December 20, 2012


In honor of the Winter Solstice, and back by popular demand, I am reposting...
"The Christmas Bat: A True Story!"
(OK, nobody really asked to see this blogpost again--BUT I have included an Afterword.
Enjoy. Cringe. Laugh. Weep.)

(this is NOT my hand)

Of all the gifts Jesus could give me for Christmas (out of His whole ex nihilo world), He knew I would really, really love a bat. I'm serious. I love all His little critters (except roaches). It was Sunday, December 21, 2008, the Winter Solstice, broad daylight, about zero degrees, and I was walking to Mass between Chicago's Daley Center and the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, when a tiny little bat came flying straight at my midriff. At first I thought it was a little bird, but it was too thin—like a boomerang—and a super graceful double-jointed flyer. I realized immediately it was a bat. As I said, I have always loved bats, and this was a total GOD moment. Everything slowed down and it was as if he was flying in slow motion toward me. It was as if this little guy was CHOOSING me to help him and GOD was choosing me to help His little creature at the same time. It was like 3-D Cartesian coordinates.

FWUMP! He swooped up and landed on my chest, fluttered himself down to the ground, huddled on his stomach next to my boot, tucking his wings under his body, shivering for all he was worth. He was quite tiny, his body only three inches long. What could I do? I picked up this pitiful, but feisty little BLACK bat (with some silver fur on his back). I assumed that most bats around Chicago would be the common BROWN bat, so I thought: Hmmmm, he's probably a migrator. Obviously, he had not gotten the memo to migrate about, oh, two months ago.

A guard inside the closed Daley Center banged on the glass: "Is that a bat??" "Yes!" "Can I see him?" By now, baby bat had perked right up, getting warm in my cupped gloves. I put his little face against the window: pinpoint black eyes, pig snout, little bat teeth that he kept licking. He began nibbling on the leather inset of my glove. I thought: Hmmmm. I hope he doesn't have rabies. I tried to get the guard to take him inside, but she wasn't having any of that. "I'm taking him to church!" I declared. "What?" "Church! I'm taking him to church!" So off we went to St. Peter's in the Loop. If someone was going to ask me what I was holding, I was all ready to say "a bird," so they wouldn't freak out. I found an unused corner of the basement where I tried to get him to snuggle in my gloves until after Mass. But, being the bat that he was, he promptly jammed himself behind a podium (Ah! Like a crevice in a cave!) and began hibernating. OK, so what we have here is "bats in the basement" instead of "bats in the belfry." (It's amazing the number of bat puns you can come up with without even trying.)

After Mass, I grabbed Brother Gary (jazz pianist extraordinaire). "Hey, Brother, can I show you something?" "Sure." "You're Franciscan, you like animals, right?" "Um, yeah." "Like, you're not afraid of bats, right?" "Well…." I showed him his little houseguest. "I'll call some wildlife refuge if you can just leave him here for now." "Er, OK." (Brother Gary heroically kept the secret to himself until after the bat was well on his way to the "bat man," but I'm getting ahead of the story.)

On Monday, I looked online for "wildlife refuges" in the Chicago area. I found plenty, but they all said "no bats." They took "possums, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, mongoose, rats, snakes, Tasmanian devils, alligators, komodo dragons," etc. but "no bats." I couldn't figure out why bats were such pariahs. I love bats. Finally the Willowbrook Wildlife Refuge gave me a hot tip: Call the "bat man." After the WWR hung up they called me back immediately: "You're not touching this bat with your hands, are you?" "No, I have gloves." "Really thick gloves? You don't want to mess with rabies." [They were really thin gloves.] Me: "Ha ha! If I get rabies, I'll just get the tetanus shot." WWR: [Moment of silence.] "Um, no. Tetanus has nothing to do with rabies. [Somewhere along the line in my life I had gotten some very bad intel.] Rabies is basically fatal. You die. The only person to survive that we know of is a little girl in Wisconsin. They induced a coma. She was in a coma for a whole year." I was beginning to see the light regarding "No bats need apply."

Jim Rowles of Hinsdale, IL, DOES bats, aka "bat rehab." I called him forthwith. He sounded elderly. He had been out shoveling snow. At present, he had two bats hibernating in his garage that he was afraid he was "stuck with." When I inquired why he said he couldn't release them in the Spring he said: "Because one has a broken wing, and the other isn't playing with a full deck." He told me to call the "Bird Collision" people downtown. They could gather the bat and bring him to Hinsdale. He told me I had the right "battitude," and "thanks for looking out for the little guys." Turns out the "little guy" who befriended me is a Silver-haired Bat, Lasionycteris noctivagans, who likes to winter in Texas. "This species is migratory, at least in part. It spends the summer in northern latitudes and winters toward the south, even crossing several hundred kilometers of ocean to reach Bermuda. Surprisingly few winter records are available; thus, the mystery of just where these bats spend the winter is still not completely solved." Easy! Daley Plaza, the Franciscans, and the bat guy's!

A young woman from Bird Collision rode the train, woke our little guy up, placed him in a box, and took him on the first and last CTA ride of his life to the "bat guy."

"Silver Bats! Silver Bats! It's Christmastime in Chicago!" Well, isn't it appropriate? This is the Dark Knight's REAL Gotham City after all….


The more I thought about rabies, the more nervous I got. I was reading up about symptoms and effects and it was truly horrific: people chained to beds screaming and dying and slowly going mad. I called the lady at the Willowbrook Wildlife Refuge again. " does one get rabies again?" "Bat spit. People think it's the bite, but it's really the spit." Flashbacks of my little friend nibbling on my gloves with his super-miniscule teeth, and then me removing my gloves with MY teeth--as I always do--flashed through my mind like a strobe light. Me: " does one get tested for rabies?" "Oh, you don't really. By the time you test positive for rabies, it's too late. You need to be treated right away if there's any doubt." The treatments were way costly (I don't have health insurance) and seemed like a real hassle. Wildlife lady: "The other way to find out if you were exposed to rabies is to test the bat if that's still possible." How do they test the bat? [WARNING TO BAT LOVERS AND SENSITIVE SOULS: COVER YOUR EYES FOR THIS NEXT PART.] They cut its little head off and examine its brain matter. It's the only way they can know for sure. 

Well, with heavy heart, I arranged with the Board of Health for the little guy to give up his life for me. There was a huge battle with various counties and jurisdictions, and at one point I thought the poor old bat man was going to jail because one county said he had to have more than just a wildlife license but a bat license (these little guys are really in their own category) and what he was doing was illegal. Turned out that that county did NOT have jurisdiction, and the county that DID was on very friendly terms with the bat man already, and the bat man DID have a bat license. However, all did not go smoothly as the bat man was LOATHE to hand over the doomed winged-one and put up quite a fight.

In conclusion, I waited on pins and needles and finally received the phone call that the bat did NOT have rabies. I was relieved, of course, but sorrowful. The lesson I truly felt God was telling me from this is: "Look. This little bat is gone now (because of you). His life is over. What are you doing with your life? Do you treasure every second and use it well?" Turns out the bat may have had a disease that is ravaging the bat population called "white nose syndrome," a kind of fungus that disorients the bat, wakes them up from hibernation (which is very dangerous because then they need to eat and there's no food and they die).

RIP, little guy.


  1. The bat story is quite interesting and I see how it appeared to be a Christmas love gift from Jesus. But I too am concerned if you had any contact with the bat. Rabies can actually be transmitted via saliva or remnants of bat (or other mammalian) spit. So, you might want to check it out with the doctor, just to be sure. When there is a possible exposure, there is a prophylactic treatment that can be given (although no one should aim for it carelessly). Often vets and their animal care staff have to have the treatments after exposure to feral kittens who may be rabid, etc. So, not to put a damper on the little Gotham gift, but just to be sure that all continues to be well for you :)

    Merry Christmas...!

  2. Yikes!!!! Thank you! I'll be looking for symptoms....

  3. Actually, when one has a possible rabies exposure, one should not wait for symptoms (normally with rabies seeking medical care after symptoms appear is "too late")... Sorry, I don't mean to sound "gloom and doom," just trying to be protective/proactive. What worries me most about your exposure is that it was during the middle of the day, full day light, when it would be unusual for a nocturnal creature such as a bat to be out and about unless he/she was sick and/or injured... But I am glad to know (actually I just re-read your post more carefully) that the photo you included is not that bat on your hand :)

  4. This is maybe the best story I have ever read. When will you be publishing some stories?
    Tom Schuessler Mayville Wi.

  5. Dear Tom,
    You are far too kind! This IS my way of publishing. I am content to hold forth in print on my little hellish blog. I need a bumper sticker that says: "I'D RATHER BE MAKING MOVIES." Which, of course, I am doing as well: and