A Caged Animal - Stripe, small for a wild rat, but large for a domestic, stinking of his own urine, sat, looking confused, the second story of his cage hardly acting as a substitute for an interesting maze. Stripe has no dark places to hide or sleep in, no secret hoard of food. His life is constrained but not by choice, exposed but without freedom. A few minutes of handling, a wash, produced desirable rat-like behaviour, grooming, and gentle play, exploring the arms of his handlers. He is young enough with appropriate reinforcement to develop the extensions of rattus-rattus programming that follow from an interesting environment and a lot of human contact.
He had been reported as an aggressive animal. Perhaps the smell of Amy, a female rat, on my clothing, had produced the beneficial behaviour (and the fragrance). I doubt it, somehow. The two rats had not been exactly friendly in a past meeting on Amy's turf. Amy, smaller, though older by three months, was with me on a trip to see her master, James, in his detention.
James had not brought his cards, nor had I, so we had to face the silence without props.
"You f-ing whites are so stupid - why did you bring that rat? Didn't I tell you not to? Can't you f-ing remember anything?"
"I'm sorry, James", I said. "Shall I take her outside and put her in the car?"
"No, it's too late now!" Silence. "Ooh, you ----. You haven't got any brains at all."
We paused frequently, but news was exchanged. We talked of pot, weed, cannabis, of faith, of God and our own inner searches. Is the kingdom of the weed a suitable analogue for the kingdom of God? I suggested that we needed to integrate both the fierceness of our anger and the smoothness of our imagined highs, good karma, or whatever. He maintained the naturalness of the weed over the artifice of sherry. He spoke of the two thieves, on the right and left hand of Christ and identified himself with each in his own way. The Spirit was strong in both of us as we stretched through language to reach each other. He said:
"You know, there's more behind a word than just its surface. Consider this wall here."
How much can you read into a prison wall? (We were in one of the private visiting rooms.)
Through the barrier of words, the meaning of wall propelled itself into my mind: restriction, confinement, protection, sanctuary, security, stability, rule of law, creating a space.
Is it sufficient space to allow for the transformation of embarrassment into joy?
Without weed, we experienced a remarkable oneness and high after an hour of conversation. May the God who creates from nothing take these cages and make us free even within our bounds; rats free from wire-enclosures; meaning free from words; humans free from fear. Where the walls remain, may they provide security, and a place for reflection and growth, appropriate grooming for rats and humans alike.
This post, one of my earliest stories after a dream and command to write in 1994, is inspired by Exploring our Matrix - 7 years old today.