Once long ago I heard Russell Means of the American Indian Movement, (AIM) say his Lakota people weren't sure if the "reason" we have was a blessing or a curse. I have often wondered this myself. Without the fear of death, did Rafi's suffering have more or less meaning?
Last night I was feeling particularly lonely and tired of my life. When I asked myself why the answer was that I am blessed with friends, but I felt like no one loved me. Most of my current friends were made either just before or after Ann’s death. They don’t even really know who I am.
I really dislike it when people who grew up in a culture where the word “love” is thrown around loosely, will tell anyone who is or tries to be kind that they “love” them. To me, love is based on understanding and understanding takes time. So I don’t believe it when someone says they love me because I’ve done a kind act toward them. They may feel warm and thankful, which is fine. I am glad. But love is not an easy thing.
Having been raised in an atmosphere of unpredictability, being controlled by others, and violence, it took my having cancer and Ann’s going to each 8 hour chemo. Session with me, at the cost of great pain to herself, for me to understand what love can do. I was not trying to be deliberately mistrustful, I just Was that afraid of all people.
I washed Ann’s robe last week. It is needed by people who are cold and I was ready to let go of it, finally.
As I’ve said before, each human has their own particular smell. It’s why a perfume might smell great on my sister and dreadful on me. I’m not talking about a bad smell, just an individual smell. It is made up of each person’s scent, the soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner or hair oil they use, combined with smoke or other smells from their workplace.
So Ann, like all people, had an individual smell. I’m not talking about sex, which is everyone’s first conclusion. Ann’s individual smell or scent was in her robe. It’s a very thick terrycloth robe which she wore anytime she was cold in the evening. I had a hard time washing her robe because it washed out Ann’s personal scent.
There are very few personal items of Ann’s which I kept. But her robe was one of them.
So what does all of this have to do with animals? Well last night when I was getting ready for bed I found my/our dog camping on the bed. This isn’t unusual when it’s cold. What was unusual is How he was camped out. This is a 45 pound Basset mix. He had chosen the exact spot I sleep in and put his head, perfecly centered, on my pillow.
I’m picky about my pillow and try to always keep it covered when I’m not using it. I have no wish to inhale dog or cat fur while sleeping. But somehow the pillow was uncovered.
The dog was laying there, so sweet and innocent I cracked up. If I were sighted I’d have taken a picture. I can’t describe it accurately so you can see it. He was just peacefully snoozing with his floppy-eared head on my pillow. Usually he sleeps on the foot of the bed. Last night we slept back to back, me under the covers and him on top. Yes, I did evict him from the pillow. But his warmth was comforting.
The cat climed onto my other side and crashed with us. I decided the dog, at least, did love me. After being horribly mistreated he had learned that neither Ann nor I wanted to hurt him. We got rid of all of his infections, cleaned him up, and taught him consistent good behavior for which he was rewarded. Over years he learned we weren’t giving him away, dumping him, or beating him one day for the thing he was praised for the day before. He also learned slowly to be buddies with one of the men in our Sangha or Buddhist group. He stopped being terrified of other dogs and of boys between 9 and 14 or 15.
Trust is a necessary component of love and my dog does trust me now. As much as a cat with cattitude can, the cat also wants to be my baby, on his terms, of course.
Today I found the finch Ann picked out about 14 or 15 years ago dead in his cage. Yesterday I noticed he was too quiet. I checked the floor of the cage, which is where sick birds usually rest, no bird. Then he beeped at me (his call was like a beep or small bell repeating the same note) and I decided he must be busy watching the birds outside at the feeder. He and his canary friend loved to do that. It was a cold, damp, gloomy day and birds are more quiet on such days anyway. So I replaced his food, made sure he had plenty of water, and left.
This morning he was quiet again. As soon as I “tuned in” and began to pray for him I felt his absence, I knew he was gone.
So I reached into the cage to find his body. I have never seen a bird do this exact thing before, but there are tiny bent hooks in many bird cages, connecting the side parts to the top. Rafi had somehow gotten a leg caught in one of these and been stuck. That meant he was stuck Yesterday when he only beeped once.
I will never know if I could have freed him if I had been able to see his problem. The legbones of finches are Tiny and hollow, except for marrow. Rafi was usually a fighter and a biter. He was one Tough Bird! I have heard of animals holding still when one approaches them in peace, with the intention of helping. Would Rafi have held still or broken his leg trying to fly away from me? It was Extremely hard to extricate his tiny leg this morning without breaking it. In an effort to free one leg he put the other in Exactly the same Tiny hole. But I removed it in one piece, with great care.
I apologized to his spirit for my failure to see his suffering and to try and help him yesterday. I brought him to my altar and held him up to the Buddhas to see and prayed that he would never have to suffer so again.
When Ann and I lived in a place where we felt we would be staying a while we always dug very deep holes in the yard and buried our pets. But even though I like this house a lot it doesn’t feel permanent. The utility bills are higher here than the huge house Annn and I shared, which was large enough for her to turn her power wheelchair around. I may have to go because of this.
Also, to be honest, it is cold outside and I already have some damage in my hands and feet from cold. So I placed incense with him as a mark of respect, then put the incense and his little body into a bag and lowered it into my outdoor dumpster. I lowered him as far as I can reach.
I am afraid Rafi did suffer and do not know if I could have saved him or hastened his death. I will miss his special rain song, which was nothing like his normal beep. He is the last of Ann’s birds.
I have an ill canary left. When he dies, I will not get more birds. I must keep the temperature at 69 or 70 for tropical birds. Also, in a smaller house, it is difficult to keep the cat out of the bird room and I must.
Most people think that small birds live by instinct alone. But I have seen some amazing things in the years we have had pet birds. I have seen cross species friendships so close that when a partner died, the other followed swiftly. Rafi reassured my canary, who is partially blind, just as my canary reassured his girlfriend who was partially blind. Rafi was a “white-headed nun” or in his case, monk. He kept OJ company and made sure OJ knew when there were birds outside to shout at. I don’t know how long OJ will live without him.
I have seen birds of differing species “scrunch” together to sleep and canaries allow smaller finches snuggle under their bodies for warm sleep.
Always, I feel uprooted when these changes happen, I can’t know what’s ahead, but it doesn’t feel like things will become easier. Still, I’m fine for now and now is all we can know for sure. I try not to think of a future of increasing deafness with no bird sounds in it. I love birds. I’ve walked right into object I knew were there, because I was listening to outdoor birds or trying to figure out what kind of bird made That noise.
The weird thing is that I have a veterinary appointment tomorrow for Both birds to get there toenails trimmed, I knew it must be about time. Now I will send my remaining bird.
Usually, the small birds we had leave their bodies Very quickly. But I think Rafi didn’t. He was amazingly tough! Of course this also means that he suffered longer.
I won’t get anymore birds after OJ dies, whenever that is. It will be easier to heat the house without having to keep small tropical bird needs in mind. But I will miss them.
I Love canaries, they are the Labradors of the small pet bird world. They love their food, are each unique, and often do goofy things. They have males only “sing offs”, (which is how they attract girlfriends), and except during breeding season males get along together, as do females. But the prices for canaries have shot through the roof.
I still remember the names of all or most all of the birds who have passed through my life. I’m trying to read Alice Walker’s “Chicken Chronicles.” I have never had a chicken for a friend, but it is obvious that Ms. Walker’s chickens Are her friends.
For me a sad thing is that I can’t tell what any of our birds looked like until they have died. Only one canary, Sanghe and two tiny doves, Thich and Thay, ever gave me the treasured memory of eating from my hand so I could feel there incredibly soft feathers while they munched. It’s a memory which always makes me smile!
I have NO idea What is wrong with this computer. But everywhere there is a space the wretched thing says “bullet” and the Braille read-out is strung together with the word “bullet,” too. I can’t correct my spelling for all of the damned “bullets”. Sorrry!