Distortions of I


I was writing to a friend recently about my own distorted view of the world at present– upset about a very ill, very dear aunt in hospital, the last elder by blood, and also about a colleague/friend in hospital. This all comes on top of my husband’s mental health program closing and his possible reassignment to work with ex-cons. I don’t do well in hospitals, being totally OCD about germs, contamination, sickness and vomiting. With no protective walls thanks to a breakdown years ago, I feel terror-stricken and ill as soon as I walk in the door of a hospital. As for the ex-cons, my husband, Tom, was attacked once by an angry client, so my fear of him working with ex-cons with anger issues is not totally unjustified. In my email to my friend I didn’t go into these details but here is what he wrote back. (Blacky and Betty are his adopted dogs):

“Blacky and Betty don’t know how good they have it. They are detached from normal human sufferings. They are truly positive, focusing only on good things and are grateful if I pet them while handing them a treat. They love the snow and the cold doesn’t bother them. As long as ex-cons show them love, they don’t care. They would love to cuddle with your friend and aunt and wish them well. They would love you and Tom to take them out to play.
Love from, V,B and B
It’s hard being human.”

In thinking over what he wrote, I decided that dogs (and most, if not all, animals) live in the present. Humans, however, are hampered by experiences from their past (sometimes trauma), and fears about the future, based on their past traumas. For example, my obsession about vomiting began with an alcoholic father who would come home drunk and become ill, happening enough times to be etched on my memory decades later. Knowing this does not make it better—nor does it make it go away. Neither does knowing the name for this illness, “emetephobia.”

It is true that animals also experience trauma but somehow they seem better able to unlearn trauma than humans. Animals may fear death when they are surrounded by it in slaughterhouses, but unlike humans, they don’t seem to foresee death scenarios in everyday life.

“Still thou are blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och!  I backward cast my e’e,
     On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
      I guess an’ fear!”

from “To a Mouse” by Scotland’s favorite poet, Robert Burns, 1759-1796

I have said many times, my dogs were my best teachers. I will try to take a page from their book on love, think of how they would act, and draw strength from their lessons. “Perfect love cast out fear.” My love is far from perfect, for I am full of fear. But I can choose to focus on my aunt, my friend, my husband and “be” with them totally and lovingly as my canine companions, Ko-Ko and Duchie, were every day of their lives on this earth.

6 responses

  1. Our memory … not reprogrammable … unfortunately


    February 22, 2013 at 10:35 AM

  2. While every religious and philosophical text tells us to behave not as animals, my logic contradicts in every aspect I find them far superior to us and you have pointed out correctly, our past stands as a wall, making us immovable. But let me also reiterate you guys had it tough and it takes not one but two brave-hearts to withstand one block after another, hold each other’s hand and walk. Salute!


    February 22, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    • Thanks, Arjun, for your sensitive comment. Tough is all relative– I know of so very many who have it way tougher. And I don’t know why religion and philosophy are so down on animals. Native Americans had it right. Animals have much to teach us and I would say other indigenous peoples think the same. Your input is much appreciated.


      February 22, 2013 at 6:09 PM

  3. Beautiful post Ellen.
    Sometimes I look at my little kitten and am so envious of his cool, calm life. I guess I sometimes wish that I were Blacky and Betty 🙂


    March 5, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    • Hi Megan,

      Thank you for reading my post, Megan. I, too, wish I were Blacky and Betty. Thank you for commenting.

      Hope things are going well for you, Ellen


      March 6, 2013 at 10:46 AM

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