Tomorrow is my birthday.
A few weeks ago, it didn’t mean that much to me that this date was rolling up. A few weeks ago, I didn’t know I had cancer. I was living, ticking off “normal” days, confident in the ongoing stream of them one after the other, and one of those “normal” days was going to be my birthday — take care of the horses and dogs, dinner with Gordy, a good bottle of wine. Normal.
I don’t know what normal is anymore. Much looks the same, especially the horse and dog part, but it does not feel the same nor bear the same significance. This morning, I walked back and forth across the barnyard bringing the horse to the barn for feeding, as I do, and I found myself trudging trance-like, my view narrowing to a tunnel around me. I felt the weight of a presence descend upon me as if on wings, each unseen flapping pushing waves of energy up my spine and out the top of my head. I was overwhelmed with the urge to be part of it, to be acknowledged by it, yet also aware of my infantile awkwardness in groping for the source that emitted the energy, the breast that would feed me, make me whole. Was this God after all, now, here in my barn? I felt the force of this spirit resonate on chords deep within me as I walked down the barn aisle touching the soft muzzle of each horse in turn: Andante then Beamer and Loosa to the left and measured steps around to Annie, BJ and Elliott – always together – followed by Legs and Boo and finally Belle holding space for me in the aisle. And then … it was gone.
Blinking myself back to myself, I saw that Molly had been taking the walk with me. She was just now crossing the far end of the barn aisle casting through the shadow of my past presence, nose down, following the molecules of me left behind telling her where I had been and when, with good and steady progress, I would re-appear before her eyes so very dimmed by age. I stopped. I wanted Molly to find me, wanted to see her self-congratulatory pleasure at the accomplishment of joining her physical presence with mine. I stopped. I begged the silent power that had just touched the path in front of me to do the same; wait for me so I can catch you. I am casting through your shadow and I am not very good at this, not like Molly.
I am so grateful for each and every one of them: the horses, the donkeys, the dogs. I don’t know what it says about me that I require sixteen of God’s beloved creatures for support, for healing, for survival, but I do and that is a new awareness. So much of my relationship with my animal family has been about allowing me to fulfill my nurturing desires. It caused me to measure my recovery by how many daily caretaking activities I was able to re-assume, believing they needed me to be back on track, back to “normal” as fast as I could.
A big misread. They knew it would not be like that long before I did.
After the surgery, I wanted to step in amongst the horses unafraid of their movement, to be as things were. But I could not pull it off. Instead, I was timid in their presence because I hurt and was fragile and worried that they would plant a misguided head rub upon my wounded chest, the part with no heft and a rabid scar across it.
It took until just these last few days for me to be brave enough to stand freely in their presence, to invite them into the barn for feeding and being together. They have been nothing but kind and gently inquisitive, soft lips feeling over my face, slow intake of breath as they find the drains taped to my side, drawing fluid from my surgical site. Then a big exhale of acceptance. You are still ours. You are still Lisa, part of our herd.
For days, the donkeys have been banging at the pasture gate, yodeling plaintive calls to be let into the barnyard, into the more intimate space. Once there they enveloped me with donkey hugs, their eyes soft and all-seeing. Whatever I asked because I needed it to be easy for me, they obediently complied, stretching their own comfort boundaries to make this work, this new normal: Annie, you need your feet trimmed special and I cannot safely be with you in the stall together with your brothers, like we usually do it. Can we stand here in the barn aisle with the farrier working around you alone, being brave? And she does, BJ and Elliott pressing their faces against the stall door in silent vigils of support for her. For us.
Then there are the dogs, all of whom have shown me love and grace in light of my infirmities, but none more so than Marco — he who has been my co-leader, not just of the dog pack, but of the rhythm of life as we know it here on the farm. In this new normal, Marco is fiercely protective. He barks a sharp reprimand to Gordy when I yelp in pain at dressing changes. He presses himself between me and the chaos of dog play or horses eager for feed. He does not let me out of his sight.
I know I am healing by what Marco allows. Today he let me go first through the barnyard gate, a sign that he believes I can take care of myself, at least for a few steps. It is a new routine and I am letting him take the lead, trusting this god-like dog to guide me on our shared journey.
As for the new puppy, Maizey, well she hardly knows that this is new or different. She is fluid in her references to normal and the great beauty of that is not lost on me.
I have only lost “normal” to the extent that I thought that I “had” normal in the first place. I do not want my past life back. I do not want it, because it is not mine to have. I want the life I have now, this present moment — the moments I have just described and also this current moment where I sit at my desk by the bedroom window. Where Marco lays at guard by the open door and Monroe and Maizey run wild zoomies around the bed, Giada yipping encouragement each time they round her corner. Where Gracie sidles up to tap me softly with her paw, suggesting it is time to go to the barn, and Sophie and Molly nap together in the impossibly tight space at my feet. And where I have cancer. This moment. Today’s normal. I would not miss it for the world.