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Thursday, August 30, 2012

walking in the air

 
 
This might be a weird post. It's part of something way bigger that won't fit into a blog, but it seems to want to come spilling out.
 
I have never not had a sad. I can't remember being happy through most of my life. I have plenty of joyful memories and remember laughing a lot as a child, and I have some pretty good memories of being all grown up, too, although those are fewer and further between, but the word 'happy' eludes me.
 
I don't have a terrible life, at least I don't think so until I tell other people and they seem shocked. I go through bad things like everyone else does. I think it's mostly relative, I can't take any of it personally. I mean, everyone has something, right? Illness, injury, and death happen to people all around them, if not themselves. And even if they don't, even if they seem to have charmed 'happy' lives, you know it's coming. Sooner or later, we all hit that wall and croak off. How gracefully we do it is up to us. Some go out kicking and screaming, some go out apologizing over how difficult a time everyone else is having watching them suffer or taking care of them.
 
I grew up with death, on a farm. My first pet wound up in a frying pan. She was a black and white rabbit named Freckles. I had no warning. I came home from first grade one day, the skin was hanging up in the garage, mom was frying body parts, and we ate her. The fact that I can still remember it so vividly probably betrays the shock I kept hidden for many, many years. We progressed on from there to eating numerous other pets, animals we raised from babies, mostly lambs and chickens. Not only did I eat them, I helped kill them and take their bodies apart. I don't recall ever crying over it, although I kind of remember lobbying for the life of one particular lamb that I bottle fed and grew very attached to. Likewise, when my puppy got hit by a school bus, I didn't cry or carry on. Dad had already killed puppies with a shovel and buried them still whimpering, so the idea that my puppy died of a more 'natural' accident wasn't that upsetting to me.
 
I liked a little boy all through grade school. I never admitted it to anyone, but I sat by him at lunch for a couple of years and played with him on the playground. He got hit in the head with a baseball bat in the 5th grade. I didn't see it because I went back to class early and was already in my chair when the other kids filtered in crying. One little girl got very angry with me for not reacting to the news. What no one noticed was that I shut down and all but stopped talking the rest of the year. He never came back to class, and I didn't know if he died until I saw him a few years later. I'd already seen puppies' brains bashed with a shovel, I could imagine that little boy's brain smashed out, even though it wasn't, but I believed it because the other kids said it. I didn't realize at the time that I was the only one in class who had ever really seen brains bashed out. I was in my 30's before that memory really hit me and I cried.
 
 
I'm not going to relive everything, but you know how it goes, you eventually lose a friend to something horrible, and then a family member, more pets, sometimes a child, usually a parent. The older you get, the more people you know who have died, and the longer you go, the more often it keeps happening. By the time you hit your 40's it seems like all the big conversations are about who just died. My husband Scott actually keeps track of who all has died from his high school graduating class. Over half of them were gone by the time he hit 50.
 
I've spent most of my adult life facing my own death. Between a nasty car accident, heart surgery, a couple of scary illnesses, and other ongoing stuff, I accepted a long time ago I'm just plain lucky to be here. I prayed every day in my 30's to be allowed to live along enough to see my kids grow up. Well, they are grown up, and I'm still here. In the meantime, other people keep dying. My mom, one of my nieces, friends of friends, other relatives. Others seem like they will never die, living long demanding lives and pressuring loved ones with all kinds of dysfunctional guilt every time the terror hits them that it might be their turn. After you watch young people go through death, it's hard to feel empathetic for terrified old people.
 
I think the hardest part is the holes we live with when others leave before we do. My whole life has been full of holes. I never lost a parent or sibling as a child, so I can't imagine having grown up like that, but there were holes galore. I do know that every death that has ever happened around me, animal or person, has affected me, even though I never let anyone see it. People say I'm strong, incredibly so, but I'm not sure what strong is supposed to be. I've held a dying person. I've cleaned up after deaths. I've talked people through impending deaths far into the nights before they happened. I have also saved a person's life because I was so familiar with blood and scary stuff that I was able to do what was necessary without freezing up with emotion. Growing up on a farm, you don't just kill animals to eat them, you also save their lives when things go bad.
 
 
I can't kill any more. I keep a few hens around, and for the most part they make it to about 3 years old and just go, but once in awhile an old hen hangs on and on. I had a hen for 6 years who lived through all kinds of stuff, from illness to foxes, from having the living daylights beaten out of her for a week by a new psychotic hen to crazy dog attacks. That hen was *tough*. And alone. She outlived the entire flock. She spent a year by herself and grew too depressed to eat, or even come out of her house. Every day I picked her up out of her house and set a plate on the ground for her and stood by her while she ate. Then I walked around the yard with her and sat in a chair while she dusted. I tossed corn cobs down to her from the deck. Scott scooped her up from under a tree every night after work and carried her back to her house.
 
 



One day I looked out in the yard and saw her laying under a little tree looking up at the sky. Chickens usually freeze or duck and run when they see hawks fly over, they're very sensitive to the slightest shadow, but this time she just laid there and watched, uncaring how exposed she was. I don't think she had lost her will to live, but something changed. I knew she was ready, and she was really thinking about that hawk. And while she watched that hawk way up on the sky, a song popped into my head.

 
 



That chicken saved my life. The year I took care of her in her depression and loneliness, I was very sick and very sad. I could barely walk across my yard, I couldn't go see other people, and I hurt so bad that it felt like I was dying. I saw lots of doctors. Every day was so hard. Every day I spent with my chicken so I wouldn't be alone, and so I would have a reason to keep walking across my yard. Months went by, the hardest months I've ever been through.


We can think of any reasons we want to be on this earth. When it all boils down, though, I could see no other reason for me to be here than to be good for someone else. If there was nothing else left to live for because life had become so hard, I could get through every day knowing someone else needed me. Even if it was just a chicken. She was my whole life, and I was hers. I eventually started getting better, and I keep getting a little better over more time. And then my chicken finally got older and sicker and died. I cried. I still cry to think about it. Imagine someone crying over a chicken dying after a lifetime of not crying over death.


I have been crying every day since then, and every day I look for something to do for someone else, even if I can barely do it. People think I'm this really strong person, but I'm like my sad chicken, laying on the ground and looking up at a hawk, dreaming of when I can fly away. I keep getting stronger, but I'm not sure what that means.