I had my open heart surgery on July 1, I had been home a couple of weeks when I decided to take Red to the top of a beautiful nearby hill – round hay bales had been cut in the field, it is a beautiful place. On impulse, I sent Red out on a "come bye" outrun, and he took off joyously, making a broad, wide and beautiful run around the perimeter of this pasture, as Red loves to do. Sometimes I think he would be happy to forego the bother of the sheep and just do his outruns, for which he is famed.
I received a shocking and ugly e-mail that day from someone I once respected. It was cruel and hurtful from someone who knew how to do it, suggesting I was betraying and harming Red for sending him on an outrun without sheep, and losing his trust. It also contained some statements and claims that turned out to be fabrications. It was one of the modern social media collisions between the self-righteous who swarm the Internet and the individual and his or her right to living their own life. It was a disturbed message from a troubled person and instead of recognizing it as such, it deeply upset me and I made the mistake of responding to it in anger.
Why did I do that? Because that was the low point of my recovery from the surgery, I was overwhelmed by the pain, disorientation, medication and experience of suddenly discovering I had heart disease and then, in a day or so, having my heart stopped and opened up for urgent repair. My heart had been struggling to live, and suddenly was pumping all of this blood and oxygen everywhere, I felt as if someone else had seized control of my body.
I was, I was told, within a walk or two of dying. Taking Red on this outrun was a symbol to me of life returning, I thought of it in the intensive care unit. I am always inspired by his jubilation and enthusiasm.
If the message came today, I would ignore it, of course, and pity the person who sent it, but I think I have never felt more open and vulnerable than I did on that day, or more hurt by the idea that I had harmed Red. Recovering, I know that I would never harm Red, and he knows it too. I could not even dress myself, stand up alone, bend over or pick up a book.
But I had lost touch with myself that day, a good friend set me straight, she told me she would pray for the person who send the message and ponder why people do such things. I did not pray for that person, I am not religious in that way. But I did see that the problem was me and my response, messages like that are simply a part of life online in America, I have been getting them for decades. I will never become what is hurtful to me.
Looking back on it, I write this not to revive the issue of Red and his outruns – it was simply not important – but to recognize in how much distress I was in then, just a few weeks ago. I was laid open, my body had been stunned, my psyche was spinning all over the place, I was feeling so many things as my restored heart began pumping blood to my body and brain. Of the two major arteries to my heart, one was 100 per cent blocked, the other 90 per cent. I was living on a trickle.
Today I felt a strong and powerful need to take Red back up to that hill and sent him on another outrun, to affirm myself in the way I had intended the first time. There is truly nothing in the world Red loves more than to run full-tilt in an open field, right into the wind. It is such a beautiful thing to see. He came all the way around this huge field and then around to me, and stopped and set himself eagerly, hoping for another run. He never even looked for sheep. Red is not like the other children, and neither am I, that is our bond, I think.
It was a good thing to do, it cleansed me in several ways. It reminded me of how much pain I was in that day, and how much better I am today. It washed away the hurt and anger of that day. It reminded me that anger is a poison, it simply bonds us to the thing we are angry about, it is a form of self abuse.
I see that angry messages are a part of life, like dying and sickness, they are part of human nature, and they are sometimes a gift. They force me to look at myself and decide both who I am and who I want to be. And who I do not want to be.
That is an important lesson, at any age. I like my new heart, it has so far been good for me. I have walked more than 275 miles since coming home, according to my fitbit and other devices. I have taken scores of pills, met with a dozen doctors, undergone a score of tests, dealt with infections, hives, fluid retention, dizziness, cardiac rehab, stationary bikes, trips to the pharmacy, new bills, emotional ups and downs, exhaustion and some eye-opening pain. I have confronted a great fear and found grace. My surgery has brought me a great step closer to the spiritual life and awareness I have been seeking for so much of my life.
I loved taking Red on his outrun today, it was a beautiful and inspiring thing to do. I am recovering, I am back from the other side, mostly I felt like falling on bended knee and giving thanks for this world full of crisis and mystery.
But my knee was too sore from all the walking.