If People Were Stray Animals

Stray Dog

If people were stray animals, wandering alone and hungry, how long would one range before her protruding ribs and sunken eyes betrayed her as rejected, unwanted, alone? How long would she dart in and out of traffic, looking for water or rest before some kindly motorist stopped, called out, and tried to entice her to safety with some morsel of food?

If people were dogs and cats, and you were to see one eating from a trash can, or skulking into the crawl space under your house, would you feed him? Would you try? Would you?

You think you would. You say you would. Yet you pass by daily. You avert your gaze from the halt step, the shriveled limb protectively hidden, the fear in the eyes.

“My life,” you chirp, “My life is so full. I’m so blessed.”

You gloat.

You gloat, the oil from the flesh you tear with your teeth dripping down your chin.

What animal died to give you pleasure?

Think about that.

Think.

Stray Cat

Second Chance Animal Sanctuary

At Second Chance Animal Sanctuary, volunteers visit the animals daily. They walk the dogs. They play with the kittens and name them. They freshen the water, play tug-o’-war with the puppies. They fill index cards with descriptions that prospective adopters read:

REX is playful and outgoing. He is good with children and other animals. Best suited for a family.

CHLOE was feral but rescued along with her kittens and brought here. She needs a subdued environment. A single owner, child-free household would be best for her.

RUFUS is a mature pit bull-lab mix who enjoys a romp in the yard and a good scratch behind the ears. He’s extremely patient and even-tempered and would adapt well to households with older children, or perhaps an older couple.

If people were stray animals, we would all be worth rescuing. Groups of rescuers would band together, forming networks whose only purpose is to give care and comfort to the abandoned. We would form 501(c)(3) organizations for the rescue, feeding, and care of the lost.

ALICE was married 48 years and her husband died. She raised eight children and was Red Cross volunteer for 25 years. She enjoys reading Emily Dickinson, takes a walk every evening, and is a fan of Gunsmoke. She needs a gentle friend, preferably a single person with a wry sense of humor, who shares some of her interests and can drive.

TREVOR never knew his father. His mother’s drug habit rendered them homeless. Trevor dropped out of school and went to work to support himself and his mother’s habit. He needs a strong male friend who tolerates (and even uses) coarse language, and can teach him a trade.

TAYLOR is transgender. Her family rejected her and she hasn’t seen them in four years. Taylor is startled each morning when she has to shave her beard stubble. Lacking the means to use hormones, she makes do with what she has, but feels a sense of disconnection from herself and everyone around her. She needs hormone treatment and a group of understanding, loyal friends who will stick with her.

If Lost People were Stray Animals

If lost grownups were stray animals or abandoned children, we’d understand. We’d know right away what was needed. We would approach with all gentleness the person whose way of life and way of being had been shattered. Moved by pity, we would patiently entice the starving-hearted with choice morsels. We would keep our distance but watch daily for the slightest sign that the traumatized were able to trust again. Small victories would be worthy of celebration. “She approached me in public today,” your status update would say, “She hesitated before declining my invitation to dinner at my home. I can tell she’s starting to rely on our weekly coffees at Starbucks. Some day she’ll be able to trust me enough to accept that dinner invitation.”

How lovely, if each traumatized person were valued as much as a stray animal. How the abandoned and unwanted must long to be loved when they cannot love themselves. How they must long to have someone whose first act of love is to see, the next to listen. To be noticed is to have value; to be worthy of patient outreach and rescue is to be given hope. What if teams of volunteers sought out the shattered sufferers, removing them from their cages, taming them, showing them love?

If you could see her abandonment, his feral wildness—how they snarl at the traps that snapped them in two and have them bound—you would see that they may die from it. You would see that one person in her life would make a difference, two would be able to bear his litter to the place where angels stir the healing waters, and three would be wise men bearing healing salves and the most subtle spices to return flavor and beauty to her life.

I wish you could look past our bared teeth and growls with eyes of faith, love, and unreasoning hope, envisioning what might happen if we were fed, and gentled, and loved day by day until we could relax, even play again.  I wish you would see that every animal deserves a second chance.

Stray Pup

Leper

Leperous Job

Four years, four months, and eight days. 

This is how long it has been since my husband ended his life.

This is how long it has been since my husband ended my life.

The mercy of the first year of grief was the numbness. I sleep-walked through twelve calendar months. When I began to stir from the opiate of grief, memories came up like photographs in a screen saver: Disorganized, disembodied, disconnected.

I preserved a sense of household normalcy through strength of will and habit. Friends and family were supportive, but I could not be comforted. Deeply ashamed, I would not tell strangers how my husband died. I told partial truths, “He had Parkinson’s Disease.”

He committed suicide. He died by suicide. He killed himself. He took his own life.

We were Christians and Catholics, among whom one would expect to receive mercy, but where, more often than not, judgment is harsh and more liberally dispensed than in any gathering of sinners. I learned to shut my mouth and my heart.

Year one passed by.

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Year two was worse than the first. Old schisms and fissures expanded. Brittle relationships buckled and failed. One I had loved with as much love as I have ever loved anyone whispered he was the good one. Another I had loved and known since birth said you’ve changed too much and unfriended me on social media.

She’s crazy. She’s a bitch. She’s a sorceress.

She’s too liberal now.

He was the good one.

I stopped trying to explain myself.  I drank more wine.  I wanted to die.

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During the third year, a leprosy of my soul set in: Nerve damage, a loss of vision, the bloody stump. A corruption made visible, emblems of decay and pollution, weakness and sin.

“Unclean! Unclean!” I rang the leper’s bell.

Stay downwind; stay away from us. We’re not like you.

Don’t associate with them, their dad killed himself.

Something is wrong with that family.

I learned why Jesus associated with whores, thieves, tax-gatherers and sinners. I drank vodka tonics at the bar. I learned to make the perfect Bloody Mary. I stopped going to mass.

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At the end of the fourth year, my friend died. She who was at the births of my twin daughters. She who was like a second mother to them, a daughter to me. She who communicated the love of Christ better than anyone else I’ve known, other than my husband. She who carried me through the years of grief over my daughter’s death, over my husband’s death.

Daddy, Mommy’s asleep and won’t wake up.

Daddy, I can’t wake Mommy. 

She who had three young children ages two, six, and eight was dead on her daughter’s sixth birthday, a Happy Birthday banner strung across the fireplace.

Life and Death

Once upon a time . . .

My child died.

We had almost recovered, but then—

The tremors began.

He was diagnosed.

He grew worse.

He wasn’t himself.

He had a wreck and nearly killed a man.

He lost hope.

He ended his life.

He ended my life, and then—

My friend of 24 years died.

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The process of suffering gone to decay and degradation has a name in alchemy: fermentation. Fermentation is a two-step process that begins with the putrefaction of a child, the hermaphroditic child who resulted from the conjunction process.

Pay attention here:

A union occurs, a marriage, a conjunction.

A child is born, a whole and glorious child, the fruit of this union.

But then, the child becomes diseased and dies.

The child putrefies and rots.

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Once, I was blessed, O so blessed.

I married the love of my life and received every good thing.

Every wish I ever wished came true.

But then, my husband became diseased and died.

And now, I putrefy and rot.

happy_birthday

Suggested Reading

Alchemy: The Great Work

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto, Canada. Inner City Books, 1980. Print.

Widows, Speak Up!

Healing

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self

and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,

only time can help

and patience,

and a certain difficult repentance . . .

— D. H. Lawrence, “Healing.” The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence.

Little Did He Know

A month after my husband’s death, I wrote that I had discovered the substance of my faith and “found out what’s true for me.” This morning I smiled wryly as I re-read what I wrote three years ago, because I don’t know a damn thing today.

 

“Little Did He Know . . .”

What I thought I knew then and what I think I know now call to mind a scene in one of my favorite films, Stranger Than Fiction. In this delightful movie about one man’s growth of consciousness, IRS auditor Harold Crick suddenly finds himself the subject of a narration only he can hear. One morning as Harold waits for the bus, things take a grim turn when the narrator foretells Harold’s imminent death.

 

Alarmed, Harold consults a psychiatrist who tells him he has schizophrenia. He counters by asking what she would advise if he did not have schizophrenia, but was in fact hearing a narrator. In that case, she replies, he should visit an expert in literature. Her recommendation leads Harold to literature professor Jules Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman. Professor Hilbert is dismissive of his story until Crick explains that the narrator predicted his death beginning with the phrase, “. . . Little did he know.”

“Little did he know? Little did he know?!” Hilbert exclaims. “I’ve written papers on ‘little did he know.’ I’ve taught classes on ‘little did he know!’” A common literary device, “little did he know” implies the existence of someone who does know. The omniscient writer knows, and wants you to know, explains Hilbert. Theorizing that Harold may be a character in a novel, Hilbert advises him to analyze the narration to determine whether his story is a comedy or tragedy. That way he will know whether he lives or dies in the end.

 

The Story of My Life

If, like Harold Crick, we saw our lives as novels and ourselves as characters, what sorts of characters would we be? Would the narrative be comedic, tragic, or romantic? Would our lives have epic proportions, or would they be the sorts of novels nobody could finish reading? Would my life make the best-seller list for its tragedies and horrors, or would others find its depressions and black holes unbelievable? Would I enjoy reading my own life, and want to turn the next page?

A writing friend asked recently if I’m writing these days. I answered that I’m not writing at all. What I really meant was that I don’t even feel I’m living my own life. I’m busy and active all the time, but I am not alive to the narrative of my own life. I’m much like Harold Crick, an average person going through an average day by rote. What voice will wake me from this slumber?

 

The Coniunctio

A Jungian might describe the sense of bland conventionality I am experiencing as arising developmentally in a metaphorical process the alchemists called the “conjunction” phase of the Great Work. This is a place of fixation in which things congeal. Everything sinks down solidly into the earth, for earth is its element. It is also a phase of copper, bronze, brass, and sometimes gold. One imagines pickaxe-wielding dwarves mining ore deep in the earth.

Coniunctio, the Conjunction, is a stage of humble downfalling. Jungian analyst and writer Marie-Louise von-Franz explains that

The coniunctio happens in the underworld, it happens in the dark when there is no light shining any more. When you are completely out and consciousness is gone, then something is born or generated; in the deepest depression, in the deepest desolation, the new personality is born. When you are at the end of your tether, that is the moment when the coniunctio, the coincidence of opposites, takes place (von Franz, 162).

Conjunction

Conjunction

This all sounds well and good, like an epic adventure or romance in which all the suffering is worthwhile because something magnificent springs from it. The symbols of the coniunctio tell a cautionary tale, however. The symbolic rendering of this phase show the sun and the moon coming closer, so close into the orbit of the other that their shadows meet and the moon is overshadowed by the sun. In the medieval Church, the sun symbolized Christ and the moon the Church, so their union represented the wedding of Christ and His Church. Though on the face of it, this all sounds quite glorious, in fact an eclipse has caused the moon to go dark. Von Franz explains that such a conjunction “is like two loving people where the more love increases, the more doubts and distrust increase too; one is very often afraid, since if one opens one’s heart, the other can do so much harm” (von Franz, 164).

A person is made ready for the coniunctio by the ego’s conflagration and reduction through Calcination, by the displacements of Dissolution, and by the utter breaking apart brought on by Separation. Suffering, loss, and failure deprive us of the ego strength we built during youth and mid-life. We are humbled by our lack of control. Rather than planning and praying for a future dream, we ask only for our daily bread. What nourishes us for this day, for this current task, or for the immediate future is enough.

References

Alchemy: The Great Work

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto, Canada. Inner City Books, 1980. Print.

I Have No Idea Where I Am Going

I will not fear.

I will not fear…

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