Molly is a little bit afraid of the thunder. I know this because a storm scuttles in the distance causing her to ask her first genuine question of me: “May I come up on the couch with you?” Giada checks on her, bumping her nose into Molly’s space. She heard the question and is responding in her own way. We learn Molly and she learns us, each little piece of knowing allowing us to build a new, shared rendition of what we are as family.
A little bit afraid. Also, almost interchangeably — a little bit anxious, a little bit stressed, a little bit worried. I am a keeper of the well-being of animals and that duty matters to me like breathing. So, I watch for even the most subtle signs, the “little bit” indicators of their ease or dis-ease. It is an awareness with powerful draw. I use the word powerful here so as to circumnavigate the possible use of other, less attractive labels, like compulsive or neurotic, even though it most likely is that as well. It just depends on your viewfinder.
I have been paused at this point for two days; this much written and no more. Go this way with it, says my mind, but each mental direction-pointing has fallen flat. Until now, now that the obvious has suddenly become clear:
I am a little bit afraid.
I have great privacy here, in this space we call home, and I have a very indulgent partner, my beloved, my husband. No one laughs at me. No one is here to raise an eyebrow, express surprise at the extent of my devotion to this practice of care-taking. And if I am going to share it more broadly, I want to make certain I pick the most right and careful words so that you will see it in your most empathetic state.
You will see powerful.
Not compulsive. Not neurotic.
But, what did I learn, what one important thing did I learn from that precious space of connectedness in Greece with Cheryl Strayed and friends? Write what you are afraid of. Even if it is just a little bit of it — fear — it stops you from being in the whole of your truth. I also learned, don’t give a f@#!k what others think. Okay to both.
So then, here is what I mean to say. Caretaking is my spiritual practice. I find myself, the who I am meant to be, in this place of service and attentiveness to the needs of the creatures drawn into my life. Not one of them is exempt from this practice. Not one of them is a casual participant. It does not matter if our relationship is measured in years or minutes. I fully loved Molly and desired to ease her distress when my eyes met hers; hell, when my eyes met the picture of her. It has been a week, just one week, and I cannot remember what it was like before she came into our fold. Right now, a big part of our energy is focused on Miss Molly. Her physical needs are many and her emotional reserves low. We take our time with her. We administer medications and baths in mantras of sweet words and close embrace. She is learning to trust our intentions. Our reward for this?
After five days of loving and consistent kindness, she plays with a toy, her eyes still asking for approval, is this okay? Oh, yes, Molly, you just made our hearts sing right out loud from sheer happiness.
The further down this path my stumbling heart takes me, the more kinship I feel with Marco. He is bred to be both fierce protector and gentle guardian, but it is his guardianship instincts that stand me down in awe and amazement. He, too, believes not one of us is exempt from his practice; his sensitivities are to those in need. While he has let Giada grow up (as well she should as she is one of his own kind and, thus, has a job to do), Monroe is a terrier and still the baby to him. I think she always will be. She seeks his comfort and he gives her ease in a manner reminiscent of being rocked by a loving parent.
He becomes aware of the things that are of importance to me, where my own caretaking energy shows up, where I see a little bit of worry (or I project it, hard to say) and then he places himself there. Boo is fragile and must be fed apart from the herd, but herd is important to Boo and being alone, even with food, is a little stressful. So Marco, and often Sophie, hold the space with him.
Filou has become fragile in his advancing age. Stress is his enemy and I have become hypersensitive to his needs. He knows it, too, which has raised his communication skills with me to a whole new level. This I had noticed. What escaped me was that Marco also learned the new dialogue. Filou wants to be outside, but for only so long and when he asks to come in, it means he NEEDS to come in. Right Now. When he is out, I watch for him constantly. He calls to me at the gate when he is ready and I hop to it. Until I don’t, because I’m in the wrong part of the house or looking left, when I should be looking right. Marco hears him though and bolts upright, barks at the door, barks at me, grabs my hand in his mouth and tugs. I’m the only one who does gates. He needs me to do my job.
I have just returned from the barn and, as I re-read this, I see that I have taken a stand-up position, right behind my dog. I do not go fully to the place inside myself where lies the tangle of my truth, of my inner struggles of worthiness. I will not re-write this. I will tell you instead why I went to the barn. Because Filou called and I wanted to be sure that he was still okay with his new socks. We got him socks. They are special socks, stockings really, which are tight and supportive and tricky to get on a horse with balance issues. He needs them because he is a little bit afraid to lay down and that is because he is a little bit worried about his ability to get back up. So he sleeps standing and then his legs buckle and now he has split himself open over both ankles, catching himself. Plus, his back leg, the weaker leg swells up.
The socks will take care of his wounds and protect him and maybe he will come to know that and it will ease his mind. I have returned from checking this and I am hot and sweaty and my hands smell like hoof from working through this with him.
Mark Nepo says in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred
To listen is to keep what is true before us. We can’t do this all the time because we’re human. So the practice of being human centers on the courage to return to what is life-giving.
When we can meet life with an open heart, receiving becomes indistinguishable from giving and we become conduits of grace.
Where from time to time our individual breath coincides with the breath of the Universe.
I stink like hoof and this is how I know I am staying close to what is sacred. I listen and they remind me of the grace that is given to me, the grace because, yes, the receiving is indistinguishable from the giving. Thank you, Mark, for the words I could not find in myself.