What do you say about a monkey who died? On February 22, we found one
of our monkeys, Johnny Cash, dead in his cage and the other monkey,
June Cash, standing by the corpse in a bewildered state.
I liked Johnny, but I wouldn't say we had a close personal
relationship. Instead, I'll leave it to others to share about Johnny.
The following was said by the mourners gathered around the funeral
pyre (because we had to burn the body, because it would have been
super gross to bury it. And yes, someone did sing 'Ring of Fire' at
Johnny Cash's funeral pyre. And yes, it was me):
"Why Johnny Cash? Why not Simba [our dog]? Simba deserves to die." -
Lawa Joyce, our head cook
"Johnny Cash bit children and scared them. Johnny Cash bit me and
scared me." - Dorothy Mandera, 7-years-old
"I am not sad that Johnny Cash died." - Kasara Lamwaka, 12-years old
(who, nonetheless teared up a little bit)
And then there was 13-year-old Amacha Emmanuel, the happiest and most
resilient child at Cornerstone. In my 6 months here I have seen Amacha
deviate from happiness one time (when he got angry and bit another
boy). Other than that, he has an ever-present smile and cheery
disposition. Perhaps it was because of his unflappability (read, the
fact that he never screamed and ran away when a monkey came near him)
that he and Johnny Cash had developed a special bond. Johnny climbed
all over Amacha, and Amacha just laughed.
As the fire was burning down, I realized I hadn't seen Amacha and went
to see if he was alright. I found him in his bedroom, lying on his bed
and drawing a picture. He seemed a little quiet but otherwise fine, so
I asked him if he had heard the news. He looked at me, nodded, and
broke into his trademark grin, and I realized: no, he hasn't.
I told him, and his face was crossed with a look of pain and shock.
The knowledge settled over him, and he began to sob. His body shook,
he wiped tears away again and again first with his hands then with his
t-shirt, and he kept trying to make himself stop and failing. Before I
knew it, I was crying with him.
And I asked myself why, because I thought Johnny Cash was alright, but
I had no special affection for him. And I realized: Johnny was
Amacha's friend, and more than that Johnny gave Amacha the opportunity
to feel like he was good at something special - when every other child
fled, Amacha stayed; when Johnny was acting like a crazy monkey,
Amacha could calm him down. Johnny made Amacha's life more full, and
Amacha did the same for Johnny. Amacha has other talents and
abilities, other ways that he feels special now - but it's distinctly
possible that being the monkey tamer was the first time he was able to
feel that, and now it's gone. Amacha will move on, but that's
something to grieve.