I was visiting with a friend who has had a rough life.
His mother and dad worked hard to provide, but they did not know how to love each other or their children. Babies were not rocked or held, and little ones were on their own. There was never a goodnight kiss, a story, a hug or any expression of caring.
The isolation left this young boy dreaming of being connected. In his world, humans were not for connecting with. Nature was and so were pets.
He wanted these things and was soon begging his parents for a puppy or a pony, but this was not to be. He was, he was told, lucky to be fed.
The sense of abandonment within his own home came to plague him as a young man.
Many days were dark and the thought of owning a pet or pony was set aside. He soon found himself in one of the many dark alleys, struggling to find purpose and resting his hope in a bottle.
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He fought on and eventually resisted the call of alcohol and earned a university degree, had a great career in which he was well respected, a home and a family. And then one night it happened — just a little fun with some cocaine.
A little fun and a new addiction, a different alley and illusive friends, that led to the inevitable. In a short time, the job was lost, the house taken and the family gone.
It is — he reminded me — a great journey to be right in our own souls. That place where we have enough faith and courage to trust ourselves, love ourselves and to be loved in return. He doubts he could ever do this fully for his shame clouds his eyes and weighs him down.
That is not what I see.
I see a gifted man. He is a well-spoken, well-read, educated man who is also an amazing artist. He is handy, kind, trustworthy and interesting. He is dry and has found his soul and is learning how to care about others — which is no small task after a life on the streets.
And he is determined to accept love from a pony. I asked, “Why a pony and why now?”
Again, we painfully revisited the past and when he finished his story, he simply looked at me and said, “An animal would have saved me.”
I instantly was taken through time to my own animals that the farm so amply supplied.
As children and adults we could find joy in a puppy’s snuggle or fly free on horseback as we galloped across the fields. We could play with a kitten or roar at the antics of pigs, feel the warmth of gathering eggs from a chicken or jump for joy when a new calf was born. My children and their children spent hours in the barns playing with whoever they found there, and the ranch and rescue horses were brushed and hugged continuously.
All of these animals gave, understood and responded to love and care.
When life became a maze of shadows, I too went to the horses and dogs. It is there that I knew unconditional love and absolute commitment. It was in them — these beautiful and masterfully created creatures — that I found the courage to go on or to cry without shame.
We have something very special when we share our lives with companion and food animals.
It is an intimacy that many, like my friend, can only dream of.
It is an acceptance that many crave. Perhaps as the caretakers of so many healing friends, we should consider sharing them? Perhaps we should ask someone who we see in the shadows if an animal would change their life. Just the experience of touching such a creature might be inspiring.
A few years ago, there was a school program where a baby was brought into a classroom with the mom. The children could not touch the baby but they could watch it and ask any question. At the end of one session, a very conflicted little boy known for his behaviour asked if he could hold the baby and although it was a risk and against the rules, the young mother agreed.
He took that baby and went into a corner and ever so tenderly held the child. After a long silence and with tears in his young eyes he asked, “Do you think that someday, someone could love me, too?”
Yes child, someone could and someone will.
And if they can’t right now, do not go to the shadows. Ask your school, a friend or another family or any connection you have for a comfort animal to hold, to touch, to care for or to help.
As for those of us with the privilege of animals in our lives, perhaps we could find ways to share this precious gift.
It may help, heal or save a life.