Once up a time there was a boy who fell through a crack in time, but the truth is that he didn't fall all the way. Half of the boy remained there, on either side.
--Oliver Loving page 284
A few nights ago Tikka went crazy barking at the window and running up and down the stairs, barking and barking and barking. I couldn't fathom it. She often barks at people walking by. She wants to go meet them, to go play, but this was different, and although I looked out the window, I didn't see anything that looked like pedestrians or even a car. I calmed her down, shook my head, and put it out of my mind.
In the morning Tikka and I took our walk. We came home; she was desperate to crawl under the bushes at the front of the house, and I puzzled over this briefly, perhaps too briefly. But I had places to be, other thoughts on my mind. You know how it is, and yet you sense there was something else to know, something coming. But it was not yet time.
I have relinquished a lot of responsibilities. Turned them over, not waiting, not acquiescing, not agreeing to serve until a replacement is found, because I've done that before, and I was still there. I am closing a door I've needed to close for a long time in order to step through a new door but I still don't know which door was the hardest. To let go of something that comes easily to me, and that I enjoy because I have a gift for it, even knowing that I needed to change, knowing that I needed to move into new territory, explore other gifts. It is hard to let go of things you do well because the doing of them, even when they are not your heart, are not all of your gift or your passion, still offers security, and a known place in the world. There is comfort in a secure place, even when you know it is the wrong place. Likewise, it is hard to open doors into the unknown, even when we know that doorway leads to where we need to be. Questions abound, and fear: fear of making a mistake, fear of failing, of being laughed at, fear of being forgotten.
In the afternoon, after our walk, I let Tikka go, off her leash. I needed to take the recycle can back to the garage, and Tikka always sits and waits for me at the front door. But when I returned to the door something unexpected occurred. Tikka was there, but she had something in her mouth. It was the lower leg of a rabbit. She was excited, barely able to contain her joy, and it was easy to startle her into relinquishing her prize. Tikka safely ensconced inside, I went back out, gathered up the leg, and peered under the bush, where I found a lot of fluff and fur and signs of a scuffle. The body had been carried away.
There is an eagle in our neighborhood. I see it occasionally perching in a high tree behind the house of my neighbor across the street. It has flown over us more than once; and I always pause in awe. Another neighbor says he sees it, perched in a tree on his property, not 75 feet from his window. I have no doubt that the unfortunate rabbit was making a run for it across my front lawn and didn't quite manage to reach safety. I don't honestly know if a rabbit is too big for an eagle, although perhaps a small rabbit would be just right. Or there was a larger hunter on the loose. I have no doubt that Tikka heard the scuffle. And I am relieved that she was inside, that I did not let her out.
By the next morning, when Moises wanted to go out, I was once again filled with doubts and questions, wanting to protect him, wanting to keep him close, but also acknowledging that this desire to hold tightly is ultimately more about me than Moises. Moises is a cat. He needs to be a cat. And yet I worry.
Am I right to worry? I am a cat mom. Is that less than being a person mom? I don't know. I am a step-mom, and although I would never claim that I knew what it was like to be a mom, I too fretted and worried about those children of my heart, fretted when, as new drivers, they returned home late, fretted over boyfriends, marital spats, their hearts. I have experienced that need to protect, that desire to tear someone limb from limb after they have hurt "my" child. Giving birth doesn't make you a mom. Believe me, I know women who have no maternal feeling, who feel the child they birthed was a parasite, sucking away their life; and some of those women were wise enough to give their children to someone who loved them, although some were not. I cry for those children. And as I know that mothering is about more than giving birth, it is also about more than gender, or race, or perhaps even species.
But life is complicated. And as much as we want to treasure and protect, and hold our loved ones close, we must also let them fledge. Just as we must let the ones we love be free, we must also sometimes free ourselves of our preconceptions, our walls, and our understandings. It is human to hold tight, to protect, to avoid pain. And yet growth is, in and of itself a painful process. When we hold tightly we don't actually avoid pain, we cause more pain, although we may not see it that way, for it is easy to blind ourselves to our own motivations, to begin the process of questioning and then return to the comfortable warmth of our own patterns.
I am closer to my 60th birthday than to my 59th. It is time to open new doors. I no longer have to prove myself to the world. If I fall I know how to pick myself back up. But if I don't try, I'll never know what I could have done. So what if Moises has waited until he is 9 to want to go outside. If he doesn't go, how will he ever know what he was looking for? Yes, he may get hit by a car, but he is too big to be snatched by an eagle. Whatever happens he will have been himself, and I will be honored to have known him, and I will mourn him whether he dies in his sleep, or in the jaws of a larger predator. Whatever happens, winter always comes, and spring always follows.
These meditations have been partially fueled by a book I finished reading last week, Oliver Loving by Stefan Morrell Block. I can't say that it is an uplifting book, nor can I say that any of the characters in the book are very likable, but it is an excellent book, beautifully written, a story told with great empathy and humanity. It could have been just another of-the-moment attempt to mess with your emotions, but it has proven to be more: a school shooting, a dysfunctional family further broken by tragedy, in a broken, dysfunctional town. These are not people I have known, and yet they are, although our circumstances have been different. The author wends his way through his characters thoughts, and yes, the story is often repetitive, often mundane, just as our lives and our struggles are often mundane. But I know these people; the father who retreats into his shed, into his alcohol; the mother who holds tightly to her idea of salvation through her children, children she needs to bolster a sense of self she never really developed; children who long to escape, only to learn that though they can distance themselves physically, actual escape involves more tools than they have in their pockets.
The story is about grief, about holding on and letting go, redemption, reconciliation. Block writes complex, beguiling prose filled with humor, empathy and kindness as well clever repetitions of gradually evolving themes and phrases, and skillful use of foreshadowing and metaphor. In all of this he reminds us that no story is ever what it seems, and yet neither is what we make it out to be when we let our fears run wild. All the characters in this book, plunged as they are into their own private hells, are forced, over time, to examine themselves and their motivations, what they could have done differently, and all come up wanting at times, all are filled with remorse at times, and at times they all flee back into the comfort of their delusions. Occasionally however they see beyond their own narrow walls, see themselves for who they are, and try, if for a moment only, to become better than themselves, and in that moment there is hope.
This is also a book about regrets, about assumptions, about the way we think we know the world, think we know what is going on around us, only to learn that we were blind, and that all our assumptions were incorrect. Most of us will never experience the horror and sorrow around which this story is told, and yet we read about something similar almost weekly. Or have we become inured? Have we forgotten? Have we, like Eve, learned we "could narrow the radius of (our) concern to the body before (us)", (page 302), to that which only fits into our own personal world-view?
As I looked out the window this morning, at the tree house at the edge of my backyard and the houses up on the next hill, I was reminded of this. In the summer all of this is hidden by greenery. I can hear the road below but cannot see it. In winter I see through the trees, but the distance is deceiving, and in the photograph the perspective is even further distorted. The house across the street is a long ways away, down into the valley and up a hill again. It reminds me of how much of our judgements and our morals, our hopes and our fears even, are situational and therefore political, are based on the world around us and the way the world in which we live shapes our assumptions, as well as our own need for certainty, our need to believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. Even when we begin to examine our motivations, we may touch on the truth, but we often revert back to comfort.
Every day I get up, I make my bed, and I get dressed. I open the front door and Moises and Tikka go outside for their own morning rituals. Up until that point, the point in which I open that door, I have control, or I am able to convince myself I have control. After that, who knows?