He’ll Let You Know

Are Life and Death extremes, at opposite ends of a spectrum? Or are Life and Death partners walking together along the path in the world? Are Life and Death parallel experiences, intersecting and criss-crossing each other? Perhaps they are flip sides of the same coin?
Mused on by countless thinkers, authors, philosophers… and folks like you and I.
Do Life and Death find definition by not being the other, such as if you are alive, you’re not dead. If you’re dead, you’re not alive. Sort of like the definition of black is the presence of all colors, white is the absence of all colors.

Ziggy – 1 day old!

I arrived in Oregon last week to visit my wondrous and beloved daughter and son-in-law. Within a few hours, their goat gave birth to beautiful twin girls. I can take no credit for that other than my arrival may have startled the mama, yet I so love my little grand-goatlings. Who knew goats could be cuddly and responsive? Not me. These are Swiss Oberhasli goats, the new babies’ names are Fantasia and Ziggy, each at one time or another fell asleep in my arms.

I get home and again in the time frame of a few hours, my veterinarian diagnoses my gentle tabby with advanced kidney disease, with a short life expectancy. Monkey is just shy of thirteen years old and has stopped eating. It is all up to him now. He is gentle, purrs, and likes to sit on my lap. However every few minutes he fidgets and rearranges himself – he just can’t get comfortable, and will then awkwardly toddle into my room to nestle in my thick fleece blanket.

After a couple tearful meltdowns, I pondered on what do I do that is best for my sweet tabby? My son, who gave Monkey his name because as a kitten he insisted on climbing the drapes, gently told me, “Mom, he’ll let you know when it’s time. He’ll meow differently, quit purring, or won’t get up – he’ll let you know.”

This river of life (I know, you are impressed by the originality of my metaphor) splashing along, capturing and whisking things along with it, tossing other things up on the shore, drowning some and feeding others. Cleansing the earth, replenishing the earth, sometimes devastating, more often nourishing.

Monkey’s gentleness and tenacity remind me of my mom’s passing three years ago. She too was gentle and tenacious. I can still hear her last breath, a long, slow sigh. I felt in it acceptance… and relief.

Acceptance. Monkey seems calm, he is not anxious or fretful.
The life force he has. He jumps up on my bed, gives a little trill as I first pet him when he wakes up. He hasn’t eaten for several days. Yet purrs in my arms.
I have lost pets before. I have lost loved family members and friends before. What is different now is that I have time. I am not working a forty-seven hour week. I have been able to cancel or reschedule my commitments and spend time with Monkey, make visits and calls to the vet myself instead of delegating.

If you had told me a few years back that one day I would be sitting on the hay-covered ground in a goat pen holding a baby goat, enjoying the smells of hay, goats, and fertilizer wafting all around me, delighting in the ‘bi-ip’ sounds the baby goats make, laughing at the the barking and jostling of the pups, and swaying to the the coo of doves, I would have thought you had me confused with someone else. This different connection with life, and time, is stunning to me.
Wasn’t I connected to life? I sure thought so: I raised two children, I worked in social services for decades. I taught, volunteered countless hours at many organizations, had a romance here and there, walked on the Great Wall of China, swished my hand in the water as the gondolier paddled us down a canal in Venice. Yet this was different.

Monkey 3-5-2019

Sitting on the earth, holding a newborn goat, away from phone and internet. Sitting close to my newly pregnant daughter who is married to her soulmate, I was connected to life in a deeper way, a clearer way.

One of the memorable stories about my mom’s mother, Grandmere Marguerite, happened just before she died. Many of us were in her hospital room circled around her bed, some standing, some of us sitting: my mom, her sister, her brother and his wife (so all three of Grandmere’s children), a couple cousins, and myself. We were hushed at first, then as families do, the whispers evolved into chatter about who did what with whom when and where.
“I am dying. You should be praying,” Grandmere declared firmly. Instantly we became silent. A few stolen looks passed among us from beneath lowered brows. Now, that was clarity.

Grandmere had lived life: a war bride, widowed at thirty-nine with three young children separated by an ocean and a continent from her birth family in eastern France, survived breast cancer. At eighty, she had lived and parts of her had died to get to such clarity.

Why yes, I did say newly pregnant daughter. So life embraces all. We love, we leave, we learn, we grow. We live, we release, we accept.

Monkey has taught me new things about being in the Now. I hold him, he purrs and snuggles into my shoulder, tucking his head by my chin. Now is what we have.

A Goose

The Field photo by Mary Dessein
There were two inches of snow on the extensive lawn and soccer field below my home, it was about 34 degrees. Frozen, cold, beautiful.
There was a lone Canadian goose stepping back and forth in a small area down on the field, about three hundred feet from my window. After a few minutes, it simply stood still. It was unsettling to see the lone goose there.

Surely it would fly off. It didn’t.

What could I do to help it? I was sure approaching it with bird seed was not a good idea. I would watch it. Perhaps call Animal Control if it didn’t fly off. Surely it would fly off.
Geese are not supposed to be alone. They instinctively stay in community and watch out for each other; often dropping out of their flying wedge formation if they detect one of their own is struggling. I came back to the window a little while later, the goose was still standing there, now with it’s neck drooped down, head lowered as if hopeless.

When I returned home, it was mid-afternoon. The goose was then sitting down, with its head lowered, in the same place it had been standing.
My heart felt like a fifty pound lump of coal as I looked at the lost, alone, cold bird. It hurt to stand there and watch the bird. I went off to find some phone numbers.

Two days before, on New Year’s, I texted a close friend, wishing her a fabulous 2018 and telling her she rocked! Her answer was, “I am afraid.” Of course, I texted back asking if she needed help, was she safe?

A few minutes later, she explained she was afraid of 2018. As 2016 had been a difficult year with several family dramas and sorrow, she had looked forward to a happier 2017. Which turned out to be so filled with pain and betrayal, she felt she couldn’t live through anything more. So … she was afraid of what 2018 would bring.

Where do you turn, what do you do when you are afraid of the next day? The next month? Who do you turn to when those close to you have left you? Aren’t we supposed to be a community and watch out for each other?

Fear. An F-word to be sure. Some say it is an acronym for Forsake Everything And Run (censored version), a short term strategy to avoid the problem causing the fear. However, the problem will likely still be there when you get back. More helpful to me has been False Evidence Appearing Real, as over time I recognized that most of my fears grew out of my self-doubt, trepidation about doing something new, or standing up for myself.

I saw a t-shirt years ago at a department store emblazoned with “Fear is a Thief.” It stopped me for a moment as that truth registered in me. Indeed, my fears had held me back from many things. Many things you don’t, I don’t, get a do-over on.

My heart hurt to hear of my tender friend living in that fear and foreboding on New Year’s Day, when so many people are high-fiving each other, celebrating a fresh start after some time off, and looking forward to opportunities. What could I do to help?

Be in her community. Alas, my magic wand to tap her three times and dissipate her fear has long since disappeared. I had it when I was five but somewhere along the way, I lost track of the darn thing.
Maybe that’s for the best.

There are times when I think of that goose. It still twangs my heart to see the picture so clearly in my mind of the elegant bird alone and hopeless in the white expanse. That day when I came back to the window after finding possible animal rescue phone numbers, the goose was gone.

Where? I’ll never know, I can only hope. My friend? I will be there to listen, and walk with her.
Maybe hope will come along, too.