photo thanks to Smadar at morguefile.com
When I stopped teaching, it felt like I was dying. The sight of math books, grammar DVD’s, or anything school related undid me. The label that told me who I was (teacher) wasn’t going to exist anymore. I would picture my sons, looking up at me as I led an assembly, and burst into tears. How could I quit before I ever got to teach one of them? How could I take away something they were proud of?
The months that followed were an excruciating relief. Relief because I badly needed rest. Excruciating because on the way to getting it, I realized things. My kids didn’t really care that I quit teaching. Turns out their pride in my accomplishments was a happy smile in a day, not a sustaining factor in their lives. They liked my improved availability.
Although I had put in hundreds of hours to non-teaching related helps to the school, nothing fell apart when I left. My students had enjoyed my classes, but no one’s education came to a grinding halt. That something I was an integral part of could be okay without me was “totally new information.”
I knew that I had been slowly bleeding to death trying to do it all. I didn’t know that with the best of intentions, I was choosing to die. Or that no one had really asked me to. I thought I was special to the people at the blood bank. I never realized that they accepted what I had to give because I was standing in the line to give it. That they weren’t even marking gold stars by my name for donor of the month. When I left, the blood supply did not even hiccup. Life went on.
A friend teaches kindergarten. If a someone’s mother has a baby, if chicks hatch, or something important happens, they make a poster. They always put “BIG NEWS,” at the top, and then tell you whatever it is. As I rested my body and spirit (something in my case that should have been done years earlier) this was all very big news to me. At first it made me feel small and depressed. With no official employment, not only did I no longer matter, but I had never mattered. (This is what it felt like.) The thing that I felt as vocation and claimed as identity, teaching and school involvement, was gone. I was left facing the fact that I had not been as important to the picture as I thought I was.
An invaluable gift came wrapped in these painful discoveries. I found permission to rest and permission to wait. I wanted to write, but I was hesitant to go rushing off to join the hubbub of facebook likes and incessant small talk. I intentionally stayed back from the maddening crowds and focused on what I could learn in quiet, without promotions, recommendations, or commendations. (I would have been okay with some of that but since it wasn’t available I learned to make do. )
I didn’t quit teaching five years ago to be noble. I quit because I couldn’t function anymore. Some days I miss it. More days, I’m glad. All the grief I felt then at walking away from something has grown into the firm conviction that I was only ever walking towards something. Perhaps this is one of life’s secrets, that a little honest effort will suffice to keep the boat on course. We journey on a wide and forgiving river nudged gently along toward the good, when we know it and when we don’t.
It is no small thing to be born. We all got to do it once. Being born means coming very close to dying. It’s not always sunshine and beautiful. It hurts. And things die. People, lambs, chicks. Spring on a farm is a mini maternity ward. It’s new life, but there’s death in the air too.
Every day, it’s true that we could die. So could our children, our husbands, or our best friends, but we don’t like that in our air. We die when we have to, but otherwise we avoid remembering it exists. Mourning periods with different clothing, visible signs of grief are a thing of the past or a thing for other cultures. We don’t prepare dead bodies in their homes. As soon as people die, they’re whisked away to the funeral home until it’s time to bury them. I don’t think we are trying to be disrespectful, we’re trying to forget that life is fragile and death inevitable.
I watched some lambs be born with Girl two beside me. I didn’t know if the lamb, whose foot we saw go in and out and in and out before it finally came out, would be alive. Sometimes they are not. My daughter cheered when at last it emerged alive. But I think I found it more beautiful than she did when the lambs sputtered and cried, because I knew more about the thin line that separates survival from death. And the miracle that happens when something steps across it.
Death as destruction is rightfully abhorred. Death as cessation of life is a gift we do not comprehend. This also makes birth beautiful. Perhaps I am speaking for myself; I glimpse that death is merely the end of what we know, but most of the time, I fail to understand it. Yet birth, the gift of life, this I can comprehend. There was nothing. Now there is something. Breathing, moving, living.
In every birth, we celebrate our own. A tiny vision, fresh and new as the day we were born. Not yet resigned to anything. Happy to be who we are. Curious to see who we might become. A furious hope still clinging to our skin, we are a little bit born again.
Scooter with Anabelle
Scooter with Anabelle. Laughter with sorrow. Sometimes odd things go together.
We got Scooter the week we moved to County Road 21 four years ago. Everybody got along with Scooter. Before Anabelle came and befriended him, Scooter slept with the pigs. I discovered this one morning out checking on the pigs after a particularly cold night. I shoved at their combined black masses (or minus the M, as you wish) and they grunted to their feet. Younger ones first, and then at last our amazing sow, Oregano. Tucked up in the corner, having recently been kept warm by a few hundred pounds of pig was Scooter.
Scooter napped in cribs of hay, burying himself a foot or so down into the warmness, but his favourite spot, summer or winter, was outside in the fields, sunning himself on Anabelle’s back. Scooter died this weekend. Boy one found him curled up in the sheep’s hay. It was a sad surprise for everyone. We worried about Boy two, Scooter’s most ardent admirer. He was teary, but ok.
The husband and I wondered quietly what to do with a dead cat while winter is very much still with us. Cremation was the only viable choice but I worried whether or not the kids could handle the idea. My first attempt at discussion led to an unexpected sidetrack.
So, I said, Dad and I have been talking about what to do with Scooter.
Oh, we already have it figured out, said Boy one.
Yeah, said Boy two.
Either we can bury Scooter in the pasture outside Anabelle’s stall, said Boy one.
Or, we have another idea, said Boy two, eye’s still glistening.
We can’t really bury Scooter outside Anabelle’s stall, I said. (Or anywhere, I didn’t add) The ground is too frozen. Even digging three inches would take a long time.
That’s ok, said Boy one.
Yeah, said Boy two. We like the other idea better.
So what’s your other plan?
We want to bury Scooter above Anabelle’s stall.
I think I’m missing something. How would we “bury” Scooter in the air over Anabelle’s stall?
Ok, we wouldn’t “bury” her. I don’t know what word you use, said Boy one.
We’re going to make him a casket, said Boy two surprised that I am not getting it.
So you want to put Scooter in a casket and hang the casket from the ceiling of the barn over top of Anabelle’s stall?
Exactly, says Boy one, relieved that I finally get it.
Isn’t it just perfect? says Boy two.
Epilogue: I suggested gently, that although the idea was lovely, the idea of a decaying feline dangling above her and her new calf, might not be well received by Anabelle. Boys had their doubts that I knew what I was talking about, but decided plan B was ok because we could put ashes near Anabelle’s stall.
Scooter. Barn cat. Friend of all creatures. R.I.P. We shall continue to chase the mad black cat off the property in your honor.