I write, everyday, in my head. The writing is a constant conversation, lamenting on things I listen to on the radio, other’s words I read online, conversations from work, or conversations I had with my husband or children or friends. Writing, whether in my head or on paper or on-line, is how I interpret the world. Doesn’t mean my words are correct or popular or even beloved. Good gracious, we certainly cannot please everyone. Politics, covid, divisiveness of the world, these have weighed heavy on my mind over the past six years. I listen and read and watch and then write. Always in my head. Sometimes…somewhere. But not lately here. I have not physically written in a long time because there is so much to say and I don’t even know where to begin.
I’ll begin simply, and rather silly, with something I wondered a few months ago.
Do dogs feel shame?
Our dog, as most dogs do, pees about 539 times while out on walks in our neighborhood. I don’t care if it’s a 5 minute walk or 35 minute walk, she pees. A lot. And every time she stops to pee, when done, she gives me a look. Ears flat, head down yet eyes looking up at me, as if she is saying, “Sorry momma, for peeing again.” She didn’t learn to pee everywhere on walks by watching me and we didn’t teach her, she just does it. All dogs do.
The first time she looked at me with her ears back I thought, “Huh. She looks embarrassed.” We kept walking, the two of us, in the quiet of our neighborhood. And then she stopped again. Peed again. And I said to her, “How can you have that much pee in you?” And then I got the look again. Only this time, the word shame whispered in my mind.
How could she feel shame, I thought, she doesn’t even know what that word is? And of course she doesn’t feel it, I projected that on to her. But her whole body radiates it and now, every time she stops to pee….a look of shame. And so I told her, “It’s okay boo-boo, you’re just doing what your DNA tells you to do, to pee everywhere so everyone knows you’re here,” and I smile at her. And she finishes and we move on.
And as we walked, I wondered, what do we do that is in our DNA?
What is it I just know to do?
We are taught how to walk and talk and eat and cook and how to get dressed and brush our teeth and read and write and the list goes on. As kids, we listen to our parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents, we take their words and passions and make them our own, long before we understand their meaning.
I had to really think, what have I done that surprised me, because it was a reaction, not intentional?
What have I felt that was instinctual?
Last Friday I watched a man being interviewed on television. He is Ukranian and had been visiting his parents or was away from his family for some reason. His wife and two children were part of a convoy, leaving the country, trying to get somewhere safe and he learned his children had been killed because he saw their dead bodies in a photo on Twitter. The convoy had been hit. He recognized his kids’ clothes and belongings. And then he tracked his wife’s watch to a hospital and found out she was dead too.
Within this 1-minute news broadcast, there was so much to process. But all I could do and feel in that moment was to shed some tears and feel an insignificant amount of sadness compared to him. His face showed so little emotion and how could it? He was clearly in shock. As a tear rolled down my cheek, I realized what I do, what I would do, what most of us would, without question, simply because it is in our DNA.
We protect our children.
I pictured his wife and their children in this convoy. I imagined the resolve the mother had to move her family somewhere safe. I imagined there were elements of fear in all of them, but in her, in the mother, there was also an unfathomable amount of determination, fueled by hope. That her love would overcome.
I then remembered watching on the news, in 2017 or 2018, the families at the border of the United States, being separated, children here, adults over there. And I remember standing up because the anger I felt was so real, so strong, so much, that I could not remained seated. And all I could think was, “If anyone ever tried to forcefully take my children away from me, I would kill them.”
Mama bear. She is my instinct, my reaction without thought, my cellular response when it comes to my children. When egg and sperm collide, and cells begin to form and replication takes place, somewhere, woven into that double helix is a dogged drive to protect those we love. We don’t have to learn that, it is within.
I pray for that man who lost his entire family only a few days ago. I pray he has the courage to become his new self, the one without them. His coming years will be full of learning to live a new life. Unfortunately, none of that is instinctual.
I write, everyday, in my head. In the shower. While washing dishes. Folding clothes. Filling my car with gas. I watch and observe and note and wonder. I judge and jury and declare sentencing. For years when I sat down to write, I declared I couldn’t. Not today. The world is too much. And this went on. Until yesterday. I listened to a podcast and the host declared the following (and I loosely quote): “I have to fully acknowledge that there is a lot of terrible shit happening in the world right now. And simultaneously, that my life, in comparison, is good. Those are two hard things to carry.”
All of us carry both of those things, either that there is terrible shit happening and that terrible shit is not happening to me. OR. There is terrible shit happening, it is happening to me and there are some people in the world who are not experiencing this terrible shit.
So for today, as I watch the bluebirds flit around my yard, capturing bugs and gathering nest materials, my heart is full of sadness for a people halfway around the world and full of joy at the sight of that brilliant flash of blue on a bird.