to heart

I’ve always been a huge animal lover.  As a child, I was always around them.  My house always had some sort of soft, fluffy creature dodging feet.  We often had newborn baby kittens.  People would just bring animals to us.  Mostly because my mother could never say no to those faces.

I’m a cat lady, for sure, but she was the ultimate cat lady.

Over time, my love of animals expanded–to all kinds of things, but especially primates and horses and even bugs.  I was fascinated with them and devoted to making the world better for them–so they could stick around a long time.  It’s why I became so obsessed with rainforests and why I finally journeyed to Madagascar and Costa Rica.  It’s why I pained myself through four years of biology and chemistry hell–why I almost went to primatology school for my PhD.  I had big, save the world dreams.

In the end, it wasn’t the best path for me.  But I still feel really strongly about animals.  I’m still a big activist for them in many ways.  I still want to protect them.  If I could save all of them, I totally would.

But, so often, I feel like animals save me.

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If I’m in a room with a cat or a dog–or any animal, really–you’ll probably notice that I go off into my own little bubble of happiness with them.  It’s a place where I’m still listening–but the people in the room fade into the background–and the animals become my sole focus.  I have conversations with them.  We cuddle.  I basically become a six year old little girl.  My voice even changes.  There’s a joy and innocence there that doesn’t occur when I’m with people.  I’m betting my blood pressure even drops.

I’m a much more loving, happier version of myself.  Which is why I’ll never live without pets again.  I just can’t.

Animals remind me to be kind, to have fun, and to slow down.  I always have time to cuddle–no matter what the deadline is.

Since losing Cleo and adopting Mumford, I’ve really tried to be more like them.  In the moment and unabashedly loving.  When I allow myself to be influenced by them, it’s a lot easier to be in the moment, to take care of myself, and to ask for what I need.  I have fewer expectations and less judgments.

Recently, I did something I didn’t think I could do…something that surprised me by how easy it was and by how different it made me feel about everything.  For once, I did something just for me–not for anyone else–not with any rule or expectation–without overthinking it or trying to make it something else.  I was direct, forgiving, and accepting of what was.  It didn’t last as long as I hoped–because I’m still human–but it made me realize that all of it was a choice.  Sometimes, a very simple one.  And when I stopped trying to anticipate things–when I just reacted with instinct and a genuine heart–it was the easiest choice I’d ever made.

I’ve tried to do that more, lately, to varying degrees of success.  But my sweet kitties are good teachers.

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When you grow up the way I did, you get good at self-preservation.  You live your life with rigid rules and expectations.  You build iron gates around your heart.  I was taught to be kind–but not too kind–so that kindness was actually a punishment filled with expectations.

To this day, I have a hard time saying simple niceties that let others know my heart.  Because that means being vulnerable.  And those things were always expected from me.  Those things were required and appreciation–vulnerability–put me in a place to be victimized.

You didn’t smile too wide.  You didn’t laugh too loud.  You didn’t break.

You kept your distance and played by the rules.

That would keep you safe.  You couldn’t be hurt.

The truth is I notice everything.  I see everything.  To acknowledge I see you–know you–care…well, that’s to risk not being seen, acknowledged, known, or cared for.  I can’t stand the teeter totter.  I want everything to be equal and perfect and controlled.  Preferably where I control access to the toy.

I’m learning to play and accept that other people are gonna play with my toys.  And sometimes, they’re gonna break them.  All I can do is tell them exactly what I need to tell them–in the ways I need to tell them.  All I can do is wear my heart on my sleeve and give them a chance to break it.

And chances are?  They will.  They’ll disappoint me.  They’ll make me want to encase it in lava and brick.  They’ll trigger all the anger I feel now about all the things I never actually felt when they actually happened.

But I’m learning, slowly, that their propensity to disappoint and break my heart is none of my business.

My business–my heart business–is to let people hear it beat.  When it’s broken, keep putting the pieces back together.  Because it’s still going and deserves to be heard.  That has nothing to do with anyone else but me.

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