According to Maslow, once we have our physiological and security needs met, our ambitions are drawn toward our needs to find a place to belong and a people or person to love. Whether it be a community of like-minded people or a soulmate, this basic human connection is one of the primary motivators of humankind once they have reached a point of survival beyond living hand to mouth. Even among those who simply scrape by from day to day, there is a draw toward camaraderie and connection with others.
We need to feel as if we belong, and we need to love and be loved.
Last week, I adopted a squirrel and quickly fell in love with the little critter. Having a pet wasn’t something I’d anticipated, but when life scampers up, jumps on your head, and curls up in your hand to go to sleep, it’s not like you can just toss it away and go on with business as usual.
My day started with a trip to explore the new Riverfront park in Bradenton to get some ideas in order to plan for the installation of the Labyrinth of the Unbroken Path and its integration into the ArtSlam festival on November 10. The Labyrinth was first developed as a project for last year’s ArtSlam. A rather high concept piece, it fit perfectly onto a rounded brick canvas away from the fray. This year, it will serve not only as a cerebral installation piece which weaves together community consciousness, but will serve as a backbone for the event in collaboration with Urban Spiral Dream Company and Third Eye Projections. It’s going to be quite an event.
Anyway, after the tour of the grounds, I was discussing the integration of the Common Wealth Time Bank into this community collaboration with Misha Rubinstein, one of the orchestrators of the event through USDC, when a baby squirrel walked up to me and seemed to look to me for protection. I offered him my hand and he crawled on. He seemed fairly spry and crawled up to my fingertips. He crouched to jump and I didn’t stop him from leaping onto my head. Unfortunately, it appears that my hair doesn’t make for a very graspable landing pad, and I wasn´t able to grab the little guy before he plummeted to the concrete.
He seemed ok, although a little more flustered. After recovering from the shock of the fall, or perhaps in order to recover from it, he curled up in my hand, covered his face with his tail, and proceeded to go to sleep. Considering the difficulty of riding a bicycle with a rodent in my hand, I took off my shirt, wrapped him in it, put him in a shopping bag, and headed downtown.
For the next four days, awake or asleep, he had most of my attention. Although there was work that I´d planned to do, it was such a joy spending time with little Pipsqueak and caring for such a fragile little life. I considered the ups and downs of having a pet, and pretty much convinced myself that I was going to become the squirrel guy.
When I was on my bike, if Pip wasn´t sleeping in my backpack, he was on my shoulder or riding on my hat. Within a couple of days, he was sleeping in my pocket. I even took him to a party where he met my friends and took a liking to sleeping in my pocket.
On the one instance where I left him with Jasmine to watch while I hosted open mic poetry night, I couldn´t wait to get home to see him again. She and I have tried to patch things up a few times since our divorce last year, and considering that I was more excited to get back to her place to see my squirrel than I was to spend time with her, I think it´s pretty safe to say that we´ll never be anything more than friends again.
But she still is my best friend.
Tuesday afternoon, when I went to check on Pip after a ride across town, I found him dead in my backpack, and it hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest. He must have gotten jarred when I hit a bump, but I still felt responsible for not adjusting the back weight properly. Even though it was the anniversary of our divorce, I wanted to see Jasmine. Her apartment was only a few blocks away, but I was knocked down a little further when I saw that her car was gone. I texted her, held Pip in my hand, and wept.
I knew it was silly to get so emotionally distraught over a rodent that I´d only known for four days, but I couldn´t help myself. It broke my freaking heart. I sat there on the pavement outside her place through three good cries and as many texts. For awhile, I just didn´t want to move, knocked back and forth between grief and guilt. After about 45 minutes, I put Pip back in my pack and headed north.
I shared the news with Kari and Alex, who´d never met Pip in his livelier days, but offered hugs of condolences nonetheless. I dug a hole near the garden, thanked Pip for bringing some more light into my world, and laid him to rest.
After Alex filled me up with a plateful of Etheopean food, I got a succession of texts from Jasmine, apologizing for being off grid, but agreeing to meet me at the Bay Shore House. I rode the few blocks to the water and had a little time in the hammock to myself before she got there. Breathing in the salty breeze, I realized that, if nothing else, the cries were cleansing, and I think I´d needed it.
Jasmine made it in time for the sunset and one more cry for good measure. She wrapped her arms around me without judgment and without reserve. I realized that although Jasmine couldn´t be there for me when I wanted her to, she was there for me. And although we didn´t make the marriage work, I´ll always love her in a way she may never fully understand.
Heading back to Bradenton that night to stay with Jayne and Ellen before heading back to Riverwalk, I realized how much love I do have in my life, and even though my life is tumultuous, I do feel like I belong. I mean, I´ve got some really great people in my life who love me enough to put up with my shenanigans and encourage me to reach my potential. If I can love them half as much as I loved that squirrel, I think my needs in this category are pretty well met.
Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at The Unbroken Path and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.