This past Labor Day my eight-year-old son Max and I were in the back yard doing some yard work when I noticed our dog Porkchop staring something down. In the middle of the yard was a baby squirrel. I grabbed Porkchop and whisked her inside our house, knowing she would likely kill the tiny creature. What happened next in our minds was nothing short of remarkable.
The little squirrel began to follow my son around. Wherever Max would go, it would go. Then I got the squirrels attention and it started following me. It would get as close as I would allow it. At anytime I could have picked it up. And this sounds crazy, but it seemed to look right into my eyes. He followed every move I made. I went to the front yard and he followed me there.
My five-year-old daughter Raquel was watching from inside the house and decided to join the fun. Now the squirrel followed every move she made. I did not want my kids to get too close to the animal for fear of being scratched or bitten. Rabies crossed my mind, but it seemed way too tame to have it.
Here's the thing, our family already has 5 pets, all of them rescues, so the thought of picking up another animal was not what I was willing to do at this time. I took my kids inside to have lunch and let some time pass hoping the squirrel would go away.
Here's where it gets strange. Our kitchen dining area has a sliding glass door that leads to a deck and the backyard. While we ate lunch, the determined squirrel came to the door, stared through it directly at us and began scratching on the glass. What in the world? We were all flabbergasted and fully entertained. Moreover, we all seem to project the idea that the squirrel was reaching out to us to say, "help me, please help me, you're all I've got."
Two days before a severe storm had blown through our neighborhood and I am guessing it had been displaced from its nest. We finished lunch and when we returned outside there was our squirrel, waiting for us.
Now the drama. Two of our cats are in the yard and would love nothing more than play cat and mouse with the squirrel. Before they pounce, I debate on whether to clear them out or pick up the squirrel. As I hesitate, my wife Carolyn takes action. She throws her fleece on the squirrel and picks him up. The squirrel immediately began to nuzzle in my wife's arms. Squirrels apparently purr. Did you know that? They purr loudly! The kids and I take turns petting it. We feed it some unsalted sunflower seeds and grapes. Raquel gave him a name: Albert.
I pulled out a cat-travel cage from the basement, placed a blanket inside and in Albert went. We set up a water dish and gave him some more seeds. He had his fill then made a little blanket nest and crashed out. We locked him in a spare bedroom for the night. The next day after school, Carolyn and the kids took him to a wildlife rescue. We were assured he would be rescued and eventually released to the wild. Our kids feel great, and so do we. We saved Albert's life.
This week, with the flood of news stories about the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the world seems like a cruel place. Add to that having 24-7 news channels, the internet, Twitter feeds and more delivering a constant barrage of bad news and it's easy to feel hopeless.
What to do? For me I've always cradled this thought: What one person CAN do. It means I make a difference where I can. It means tend I tend to my own backyard. In my family's case, it meant save Albert the Squirrel.
We will be hammered with images, video and stories from the 9/11 disaster this weekend. It's easy to stay in that world. We should not forget the day, but neither should we forget to connect with the world around us. My family and I spent hours working to save Albert. He gave us a purpose, a cause, if only for a few hours over a couple of days. For Albert, it meant the difference between life and death. We believe he lives because of us.
A colleague and friend at Fox 2 reminds me of a passage from the Talmud that reads "And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." Albert is only a squirrel but my family feels saved. For us paying attention to what is directly around us, what's in front of us at each moment is the way we try to live. When it happens we are happier. My kids do it naturally, as so many do. It's more of a struggle for my wife and me.
This September 11, go ahead and watch all the coverage if you must, soak it in and remember those we've lost -- and what we've lost. Just remember to be present wherever you are and to get engaged in the world you LIVE in. I hope you find the 'Albert' in your life. I guarantee you he's out there.