She sits on a corner of my messy desk: this stuffed toy in the form of a wolf cub. She is perhaps 14 inches from the black plastic tip of her upturned nose to her forepaws, which are endearingly turned in toward each other. She sits on her hind haunches with her fat sausage tail curled around. Her eyes are squeezed shut, her ears are folded back, and her muzzle points straight up as she howls at the moon. I call her Raksha, which was my name when I was a Cubs leader. (Raksha was the mother wolf in _The Jungle Book_. The connection should be obvious.)
I found her in a shop on the mall in the city five years ago, at a time when life was being particularly Interesting. She almost jumped off the shelf into my arms. At the time, I felt about the way she looks: I wanted to curl in my toes, point my muzzle skyward and simply howl, long and loud. I still get that way sometimes, although nowhere near as often. I keep Raksha on my desk for those times, and I find that hugging her helps: because she is howling, I don't need to, or at least not so much. Maybe it's a childish comfort. If so, I'm long since past pretending to be an adult; I know better than that. But maybe it would be better, in this season of Interesting Times, if we had a mass issue of cuddly stuffed toys, so that we could all lay down this illusion of being grown-up and cool and in control, and admit that we need something soft to hug....
Simply considered as a sewing project, she's quite remarkable: she's put together out of (let me see) six different types of fabric, shaggy or smooth, mostly soft grey and white, except for the black of her mouth and her fringe of pink felt tongue. It must take great precision to cut out all these pieces--for she's made of at least twenty different pieces--and stitch them together just so, stuffing the legs hard enough to give them real structure, shaping the curves of hindlegs and breast and head. She's a precise and complicated piece of work. Someone has stitched lines to give her toes; someone's hands glued her small black plastic nose on. Someone sewed two lines of black yarn to indicate her squeezed-shut eyes. And someone used a felt marker to make three dots on either side of her muzzle, to indicate whiskers.
Those someone's hands are, or were, certainly browner than mine; Raksha was made in Indonesia. My guess is that she was made by a woman in a factory, working long hours for a pitiful rate of pay. If she still lives, the chances are better than fair that the woman who made her is Muslim. I hope she likes sewing; I hope she enjoys making these small cubs. I hope she chatters with her fellow workers as she stitches and stuffs. I don't know. I can't easily imagine her life. We have so much in common, being human and female, and perhaps she too has children; but so much divides us--economics, language, geography.
When I look at the spots on Raksha's muzzle, I can't not see those brown hands. I have to wonder about this woman's life: urban or rural? young or older? Happily married or miserably, or widowed, or (less likely) single? Quiet or lively? Of a sweet disposition or irritable? Of course I have no way of knowing. What I do know is that God knows who she is and how she's doing; God has kept her company from the moment she was conceived and will be with her until the day she dies, and beyond. The woman may or may not know that, but it's true nonetheless.
In this season of enmity and the cruelty of really bad religion, it helps to hold onto a stuffed wolf cub and wonder about the person who made her. It helps, too, to feel a difference in the way that this part of the world is working: that on the whole, we have not turned Muslims or the people of Afghanistan into faceless non-persons, the Enemy, or at least not as much as we used to. We don't, for the most part, talk about them as we used to talk about Huns or Japs or gooks. We do understand that under the blue embroidered burkhas there are real women, women who have suffered terribly and are deeply traumatized. We would like to give those women bread and roses; we want to give their children hot, comforting food and toys like Raksha to lighten their somber faces. They are human to us, and they are suffering, and we want to care for them. This new and different attitude in war is, to me, a sign that God is still actively bubbling away in this life, even if sometimes it doesn't look that way.
Can we go a step further and look at the bodies of Taliban soldiers on the road and see that they too are human, and that God loved them in their life and loves them still? Some of them were cruel; some of them were weak or cowardly--bullies are, after all. God only knows what sick mixture of bad religion and group psychopathology made the Taliban the way it was. But each one of these dead men was a joy to his parents on the day of his birth; each was a dark-eyed toddler once. Whatever choices we make that grieve God deeply, the mercy's still there, if we will only avail ourselves of it.
I look at the pictures in the newspaper and reach for Raksha. I may be happy that the Bad Guys seem to be losing, but I'm too old to see things in simple black and white. What matters isn't whose interests are being served: what matters is that human beings are suffering, the guilty with the innocent, and that God is suffering alongside them. My God is not a god who rejoices in any suffering; my God is a God who loves even Bin Laden, although Bin Laden hurts God horribly.
I trust God to work in this world, for this world's good, even in times that seem as anxious and murky and tumultuous as this season. I trust my God to look after Raksha's maker, whoever she is or was. I wish I were better at trusting God to look after Raksha's owner, but I'm not very good about trust sometimes. Maybe if I trusted more, I'd need to howl less. It's possible.
I see that a seam on her face needs repair. Time to reach for the sewing basket and apply a little practical love.