|Kent with Gizmo|
Cats kill fish. It's in their nature. For food, sometimes, or just for sport, as was the case this week when our younger cat, Gizmo, nudged a fish bowl containing a black tetra just given to our younger son, Kent, from its spot in the center of his dresser, off the edge and onto the floor. Nobody else was around.
Kent later came upon the scene—overturned bowl, a spray of gravel, the very dead fish—and let out a howl that brought us all on the run.
The culprit had fled. I grabbed toilet tissue and performed fish disposal duty. My wife uttered some poetic words over the lifeless form before it was flushed away.
"At least we didn't have it long enough to form an attachment," said Ross, our older boy, trying to put a good spin on the situation.
"But Kent did," said his mother, and we all patted him on the shoulder and said words of comfort as he sat on his bed, slump-shouldered, head bowed, desolate.
The cat eventually slunk back into his room.
"There's no one left here for you to murder!" Kent said, hotly.
I thought about right-to-lifers. They present their values as universals—life, even a speck of life, matters because God says all life matters. It certainly mattered here. But it is also obvious that the fish's value comes not from above, but because it was cared about, by us, or at least by my son. Significance is a human gift we bestow capriciously. A billion, if not 10 billion, creatures will die today, from blue whales to gnats. As will 155,000 human beings -- 155,000 people expire worldwide every single day. Yet my son sat on his bed and cried, a little, for a fish the size of my pinky that had sat on his dresser in a bowl for exactly one full day.
—Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, July 14, 2006