanese tidying guru who helps people with cluttered homes to let go of the stuff that doesn’t “spark joy” in their lives and organize the stuff that does “spark joy.”
Kondo always starts the tidying process with clothes. Each member of the household has to take every piece of clothing they own and make a pile of it. When Kondo tells people to do this, many of them visibly pale or start sweating on camera. And it sometimes takes a long time to make that pile—multiple closets, and chests, and wardrobes, and laundry baskets are all emptied out onto one bed. And usually it’s astounding—one person’s clothes piled from the bed to the ceiling with lots of little piles falling down onto the floor. Kondo tells her clients that she does it this way in order to shock them
Early one damp Saturday morning in spring, when I was 6 and my little sister, Christina, was around 3 or 4, the two of us ran into the house and hollered at our father, “Dad! Dad! There’s a dead animal in the backyard!” That’s a pleasant way to be woken up in the morning. And based on our extreme excitement you would have thought that we’d found a beached whale out behind the shed. We hauled Dad out into the backyard and pointed the way. And there, in a pile of pine needles, was a dead little mole or a shrew or something that would have easily fit into the palm of your hand. You wouldn’t’ve thought much about the little thing unless you had the curiosity and gross-seeking instincts of child.
I imagine my father’s first thought was just to throw the thing over the fence so we wouldn’t play with it and then go have breakfast, but instead he had another idea. He took us into the garage, and we got a shovel. And then we dug a little grave together in a small open patch of grass near a birch tree. While we were digging, Dad told Christina and me that the little vole or mole or whatever it was had lived a good long life doing all the things that God had made it to do on the earth. And when it got old and it knew its end was near, it had found a comfortable place to die. And now that it was dead its spirit had joined God with the spirits of all the other little creatures of the fields.