It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess what? The people going through those hardships.
Where is the kindness?
Many people confuse “nice” with “kind”. I’ve learned to tell the difference.
So I pulled up that video on YouTube and played it loud, three times in a row, this morning.
And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.
Today, I’m going to donate to three causes. One will be for immigrant children separated from their children at the border. (Of course, there should be mercy, too, for the immigrant woman who was denied entrance because even though her husband KILLED HER TWO CHILDREN, it’s been determined spousal abuse is not a valid reason for entrance.) And btw, I often sign up for very small monthly amounts. Even $5/month adds up.
Today, I’m going to mail presents to my kids. One will love them, one will resent my “pity”.
Today, I’m going to do some journaling, something I tend to forget now that I have a regular writing gig.
Today, I’m going to schedule horse therapy time. I thought the horse needed love and acceptance, & I’d being doing HIM a favor. Doesn’t work that way.
Today, I will look for every opportunity to be kind.
Today, I’m going to take exquisite care of myself. Because like so many others even less fortunate and privileged as I, I need some mercy now.
I’ve done it before. In fact, this is the third pigeon I’ve rescued.
I like pigeons a lot. They are actually pretty smart birds, and they do well in captivity. Better than in the wild, in fact. In captivity, wild pigeons can live 10-15 years. In the wild (in cities, I mean), they last about a year or two. (Yes, all those pigeons you hate are very young pigeons.)
Most injured wild birds will die in your hand from shock if you attempt to rescue them. Not pigeons! They will get quiet and look at you as if to say, “Well, finally, my ride is here! Where have you been?!”
I spotted this one on my drive home one day, and knew he was in trouble. It was extremely hot and humid, and a thunderstorm was brewing. He was staggering in circles, listing to one side, barely able to stay upright.
I vaguely remembered the virus PMV that causes these symptoms. I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and stalked him for fifteen minutes til I caught him. He kept trying valiantly to fly away, but after flying into a building and then into a passing car, he was finally exhausted enough to let me pick him up.
I looked up his symptoms to make sure I wasn’t exposing myself, my family or my pets to anything toxic, then made up a cage for him. I didn’t expect him to survive the night–he was in pretty bad shape, with an injured eye, dehydrated and subdued. I forced a dribble of water down his throat, made him as comfortable as I could, and left him alone.
The next morning, I was surprised to see him looking (askant) at me from his cage. Beady bright little eyes, like the pilfering penguin from the Wallace And Gromit movie, The Wrong Trousers. “You made it, Magoo!” I exclaimed. I made him drink a little more water, cleaned him up, set out some cockatiel food, and left him alone again.
Soon Mr. Magoo (I have no idea if it was a he or a she, but “Mr. Magoo” seemed to fit his bewildered stare) was drinking on his own, and eating, too. He was still aslant and wobbly. But every morning he let me pick him up so I could clean his cage and refill his food and water. Every time I went out in the mudroom, he looked down at me from his cage with his shiny eyes.
About four weeks went by. I was getting ready for a drive home to my folks in Michigan. I knew Jon wouldn’t be wild about cleaning up after a pigeon every day. I toyed with the idea of letting him go. he was getting a little better every day. But I wasn’t sure if he were fully recovered or not.
The day before I left, I went to lift him up. To my surprise, he fought me and flew out of my hands. I managed to corner him and snag him in the mudroom. But I knew then it was time for him to go.
I took him out to the front steps and set him down. “If you’re ready, you can go,” I told him. “If not, you’re welcome to stay.”
He exploded into the air and flew away without a backwards glance.
I didn’t begrudge him the lack of gratitude. Wild things don’t owe us anything, even when we help them. I was glad he lived to fly again.
A day later, I went to get in my car.
On the driver’s side door was a huge white splat of pigeon poop dripping from the window all the way down the panel.
Now, I could have have been annoyed, and made up a story about how pigeons will poop on the person’s car who saved them.
But I like to think that a pigeon, wanting to say, “I’m alive and okay!” would have very few ways to communicate in a way we’d be sure to notice.
So I’m making up a story that Mr. Magoo was saying, “Thank you” the only way he’d know how, by pooping on my car.
We have everything we need to know, right here in our hearts.
More musings on the grief writing workshop I teach at Home Healthcare and Community Services here in Keene, NH….
For each week of the class, there’s a central topic for our journaling or free writing exercise. Some topics allow us to talk about who we were, and where we are now after the death of a loved one. Some encourage us to remember them in a different way. Some acknowledge the difficult nature of our relationship with them. Some “point us toward home, so we can go there…” (A quote from DEAN SPANLEY, a remarkable, gentle and sweetly funny movie about death, grieving, and redemption.)
There’s one particularly powerful exercise we do in the writing workshop. It’s so powerful, I’m afraid I’ll give away the punchline. But it’s also so healing, it would be a sin not to share it with a wider audience….
It’s something I structured, sort of aim the sessions toward, so we get there at just the right time. Last week was the proper time.
I ask everyone to imagine the deceased in a place–it could be heaven, it could be nirvana, it could be in an alternate universe, it could even be in our dreams. It’s a place where they are safe, and loved, and happy. A place where they are fully healed, in mind, body and soul. A place where they are at their highest, most evolved self. A place where no matter what their faults or failings were, no matter how much they’ve already suffered or given, or loved, they are the best person we’ve always dreamed they could be.
“Write a letter,” I say to the class. “From them, to you.”
This always draws a lot of confusion and questions. I usually have to repeat it a few times. There are frowns, and pursed lips, and sighs.
Then the writing begins.
And then come the tears.
I am always astonished, when we finally share what we’ve written. It’s as if people have really stepped outside themselves, and delved into the heart of that person. The things we see, and recognize, and understand and finally accept, are incredible.
It’s a letting go of what could have been. It’s accepting what it was, and is. It allows hope to sprout the tiniest, most delicate green leaves.
It was a funny night to begin with. Three of us selected animals to write about. It felt a little disrespectful at first–People before animals, right? Except we were also accepting that the loss of a beloved pet can be just as rattling, especially since they are often the very thing that soothes us during other, larger losses.
And so we wrote a letter from our pets, to us.
In my opening sentence, I immediately saw how empathic this exercise really is. I wrote, “Dear kind lady….” Because, of course, Gomez would have no idea what my name was. And being a cat, he probably wouldn’t care.
Here’s the small miracle: All three of us did the same. Realized our pets don’t “know” our names. But they know who we are to them. One writer started her letter with “Dear Mom”, because that’s who her dog would think she was.
Here’s my letter from Gomez:
Dear kind lady,
When I saw you at the shelter with your child, I knew I was going home with you. I saw you go to each cage, check out each cat. I saw you trying to connect with each one.
“I want an older cat,” you said to the shelter person. “I want a cat who really really really needs a home.”
But none of those cats would play with you. They knew I was meant for you. They wouldn’t give you the time of day–they knew it was my turn.
Finally, after coming to me 3 times–and every time I tried to tell you, I tried to show you–“Me! I’m the one! It’s me you want!”….
And finally, though you said I was too beautiful, and too young, you said I was the one.
I charmed everyone, didn’t I? Even Chai. Even Tuck. Even Nick.
I brought you mice, and birds, and I slept on your bed. You gave me a good home.
Yes, there was a bad man, and yes, it hurt. It hurt so much.
But that pain is gone. It is no more.
The only pain I feel now is the pain in your heart, the part of you that blames yourself for what happened.
It’s not your fault, kind lady. It’s not your fault. Be at peace.
My time with you was lovely. You cared for me, and loved me, and kept me safe. You gave me a good home.
Someday there will come another cat, a cat that needs a good home. Open your heart again, your kind and loving heart. Give that cat a home, a hearth, a sofa to sleep on, dogs to tease and torment, food to eat and saucy mice to chase.
Don’t grieve for me, kind lady. I don’t regret a thing.
Everything we need to know, is already in our hearts.
All we have to do is be silent. And listen. Truly listen.
Our cat Gomez has been missing since August 18, the day we left on vacation. He escaped the house just as we were packed and ready to go. “He’ll be fine!” everyone groaned. “Mary (our pet care person) comes tonight, he’ll be back for dinner time!”
So against my better judgment, we left. I tried not to worry. Everything would be fine, I told myself.
That was the last time I ever saw Gomez.
Mary called two days later to tell us there was no sign of Gomez. When we got home, he still hadn’t made an appearance.
We made very effort to find him–calling shelters, hanging posters, talking to people in the neighborhood. We met many wonderful people who tried to help us.
But every lead dried up. Even the black cat sightings all turned out to be other cats. I never knew there were so many black cats in Keene!
Gomez is such a great cat! I held onto a slim hope that he’d ingratiated himself into a new home, though I know that’s not how most lost cats end up. I called him every time I went outside. I watched for him as we walked or drove around our neighborhood.
Twice I was sure I’d found him. Happy, happy day!
Then I’d wake up, and realized I’d been dreaming.
Then I read the article in last night’s Keene Sentinel, our local newspaper. Three dead cats found in different Keene neighborhoods. Although there’s no evidence the cats were deliberately killed, the number of incidents, and some details about the deaths, raise a suspicion or two.
Two of the bodies were found very near our house.
I called the detective assigned to the case to get more information. Sure enough, one of the incidents involved a black cat. Actually, the head of a black cat.
It was disposed of by the home owners before the police arrived. And with no body, there was no microchip to be checked.
The head was found the day after Gomez disappeared.
The detective was sympathetic. He has pets, too, and had recently lost one. He knows how hard it is to lose a furry friend.
Some day soon, I’ll share those wonderful stories. As in any bad situation, there are good people who come forward, who cross our path, who restore our hope and faith.
It helps to know that Gomez is not lost, or suffering, or frightened anymore.
I’m not participating in the Fair this year, for the first time in….14 years?? My only representation there will be this necklace. I feel totally at sea about missing it, but I know I couldn’t physically handle it this year. My knee replacement surgery was my fourth surgery in three years, and it’s catching up to me! Hopefully I’ll be back in the saddle for next year’s Fair!
To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.
Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.
We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.
Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.
It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.
After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.
Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.
Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.
It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.
Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.
For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.
I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….
No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.
No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.
Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.
“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.
“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.
I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.
As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…
I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?
I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.
I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.
Well, duh, who cares??!!
I want to do it.
And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.
So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….
But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….
Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.
Won’t that look silly?
Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.
Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.
And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?
Ms. Dodd was fortunate enough to be invited to actually visit the cave of Chauvet in France. I envy her with all my heart. In a good way.
…At some point in time, other visitors to the cave marked their way with torch wipes, rubbing the burning surface to knock off ash and renew the flame—and perhaps if the way was unknown to them, to leave signs of the route back up and out….
So there you have it, folks. Torch wipes. Who knew??!!
And what will I do with that envy?
I will put it to good use.
I’m thinking it’s time for another trip to France, to visit the caves I can. I found other sites in Germany, sites that were the home of wonderful artifacts (including the oldest horse artifact ever discovered) that might be open to the public.
If anyone knows someone in the “cave art biz” (is there such a thing??) or someone who can pull strings in the French or German government, start pulling for me now!