The human spirit is extraordinary. It seems to have a limitless capacity to love and to nurture. And then in the wake of loss and tragedy, it is amazingly resilient and forgiving as it has the capability to love again.
As adults we typically seek out a partner with whom to share our love and to be loved by. Two hearts blend together as our daily lives mature and we travel on life’s journey as one. When a family is created, the love overflows to the next generation. Parenthood and the experience of nurturing a newborn are exhilarating and they take us to a new level of unconditional love that we didn’t know existed.
Along the way, we learn that we must slowly let out the kite string of our tethered affection and allow our children to grow-up and to find a love of their own. The years invested in raising a family turn into precious memories that we can revisit at anytime. And then as we get older, the focus shifts again. If we are fortunate enough, we are given an opportunity to concentrate on our initial love and re-kindle it if we need to. Even though the nest is empty, we can continue to nurture from afar, while we love our partner side-by-side for the remainder of time we are allowed.
Animals can also provide us with an opportunity to share our love and to nurture. In turn, they can give back so much in non-verbal ways and keep us vibrant and healthy. As a child I had quite a few rodents that I called pets. Feeding and tending to tiny mice and hamsters was how I learned to share my love. Certainly not everyone finds these little critters loveable, but they tugged on my heart-strings with their little pink noses and tiny furry bodies.
My sisters and I took care of a parade of assorted barn cats. I would get excited when we discovered the annual litters and I was saddened when I had to say goodbye to some of its members. This was my introduction to the cycle of life and although I accepted it, I did not like to dwell on it.
This summer when I visited my 84 year-old parents I observed a new and different love affair. My father had “adopted” a beautiful chicken named “Emily”.
She previously lived across the street with a family who raised a flock of unusual poultry and she was the last survivor. Perhaps not wanting to be alone in her old henhouse, she took up a new residence. Each morning I watched my Dad call out her name several times. The red comb on the top of her peach tinted feathers first poked out from under a nearby bush and out she strutted to greet her new friend and caretaker. As he took the bag of birdseed out of his Jeep, where he kept it safe from any predators that might wander into the barn, she patiently stood behind him waiting for her breakfast. Encouraging her to eat, my father stood next to “Emily” as she pecked away at the assorted seeds spread out on an old black plastic coffee can lid. Picking out her favorite nuts first, she washed down the final morsels with fresh water out of a small ceramic bowl. Standing protectively in her shadow, my Dad kept away pesky chipmunks and other random birds who tried to get near her food by waving a large chunk of raw wood. The same process was repeated in the late afternoon for dinner, and then at sunset, “Emily” would roost on a ledge on the side porch where she rested and guarded the house until sunrise.
My three sisters and I are all grown-up and we moved away long ago to start our own families. Our offspring, their nine grandchildren, are all practically adults now and are also scattered all around the country along with their two special great-grandchildren. It is just the two of them now in the summertime, in the same house where our family started in 1951. But this summer there was a new addition, “Emily”.
My father called me two weeks ago. He started out by saying that he was trying out my new cell phone number, but I could hear an unusual sadness in his voice. And then he told me. He had found “Emily” lifeless by the side of the barn on the previous morning and he wanted to inform me since I had “gotten to know her” for a brief time.He was not sure what had happened, but she was gone when he discovered her. He scooped her up in a box and buried her back by the small cemetery at the edge of our property.
I immediately was overcome by sorrow and I sensed my throat tighten as I told him how sorry I felt. Was I grieving for a chicken that I had merely observed for several days? No, it was much more than that.
I had been deeply touched by the love that I observed my father sharing with his new friend and now I was mourning the loss of his opportunity to continue to do it. This was the same quiet love that I felt as his daughter for the past 60 years. I realized what joy this simple creature brought to him as he tended to her needs. I had a flashback to the pleasurable moments that the four of us, his “men”, brought to him while growing up. I was reminded of the excitement when his first grandchild was born and later on of the look on his face when he met his great-grandchildren, my daughter’s children, for the first time. It had all passed so quickly.
Fortunately, when I was visiting, I took a picture of Dad and “Emily” because I didn’t want to forget this tender image. And two weeks prior to the phone call I sent him a copy so that he could remember his feathered friend when he and Mom went south for the winter. My sisters and I each acknowledged the symbolism of “Emily’s” passing. We were all touched by his loss. It was a brief summer love affair and they were a cute pair.
Life goes on and I hopefully there will be an opportunity for another new friend and for another chance to share his big heart. But for now, his day-to-day focus is on his loving wife, my mother, and on his flower beds and vegetable garden. The hours spent on his hands and knees pulling out weeds and clipping dead branches gives him a sense of satisfaction as he helps nature to look her best. In the early evening the two of them go out to dinner and are thankful to have each other for so many years.
If we let it, love continues to grow and to flourish, sometimes in some surprising circumstances. It is ours to give and in turn to receive. We never know how long it will last, but we need to always be ready to enjoy it.
“There is a desire within each of us,
in the deep center of ourselves
that we call our heart.
We were born with it,
it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.
We are often unaware of it,
but it is always awake.
It is the Human desire for Love.
Every person in this Earth yearns to love,
to be loved, to know love.
Our true identity, our reason for being
is to be found in this desire.
Love in the “why” of life,
why we are functioning at all.
I am convinced
it is the fundamental energy
of the human spirit,
the fuel on which we run,
the wellspring of our vitality.
which is the flowing,
creative activity, of love itself,
is what makes all goodness possible.
Love should come first,
it should be the beginning of.
and the reason for everything.”(Gerald G. May, Living in Love)