Friday, 26 November 2010

COMPASSION FOR A STARFISH.

Judging from this vignette from my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, I had a tender heart for even the lowest of animals. Having never lived in a family that regularly hunted and fished, my view of wildlife was shaped by Disney cartoons and nature documentaries. I still care about the welfare of animals but my view of God's creatures is tempered by the knowledge that he gave them to us for our use and management.

In November of 1969, my schoolmates and I were taken on a field trip to the beach. As I attended Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind in Vancouver, British Columbia, I yearned for the Christmas holidays when I could be with my family in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Here's how a starfish became a souvenir in my suitcase.

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Another gift I packed was a starfish. Mr. Moiarty took us on a walk along the beach one Saturday afternoon. As we strolled, a few men in diving suits called us over to see what they brought from the ocean floor.

One man held up an oblong, translucent, orange-brown creature. "This is a sea cucumber," he announced. He let the totally blind students touch its blubbery surface as he explained about the animal. "If they're attacked, they expel their innards to distract the predator," he claimed.

Then the divers gave us each a starfish to take back with us. When I received mine, it was purple and had only four rays.

"How come this one has one leg missing?" I inquired.

"A fish must have eaten it," the diver explained. "Starfish can lose a point and regrow it again."

He explained how these creatures ate and how they could live out of the water for up to twelve hours. I thought it might be fun to have a pet starfish but then I realized how impractical that would be.

Before we parted, the divers gave us some coral. It was hard and greyish-beige. Mine reminded me of the human brain which Mr. Warner once let us touch.

"We'd better dry these starfish before they rot," Mr. Moiarty said when we returned to our dorm rooms. He took each one and scraped out its innards with a butter knife. I refused to watch, feeling queasy at the killing of even these simple creatures. Then he laid them on the table to dry.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Click here to read more about this book and to order it. You may also e-mail me directly if the comment form doesn't work.