It Looked Like a Button to Me

A socially distanced class, nine of us altogether, each with a six- or seven-foot table to him or herself, arranged in an oval: we had to speak up a bit but we could actually hear and see each other and the conversation was going swimmingly when I noticed some laughter on the side.
    One student apologized, but I missed his words. On the floor across from him, I saw a button. I figured it had popped off a jacket and rolled there; maybe he was embarrassed.
    Then I noticed that the button had thin, long, hinged back legs. “O, I see; a grasshopper.”
    Wrong again. Another student, Saint Francis, rose and with cupped hands took the critter out the door. A frog. A miniature frog, the size of a quarter. Saint Francis returned and pumped the hand sanitizer.
    What had we been talking about? Something about human nature, I think, maybe the difference between human beings and animals. Only a day or two before we had been talking about Genesis 2, where the original human named the beings God brought to him. “Frog,” he must have said. And here we were.
    The original human must have had good eyes. Can you imagine God bringing him a frog and him calling it a button?
    God made those creatures in Genesis 2—the birds and the land animals (and yes, I know a frog is only ambiguously a land animal)—God made them all because he saw it was not good for that human to be alone. They were not made to be lesser beings, but rather to be companions, “helpmeets.” God seems to have thought they might have made good fellows for us, in the sense of beings that could answer our aloneness. God seems to have thought they might be our friends.
    It didn’t turn out that way. I imagine the parade of new critters coming past Adam, and him saying, “giraffe ... cockroach ... pelican ... starling ... otter ...” What I don’t know how to imagine, however, is the process by which he determined none of them would be a fit companion. Did they go out on dates? “I say, pelican, you sure swallowed that soup fast.” Maybe the cockroach communicated with him by typewriter (as does Archy in Archy and Mehitabel). Each date ended, Adam came home. God asked him how it went. “Well, actually, I’m sorry—maybe it was my fault—but we just couldn’t get much conversation going.”
    So it didn’t work out. Nevertheless, we do seem to bear with us a bit of that old longing, the wonderment that just possibly we might be friends with other creatures, and friends in the fullest sense, sharers in a common enterprise. I loved the Doctor Dolittle books when I was a boy: a doctor who learns animal languages and forms around himself a household where an extensive menagerie dwells as a family. And it seems important that, in the Lord of the Rings, some animals are peers with Gandalf, and their cooperation is needed for the defeat of wickedness.
    Poor fallen man that I am, I only had an eye for a button.
    On the web. I have been recommending this article to friends since it first came out in June, and I judge it to be a Virus-related thought-piece of lasting value. The author’s question is: Why has science become politically weaponized in this matter? He has an interesting parallel with the 1986 Chernobyl radioactive fallout on sheep farmers in Cumbria. In these long-haul situations, we need to recognize that people on the ground have their own expertise that must be engaged. Experts’ trust “is gained in drops and lost in buckets.”


The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."