What do you want to be most known for? At the end of your life, what is it that you want people to be saying at your funeral?
For me, the thing I want people to known most about my time here is simple: I want to be known as the best advocate for animals I could be, the ones chancing across my awareness. The ones I know personally — and those from afar — because all animals need people to speak in the best voice possible.
And, being an animal advocate is challenging work. It is soul-derived, soul-driven, spirit-infused and life-inspired work. It is an undertaking of a journey which I began decades before. But it takes time to develop a place in the pragmatic world that is our capitalist culture, a different kind of undertaking that only reveals itself with patience, persistence, faith and a spirit-guided synchronicity…
I’ve always earned income. From the time I was eleven years old and I looked at my French immigrant father and Italian codependent mother I realized, these people can’t give me what I need.
So I broke through the fence, literally. It was separating me from the outside world. A barrier erected between the Chicago suburban apartments in which I spent my adolescence and the shopping center behind. I removed one of the slats, crawled through and began opening doors to every business there. Can I sweep your floors? Can I clean your house? Do you have a car I can wash? Do you have a cat I can babysit?
I started there. I never stopped. Until nine years ago, when divorce ended my life in law and a self-employment income. Since then, I’ve done many things: Mediation, writing, contract paralegal work. I’ve been wandering in the field of opportunities, chances and attempts ever since. I feel like The Handless Maiden, as shared by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in Women who run with the Wolves.
Anyone who’s ever gone through a divorce knows what a car crash it can be. It didn’t surprise me when four years on, I found myself perfectly lonely and focusing on my career.
It was then I met my government scientist, a man with whom I’d fall into natural love and marry. He loves animals alongside me — no arguments, and no questions.
I’m still working on the whole career thing.
This morning, I set myself about the task of looking on Internet job searches for things I could do other than writing about how we need to better treat animals. I was met by the words:
We’re a bunch of hip-happening professionals living mostly in Costa Rica (but some of us are in the U.S.) We need a highly skilled, experienced content writer for our start-up company.
They lost me at hip happening, a term I haven’t used since before the turn of the New Millennium.
Meanwhile, our rescue dogs look longingly at me. Three of our six rescue cats are caterwauling until I show up with what has become my briefcase — a basket containing the morning’s writing, fresh water and a few even fresher ideas for the day’s work – in my barn loft office. Pavie, our Maine Coon rescue, wails a loud greeting at me. I was looking for opportunities to help buy Fromm kibble, Pavie, sorry I’m late, I tell him, rubbing his head. Uncle Irving, our 17-year old Orange Tabby, yowls like the little old man cat he is until I scratch his chin. He rushes over to my desk, eager to rest his head on my forearm as I type.
I’ve taken to shooing him gently so as to get some space to write. I cannot type with cat-fur on my keyboard.
Meanwhile, our dogs whine. Aren’t we going for a walk? You do have all this free time, after all.
I am dying to continue the day. I’m already feeling discouraged – the worst thing one can do with any Monday morning is search the job board on the internet. It’s self-abuse. It’s all that anonymity. How do other animal advocates live, besides working for $12.50 an hour at a nonprofit or bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s for $15? Me, I hold out visions for a few dollars more while I pour my energy into the day’s writing. This morning, it’s about a little dog rescue in Shawnee, Oklahoma, one struggling even worse then myself, to sustain to take in just one more dog for just one more day.
When I myself feel really discouraged, I think of the bag clerks at King Soopers. They’re working — at least – albeit, bagging groceries. This morning, I feel I could be a shoe-in.
Time for a break. I dash downstairs in my barn loft office for a quick walk. I feel as challenged to walk upright against February’s gusting winds blasting off the Continental Divide as I do to find places to sustain my advocacy work. I return quicker than the dogs want, relocate Uncle Irving to his perch, and sit down at my Mac. I focus on the connection I made on Saturday at the local wine shop:
Wow, you actually have your dog in a diaper?
I turned to meet an old acquaintance, a man looking for a writer to provide content for his sustainable communities nonprofit. My ears perked up as I eagerly took down his information. He bends down to pet my incontinent twelve-year old Shepherd mutt.
Maybe I can send him a sample piece on Black Bears and coexistence in the Rocky Mountains, I say to Uncle Irving. He yowls back at me.
I stare up at the bead boards in the ceiling for a while, recalling the time I cut and hammered in each and every piece in our six hundred square foot loft space. I used to live up here with my former, without running water on solar energy. After we divorced, I blew out the west wall to have a view of our mountain valley and installed a bamboo floor to have a brighter space in which to call my own for writing. I figure if I’m going to have a writing career I best cut down on the commute time (and expense) of having a separate office. Besides which, I can share the space with our cats.
I return to Uncle Irving, who is now purring. I think back to another acquaintance I made at a funeral I attended last week. A lover of Anatolian Shepherds (those exotic livestock protection dogs recently drafted into wolf mitigation programs), she’d adopted one from Oklahoma just last month. I think of connecting her to another woman, Sherry, who saved my own Oklahoma Labrador mutt, Charlie. She is struggling to find help to care for the Anatolian Shepherd hit by a truck last week. After they lifted the truck off his body and rushed him to the vet, Marmaduke’s surgery cost $3,000. Her nonprofit is modest. At seventy-four years young, Sherry herself drives the van from Oklahoma into Colorado several times a month, saving as many mutts and Anatolian Shepherds from neglect, abuse and death by gas chamber as she can.
If she can do it, so can I.
A new idea comes: Can I connect my funeral acquaintance with the Oklahoma rescue, find Marmaduke a sponsor? Why not?
Indeed, life as a sensitive advocate in this pragmatic, capitalistic-oriented society is a unique path. It is not about finding the perfect match for a job search on Indeed.com, ironically. It’s about persistence, patience, faith and devotion. It takes time for the larger human community to cultivate the same love I feel in my own heart for the rescue dogs in need. We are an inundated culture with everyone clamoring loudly for attention. But if we don’t stop to hear what’s most important — our deepest selves and our soul’s longings — how can we ever do our real life’s work?
I step forward and deeper into the morning, into one more opportunity to pursue this path with an open heart and a brighter mind. I don’t know if the prospective sponsor will say Yes, I’d love to help that Anatolian Shepherd or if the connection with my fellow wine-loving sustainable community guy will lead to the next freelance writing piece. I move into the week with inspiration gathered from those I follow these days – Lee Harris and Mike Dooley, the Notes from the Universe Guy – because they help enlarge my world, brighten my spirit and ground my creativity in a reality that I am certain exists if only I can find it in larger quantities. As a sensitive advocate, I need all the help I can find in like-minded community. This morning, it feels I need the breath of an angel to whisper the next move, right into my awaiting ear.