It’s been a chilly holiday season here in San Diego. Not when compared to anyplace with real weather, of course, but the discomfort is real enough to us. Cold is a relative thing, and when a place that seldom sees daytime highs below 65 degrees experiences a string of days in the 50s, folks around here get a little testy.
Of course, we’re testy – scared, really – about a lot of things, not just the cold snap. Just as the real estate bubble of recent years inflated home values in Southern California to the point of morbid obesity, the popping of that particular bubble has had an equally exaggerated effect in the opposite direction. Many, many houses in our neighborhood are for sale, few of them are selling, and foreclosures have skyrocketed. And I’ve lost count of the number of friends who have been looking for work for what seems like years – bright, hard-working people who’ve held full-time jobs for decades. These are scary times, full of chickens coming home to roost and unpleasant realities being dumped unceremoniously at our doorsteps. Hard times. Capricorn times. Saturn’s children, we hold ourselves rigidly, as if preparing to take our punishment from a harsh father.
Caring is what binds us together
In the midst of this cold, bleak month, one of my neighbor’s cats began having seizures. I’ve always been especially fond of this cat – a brash, contentious tuxedo with chewed-up ears and a swagger in his walk. While his owner was away last summer, he suffered a broken jaw; he had maintained a good appetite and behaved fairly normally, so it took my neighbor awhile to realize that something was seriously wrong. He had surgery to repair the jaw and then, a few weeks ago, surgery to remove the wire. And that’s when the seizures started – constant, pathetic convulsions complete with gnashing of teeth and falling over.
About a week into this situation, a sensible vet prescribed medication. Within a few days the cat was groggy but stable, with the seizures fewer and less severe. My distraught neighbor debated canceling a long-planned getaway for two days after Christmas, but since we’re used to looking after each other’s cats and I wasn’t going anywhere over Christmas, I agreed to supervise the invalid. For two days I spent hours with the shut-in, coaxing pills into him, keeping him from harm during the seizures, watching him pace restlessly on wobbly legs. After a seizure he’d look up at me, bewildered. And I’d gather him up and bury my face in his neck, and we’d sit together for awhile, waiting for the next one.
The morning my neighbor was to return, I visited my charge, fed him his pill, cuddled him for a bit, then came home, sat down, and cried. I cried on and off for a couple of days, and I still cry sometimes, out of the blue, just thinking about the bewildered look on his face and the weight of his furry head on my shoulder. It’s a bit of an overreaction, probably. It’s not even my cat. But a couple of days of looking after this cat has made me love him. It seems that taking care of things binds us to them. And then losing them breaks our hearts.
I always suspected this, which is (mostly) why I never wanted to be a mother. I doubted whether I could cope gracefully with the constant fear of losing a child, or of watching her suffer. Basically, I never wanted to be so enslaved to love. Of course, I haven’t been able to avoid it altogether. I love my husband, my family, and many of my friends with the same intimidating passion I sought to avoid by remaining childless. Even the occasional cat can slink under my radar and reduce me to tears.
Nothing From the Outside
This Full Moon (Jan. 9, 2012, 2:30 am EST) falls in the sign of Cancer, the sign of motherhood and of the bonds that tether us to those people and animals and causes that we care for. Our love for them represents our tender white underbellies, our Achilles Heels, the terrible vulnerability that can bring us to our knees. There’s a passage in the novel “Gone With the Wind” in which Will Benteen eulogizes Scarlett O’Hara’s father, a once-vibrant man who lost his mind after the death of his wife. The upshot of the eulogy is that nothing from the outside, not even war and sudden poverty, could have brought down Mr. O’Hara, but that losing his wife effectively broke his heart, mind, and spirit. And I think that’s true of many of us; hard economic times can’t break us, though they increasingly come as a shock. No, for most of us it’s only the passionate attachments we form with others that have the power to bring us down, from the inside out.
But the same attachments that threaten us are, conversely, the ones that give our lives meaning and sweetness. I recently listened to a radio interview with Temple Grandin, a leading designer of livestock facilities. Grandin herself is autistic, and social interactions with her fellow humans are extremely trying for her. She has chosen to forgo the common attachments, such as romantic relationships, that most of us consider essential. But a genuine warmth crept into her voice as she described the pleasure of interacting with animals. Pets in particular are so appealing, so innocent, and such a delight that they manage to form connections with even the most isolated among us. Grandin’s latest book is called Animals Make Us Human, a title I can’t disagree with. And for those who are a lot braver than I am, I imagine caring for children has the potential to make us superhuman – capable of such a depth of love, attachment, and terror that they are our best hope of transcending humanity altogether.
What keeps us from turning to stone
In the heart of a cold and brittle winter, even in normally balmy and relaxed San Diego, Saturn’s wolves are howling in the distance. They howl warnings about the collapsing economy, the deteriorating climate, and the fearsome calamities that threaten us – joblessness, poverty, homelessness, starving, illness. Hard times can, in turn, harden us, but caring for each other – though it breaks our hearts – is what keeps us from turning to stone.
I don’t relish the hard times ahead, and yet I have a weird optimism about the potential for our shared difficulties to make us whole. Taking care of things – and people – binds us to them. And in hard times we’re called upon to comfort each other in our suffering, dry one another’s tears, feed each other’s hunger. My hope is that our Cancerian caring will bind us to one another with a force as strong as the earth’s gravity, in a loving embrace that can’t be broken – at least, not by anything from outside of us.
© April Elliott Kent
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