Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hoofprints and the Dust

I wrote this back in 2002, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. But I just can't think of a better way to say it. Be sure to click on the link to the song "Overcome" at the end. It still brings tears to my eyes and, oddly enough, hope to my heart. We can be better people -- if we only remember to watch where we step.


When I was a very little girl, my mother came early one day to pick me up from school. All the mothers were whispering, some had been crying. It didn’t take long to realize from the whispers that President Kennedy had been killed. I’ll bet everyone my age or older can tell you exactly where they were on That Day. In 2001, there was another such Day, and I swore I’d never write about it. I guess I lied.

I get funny looks when I tell people what I was doing on September 11. I know some people consider me selfish and shallow when I tell them I was riding my horse.
Things were just starting to look normal again after a miraculous and terrible summer. My horse,  Fox, had recovered from emergency colic surgery with no complications whatsoever, and I had even started riding him again.  I had returned to work for another school year, and life was good.
I don’t usually listen to the radio on the way to work, but on that day, for some reason, I did. Stunned by the news, I pulled to the side of the road for a moment. I thought, "It’s time to get busy." Talk about déjà vu – that is exactly the phrase that popped to mind when I was awakened early on a Sunday morning three months earlier and told they’d already called the vet and I’d better get to the barn quick. The difference was that this time there was no panic, no welling up of tears, just "It’s time to get busy."

The school was filled with tears and whispers that day. Some parents kept their kids home. Others came and stayed. The news unfolded on a TV in the teachers’ lounge. The kids asked what we were going to do, and all I could say was, "Well, I guess we’ll be here, and we will go on." I’m not sure if I believed it or not.

After school, I couldn’t listen to the news for one more second. I did the ultimate selfish thing – while the world sat glued to CNN, Fox and I went for a ride. It had been months since we’d done anything more than walk and trot, but that day, I just let him dance. Back swinging, ears forward, mouth soft – this was not a sick horse. This was my partner of eighteen years, moving like a metronome, just like he always did. I had worried all day about my friends in New York: The middle school teacher; my friend in the wheelchair; the struggling actor who had a day job on the fifth floor of Tower Two. The metronome blotted out all of that for a little while and replaced it with circles, shoulder-ins, and hoofprints in the dust. I’m almost ashamed to say it was the ride of my life.

Relief drifted in gradually over the next few days. The friend in the wheelchair was nowhere near the WTC, but he couldn’t tell anyone for quite a while because his phone was out. The middle school school teacher had to take on students from schools that were closed because of the dust -- a thick, gray layer that had to be removed by men in biohazard gear because, she said matter-of-factly, "They don’t know who is in that dust." My actor friend reported that he had escaped Tower Two in the nick of time. Only an Armani suit fell victim to the attack.

I felt surprisingly different after that ride. Where were all those niggling little peeves that seemed so important only a few days earlier? I still think about the dust – how many times had I been so focused on some goal or other that I didn’t even bother to notice what was under my feet? Could it be that too much focus might be a bad thing? Watch where you step, folks, I thought. You don’t know who’s in that dust.


SAF Foxfire 3/14/80 - 8/6/04
*This  song by Live became associated with the September 11 attacks on the United States. Proceeds from the sale of the single were donated to charities to benefit the victims of the attack. (Source: Wikipedia)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rescue Me

“On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” - Douglas Adams

I have decided that being a human is way too much work. This isn’t about the work we need to do like scrubbing toilets and making sure our socks are put away in matching pairs. It’s about all that stuff we pile onto our agendas because we think we have to. We think we have to because, deep down, we are all control freaks.

Our penchant for control freakage is pervasive and all-encompassing. We run ourselves ragged trying to accomplish this, buy that, make sure someone else doesn’t beat us to the other thing. We even expect our Superior Beings to micromanage everything. I won’t get into whether or not Superior Beings exist.1 That’s not the point here.  The point is, there are people out there who think God has nothing better to do than send tornadoes into Kansas trailer parks because gay people want to get married.  I mean, really?  I have at least one friend who prays for a good parking space on a regular basis, and fess up -- I know some of you have made repeated, impassioned entreaties to at least one deity regarding your lottery tickets.

Now, I understand culture, tradition, and heritage -- all those things that make us who we are as a species. But think about it. Some of this stuff is really silly.

Case in point: I was raised by Old Southern Women. This means I was brought up within a culture of well-defined and highly-detailed expectations.  Little Southern Girls are expected to know, by our fifth birthday, that one never ever wears white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day, and we must be able to make cotillion-worthy chicken salad by the age of twelve.2 

Most of us had the pattern for our wedding flatware chosen for us while we were still in the womb.  My mother had so wanted me to be a Gorham Chantilly with long, delicate fingers and polished nails worthy of her gilt-edged, pink porcelain teacups -- and here I am, a confirmed Towle Wickford with stoneware from Sears and big square farm girl hands.

Needless to say, the girly-girl micromanagement plan backfired. All it did was drive me into the garage with my dad, the duct tape, and the power tools. Despite my female relatives’ best efforts, I refused to be rescued from my tomboy tendencies.  While I grew up civilized enough to know the difference between a shrimp fork and an oyster fork, I have used neither since my grandmother passed on in 1989.  I fully expect her to come back from the afterlife someday and smack me upside the head for eating last month’s Easter dinner off a paper plate with a spork.

Lately the “R” word has somehow become a big deal. Everybody and their dog’s dead grandmother has been, or will need to be, rescued from something or other. It somehow makes us feel noble if we can say we’ve “rescued” something. I can even lay claim to that word myself, having adopted a mare from a rescue ranch and a dog from an animal shelter.

Gabby, my mare, really is “a rescue.” She was bought at auction with two other emaciated,  pregnant mares who were almost certainly destined for slaughter. Kiki the Bordeeler3 was caught as a stray on the ditch bank and taken to the local Humane Society. She comes by her “R” word legitimately also.

Nobody asks me about those two.  However, anytime I take our 100-pound greyhound out in public, the first thing to leave people’s lips is not “wow, he’s gorgeous,” (he is) or “what’s his name,” (Hoover) but “is he a rescue?” (No.)  When I say, “No, he’s just adopted. He didn’t need to be rescued,” the smiles grow wooden and the voices turn sour.
What’s up with that? Hoovie was the product of an accidental breeding, and as such, never raced. Even if he had, he still wouldn’t have needed “rescuing.” He was loved as a puppy, just as his mother was loved and respected as the elite athlete she was, even after she became pregnant with him and his four sisters. Once the litter was born, they were not abused, thrown away, or put to sleep -- they were signed over to an adoption group through which they all would find good homes.4  Hoovie has been in our home for over eleven years now. Is it a bad thing that he wasn’t “rescued?” What’s wrong with being loved your whole life?

Micromanagement. “Rescue” is just another word we use to feel good about controlling our environment. If we can point to a real or imagined “bad situation,” sticking our grubby little fingers into all the world’s pies seems more justified.

Case in point:  A rabbit (in an uncontrollable fit of micromanagement, I named her “Lucy”) decided to have five babies in the middle of our horse corral. Dali, the pony occupying said corral, belongs to one of my customers. Now, if I were a rabbit and had to choose a roommate, quiet, elderly Dali would be the perfect choice. But I am not a pony or a rabbit. I am a human being, and as such, I immediately went into Control Freak Mode.
Mama Lucy

Rabbit!  In with the pony! In the corral! With babies! In a burrow!  I immediately began to picture horrible scenarios in which the pony stepped on and smooshed the baby rabbits, or the rabbits spooked the pony into hurting herself.  How was I going to get those babies out of there? Should I call the rabbit rescue people and have someone come and get them all?  Before I could formulate my Brilliant Human Hero Rescue Plan, Lucy had nursed her quintuplets and covered the burrow back up, leaving not a trace.  She hopped away. Dali sniffed at the spot where Lucy had been, and calmly went back to her breakfast.

The message couldn’t have been any clearer if Grandma Louise had come back from the afterlife and smacked me upside the head with a spork.  This wasn’t a Heroic Rescue Opportunity.  This was the settled order of nature. It’s not my job to put bunnies in a cage so they don’t get smooshed. They’re not “poor little things,”  they’re normal baby rabbits, and they already have a mom. She didn’t “abandon” them -- she would be back to nurse them twice a day, as rabbits instinctively know to do.5  Odd as it may look to me, she put them in Dali’s pen for a reason. The reason is NOMDC6, and I need to MMOB.

Dali the pony and Lucy the rabbit are coexisting peacefully. Every morning between  6 and 7 AM, the (growing!) quintuplets get their breakfast, and Lucy covers them back up again. No one has been spooked or smooshed.  All is right in that quiet little corner of the world.


If you feel the need to be a hero, save something that really needs saving. Adopt an animal from the pound. Give those extra cans of gooseberries to a food bank. Volunteer at a homeless shelter.

As for all that other stuff you’ve been stressing about? The universe has it under control, y’all. Really. Butt out. Watch and learn.

If anyone needs to be rescued, it’s us. We need to be rescued from ourselves. We need to spend less time worrying, manipulating our surroundings, and squeezing the life out of everything we touch in the process. We need to spend more of it mucking about in the water, having a good time.

1 I'll leave that to Douglas Adams, who said, "'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.' 'But,' says Man, 'The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so, therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.' 'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. 'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed at the next zebra crossing."

2 With grapes. Those big purple ones with the seeds. I never understood the grapes.  Truth be told, I don't understand chicken salad. I despise it, with or without grapes. Always have, always will. Sorry, Grandma.

3 As I believe I have stated before, half Border Collie, half Blue Heeler, all trouble.

4 They also came into my life and wrecked everything that was smaller than a car. See previous blog post entitled "Land Shark Revelations."

5 I stopped freaking out for a minute, and actually looked this up. Wonderful comforting thing, the internet.

6 None Of My Damn Concern.  A phrase I learned from my dad, amid the duct tape and power tools.