Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Hermit Crab

My daughter went through a phase a while back--actually, it continues to this day--in which she finds some creature in the wild of our yard and begs to keep it in captivity. Somehow I always end up taking care of the critter and eventually caring about it. We've gone through worms (both the inch- and earth- varieties), beetles, fish, and as of this morning we had two garden snails coexisting in the deceased fish's bowl, and the last one of two hermit crabs. I've grown quite fond of each of them and actually coo over the snails when they stick their little eyes straight up. Adorable!

Anyhoo, today we lost our remaining hermit crab. I mean, physically LOST him. He was supposed to be safely exercising in the kiddie pool, but alas, is now off wandering in the garage or possibly the great wide yard. He probably saw his chance and ran for the hills. The thought of him being out there, somewhere, alone (he is a hermit, after all) has made me come utterly unglued. And the mere concept of me being so upset over a lost hermit crab has got me to thinking. Why?

Then I remembered the other crab.

When I was a kid, we would visit my grandparents' house at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina in the summertime. My cousin Russell and I--and usually another cousin or two for good measure--would stay for a while, working puzzles, goofing off. It was the most fun. Russell and I spent our endless days down on the boat dock, nets in hand, scooping up minnows. Occasionally we'd find some hermit crabs. We found one one time, and my grandmother was gracious enough to bring it in her house. She put it in a little terrarium and cared for it for days.

It's not like I really cared about that hermit crab, I don't think I did. I had a hard time relating to crustaceans (still do as a matter of fact, though I love to eat them). But I'll never forget the morning I woke up to find the hermit crab had died. I'll never forget it because of of the horrible way I treated my grandmother. I blamed her for letting my hermit crab die, as if she had any control over it. As if she held the powers to life and death. I cried and I hollered. The memory to this day mortifies me. To my knowledge, it was the first and last time I ever acted that way with her.

Today, my grandmother is 90. She no longer lives in the house with the dock where so many of my childhood memories remain, instead, she lives in a nursing home. I saw her a few months ago and she didn't remember me. Maybe it's because I'd been away so long. Or maybe it was my hair being short. I'm sure that was it. I pray she also doesn't remember the way I treated her the day that hermit crab died.

What is it that's disturbing me so much about my children's lost crab--this nameless, tiny creature of God? My kids don't seem too upset about him wandering off in the world on his own. So why then do I feel as if I've lost something precious that I can never get back again?