When good friends returned from a family trip to Scotland, they brought back a small stuffed Loch Ness Monster for my five year old daughter, Hannah. That evening, Hannah climbed into bed and asked me to tell her all about Nessie instead of reading her a bedtime story. Of course, there isn’t a lot to tell! I was beginning to run out of things to tell her when I remembered an old story.
“A long time ago there was a holy man named Columba. He came to Scotland to teach people about Jesus. When he came to Loch Ness, he found that there was a monster in the lake who had been scaring people. He talked to the monster, and from then on it left everyone alone.”
“Was it Nessie?”
“I don’t know, Bunny. Maybe not – it was a very very long time ago.”
“Maybe it was Nessie’s grandma?”
“How did he talk to an animal? People don’t talk to animals!”
“I don’t know, sweetie. But there are lots of stories about saints who talked to animals. Like St. Francis. St. Francis talked to lots of different animals. He told them all about how much Jesus loved them. One day, when a wolf was bothering a village, Francis told the wolf to go back into the woods to find food, and to stop scaring the people. And the wolf did.”
“Did that really happen, Mama?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it didn’t. It was a very long time ago, and the story wasn’t written down until later, after Francis had died. But maybe it did happen! St. Francis did love animals very much, and he didn’t let his fear bother him, because he knew that God loved him. Loving God and being loved by God is the most important thing. And knowing this love made Francis brave. He shared with people who were poor, he shared everything, he helped people who were very sick…”
This brief hagiography inspired Hannah, and in a burst of benevolence she said, “I want to start a place where we give away money to poor people, so they can get the things they need. Like a house and food and clothes and a car… and pets!”
“Pets?” I asked, not sure I had heard that correctly.
“Pets! Everyone needs a pet, so they have someone to love, and something that will love them back.” She was matter of fact about it. In her mind, pets are an absolute need, not a luxury.
In her conviction that pets are a NEED, not a luxury, I heard something that is all too often lacking in our political debates – the idea that everyone deserves to have everything they need – without a distinction between “my needs” and “their needs.” If our body of laws are any indication, “I need” free healthcare for life, membership at an exclusive golf club, and at least two houses, while “they need” powdered milk and dried beans. Instead, Hannah sees pets as an absolute need for herself – and because she believes that everyone who has more than they need should work to fill everyone’s needs, she envisions a world where everyone can have a pet who wants one. Not to mention food, housing, medical care, transportation, adequate clothing, heating and air conditioning…
In Hannah’s “home, food, pets” formulation, I heard an echo of early 20th century anarchist Emma Goldman’s slogan “Bread and Roses” – asserting that it was not enough for the poor to have bread to eat, but they also need beauty in their lives, just like anyone else. Roses are not a luxury, but a need. And I think Hannah, who insists on fresh flowers when we visit the farmer’s market, would agree: Why shouldn’t everyone have flowers on their table?
I pray that Hannah will always believe that – that she will continue to understand that her needs are no more important than anyone else’s needs, that we should do all we can to meet the needs of others, and that love and beauty and companionship are needs as great as food and shelter.