A hedgehog’s lament

Protective Armour

So, Jennifer’s giving Moose, the hedgehog, a bath in the sink, which is pretty entertaining in itself. Charlie’s helping, hands protectively swathed in heavy workgloves — those quills are sharp and this hedgehog’s a bit, well, prickly most of the time.

After the bath (complete with trimming her teeny nails), Jennifer lays Moose down on a fluffy, absorbent towel until the little critter is dry. While lying there on her back, I’m amazed at how she simply folds her quills protectively around her soft belly. It’s as if she’s snuggling up in a soft, cotton quilt for a nap.

Most other times, Moose is hissy, irritable. She puffs up like a blowfish, sharp quills erect and protective. (Well, that plus the toilet paper roll she always wears over her head. We figure that she’s thinking if she can’t see us, we can’t see her, which makes her feel safe. Until one of us steps close to her cage and speaks to her. Toilet paper helmet or not, she prickles.)

The sight of those quills, whether pointedly aimed or hugging protectively, make me laugh out loud. But it’s the poignant reflection that stops me cold.

Prickly quills are awfully good at keeping others away from a hedgehog. They keep these otherwise gentle creatures safe and protected. But those quills also keep them from the feel of kind, gentle hands that might caress, rub a soft belly, or lavish affection. Now, Moose gets her share of attention and handling, but only those who persevere ever reach the point where those quills relax. It takes work. It takes patience. Even Jennifer, who handles her all the time, knows well the feel of those tiny, pointed daggers.

It makes me wonder, then, what human quills look like, because we all have them. Sarcasm. Anger. Argumentativeness. Self-deprecating humor, perhaps, or the workaholic life, or even withdrawal from social activities. Our quills are whatever we use to keep people at bay or to keep our psyches and our hearts safe. And our quills, while protective and useful at times, simply keep us from fully experiencing life and all the joys and sorrows, ups and downs that make it so real, so precious and provocative. 

Watching Moose these past few weeks pushes and prods me to explore my own quills. As John Fowles says, with our quills erect — whatever quills we use — we can’t eat. If we can’t eat, we starve. And then, those wonderfully protective spines die right along with us.

My take on that is simple: we can wall ourselves off in an effort to protect ourselves, but when we do that, we cut off the sustenance our spirits need to thrive and blossom. There’s a time to prickle and time to relax. For me, the key is finding the balance so that life isn’t held at arm’s length, but is instead fully embraced.

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