I was sitting in the pasture, pointing my camera at the light, which was playing hide-and-seek behind the sun,
when an ass came up to me, and nudged me with his nose. He said he had a poem to read to me, if I was open to it. It was cold, and I was seeking some distraction, and am always a sucker for a poem.
So I said yes, and I told this ass that I often read to my donkey Simon, and so was open to one reading to me.
The ass said the poem was from Jeladdudin Rumi. I was surprised to hear this from a donkey. I know Rumi’s poems and loved them. He was a 13th century mystic poet from what is now Afghanistan, and his master work,”Masnawi,” consisted of over 60,000 poems.
A neighbor came by and told me that he has seen a large red fox crawling around the fences just outside the farmhouse, and I wondered if perhaps he had taken Mother, if that is why she vanished so suddenly after seeming to settle in so well for a couple of days. Minnie stays close to the barn, Mother was a roaming hunter. We will perhaps never know.
The report of the fox brought back memories of the fox attack at Bedlam Farm earlier this year. Fran was nearly killed by a fox, but Simon charged across the pasture to save her. For weeks afterward, Fran would hop up on Simon’s back and she would ride him between the hay feeder and the big barn. Fran eventually succumbed to her wounds, but while she lived, she had her own Secret Service. It was always a bit of a shock to see Simon walking around with a Rhode Island Red on his back.
Minnie always hangs around Simon, Mother always went her own way.
Someone asked me why I thought Rocky might be going to a better place if I didn’t embrace the idea of the Rainbow Bridge, and I thought it was a good reminder to think about and write about the life of the spirit animal, what it means to me, since I refer to it so often.
The spirit animal – my dogs Orson, Rose, Izzy, Red, Rocky – is the opposite of the fuzzy-wuzzy embrace of the Rainbow Bridge, sentenced to spend years waiting for their humans to appear and play with then on the other side, and then all eternity being with them. When I think of a spirit animal, I think of Orson, who brought me to Bedlam Farm, and who left when he was done. And Rose, who helped me live there, and moved on to enter and shape the lives of other people. This is one reason I do not mourn her in the way some people demand that I should.
And of course, there is Frieda, a spirit animal who roamed the wild and allowed herself to be caught so she could bring the greatest gift to me, Maria. She is one of the most powerful spirit animals I have ever known.
I believe her to have moved on, continuing her work. Izzy, too. He led me to confront life and death in our hospice work and reconnected me with people. When they are done, these animals, these dogs and horses, cats and birds, find a way to leave. Many people think they should live forever, that this is the measure of human love, but I don’t feel that way. Nothing lives forever, not even us.
Rocky is without question a powerful spirit animal. He saw Florence through to the end of her life, just as she told me he would, and he brought Maria and I to our new farm. He lived on his out for years, even while declining, staying with his human for more years than anyone thought possible That is a powerful spirit, much stronger than me, able to do things I could not ever do. When the trouble with the donkeys began, and we began to grasp how much of a struggle his old body was going through, it seemed clear to both of us and the others who knew him that he was ready to move on. Rocky is a strong spirit, he lived a long time, most of it by himself. He is not and has never been a piteous and needy creature dependent on our mercy, as many people need to see him. He is a powerful spirit, he moves bits of the earth and the people in it around at will, he touched many lives.
Rocky will not be waiting on the other side of the bridge nor Florence for him. Maria and I won’t be there either, hopefully. These two independent creatures will have moved on to their new work, their new destinies. Hopefully they will meet and reunite, but that is a wish, not a prophesy. The Rainbow Bridge has always seemed a profoundly selfish idea to me, it assumes animals want or need nothing more than us for all time. Run in golden fields, Rosie, run fast and get away from us. How dare us assume we know what they want. This is as arrogant as assuming that the only path to mercy is perpetual life. This is the tragedy of many elderly lives, it won’t be the tragedy of my animals, or of me.
In our time, in our need to see animals as dependent things, as perpetually abused and mistreated and victimized – this is the part that touches many humans so deeply, a kinship with victimization, the angry messagers are almost all talk of victims and they see animals like Rocky in that way – we forget how powerful and strong these spirits are. It is not about their bodies, but their spirits. In our growing need to reduce them to helpless beings of need, are selfish once more. In fact human selfishness courses through our lives with animals again and again.
That is not my view of animals, not my view of Rose or Rocky or Orson or Izzy. These spirits are inhabiting the bodies of animals, and they will come and go, and enter the lives of others. They decide when they come, not us, they decide when they go. They are much bigger than me, and their lives are not only about being with me.
The power and choice about life is only peripherally in our hands, it is truly in theirs. They have been her long before us, and will be here still after we have finished ruining our parts of the earth. Spirit animals demand respect, not pity. They are never weak or helpless. They are not victims of any kind. They do not wish to spend eternity with us, and we do not own their spirits or control them.
You will not see Rocky or Rose on the Rainbow Bridge. They will be entering the lives of other fortunate people, doing good, magical helpers on the hero journey. That is my story.
There was an awful beauty at the farm this morning. The wind was whipping across the pasture, rattling the windows in our house, the barn was groaning and creaking like an old ship. I loved life very much at this moment, even though my fingers ached, my nose was runny, my toes screamed out in protest. It was a deep cold, fueled by the relentless wind of a Northeast storm not worthy of getting its own name, so no big money for the cable channels. Maria was brushing and brushing Rocky, she calls him “My Little Pony,” and I suggested she stop, but she couldn’t. Red came over, as always and stood by. Somehow, he is always there, part of the moment but never interfering with it. Dogs at work. Dogs as companions. Dogs as spirit guides.
Red is Rocky’s pal, his eyes sometimes. I loved this morning. The wind was brutal and, head bowed and swathed in scarves, I hauled water out to the sheep, out to the pole barn. The sheep pay no mind to the wind, they simply find a low spot and gather together.
A good friend told me I was much engaged in life, and that made me happy and proud.
Have I told you how much I love life?
Even when it is sad and disappointing?
Even when angry and damaged people wound?
It is so good to be alive. To have things to love. To have decisions to make. To have choices that matter, beliefs that are strong, beliefs that endure.
It is so wonderful to have idea at sail out into the ether, like small sailing ships, bobbing and weaving over the mountainous waves of life. Sometimes they perish out there, sometimes they make their way back, sometimes they return with other ideas in tow, sparks flying, wheels turning, a glorious mixing of open minds.
Life is such a gift. I give thanks for it every minute of every day.
Maria has been brushing Rocky for an hour this morning, and most mornings, and talking to him, picking the burrs out of his coat, putting medication on his cuts, combing out his tail and mane. She hates it when he isn’t groomed. And yes, we have been crying a lot. And we listen to him, to, and ask him questions and talk to him. Rocky, you will be with Florence soon. Rocky, you will be in a warmer place. Rocky, you are going to a nice green pasture. Rocky, it will be easier for you, your legs tired, your space disrupted. He whinnies at us, loves his grain and the high-protein dietary supplement we have been giving him for months.
It has gotten cold, and gotten windy, and he is stiff in the cold and struggles with it. Me, too, sometimes, I told him, me too.
We are feeling good about our decision to euthanize him soon, to help him leave the world in comfort and dignity, and not struggle on so that we and others can feel good about ourselves and make the easier paths. Even the vicious messages were good, were helpful, because it reminds me not to be like that, not to do that to other people. To be strong and clear and honest. That always feels good.
Someone e-mailed me – she calls herself whispering winds and says she has rescued animals for 30 years and hides her real name – and told me I was killing Rocky because I loved Simon more, and I decided to answer her back and urged her not to confuse cruelty with morality, not to use animals to hate and harm people, but she did not hear me and was so pleased that I I e-mailed her back she wrote, “I guess I struck a nerve. I must have been right.” Yes, she struck a nerve. She could do the same thing, I told her, by going out and throwing a rock at some person’s head, and then when they yelled, she could tell herself how perceptive she was. I haven’t heard back from her.
A woman I admire and like, someone I thought of as a friend, someone I’ve met – she also is involved in horse rescue – posted a message on my Facebook page saying she thought about the death of Orson, and Rose and soon, Rocky and decided she couldn’t follow my work any longer, she just felt something wasn’t right and she said she disagreed with my decision about Rocky. I answered her also, and said I was sorry she chose to announce this on Facebook, rather than to me. I told her this was not a decision that was hers to agree with or disagree with – it was not a vote. It was my decision and I wished her the dignity of her decisions. And said goodbye.
People wrote that it seemed we were just killing Rocky because it was convenient for us, and they do not belong on my site or reading my books. They ought to get themselves somewhere else, although I’ve learned they usually don’t. And they might look up the meaning of convenient. Feels like anything but.
But I need to be honest. I don’t want to pursue drama or distort reality. Yesterday I got hundreds, perhaps thousands, of messages, online and off, and all but a small fraction were supportive, empathetic, healing and quite wonderful. “We know you are making the best decisions you can, and good luck.” There were several hundred wonderful and loving and understanding messages on my Facebook page yesterday and I read most and shared some with Maria, and it was a torrent of love and connection and affirmation. Sometimes, you don’t get to meet your real friends.
Now, it is different, just a day later. We are past needing support or listening to criticism. That is over. I am not reading or answering messages about Rocky now, supportive or not. Now, its about support. Us for Rocky, for each other. Do it right. Respect ourselves. Feel what we feel and move ahead without our good and meaningful lives. There is no price too great to pay for a meaningful life.
Why do we pay more attention to the haters than the many good people? Why do they sting sometimes? I suppose it’s because pain often is felt more acutely than love. And when you make a decision like this, can you ever be certain? Should you ever be certain?
A friend told me we had to be in harmony with Rocky before deciding, we had to be clear and calm. And so we are. We are clear and calm. We’ve talked to the good people we trust, and they are clear too. It is a gift to Rocky to be spared another winter, trying to adjust to animals that don’t want him around, kept alive through all of his struggles so we can feel like saviors and rescuers, before his health worsens. Rescuing animals is a beautiful thing, but it has a dark side. If I’m not careful, I start thinking I am better than other people and have the right to tell them what to do. I don’t want to be like that.
And everything, even sadness is weighted against the human being I share my life with. My wonderful wife is a teacher as well as a lover. She has enormous emotion and feeling for Rocky – she has been crying for days. Yet she is strong and supportive. She is not afraid to show what she feels like I am, to cry. She doesn’t waver or equivocate or listen much to the small and hateful voices that some sailing through the ether. This is courage and this is love.
So thank you, good people, peace and compassion and light to you.
The new world of the Internet spawns all kinds of righteousness and judgement, cheap and free. Some seemed to think they were watching a reality show, voting on what the people on the stage were dong. Seems like convenience to me. Seems like a good thing. The meaning messages were all the same, and they were many: Good luck, we are thinking of you, we are feeling for you. There were so many, and they certainly do strike a nerve too. It is so easy to hurt somebody – the Internet makes it free – harder to help them up.
Life is a gift, the good and the bad. Someone e-mailed me and said I must feel awful being in my new home, losing Mother and soon, Rocky. Nothing could be further from the truth. We learn to love the good with the bad, the loss with the gain, we grow and learn from it all.
And through my head, the sound of Maria’s voice, and her little pony’s whinnying. Rocky, you will be in a better place. You will be with your Florence.