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Fr. Glenn: Lessons From A Coyote

on December 10, 2017 - 7:09am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

Walking across our frigid parking lot last Thursday morning, as I often do I saw a coyote trotting along the edge in that characteristic coyote lope … returning from her journey to who-knows-where (likely scavenging around the high school … gnawing on tender freshmen now and again?) But this isn’t just any ol’ coyote; she’s the same one I’ve seen skulking about since early spring—easily recognized by an apparent malady reducing her fur to a minimum. Indeed, it often required a long look to confirm her really AS a coyote.

I know she’s a “she” because, even having her affliction, I spied her litter of about six pups last summer … they often greeted every siren with raucous howling chorus. Yet … the chorus gone, and as recent colder weather blasted through last week, I couldn’t help but think: “The poor thing probably won’t survive this cold with so little fur. Likely to be raven chow before long.”

Female coyote. Courtesy photo

But … there she was … trotting easily across the light dusting of snow … a bit furrier, but certainly not with full coat … “my” little coyote still clinging “doggedly” (har, har) to her seemingly meagre existence—a veritable icon of the stubborn determination of life, and an edifying reminder of the strength of the will. I resist temptation to feed her out of respect for the harsh but essential workings of natural selection, but most of all to avoid becoming a draw for predators, especially with so many small children and dog-walkers about our grounds.

If you know anything at all about southwest Native American culture, you know that coyotes have been admired, and even venerated, for untold centuries because of their survivability and cleverness. Indeed, their adaptability has seen them invade even metropolitan areas as far as the northeast, with reports of them scavenging in huge cities like New York and Los Angeles. Love them or loathe them, you can’t help but admire their resilience.

A parishioner recently told of watching a coyote bait a smaller dog toward the edge of Barranca Mesa by pretending to flee the dog, and then turning suddenly upon his pursuer once he apparently thought the dog far enough from human protection. Fortunately, the little dog discovered renewed motivation and vigor at the role reversal and escaped none the worse for wear ... a bit wiser. 

Coyotes’ hardiness and tenacity toward life and life’s turns of fortune are virtues of primordial instinct we can certainly learn from. They might do so, but I’ve never heard a coyote whimper, even when cold and starving … though domesticated dogs often whimper simply at the withholding of their favorite treat, or left too long after “doing their business”. Too much ease of life and domestication has perhaps dulled that primitive canine toughness?

This thought was brought home again all too starkly by the school shooting in Aztec last week, and the subsequent revelation of the shooter’s despair of life—at the ripe old age of 21—his act of violence, one might suppose, being a last desperate (and vain) attempt at notoriety. Vain, certainly, because, after all, can you remember the names of the Las Vegas or Orlando or Sutherland Springs shooters? (I’ve often lamented the romanticized notoriety given to New Mexico’s Billy the Kid and Black Jack Ketchum, or to the gangsters of the early 1900s, because of concern that such notoriety instills ideas of perpetual infamous celebrity in young people.)  One might also cite suicides—their acts, by definition, indicating a despairing of life, and yet wreaking carnage in the emotions and psyches of those left behind.

Has our own “domestication” irretrievably destroyed our primitive toughness? I think not … but, like muscles, such toughness has to be exercised—especially in young people. We remember that our little coyote’s determination to live doesn’t arise from ease of life, but rather from overcoming hardship … and thus realizing that hardships CAN be overcome, and that the goodness of and in life is worth fighting for.

But there must be purpose, and this time of year is perfect to find and renew purpose as so many gather and work for the relief of others in need. Very often even recalcitrant or despairing youth (and everyone) find new purpose when they see how their actions can beneficially affect those in need—even in simple chores around the house of an elderly neighbor and in the resultant gratitude shining in their eyes.

One doesn’t have to be Christian to realize the basic goodness in Jesus’ words: “You are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) It is not in pursuit of ease, pleasure and further “domestication” that gives us purpose and renews our determination toward life, but rather the selflessness of giving of ourselves for others—especially when it’s taxing.  Jesus Himself is the model of selfless giving … not fleeing hardship, but offering Himself freely to torturous execution for the good of others. You don’t get any tougher than that.

Our little coyote’s instinctive hope is progeny … and yet even that simple sense of purpose keeps her clinging tenaciously to life. But the Christian’s very-well-founded and reasoned hope is far greater, alluded to in the oft-cited verse of scripture: “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Yes, it is the “things hoped for” that give savor and joy and purpose to human life.