While clearing out my mother's home after she died, I marveled at how many videos she had of the cutesy variety of animal movies. Born Free, Harry and Tonto, Lady and the Tramp, Charlotte's Web, The Incredible Journey and some others I've forgotten.
My mother had a cat but she had never shown an interest – to me, anyway - in animals beyond her own. So I was further surprised, in sorting out her finances, to find regular contributions to a number of animal charities. Not once a year, but every couple of months over many years. Apparently, my mother never met an animal appeal she could resist.
We share that to a degree. I don't have as much disposable income as my mother had, but I make an annual donation to the local, no-kill cat shelter and would give to others if I could.
Mom and I also share at least one other trait – stoicism. She had no patience with me, as a child, when I lamented something too loudly that could not be changed. Shit happens in life; make note and move on was her attitude. No moaning allowed. And so it has been: whatever goes wrong, I deal with it and if I must whine, I do it privately. She trained me well and so did my father.
When he and I were driving in slow, heavy traffic one time, we passed two puppies playing at the edge of the road. One of us mentioned that it was dangerous for them to be there. We hadn't moved on more than a few car lengths when we heard one of the puppies squealing in pain. When I reacted with an “oh, no” and my eyes filled with tears, my dad gruffly told me to “stop it.” There was nothing we could do, he said.
I have long forgotten the conversation that caused it but many years ago, a coworker said to me, “Ronni, you are one tough broad.” It made me want to cry. I'm mush inside and was hurt that I appear otherwise to the world although with time, I've come to see how much effort I put into hiding that mush.
So here is how these threads – mothers, fathers, animals and stoicism – come together.
For several years now, I have been incapable of reading or watching news stories about injured or abused animals. Remember that sports star who organized dog fights? That's all I know about it; just that it happened, no details because I couldn't get past the headline without weeping.
Sometimes, when I'm cooking and can't shut off the television when an abused animal story comes on, I hum to myself or sing or turn on the water full force in the sink while I look away so I won't have to know.
I can't even watch stories about rescue efforts of birds and seals after oil spills. Or whales who beach themselves. I didn't want to know about that race horse who broke his leg and had to be killed.
In the past year or two, this phobia, this lost stoicism, has expanded. Aside from the banking debacle and health care reform, the big stories in Congress have been about cap-and-trade, global warming, climate change, etc. You won't read about them here because I cannot read or think about the consequences of our profligacy - the denuded mountains, poisoned rivers and streams, declining fish populations, dying bees and frogs...
If I keep writing this, I'll be weeping again – for the terrible things we humans do to our earth and its inhabitants, the ones who can't fight back be they alive or inanimate.
And what bloody good does all this maudlin sappiness do? Not that I can save the world or even a small part of it, but I should be at least tough enough to bear witness. I wasn't always like this. What could have happened?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman: Tommy's Timber