And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news. And I really struggled with this. I hope I said what I wanted to say.
Eons ago, when I was in high school, I was out to dinner with my family. I was a kennelworker at the local humane society at the time and I chattered about the dogs I worked with that day, the cats, the rabbits and guinea pigs, and yes, even the birds. Suddenly, my father interrupted. “I hope that someday, you love people as much as you love animals.”
I don’t remember answering. I do remember being dumbfounded. I’d never thought about love in that way before…I didn’t love animals more than people, and I didn’t love people more than animals. I just loved. Was that wrong? Was I supposed to love some more than others?
I was reminded of this in the past week.
My dog, Ursula, was diagnosed with heartworms, likely picked up before she came to us from Alabama. She seemed to be responding well to treatment, and then suddenly, late Sunday night, she vomited and went non-responsive. She was blinking, but not responding to anything, she couldn’t stand and she couldn’t walk. We rushed her to the emergency vet, and that’s where she stayed until Tuesday night, when she finally came home. She’s on two different heart meds and an antibiotic. The hope is that this was all caused by the heartworm treatment, and that she will be able to be weaned off the meds.
During her time there, we didn’t see her. We asked if we could bring in her pink security blanket; we were told no, that they would likely lose it. From Sunday to Tuesday, I grieved, wondering if my dog was scared, if she thought she’d been abandoned, if she was in pain. Ursula is a rescue dog. Her first three years of her life are unknown, but she is terrified of everything. We’ve worked really hard to make sure that she always feels safe, that she knows she can trust us, that she’s going to be fine. And now this. It was a long, long time from Sunday to Tuesday. For now, we are waiting for the heartworms to continue dying off. For now, she is on heart meds. But she’s home. And she has her blanket.
In one of my classes this week, I was asked about Ursula. Then a student said she couldn’t help but think of the kids being separated from their parents, kept in cages at the border. “You were worried about your dog with her blanket,” she said. “Think of those kids with just those aluminum blankets they’re given.”
I felt like I was at that dinner table again. I am horrified by our border situation. I’ve signed petitions, donated to resources, raised my voice. But did it mean I wasn’t supposed to be worried about my dog, without her blanket?
A few months ago, I was talking about the issues I’ve had with the breast cancer and our medical and insurance industries. We had to refinance our house in order to pay medical bills. Which is ridiculous. A student who recently did a mission trip said, “Now imagine being in a place where there are no medical resources at all.” I did. But I don’t see much difference between not having resources, and not being allowed access to resources unless you earn a certain income. Either way, people are doing without.
So was my choice to feel bad about my situation, or bad for the other country’s situation? I couldn’t feel bad for both?
I can’t help but wonder when compassion and love became an either/or proposition. Where does it stop? Are we supposed to constantly weigh our challenges with others, and as long as there is someone worse off than us, our own challenges then become unimportant or invalid? I actually overheard a conversation between two women at lunch once, where they were talking about grief. “I mean,” one woman said, “this really put it into perspective for me. My mom just died. But Karen just lost her son!” I sat back in my chair. Did that mean that the woman couldn’t grieve her mother?
In high school, I worked for a humane society. Now, I want to live in a humane society. When I looked up the definition of humane, I read, “showing kindness, care, and sympathy toward others, esp. those who are suffering.” It’s not specific to animals. It’s not specific to humans. It’s to show kindness, care and sympathy toward others. Others. Everyone.
I am sickened by the things that are going on in our country, and in other countries. I am very aware of them, and I do what I can to try to help. But my moment of happiness this week was when that door opened and my dog walked in, saw me, and came right over to put her heavy concrete head on my lap. My moment of happiness was bringing her home, seeing her lay down on her bed, and, after I covered her with her ratty pink blanket, watching her heave the biggest sigh and fall into a sleep that lasted for hours. My moment of happiness is my dog, who I do not love more than people. I just love.
I don’t believe that compassion should be a privilege, only offered to those who have reached a certain level of suffering. I believe it should be offered to all living beings.
I’m so happy Ursula is home.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.