Elegiac essay on the passing of Rachel’s goldfish, 20 May 1996.
Jonnie Comet20 May 1996
(Note: this was written about Rachel's first goldfish; as of this reprinting the effervescent and multitalented Galileo, now over 8 months old, is alive and well --JC; October 2012)
‘I am the Resurrection and the Life,’saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though were dead, yet shall he live.
With these words we Christians commend the souls of our beloved to their Maker. In all change we understand there is loss, yet also hope. Sadly, the child who loses a cherished pet to the way of Nature is often only consoled by the rapid acquisition of a new one, and a profound opportunity for a lesson about the necessity of earthly death is forestalled, perhaps lost for good.
No-one should ever give a pet to a young child without sober thought on the inevitable parting of the pet from this world while the child is still young enough to be catastrophically affected by it. The love of a small child for a pet, for a friend, for a parent or sibling, is naturally complete and perfect. Children know no bounds in expressing that love; it is a power within them stronger than they can understand or control. Indeed it is the purest example of the love of God, the love that passes all understanding.
The Church, as a man-made organisation, may have been dead wrong for many years in declaring that children were born in sin and needed sacraments administered by fellow human beings to come to know Jesus Christ. I submit that the reverse of what was thought for centuries is more likely true, that children are born perfect, and learn sin through interaction with people of weak or nonexistent faith. Remember that Jesus did say, ‘Whosoever will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, will surely not enter therein.’ The faith of a small child is perfect acceptance. The small child takes for granted everything in evidence around him, because he has within him the most godly love of all, which comforts him that God is at work in the world and that he need not fear or question its nature.
Therefore, when given a pet, the young child will naturally accept it as a gift from God, even without realising it, and take it for granted as with every other gift from God. And so he should. What the child cannot foresee is that most pets will not outlive his childhood. Even before grandparents and other elder relatives to whom the child may be specially attached, the pet passes on, and herein lies the important opportunity which should not be neglected.
It may seem trivial to some, but to observe with some solemnity the passing of a pet is of great value to the Christian child. A funeral ceremony is not to reassure us of the beloved’s mortality, but to reassure us of our own immortality. God has already determined that the beloved, be they of whatever species, will rest with Him in their proper place. The soul of the pet is immaterial: it does not matter; it is not matter. The pet was brought into the world, and made a pet, that we should know God’s love for us through our relationship with the pet. (See John 1, 3-9.) The pet was, as the child secretly suspects, a gift from God just for him. The child learns that to the Creator from whom all things come, all things must one day return. Earthly corruption dies, and shall be committed to the garden of life. Symbols such as flowers are sacrificed upon the bier to represent the transient beauty of all living things and to remind us of the promise of renewal. A marker is placed as a visible memorial in the absence of the departed friend. The child may commemorate the event by drawing pictures or writing notes or selecting favourite photographs, no differently than the ancients did in enclosing earthly necessities in the tombs of their deceased, and for precisely the same reasons. The reminders are to comfort those who remain, not those who are departed.
The child may weep; Jesus wept. No display of grief is bad theology. It is the outpouring of an irrepressible love which feels, for the moment, that it has no object. The sense of loss may seem inconsolable. What the child will soon learn, as will all who mourn, is that God provides in all our want. The next object that the child will choose to love will benefit from a wiser, maturer love, as the child grows to accept all things, even those he thought were his own, as proprietary only to God.
The child who is not encouraged to grasp this fully will lose the ability to love in that pure, perfect manner by the time earthly materials begin to become important, as they inevitably do for us all. The wise child will be the one who sees all things as gifts from God, here only for His purposes and under His conditions. God’s world is a safe, secure place, not dictated by some fierce dichotomy of loss and gain but by a gently flowing cycle of change and rebirth. The pet, after all, is not gone; it lives in our hearts forever, as it should. There is no gain, only the generosity of God; no loss, only movement towards God. This is what God has ordained, and He has seen that it is good. As it is written, ‘Whatever IS is right.’
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epigram - I am the Resurrection... shall he live --BCP, 1928; ‘The Burial of the Dead’
p. 3 - Whosoever will not...therein - Mark 10.13
p. 7 - Whatever IS is right - Pope, Essay on Man; e. 1, l. 294