Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reptiles and Reincarnations

One of the major reasons I have grown to love Florida is its amazing variety of animals and plants. There is one particular type of lizard (iguana? anole?) which grows to be about one-and-a-half feet long, orange-colored, with dinosaur plates on top like a stegosaurus, long claws, and a dragon's snout-- sort of a 1956 Buick with legs. For weeks, I had been admiring one of these big fellows-- "Grandpa" we called him-- who lived in a white plastic drainpipe on the canal near our housing development. He would scuttle inside during bad weather or for protection, but sunny days found him sunning himself on the canal bank, or even up on top of one of the bushes, lord of all he surveyed. We developed a fondness for this bold lizard, and got into the habit of pulling over to admire him when we drove by.
A couple of days ago, driving by in a hurry, I could only catch a glance at a gang of four high school boys who had trapped something under a net near that same drainpipe-- the kids around here all seem to have nets-- and one of them was wielding a hammer. It chilled me to think that they were hurting, killing even, a helpless lizard who had never done them any harm. It almost brought me to tears to think that we would never see him again-- he was no more than a lizard, one of thousands down here, but he, in the poet's words, "held himself most dear," and was now gone. I prayed that he hadn't suffered much.
But then, the next time we passed, I saw a snowy egret in that same place. Remembering the Kabbalistic notion of gilgul nefashote-- metempsychosis, or reincarnation-- the Hebrew literally translates as the "recycling of souls," I decided that perhaps God had taken the lizard's soul and implanted it into the body of a bird-- a higher life form, and better able to protect itself from predators. A small sort of cosmic justice, but it made me happier.