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


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


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.

Patricia: Part 6

Liz thoughtfully sipped her tea and thought about the progress her client, Patricia, had made over the past few months. Before getting to know Patricia, she would probably never have believed that she would find in her such a willing and able client. Patricia’s gutsiness and her agile mind combined to make her very determined, indeed. Still, several of her characteristics as a client were troubling, and tempered Liz’s admiration for Patricia with a more sober underlying assessment.

Patricia was as avoidant as she was determined, which combined to retard her progress and make it doubtful that she would complete therapy. Their closeness as partners in therapy seemd at times to make Patricia giddy, and when too much progress occurred, Liz could be sure that Patricia would later cancel appointments, bounce a check, or have some crisis that would delay one or more sessions.

And just in case a crisis or missed appointment wasn’t in order, Patricia made sure she was busy all the time. Though now nearing the end of her pregancy, her life was full of endless errands, projects, work-related tasks, parenting, and other activity that left her little time (if any) to reflect or to work on issues that had been raised in therapy. As a result of her compulsively busy lifestyle, Liz knew that it was unlikely that Patricia would make much progress at really reversing the destructive habits built during her crippled childhood.

“She’s still an orphan at heart,” Liz mused to herself, “a lost girl who never got what she needed–and is still paying for it–and perpetuating it.” If only Patricia would make healing her priority! Liz grinned wryly and said out loud, “Liz, now you sound like a therapist!”

Liz looked at her watch again and realized that Patricia was already 10 minutes late. She walked out of her office and asked the receptionist, Ashley, if there had been any calls. “No calls, Dr. Evans,” Ashley replied. “And no cancellations of any kind.”

Liz frowned. Not again. Patricia made time for what she wanted to do, whether it was PTA meetings or watching American Idol with friends. It was becoming increasingly clear that their therapeutic relationship wasn’t a priority, maybe because Patricia had received just enough help to begin to feel better about herself and her ability to give her children a better life than the one she’d had. After all, Patricia wasn’t an alcoholic and didn’t keep addicts and alcoholics in her life; that made her a better parent than the ones she’d had.

This was the problem that many clients had: they got just enough help and relieved just enough emotional pain that they thought they didn’t need anything or anyone else. After only one or two months (or even years) of therapy or even self-help, they considered themselves finished. Rather than plumbing the depths and fixing what was truly broken, they did a slap-dash remodel job, made things look better on the surface–“like a home staging you see on a remodeling show!” Liz exclaimed to herself–and then they quit therapy and quit doing the deep work they so needed. They raised their children with the appearance of ‘normal,’ but because real health was lacking and so much was repressed and projected, usually the selfsame problems that had occurred in the family of origin resurfaced in the next generation. Even if Patricia managed to keep drunks and enablers out of her own life, she was almost certain to have a child who developed an addiction or who needed to enable an addict, because Patricia’s unhealed, rejected parts would demand reparation and finally become manifest in the very children she sought to save.

Carl Jung admonished more than once that those destined to fall into a pit ought to prepare themselves for it rather than falling into it backwards. “Everyone goes into the pit of self-discovery,” Liz mused, “but most don’t go there voluntarily.” Yet how much better it would be if they did!

celtic05 by you.

Liz picked up her desk phone and dialed Patricia’s work number. This was a young woman who could do this–she could make it! She could do something different than her parents and grandparents had done, if only she would stick with the grueling psychological work. But Patricia wasn’t at work, the receptionist said.

Liz called Patricia’s home phone and was surprised when a young child answered. “Is Patricia there?” Liz asked, and was answered with heavy breathing and the sound of little feet pattering along the floor. “IT’S FOR MOMMY!” the child’s voice cried, and after a moment a woman’s voice asked “Who’s this?”

“This is Liz Evans calling for Patricia,” Liz repeated. “Is she home? We had an appointment today.”

“Oh, this is her neighbor, Karen. But she’s not here. She went to the hospital this morning, she’s having the baby. Want me to give her a message?”

Liz’s heart sank. The baby? Already? She still had two weeks to go! Now what would happen?

“Yes, please tell her that Liz Evans called and that I’m hoping the best for her and the baby, and to give me a call when she feels like it.”

Dismay washed over Liz as she replaced the phone. Patricia was on her way to realizing that she could be a good person, and that she needed to heal and could heal. If Patricia stuck with her decision to give her baby up for adoption, she couldn’t possibly feel good afterward. On some level she might believe she was doing the best thing, but another fractured part of herself would also be a mother longing for her baby. Patricia would have to bury yet another part of herself, making it even less likely that she would be able to integrate all the disparate parts and find a cohesive whole in them, a Self.

Liz sighed, knowing she might never hear from Patricia again and knowing that whatever choice Patricia made about her baby boy would set into motion a lifelong chain of events. Liz had worked with enough families separated by foster care and adoption to know that, if Patricia chose adoption, it would not be as simple a solution for Patricia as she seemed to think it would be. And yet, if she kept her son, life would be even more difficult than it already was. Patricia was just as likely to have her healing thwarted by keeping the baby as she was by giving it up.

“Time will tell,” Liz said. “Time will tell.”

Patricia: Part 4

She was in a city of cobble-stoned streets and narrow, covered walkways that twisted and turned here and there. The air felt dense and cloying, and a low-lying thick fog permeated everything. Patricia was running and stumbling along the street, chasing a scrawny gray alarmed cat that seemed neither adult nor kitten, having the size of an adolescent feline.

As she ran, Patricia felt mounting exasperation and rage. No matter how close she seemed to get to the cat, she could never catch it.

Suddenly, the cobbled streets were gone and Patricia was in a brightly lit, sterile environment like a hospital or surgery. Though everything was white, the tiled walls seemed to have grime and mold in the grout. From the corner of her eye, Patricia saw debris in the corner.

At the same time she realized that her environment had changed, Patricia’s perspective changed in the hurdy-gurdy waywardness of the dream state. She saw herself crouched in the corner of the tiled room, convulsing over something dark and sinister. The dreamer observed herself with mounting horror. Just as she realized she shouldn’t be so close to her convulsing self, the crouching Patricia turned a snarling face at the dreamer. Her mouth was covered with blood. The juxtaposition of white teeth outlined bloody. Crouching Patricia’s maw opened in a vicious but silent scream, and dreaming Patricia realized with horror that the other Patricia was eating the gray cat.

Patricia was suddenly awake, shaking and terrified. “Oh, my God!” she thought, “What the hell is wrong with me?!” She could still feel the fear rushing through her body as she got up to go to the bathroom, her belly heavy with child by now, her footsteps slow. She felt a momentary twinge of guilt about putting her unborn baby through such an experience, and compassion rushed in afterward. “Poor baby,” she said to her unborn son.

But, just as quickly as her love reached out to him, she shut it down. “This is why you’re not staying with me, little man. The last thing you need is a crazy mama.”

As she shuffled back to bed, Patricia remembered that she’d be seeing her therapist, Dr. Evans, later in the day. “Wonder what she’ll think about this?” she asked herself, settling down into bed and calming her breathing.

Patricia: Part 3

Liz was recording her thoughts about the session she’d just completed with a couple grieving the loss of their stillborn child when the ring of the telephone interrupted her. She hurriedly finished her thought and paused the tape recorder.”Yes?” she inquired.

dali10 by you.“Dr. Evans, Patricia Williams just called to reschedule tomorrow’s session for next week instead,” the receptionist, Ashley, explained. “But next week is that conference, so I didn’t know if you’d be available or not.”

Liz felt a rush of irritation. In the past six weeks of seeing Patricia, who was planning an adoptive placement for her unborn son, she’d had to rearrange two appointments to accommodate her client. Patricia was making progress at problem solving the immediate problems  in her life, and seemed able and willing to go deeper. But the therapeutic process had been demanding, too. Liz hesitated before answering Ashely’s question.

“No…, no, I’m not available at all next week. Though I’ll be back Friday morning, I hadn’t planned to come in to the office at all that day. I guess you’ll just have to cancel tomorrow’s appointment and set her up for the week after next,” she replied.

Liz returned to the work at hand, but felt distracted. She worried that Patricia would be reluctant to come in after two missed appointments, and fretfully questioned whether or not she should call Patricia herself. She began to feel helpless as her thoughts ran in circles. What to do? What to do?

It’s not as though she’s suicidal or as though there’s some emergency, Liz, she told herself. So what’s the problem here?

“What’s the problem, indeed,” she murmured to herself. “Time to call Doctor Vee, just what I need before heading off to a conference, anyway!” Liz picked up the phone and called her own analyst for an appointment; a reality check was needed.

calling doctor vargas

As part of her training as a psychotherapist, Liz had been required to undergo personal analysis. Her analyst, Michael Vargas, was a Zurich-trained Jungian who was nevertheless quite dali9 by you.open-minded about other schools of thought. A big admirer of Freud and other pioneers such as Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein, and Carl Rogers, Doctor Vee, as she fondly called him, often said, “Different tools for different jobs; whatever theoretical approach works for a client works for me!”

She had been Dr. Vee’s analysand for nine years now, and felt a fond affection for the man, mixed with a healthy dose of respect. He had worked full-time as an analyst for 40 years and was still as vibrant and intellectually alive at age 80 as he had no doubt been at in his thirties. Seeing him would do her good.

Liz had already seen Dr. Vee once about issues that arose after she’d seen Patricia for the first time. Her idle musings about possible associations between adoption and base chakra functions had provided the fuel for a lively exchange in an enlightening session with Dr. Vee. But, lacking any significant emotional reactions to Patricia’s adoption plan, Liz could rest assured that she wasn’t herself complexed–emotionally knotted up–about adoption as an issue. Her work with Patricia since consulting Dr. Vee the first time had progressed, and Liz had been satisfied with the pace of therapy and the rapport she had continued to build with Patricia.

Now, however, she’d had a moderately strong emotional reaction against Patricia. During her training as a therapist, Dr. Vee had told her on more than one occasion that irritability can be an enlightened person’s most faithful companion, indicating where one is complexed or has unconscious drives operating. As she waited for Dr. Vee to answer his phone, Liz smiled. Going to see Vee had come to feel like a visit to her grandparents had felt when she was a child, and he was very much the wise old man figure in her life today.

the analyst sees an analyst

Four hours later, Liz sank into the buttery-soft leather sofa in Dr. Vargas’s office, kicking her shoes onto the floor. “Aaaah,” she smiled, “I’m so glad to be here, Vee! Bless you for seeing me on such short notice!”

dali8 by you.Dr. Vargas peered over his glasses at her through bushy white eyebrows and smiled. “It’s not every day that you call and say, ‘I’m aggravated and I need to see you!'” Liz chuckled. This was true. Liz’s usual air was that of the cool, polished professional woman whose act was decidedly together. No complexes left in this girl! But clearly that wasn’t the case today.

“Tell me what’s gone on,” Dr. Vargas invited, settling deeper into his chair and folding his hands over his Santa-like belly.

Liz lay down on the couch and closed her eyes, recalling the scene that had prompted her feelings of irritation. As she recounted the story, though, she began to feel foolish and silly for being in Vee’s office over something so trivial. She faltered during her story-telling and a sentence trailed off.

“Go on,” Vee gently prodded, “what happened next?”

Suddenly Liz drew a blank. What happened next? She opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling. Nothing. Her mind was as blank as the dali7 by you.white ceiling. The table lamp cast a circle of light above her, and she idly traced its circumference. Nothing. Her mind was simply blank. “God, I don’t know!” she exclaimed. “I’m drawing a total blank!”

Dr. Vargas leaned forward and removed his glasses, punctuating his next question, “Where are you, Liz? What’s going on?”

Liz sat up on the sofa and began to wring her hands. “I don’t know! I feel like a fool suddenly! I’m just so… so damn frustrated with this client!” Liz’s recent frustrations with Patricia’s demeanor and take-charge attitude poured out of her, culminating with her complaints about Patricia’s demands that she keep changing her appointments. “I’m afraid of losing her as a client, because I know I can help her, but I’m not willing to give up my needs to do it,” she explained.

A wave of helplessness overcame Liz and she practically wailed, “I don’t know what to do! I just want to give up and let her have her way, give her the Friday appointment and give up what I’d hoped would be an exciting conference week followed by a come-back-to-reality relaxed weekend of processing. But now I don’t know what to do!”

“I really felt I needed the entire week off, but this client is expecting to give her child up for adoption, for heaven’s sake. She’s having a baby and all I want is a pedicure! What if she terminates therapy? What if she thinks I don’t care?”

Vee’s eyebrows shot up as Liz’s explanations became laments, and his normally level-headed, sophisticated client and colleague took on the appearance of a helpless victim. The look on his face brought her to her senses.

“I’m… I’m going the wrong way, aren’t I?” Liz asked, sitting up.

dali2 by you.Dr. Vargas chuckled. “Yes, Liz, you’re going the wrong way!”

She chuckled, too, knowing that they were sharing a favorite line from the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Liz recalled the relevant scene: Unbeknownst to them, the two main characters in the movie, played by Steve Martin and John Candy, have taken a wrong turn and are headed down a one-way street going the wrong direction. A motorist driving parallel to them rolls down his window and begins to shout, “You’re going the wrong way!”

“What’s he saying?” Martin asks of Candy. “Oh, I dunno,” Candy replies, “he’s drunk! He says we’re going the wrong way.”

“The wrong way?” Martin asks, “How the hell does he know where we’re going?”

“Yeah!” exclaims Candy, dismissively mocking the other motorist by tipping an imaginary bottle at him. “He can’t possibly know where we’re going!”

By this time, the couple in the other car are frantically gesturing and shouting, “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG DIRECTION!” And about this time, of course, Martin and Candy realize their predicament as a huge truck comes barreling down the highway straight at them.

Liz was going the wrong direction with an energy flow that wanted to externalize her problem. The problem wasn’t only with Patricia; at this point, it was also Liz’s problem.

irritation as a clue

“Your irritation was the clue,” Vee pointed out, “that brought you to me. It is very good of you to notice this uncharacteristic mood in yourself. Your vigilance is what makes you such dante3 by you.an effective helper, and keeps your clients safe. Your vigilance makes it you worthy of their trust.” Liz began to calm down, feeling comforted by Vee’s warm smile and supportive words. It seemed he always knew the right thing to say. And he was right; part of being an effective therapist was taking responsibility for one’s own “stuff.” She had done that, and could be proud of her integrity. She felt better already.

“I hardly need to remind you,” Dr. Vargas began, “about the helpful work of irritation, do I?”

Liz smiled and shook her head. “No, but I want to hear it from you anyway.” Sometimes her sessions with Dr. Vee were more like story-telling around a fire than they were like analysis. But, then, good analysis involved story-telling and the stuff of legends, anyway. She relaxed against the back of the sofa as Dr. Vargas leaned forward in his chair. She almost expected him to begin, “Once upon a time…”

“Irritation,” Dr. Vargas explained, “is like any other outburst of energy, affect, bad moods, sexual excitement, and the like–anything that is emotive and disorients a person’s conscious condition, eh?” Liz nodded her agreement. “Thus another person or even symbolic beings such as an angel–as Jung suggested–can be a personified transmitter of unconscious contents that are seeking expression.”

“Something within you finally was stirred to the point of irritation,” Dr. Vargas continued. ” Your work with Patricia has had only good results thus far. You are closer, you have gained her trust, you have facilitated many insights. You have solved problems together as you ought; and just last week she brought you a dream for the first time. Her unconscious contents manifest themselves and suddenly, soon afterward, there is a crisis. Suddenly she must change her appointments. Suddenly you feel an irritation and then a helplessness that are not characteristic.”

dante4 by you.“But fortunately you are aware of your irritation, and so you come to see me. You explain yourself, under the watchful eye of a faithful friend, and then suddenly we see your emotion. I witness a transformation. In an instant, I see in front of me a competent, intelligent, highly trained and experienced professional suddenly dissolve into a helpless hand-wringer.”

Dr. Vargas pointed to Liz’s hands, which were twisting in her lap.

enter the hand-wringer, stage right

Liz looked at her hands with surprise. It was as if they didn’t even belong to her!

“Who is the hand-wringer in this picture?” Dr. Vee asked. Because an immediate answer didn’t spring into Liz’s conscious mind, she began to list all her personal associations to hand-wringing and hand-wringers, ending with a litany of the events of the past two weeks, seeking whatever could be found that would trigger her bout of irascibility. Nothing came to mind until she suddenly realized that there was an invisible hand-wringer in her life.

“Oh my!” Liz exclaimed, “It’s Patricia’s mother! She’s the hand-wringer!”

“Ah!” Dr. Vee intoned, “the ever-present Ghost Mother. You’ve found her.”

Liz nodded her head sadly. “Yes, I walked right into it, didn’t I? The old transference, counter-transference dance. I can’t believe I did it.”

“Explain,” urged Dr. Vargas. “What do you see?”

“It’s as you said,” Liz replied, “we had made all this progress and of course once a client begins to dig deep and really trust you, any big complexes they have are likely to become manifest. The client will probably then use defense mechanisms to protect herself from the unwanted complex or emotional knot–defenses such as projection or transference. And this is exactly what happened.”

“Patricia needed to prove my trustworthiness, and more-or-less drove me into a situation in which I might be as dante5 by you.weak and ineffective as her mother was, forcing Patricia to take charge even though she’s the one who needs the care. Her mother was the parent, and Patricia the child, just as I am the therapist and she the client. Sadly for Patricia, her mother didn’t fulfill her role of guide and protector, so Patricia had to take care of herself. Similarly, if I begin to helplessly wring my hands and give up my responsibility to actually be the therapist, she’ll know that she can’t trust me. I will in effect have become her mother. She can’t heal if I can’t represent to her what Klein called ‘the good breast.'”

Dr. Vargas slowly nodded his head in agreement, then arched a quizzical brow at Liz. “So, what now, Dr. Evans? Have you made any mis-steps that need correcting, any blunders that need attending to?”

Only the murmur of the traffic outside could be heard as Liz considered Dr. Vargas’s question for several minutes. “I think I almost certainly would have blundered if I hadn’t known enough to call you and come in,” she began, “because by having our receptionist return Patricia’s call rather than calling her myself, though I bought some time to think about things, I also acted uncharacteristically. I can see now that if I don’t call Patricia personally, I may be acting very much as her mother did in her life, letting other people take charge or handle my problems while remaining passive.”

“And what will you do about that?” Dr. Vargas asked.

“Call her myself, of course!” Liz exclaimed as she reached for her shoes.

dali1 by you.

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