At a holiday event earlier this week, a woman asked me what had been going on in my world lately.
One of my pet peeves is the use of the phrase “How are you?” as a greeting. If someone asks me, I tell them. Since she asked (and I always like to be accommodating), I proceeded to regale her with the saga of the past two weeks. It went something like this:
-Cancer-dog experiences massive gastrointestinal distress of every possible variety. Because Cancer-dog is a terrier, she is careful never to make a mess on hardwood or linoleum floors–only on wall-to-wall carpeting and upholstered furniture. Then Cancer-dog stops eating. Multiple vet visits, six kinds of medication, and an elaborate treatment plan ensue.
-We foster Snickers the chinchilla over the Thanksgiving holiday. Snickers is an escape artist. Also, chinchillas like books. Snickers has excellent taste in fantasy, preferring, as I do, Neil Gaiman. However, Snickers and I disagree on how best to enjoy a Gaiman novel. My husband and I clean up sporadically for days, finding chinchilla tooth-marks in intriguing locations.
-The God of Mice informs all field mice in the county that there will be a massive flood, and that they can only save themselves by fleeing to the house at the top of the hill (i.e. ours). I wish fervently that they had chosen the ocean at the end of the lane. Mice proceed to infest the house. Evidence suggests that they have made a pact with Cancer-dog to leave little gifts wherever she cannot (e.g. every single drawer in the entire kitchen). We set live traps because we believe it is unethical to make any living creature suffer.
-A deer gets tangled up in a fence in the woods behind our house. It is suffering. My husband has to euthanize it.
-Because of Cancer-dog, Neil Gaiman’s littlest fan, and the kamikaze deer, we forget about the live mousetraps. Living creatures suffer. We attempt heroic measures on a mouse we have previously cursed as an invader. We fail. Nervous breakdowns ensue. A truly dreadful day culminates in me sobbing while my husband cradles a dying mouse in his hands. The cat is sitting on his head. It occurs to us (not for the first time) that we may have too many animals.
Well, she asked.
But the really truly wondrous part of this story is her response. She laughed, and said, “Oh, I just love your posts!”
I mustered up all my willpower and smiled, instead of responding with, “Actually, this is not a post, but a conversation, and we are currently in a basement, not on Facebook.”
So, to recap: Animals. Crap. Suffering. And even if you quit Facebook, you can’t ever really get away from Facebook.
But despite all of this, I have hope. After all, it’s the season of comfort and joy.
I have hope because, in the depths of my narcissistic despair, I got a phone call from my oldest childhood friend, and she said, “I read your last blog post, and I thought, ‘Brenna needs me!'” She was right. I did.
I have hope because when, seeking absolution, I confessed my inadvertent mouse-torture to another friend, she cried about it, too, and understood my paralyzing horror of the suffering of tiny creatures.
I have hope because Cancer-dog is eating again, and because whatever happens to her, she has enriched the last eleven years of my life in ways you can only understand if you’ve belonged to an animal–not owned a pet, but belonged to another living creature, a member of another species with whom you communicate not in words, but in kindness and love.
I have hope because my six year old brought home in his backpack a letter to Santa, in which he politely requested a giant piece of paper. When I asked him why, he said he wants to make a giant paper airplane.
I have hope because tonight, my imp of a four-year-old is going to put on an angel costume (which I think he thinks is some kind of superhero getup) and stand up on a stage with a bunch of other hyperactive preschoolers in angel costumes, and they are going to forget the words and make faces, and at least one of them is almost certain to say or do something wildly inappropriate, and it will be beautiful and perfect.
I have hope because a year ago, on the evening of the Newtown school shooting, I went to the same Christmas concert. My oldest son’s kindergarten teacher told me that if a gunman killed the children in her class, she would want to die, too, because it would be too hard to go into that classroom ever again. This is why kindergarten teachers are mightier than gunmen, and why kindergarten teachers will always win. Love and knowledge are stronger than bullets, stronger even than hate.
I have hope because here, at the cold dark ending of the year, there is still light and warmth and beauty, and because no matter how bleak and empty this winter world may feel, I am not alone. We’re all in this together. It’s a mess, but we’re here, and that is beautiful.
So many have walked this path before, leaving traces of themselves for me to follow, like breadcrumbs in the snow. There is guidance for me in a thousand places, and strength, if I will look for it. In words penned by hands now turned to dust; in the notes of ancient carols; in the shape of my own features, which trace their origin back to parents and grandparents and ancestors a hundred years ago, a thousand, who strove and struggled once as I do now.
The year circles back on itself, and here, at the end, is the promise of a new beginning. And so I wish you good news, and great joy. May you find comfort and love wherever you turn, and strength and wonder in the days ahead.
Maybe there won’t be so many mice this time.