“Dada… um… is that elk dead?” asked Everett, peering tentatively from the garage doorway, eyes pinned to the hanging animal.
“It sure is.” I answered from my seat at the butchering table. “Want to come in and see it?”
“That means it can’t move anymore” he said, either reminding himself or seeking confirmation before committing to the room. I wasn’t sure which.
“That’s part of what it means, yes.”
What dead means has been more topical in his first three years than any of us would have chosen. So we talk about it. We read books. He asks questions and we do our best to answer. Everett’s good with words. I hope they help him. I’m pretty good with words too but they fail me in this matter. There’s too little knowing in them.
“Did you kill the elk?” he asked, moving into the room after long consideration.
“And we’re going to eat it?” he asked sidling closer, but still not daring to let it out of his sight.
“And then I’ll grow up big and strong!” he said with a sudden grin, warming now to the familiar narrative.
“You got that right fella!”
Twenty-four hours before, I’d lain on the ground and watched a vibrant, healthy, living cow elk grazing on a mountainside. I’d moved the crosshairs of my rifle scope to the place I knew her heart to be and I’d said thank-you. Then, in an instant, her life was gone. I collected all that she’d left behind and brought it home to my family. Soon, her body would become our bodies and our lives. I thought of it as an offering.
“Ok” Everett said, closing the last few feet to the animal’s side. He crouched there, no longer afraid, and stared with unmasked fascination. Then, his curiosity suddenly sated, he stood up straight, spread his arms and announced “I’m an airplane!”
“Cool!” I said “What do you say to the elk before you go?”
“Thank you elk.” he said in a playful sing-song. Then he fired up his engines and flew off, back through the sunlit door.
I realize my answers fall short. I like to think the inadequacy lies more in the nature of answers than any personal failing. In anycase, I can’t offer him an understanding that I don’t yet have myself. I hope instead that an offering of conscientious participation will be useful to him someday. It’s the best that I can do… for either of us.