My husband pronounces this a cow
standing among greens
well if it is a cow
don’t eat him
he is a sacred cow
as we all are sacred
I see him standing among the brush triumphant
for no one has turned him into hamburger
I say they are blue trees
filled with white blossoms
well if they are blossoms
don’t pick them
and extinguish their life of beauty
as if She were our own
meant to serve us
when She is there to teach us
about the Great Being
benevolent with His gifts
such as blue cows
or blue trees with white flowers
as Nature whispers in our ears
as She manifests the gifts of the Great Being
and we boorishly
cut them down
and put them in vases
(if I am right and they are blue trees with white flowers)
where in a day or so they die
having given their lives
for the mundane, bourgeois folly
of decorating our homes
(if my husband is right and they are cows)
we boorishly eat them
despite the disgust of eating flesh
at the expense of deaths by extreme cruelty
a travesty of justice
crimes against Nature
when She is to be untouched
just as She is
for She is the perfect
creation of our Heavenly Father.
Last week my husband called me from the back yard. “Come quick, come see what I found.” I ran to the back door where he was, holding out his arm, and there in his hand sat a teeny green frog, about the size of a thumbnail. I oooed and aahhed over it and thanked him for calling me. The frog had jumped onto his arm while my husband was unrolling the garden hose, its temporary home. “How wonderful!” I said. And then I thought some more about it and I realized I was jealous. Jealous of the fact the frog had jumped on my husband’s arm and not mine. “Well, he deserves the frog more than I do,” I found myself thinking, as if any of us deserve such things.
Today I began to think more about this. I remembered when we had first moved in. My husband was at work and I saw a mound in the grass moving out the back door window. Upon closer examination I found to my utter delight it was a box turtle. This time it was my husband, an affirmed reptile lover, who was jealous and even admitted to being so. Okay, jealousy of such things is obvious and on the surface in children. Yet we were dealing with adults here who, it seems, covet visits from animals. We cherish an interchange with a creature. And why?
I remember the Sunday night a few years ago, apprehensive about a challenging week ahead, when I saw a stag in the woods behind our house. I called to my husband to come see him. He was stunning with huge antlers, an imposing presence. And suddenly I knew everything would be alright. Why? Because the stag in the distance– majestic, princely, beautiful was a sign.
And how thrilled we are to have a snapping turtle return every year to lay her eggs in our driveway. We feel privileged. Again, blessed. Or when, with delighted guests, we saw a giant luna moth flying in the porch light one night. And the countless times a butterfly lands on one’s body, on a shoulder or head, or a dragonfly visits an arm or a sleeve. And, the beautiful hummingbirds. We even had a hummingbird nest in our Black Birch. Such visits feel so special– to have these delicate, exquisite creatures land near us or live in the trees near our house. Even when my least favorite reptile makes an appearance out from under his home on our back deck, a tiny garter snake, the spirit soars.
Research has shown how having pets is therapeutic. We are blessed by animals who trust us utterly. We feel their trust and it is pure, unalloyed by human characteristics. We don’t deserve such trust and yet we receive it as a gift. We have made contact with a being of a different species who lives in a different world whose being synchronizes with different biological rhythms. The native Americans believed animals to be spiritual guides that have much to teach us. Psychology tells us Nature is a natural antidepressant. An animal can disarm the most defensive, enchant the most mentally ill, bring out the goodness in the criminal, and bring a smile to the face of the young, old and in-between.
And, yes, animals can be pests when they get into where they don’t belong or become aggressive or defensive in a bad way. But our world is a richer, more vibrant place because of them. Animals bring us out of ourselves and into the experience of awe. Their innocence lightens our loads, allowing us to share the “mystery of the other” with others, drawing us closer to our friends and family. We share the world with animals and they share their hearts with us. And their innocent interactions with us are blessings from God.
There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.
By Dalai Lama XIV
Pema Chodron says Pain has its virtues.
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), an Autistic Spectrum Disorder on the mild end of the spectrum, is often characterized by a supposed lack of empathy. What it really means, and many professionals still do not know this, is that there is a different kind of empathy. An empathy in which we, Aspies, are so overrun with feelings that our system crashes– to use a computer analogy.
For example, my aunt is on death’s door and my cousin calls to give me the news. Suddenly she starts crying hysterically and shouting that her mother can’t die and leave her, that she needs her mother, and conveying a powerful sadness. I start crying, too, and try to say some words of comfort or of wisdom acquired from losing my own parents. All pales and I am reduced to stuttering. Why does this happen? I am overcome with her feelings and feel them myself. And the computer freezes up. System crash– whereas, a Neurotypical (NT) would know what to say and be sympathetic and empathetic and help my cousin. I make vague attempts that wind up as feeble words. Does that mean I am an unfeeling person? No. Ineffectual, yes. And maybe seen as heartless despite my attempt to convey love and sympathy for what my cousin is going through.
Another example shows me as a monstrous teen. I am 15 and my mother gets a phone call and starts crying hysterically. I immediately know it means that Grandpa is dead. I adored my grandfather and had a very special relationship with him. In some ways which I will not go into here, too special in a not-good way, especially for so young a child. I know there is no room for my grief. It is only my mother’s that counts. There is no one to go to with the devastation I feel inside. So how do I express it? Do I cry? No. I say to my father, “I guess we won’t be having hamburgers for dinner.” A totally callous remark. And my father chastises me for being “unfeeling”—for my lack of empathy, when all the time I am in great pain inside. This on the surface is what Asperger’s lack of empathy looks and sounds like. Underneath the surface there is a chaos of feelings rampaging within. Now an NT might actually feel less deeply, but would act and say something appropriate and certainly wouldn’t make a remark like the hamburger one. It is not that I wanted hamburgers– I hated them. To this day, I don’t know why that remark slipped out.
Things like that still happen. I did not get officially diagnosed with AS until age 61, though I knew I was autistic decades before, having worked with autistic children on the serious end of the spectrum. Aspies feel emotion and shut down, just like an overloaded computer. It does not mean that they have no feelings nor empathy. It is a different kind of feeling and empathy. And I have noticed a tremendous reservoir of feeling for animals that can be expressed more easily, for animals are so less threatening and more straightforward than human beings. If I were more intelligent, I would become a vet. Now, whenever I can the chance with an animal, I give Reiki, which many animals respond to quite naturally. It is definitely easier to give Reiki to an animal rather than to a human being. My husband is the one exception. He is a special case, lumped in with non-humans simply because I am so comfortable with him, a high-functioning Aspie himself.
I learned to try to pass for normal– in some ways, quite successfully. I became an expert observer of people though I could not, and still cannot, interpret what I observe. But I owe my success to my mother having a mood disorder which got passed down to me as Bipolar Disorder– and to my father being an alcoholic. Why? Because in order to survive, to minimize fear and pain, I had to become a keen observer of my mother’s moods before she lashed out at me. I would scour her face for every nuance of mood although I still seldom knew what was to come. This extreme vigilance served to protect myself. Similarly with my father. I would study him, scrutinize his behavior when he came in the door on the rare nights he came home when he said he would, and did not stay out drinking. Just because he came home early did not mean he was not drunk. A facial expression, a different gait wherein he tried to walk normally, the way he said hello, would give it away. I became expert at detecting drinking, often knowing long before my mother did that he was drunk and would tell her. She wouldn’t always believe me. I was terrified of my father when he was inebriated. Once, as a very little girl, I heard him sick in the middle of the night and my mother was with him in the bathroom, semi-hysterical, yelling at him for my father was obviously out of control. I felt sick myself, tried to drown out the sounds with a pillow, and was scared to death I would have to run to the bathroom and be ill also. This turned into a life-long phobia and obsession. I loved my father but when he was drunk I didn’t want him anywhere near me. And sometimes, especially when drinking gin, he could be mean. Were his true feelings coming out—“In Vino Veritas” or were they just drunken ramblings of a disturbed mind? For he did have a disturbed mind, an outcome of a tragic childhood and he used alcohol to self-medicate his demons. His father was an alcoholic, too.
Pain has its virtues. I learned to study people and became so astute that it hid my Asperger’s symptoms for years. Female Aspies seem to be better at hiding their disability than males. I learned to study people but I still cannot decipher what expressions mean. I can see something happening on the face but am often still not be able to tell what it means. This just increases what is already acute social anxiety and is hard to translate into socially appropriate responses.
“Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” Certainly my childhood was not a tragedy by any means. But parts of it were tough and those parts made me strong.
Next time you see an Aspie act without empathy, especially a child, you might check in with them to see just what they are feeling. I would wager that they are feeling a great deal and simply cannot process or express their feelings.
(This is dedicated to my brother who died a year ago this Father’s Day after a long and courageous battle with lung cancer.)
It is Springtime and I am doing my annual Spring cleaning– maniacally giving away old and unused clothes and items that no longer serve or never did. Some things I remember as I go through the linen chest– others are totally forgotten as to origin and use. And then it hits. In the corner of the chest is a neatly folded piece of green check cotton cloth. I immediately know its source. It is the cloth my Mother used to make curtains for her kitchen. Mom was always making curtains. When my husband and I were married she made curtains for our first apartment. We are still using them. Seeing this green check cloth brings me back to a hard period in my life when seeing my Mother was my only joy. We are sitting at the table in her kitchen having tea and laughing. It is a happy meeting. So many years ago.
And now with the sun shining and the birds singing and fresh air wafting in through the windows I am struck with uncontrollable grief. Tears that feel they could go on forever. It is as if she just died yesterday. But there is one difference, the remorse and the resentment I felt at the time is finally gone for the very first time. Some harsh words from my Mother as she lay dying, my lack of empathy and leaving without saying goodby for what was to be the last time– all this led to fifteen years of not being able to think of my Mother without guilt and deep regret. It was as if all of the good times we shared were negated by this one memory. Now the tears seem to be some sort of liquid acid dissolving the stone of resentment, guilt and remorse that squelched all the good. I feel cleansed and feel like I could cry a good, long cry as I go outside to sit in the sun. The sun seeps down in the wound like a salve.
Grief is not just a human phenomenon. Elephants will stand over the dead body of one of their herd, in some way showing respect for the departed spirit. And I think of examples close to home. The doe we saw one day going over to the dead body of a fawn on the side of the road. Or the baby rabbit we saw crossing into the middle of the road where a large mass of flesh with fur lay. And even closer to home– my husband and I adopted my Mother’s dog once Mom got too sick to care for her. Ko-ko had stayed with us many times in our house and loved being there. We never took her to see Mom again because the parting was too hard on both of them. We did take her toys though, from Mom’s house one night, and put them in our bedroom, among them a corroded rubber Santa. We were sitting at dinner that night and Ko-ko went into the bedroom. We heard a heart-stopping yelp and then whimpering. We went in and found Ko-ko with her old Santa in her mouth. The Santa was her version of my green check curtain. A stabbing wound and tears.
Clearly animals feel grief. Some die of grief just like humans. Grief binds us together, human and animal, and perhaps provides the special appeal of the new life in Spring. Yet when Spring inspires happy faces and a general feeling of well-being, and flowers are blooming everywhere, the contrast can be cruel. As T.S. Eliot so eloquently put it: “April is the cruelest month.” But once it is June the new life has settled in and we can go out in the yard and bake in the sun– the universal giver of life.
We humans have no prerogative on grief. Our lives entwine with happy moments and tragic in this vast web of existence, and Spring and loss are just two facets of possibility.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)