When is a trivet not a trivet?


Another member of an online group mentioned the way our beliefs influence what and how we see the world. That comment reminded me of this:

A few days ago, I finally figured out something that has been puzzling me since I was eight years old. My family lived in a small northern-Illinois town at that point; it was on its way from being a farm-community center to being a suburb of Chicago. I spent a lot of time wandering (on foot or on bicycle) on my own all around and beyond the town. One summer day, I happened upon a small factory or workshop where painted tiles were made (tiles such as could be used to tile a bathroom wall or add a decorative frieze on the kitchen wall above the sink). One style of tile had a simple painting of a rabbit on it.

Non-human animals have always been the center of my inner life. I fell in love with those rabbits and spent a long time picking out the one tile with the "best" (meaning, the one who "spoke to me" most strongly) rabbit so I could buy it as a gift for my mother. (I earned money in those days by gathering up empty bottles and returning them for the nickel-back deposit.)

When I presented the rabbit tile to my mother, she responded with her usual graciousness. I was disturbed a few days later, however, to find that she was using the tile as a trivet (a trivet is a tile or fabric mat on which a hot pan or dish is placed so that the hot pan/dish will not injure the surface of the table). All through the years since then (I am 54 now), it has puzzled me how she could have used the rabbit tile like that.

My revelation a few days ago was: To my mother the rabbit tile was a tile (with a rabbit painted on it). It was an object that either was useless junk or could be put to some use. For me, the rabbit tile was the rabbit (which happened to exist thanks to the tile). Rabbits are not objects to be used. They are....rabbits. Lives. Beings. Fellow creatures (like me). Moreover, they are among the lives that are dependably happiness-inducing -- as compared to humans, who are not anywhere near that dependably benign (despite what may be the human's best intentions).

It didn't occur to me to talk to my mother about this. Partly because it literally didn't occur to me, and partly because I hadn't realized at that point (and wouldn't for about 15 years) that my mother didn't always know what was in my mind. The puzzlement was a pain, like a sliver or thorn lodged invisibly in my skin, that stayed with me for decades. My mother, whom I loved deeply, was treating the rabbit like that. I knew she would not harm an animal on purpose, and yet there was this lack of respect and attention.... It was an anomaly, something I could not resolve or understand. Until now.



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