I’ve just returned from a six-day hospitalization for a ruptured appendix, a malady which went undetected for several days--long enough for a serious infection to set in. Many aspects of this journey, which began three weeks ago with moderate but persistent stomach pain, have been frustrating and confusing. It can be challenging to access medical care in a foreign country. An initial doctor’s visit may have failed to cover all the bases (or it wasn’t appendicitis by that point), it didn’t present in the typical way (no searing pain or fever), etc. At any rate, I am grateful I eventually got the care I needed and pleased with many aspects of that care. But there were moments that hit me hard. Like the lizard fiasco.
I had asked friends on Facebook to post pictures of their pets to cheer me up. An array of adorable dogs and cats soon filled my feed, along with the odd bear in a driveway and the determined raccoon scaling a window. Each one made me smile and buoyed my spirit. Animals of every kind delight me, and I was touched as well by the kindness of my friends.
Though I was tied to my bed by the IV drip line attached to my wrist, my doctor wisely encouraged me to seize the moments when it was detached for bathroom breaks and take walks. On the fourth day I was especially bored and lonely (I have an attentive husband but inevitably spent many hours on my own). So, I ventured out to the entrance area where fellow inmates were being released to waiting cars. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the tiniest lizard I had ever seen, a bit more than two inches long. I mused that it was the size of the infected mass inside me that we were trying all week to shrink, but cuter and much more diligent at doing pushups. I bent down and watched it fetchingly flex its triceps. I thought, “I’ll take a picture and post it on Facebook as my pet—a “thank you” for all the pet posts I’ve received!” I’d left my phone charging but headed back up to the fourth floor and got it, hoping against hope it would still be there when I returned. I got back just in time to watch a janitor mopping the lizard into a pile. “NO!” I cried. I found it on its back fighting for its life and flipped it back on its belly. At that point the janitor scoldingly shook his finger at me and smashed the little guy to death with his mop.
I turned away and silently screamed, and tearlessly wept, shaking my fists in frustration. “Why, God? What cruel trick was that? Why pile that on to my pain, making me come down here to see random suffering?” That remains baffling, just as the whys of this whole appendicitis incident remains a bit of a mystery. I don’t fully understand what hearing from God looks like or claim to know for certain when it is happening. I rarely get more than inklings. But what I heard quite clearly as I pondered it later was, “I did not like watching that either.” This seems right to me—God takes no pleasure in suffering. God cannot or at least does not always prevent it, but God does come alongside. God sees. And God suffers with us, and with this whole groaning creation, even down to its smallest lizards. And musings on creation, from the likes of Lewis, Chesterton, and even Calvin, make me think that God also takes pleasure in watching lizards do their pushups and will one day restore a kingdom where all his creatures are treasured.
Setting theodicy aside for a moment, I want to be clear that I am not griping that I live in a country that treats animals poorly. I live in a country in which one janitor was callous toward one lizard. I see well-loved dogs every day here. This is not a cultural reflection. It’s a lament. Life can get hard. My last three weeks were hard. The lizard smash was a microcosm, a visible manifestation of all the hard on going within me. Its one grace was that it afforded me a moment to cry out in visceral lament, instead of just soldiering on. It no doubt hit me harder because I was fragile and worn down—perhaps it was silly to let it upset me. For now, I’m going to keep trying to learn the lifelong lesson from my very small sister, who was always so good at noticing the smallest good gifts life sent her way: I’ll keep delighting in pet pictures, the kind friends here who visited me in the hospital, and tiny lizards doing pushups as long as they have breath.
Photo by verdian chua on Unsplash
Rich and Lisa Lamb