Finding hope through an experience with a hermit crab may sound silly, but today Dan’s sharing a touching story of how a seed of faith was planted in his youth through just that.
Some of life’s most profound lessons are found during unexpected, seemingly insignificant events. I learned about finding hope after my parents allowed me to have a certain small pet. Growing up, my family had a pet dog, cat and a boring old parakeet that might as well have been stuffed for all we paid attention to it. But that wasn’t enough for the five year old me. Somehow, with the proper application of whining and pleading, I convinced my mother that I needed a pet hermit crab. I suppose she believed that of all potential pets in the animal kingdom, a hermit crab was one of the more innocuous.
I vaguely remember the pet store owner explaining to me how to take care of my crab. He advised me to make sure it was fed, but not too much, place the water in a particular part of its enclosure and ensure that there was a spare shell for it to call home when it had outgrown its current one. I was certain this crab (I named it Herman) was destined to become my new best friend.
Herman, however, never took much of a shine to me. He didn’t seem to like me picking him up, as he always recoiled into the darkest recesses of his shell whenever I did. He never responded to my voice when I cooed his name, and the closest thing I got to a snuggle was when he pinched my grimy little fingers. I loved him all the same.
With the fascinated interest only a young child can muster, I would watch him intently. I was amazed at how he carried his house on his back, how he could disappear into his shell so quickly, and even how he ate his food! His tiny life filled me with wonder and joy. Never before or since have boy and crab had such a touching and devoted friendship.
Nothing could have prepared my kindergarten mind for what happened less than a month into my first foray into pet responsibility. One day after school, I raced up the stairs to check on Herman – only to find his lifeless crab body. He was out of his shell in between his old home and the new shell I had placed in his cage. I was devastated! It appeared to my innocent eyes that he had been trying to change shells, but since I had accidentally placed his new shell with the opening down, he had died trying to find a new place to live. The guilt and despair I felt were nearly unbearable; I was certain my negligence had killed Herman.
Inconsolable, I did the only thing I could think to do. I gently wrapped my precious crab in a tissue, and wrote a tribute to Herman in my best kindergarten handwritten prose (I am pretty sure it said “Hrmut Krab Ded”). Acting as his sole pall-bearer, I took him into the backyard and put the tissue under some leaves and then placed my paper tombstone on top of it. I paid my respect with my tears.
Shortly after I had begun my graveside service my older brother Bruce approached Herman’s resting place. Now, you should know that Bruce and I were not always the best of chums because he was four years older and I would often find myself the target of his teasing. I initially regarded his sudden presence with a hefty dose of suspicion. Then an unexpected exchange took place.
“Hey Danny,” he said. “I’m really sorry to hear about Herman. He was a good crab, as far as crabs go. I’m sorry you’re so sad.”
Bruce let a few moments pass before he continued, “You know, I was thinking that we should give him a proper burial, make him a nice coffin, and say a few nice things about him, what do you think?”
Pleasantly surprised by my brother’s unsolicited offer of assistance, and not sensing any ulterior motive within him, I agreed. Together we spent the next hour or so making the perfect coffin for Herman out of one of our dad’s racquetball cans. We stuffed it with toilet paper, making a soft bed so Herman would be comfortable. Then we wrapped up his sarcophagus nice and tight in duct tape (so he wouldn’t be disturbed). Alongside him we placed both of his houses (shells), and the now folded and wordsmithed eulogy,”Hrmut Krab Ded”. Bruce then helped me dig the perfect-sized burial plot for him in the back yard, and fashioned a small cross out of sticks for his headstone. Thanks to Bruce, Herman was given one of the most Christian, comfortable send-offs of probably any hermit crab before or since. For one of the first times in my five years of life, my brother wasn’t a complete bum-face.
However, the miracle of kindness Bruce showed me that afternoon wasn’t quite enough to overcome my sorrow. That evening, I wept anew. The responsibility for Herman’s demise hung heavy. I imagined him frantically searching for his new home and never able to find the open door, because I hadn’t left it open. Also, this was the first time in my life when the finality of death registered with me. I was never going to see Herman again – the thought was as scary as it was sad.
At some point during my crying, my mother slipped into the room and sat beside me on my bed. As she had done many times before when I was upset, she smoothed my hair back and sang to me primary songs from church. When I had calmed down a bit she taught me some precious truths about life and faith. She explained to me that our Heavenly Father is aware of all of his creatures here on earth – (See Matthew 10:29). She explained that He knew when every one of them died and that He cared. She went on to tell me that she believed that life didn’t end with death here on earth, that life carried on in heaven and that it was a much happier place.
“Do you think that Herman went to heaven?” I asked. “Do you think that I’ll ever get to see him again?”
Now, I’m not certain of the doctrine of my church as it pertains to hermit crabs, but I did feel comfort and truth in her response.
“I believe that whatever is important to you is important to God. If seeing Herman again would make you happy, I bet He could arrange that, because He loves you.” My mother had perhaps for the first time in my life opened my tender heart to the doctrine of hope.
The sting of Herman’s death has, of course, faded with time. While I am no longer saddened by the thought of his passing, I am glad he was a part of my childhood. His tiny, seemingly insignificant life and death provided a deep and powerful learning experience for my young mind. As much as anything, I learned I could count on my family (even those I wasn’t so certain about) to rally around me and comfort me during a time of personal crisis. Herman’s death gave Bruce and my mom the opportunity to serve charitably and teach me by example – I’m glad they took the opportunity to do so.
My faith, my religion, my belief system and my joy has ever since been intertwined with hope. I have hope in restitution of that which is longed for and lost. It doesn’t matter how small or seemingly trite that loss might be. I have a hope in the restitution of all things to their proper frame. Whether it be the hairs of my head, the loss of my physical ability, the passing of a loved one, or even the death of my precious pet hermit crab, my Father in Heaven knows, cares and ultimately can make it right.
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