I spent last weekend in the sometimes-greater Boston area, visiting relatives and friends. Such visits have long been cause for many hugs and kisses. In the past, before fear of contamination and a more clear setting of personal boundaries prevailed, visits among friends and family rarely passed without experiencing both types of affectionate expression.

Now, we live in a time of transition, where permission is almost always asked for an act that, a few short years ago, was most often taken for granted.

About a quarter of a century ago, when I was visiting my first mother-in-law at her home in Minneapolis, she took me to a gathering of friends.

“This is Shlomit,” she told them as we entered the room. Before I was two steps into the space, the half-dozen smiling occupants had circled up into a group hug from which I had no escape. It wasn’t that I had never experienced this sort of cluster of affection before, but these were total strangers and they were pressing their positive vibes into me in a manner that was borderline aggressive.

The rules keep changing.

After I visited my 93-year-old aunt in the suburbs last Friday morning, I drove back into town to see the City Mouse. We had a wonderful afternoon of talking and walking and hanging around. And yes, there were hugs during both those visits and on a couple more occasions over the weekend. All were wonderful experiences that filled me with shared warmth and a physical connection, after an absence of many months, cannot be adequately described.

I headed home Sunday morning, stopping in Scarborough to dance with strangers on a grassy lawn in the sunshine. I didn’t expect hugs at the dance, just time among other humans, celebrating our ability to move through space. For some, dancing is a form of worship. A physical demonstration of gratitude for the brief material existence our souls get to enjoy. Sometimes a dance, even without contact, can feel just like a hug.

Between the hug that greeted my arrival on Thursday and the embrace of spirit I found on Sunday, the City Mouse told me about the Rat Elevator.

He was talking about an ongoing conflict that occupies urban humans: The effort to keep vermin at bay. Dictionaries define vermin as birds or animals that prey on game, and harmful or objectionable creatures (including humans) that compete with us for food and are difficult to control. City Mouse loves all birds and is somewhat amused by the rabbits that make their homes in and about the gardens of his neighborhood. But birds and bunnies are the stuff of sweet bedtime stories. Rats, on the other hand, have a very bad reputation and, outside of animated features, little apparent charm.

City Mouse lives in a large brick apartment house, built in 1910 with high ceilings, ample porches, and a beautiful backyard. As we stood on his balcony looking out at the birds and bunnies frolicking in an adjacent garden, he told me of his neighbor’s rat woes.

“I told my him to do what we do,” my friend said. “I told him to get the rat elevator.”

I laughed as City Mouse described a complicated system that entices the rodents into an object shaped like a large computer tower. “It zaps them, like a bug zapper. Then a platform rises up inside the container and flips the bodies into a storage chamber while sending an electronic signal to the exterminator,” he said as I continued to laugh. “When the chamber is full, maybe four or five rats, they come and clean it out.”

It took a while for me to understand he was not making this up. Forgoing the evening’s Netflix offerings, I insisted we go downstairs immediately so he could show me this absurdity. After all, he has known me for decades and could hardly imagine I would find a contraption that goes to such murderous lengths to be at all sensible.

He wasn’t kidding. The SMART Box is powered by a solar panel and bears a label that bears the claim, “Long Life.” Not for the rat.

There is arrogance in the suggestion we humans can know the intention of creation, that we know which parts of the living community are worthy of long life and which deserve to be lured,

zapped, and “ … deposited into a plastic bag in a closed container,” as the makers of the SMART Box advertise.

Those who follow the Bible often forget the fall from paradise came because, against divine instruction, we wanted to understand the division between such things as good and evil and to partition righteousness into that which serves our understanding of God and that which does not. When the idea of a separation between church and state was being tossed around, back in those self-described times of enlightenment, what was the rationale? Who was expected to benefit from an impermeable political barrier between the government of societies and the worship of our gods?

As I remember from my early American History classes, some citizens of Scrooby, England, in the early 17th century were fed up with the lax ways of the Church of England and set forth to the Netherlands to live a life more bound by religion. When the people of Holland did not welcome them with open arms and union wages, the group, who called themselves Pilgrims, got on a boat and headed west.

What they found in the place they called New England, were woodland people whose morals appeared to them far less constrained than anything they previously encountered. Fortunately, for our self-styled heroes, Europeans had firearms. Instead of allowing the natives their own religious freedom, the settlers called them savage, subdued them with superior weaponry, built cities and towns, practiced their purity without government oversight, were fruitful, and multiplied.

A couple of hundred years later we had expanded across the continent and were secure enough in our hegemony to pick a big fight with our own selves, arguing while all men might be created equal, some were more equal than others.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war,” said the president at that time and now, another century and a half on, the argument over whose belief should rule our lives continues.

We teach our children the United States is a beacon to the world, a free country where success comes to all who are willing to put in the effort. Justice wears a blindfold while the Justices promote their private beliefs as public policy. The men who wrote about equality saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” had not yet recognized or granted rights to the highly productive half of their society that was not male or the fifth of hardworking adults at that time who were black.

They also lived in a world without conical bullets. Rifled gun barrels were in their infancy and, due to the inconsistency of their manufacture and the time it took to reload, reserved for snipers with extensive training. Other than that, the most sophisticated weapons of the time were muskets, hatchets, and bayonets.

Today, any fool can purchase a weapon that can murder more total strangers in three minutes than were killed by the Continental Army in an average month of battle.

As for rats, Cambridge residents report fewer than 1000 sightings a year.

I don’t want the government to fund my celebrations. I definitely don’t need schools to teach that dance is sacred. The Supreme Court has no business deciding who can govern my movements across a field of grass, or even whether I can hug an old friend who surprises me by showing up in the same place time as I, especially not on religious grounds.

As for the rights we may or may not have to exterminate rats, end a pregnancy, or shoot up a shopping mall — It might be worth remembering the people who wrote the Constitution were far from perfect, and could no more predict the future than you or I.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.