It's something we all felt as children, that indescribable need to explore nature's wonders, to examine the intricate and interwoven patterns of life on earth, to learn more about other creatures with whom we share our planet.
Of course, it usually took the form of a couple of grasshoppers that we shared the back yard with and put in a glass jar.
I have been horrified a few times lately by The Boy and his incessant need to capture living things and keep them as pets. He has brought home frogs in his lunch box, snails in a paper cup, and inchworms in a pencil case (I won't discuss the dead goldfish in his pocket).
As he slumbers in the next room, a small plastic fish tank holds a few inches of sand and water and a hermit crab, stolen away from his marine home at low tide on some unknown beach.
This crab is one of a gift of two from a friend who apparently spent the day at the beach collecting all sorts of defenseless marine animals and placing them in a bucket for transportation home. Over the course of the evening this crab became the sole occupant of the tank after said friend pulled the other hermit crab out of his shell, because she felt it was too small for it. Of course, in the process she killed it.
I detected no remorse.
And that's the problem. Where does empathy begin? Do we live in some state of blind selfishness and then one day, at some point in our lives suddenly realize that it's wrong to keep grasshoppers in a jar? At what point do we start to assign to other creatures a right to life?
Okay, I will admit it's not easy with insects. Most of the insects we come into contact with daily are annoyances or worse. Everyone will swat a mosquito without a moment's hesitation.
But I don't want The Boy to grow up heartless when it comes to creatures who can easily be put at his mercy. Yes, that is what I want. A feeling of mercy, empathy, some recognition that his need to experience is second to another's right to live unmolested by little boys' hands.
Maybe I should just get him a dog. A big one.