On my Sunday travels to various assignments, I’ve noticed that the carcasses I see most often on the side of the road belong to armadillos. In fact, there is so much armadillo road-kill that I wonder if the strange-looking little animals won’t soon be extinct in Mississippi.

I’ve seen only one living armadillo in the six years I’ve been in the state. One evening, my wife and I were coming home from eating out and had taken some back streets to avoid the crunch of traffic on the main highway. Suddenly, from the driver’s side window, we saw it: an armadillo walking slowly out of some bushes. Like Moses turning aside to see the wondrous sight of the burning bush, we took the next left and came back to look again. We sat and stared until the animal wandered away.

I’ve passed the spot many times since, but the armadillo has never shown up again. Still, knowing that I once saw the animal alive gives me hope there are others somewhere.

As I look at the world, I find that there are qualities and practices that are even scarcer than Mississippi armadillos. Like civility and courtesy. Joy. Kindness. Accountability. Graciousness. Imagination. Reconciliation. Openness. And most of all, truth.

John Brocato is one of the most extraordinary songwriters I have ever known. Almost twenty years ago, as a college student, he disputed that becoming an adult was growing up. No,
he sang, it’s growing down: “When I grow down/hate will abound/and peace will come to a truce/corruption and greed will transform into need/and nothing will be scarcer than truth” (“When I Grow Down,” © 1989 by John Brocato; used by permission). I fear that John’s prediction has come to pass.

Yet I keep hoping. I love the words of another poet of a much earlier generation: “Everything is far/and long gone by./I think that the star/glittering above me/has been dead for a million years…./I would like to step out of my heart/and go walking beneath the enormous sky./I would like to pray./And surely of all the stars that perished/long ago,/one still exists./I think that I know/which one it is–/which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,/stands like a white city…” (Rainer Maria Rilke, “Lament,” translated by Stephen Mitchell).

Somewhere there is a land full of armadillos, with no highways.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham

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