Today I was reminded, yet again, the many reasons I do what I do. I admit I was feeling a bit resentful. I’m exhausted and I ache from cleaning and building cages. Yesterday I had 18 calls, starting at 6:30 in the morning and going till 11:30 P.M. I smell like 9 kinds of poop and can’t finish something important to me that I’ve been working towards for 5 years because I simply don’t have the time and energy.
This morning, as I tried to work in the garden, the 5 birds I released yesterday, who started out fluttering around my head like the ones in “Snow White” suddenly turned into a scene from “The Birds” when I didn’t get them food. I was actually considered looking for a tennis racket, when the phone rang for the ninth time in two hours.
“Congratulations”, I said. “You are the ninth caller”. There was a long confused pause on the other end and I realized that they didn’t get the joke. “Hello?” It was a gentleman who claimed he talked to me last week or so, about a raccoon. I told him he’d have to be more specific. I talked to a dozen people about raccoons in the past few weeks. He continued and I realized that this was the man who had called about a weanling in the woods behind his house. I had given him instructions on how to put out a warm box for shelter and leave food far from the house so the coon would not get too used to humans. I explained to him that this bit of support for a few weeks would probably be enough to help the coon on his way.
He had ignored all my advice. He grandchildren were visiting and they took the coon in. The played with it, they fed it by hand (when it got here she had two marshmallows embedded in her fur). They named it Rocky. Good Lord.
Now the grandchildren were gone and this coon came running to him and followed him everywhere. It was becoming a real nuisance and he wanted me to take it. The last thing I wanted right now was another raccoon. Then he told me how he was a veteran and elderly and he just wanted the coon to be safe. So did I. I told him to bring him out and planned on giving him a piece of my mind about allowing his grandchildren to make a pet of this wild animal.
The morning did not get any less hectic. I needed to go to town to get a medical test at the hospital and needed food and supplies for the animals. I had prescriptions to fill and had been washing my hair with dish soap for two days because I was out of shampoo. Then there was the baby seagull that fell off the roof at the college that needed picking up. There was still a feeding to do before I left for town and one before I could go to Kung Fu class. If I planned it perfectly, I would have 2 ½ hours to go to town and get everything done. It worked and they even got me in early for the test at the hospital. I made it home with 15 minutes to spare. Good thing.
The man with the coon showed up early. I was rushing around feeding birds, squirrels, skunks, possums, fawns, coons and getting the seagull settled. I was trying to let him know that I needed to hurry so I could get to class on time. Then I shook his hand and looked into his eyes and everything stopped. His grip was weak and he seemed a bit feeble. He needed to hold the rail to manage the two steps leading from my studio to the back yard, but when you looked under the brim of his “Viet Nam War Veteran” hat, there were eyes of astonishing blue, filled with compassion and hope.
Nothing seemed important anymore, but this gentleman who had obviously given much to serve his country. I listened to him as I examined the coon for ticks and fleas. It was fat and healthy and other than the marshmallows, bath tub clean. He told me he has cancer (probably a side effect of the war), and spent his time visiting and helping shattered soldiers coming home from the wars we fight now for reasons no more clear that the one he fought. I owed this man a debt of honor. We all do.
He followed me about as I fed and settled. He told me how he taught Native People in Alaska how to fly fish. We even had a mutual friend in a DNR officer. He was just about to leave when I started fixing the bottles for the fawns. Those blue eyes lit up brightly. So we went to see the fawns and I helped him take photos for the grandkids of the fawns and Rocky in her new home. He told me that one of the most memorable and joyful times of his life was spending the two weeks with the coon and kids.He was happy and at peace with leaving the coon with me when he left.
I left for class a little later than usual, the required report on the human muscular system required for my brown belt still undone. While I was driving in the car, I realized….I don’t just help the animals, I help the people too…and they help me too.
The world has gotten to be a scary place. It seems as though people are all out for themselves and don’t care about anyone or anything else. We treat the environment as though it is indestructible and we trust very few. If the apocalypse that so many are preparing for actually comes, it will be every man for himself. Being a martial artist, I am prepared to confront the worst of humanity. Most of us see each other that way. We look for the worst and find it.
But then I understood. Even when people are being jerks and expecting the world from me, even when they demand miracles I can’t deliver, it’s all because they care about that animal, or turtle, or bird that they want so badly to help. Other people experience greed, or hate or inconsideration; I get to see the compassion. Every day, compassion. They go out of their way to help something that has absolutely no possible benefit to their lives, other than it is alive and all life is precious. Wow. How lucky am I?
I always felt that the true measure of a man is how he treats those who have nothing to offer. Great is the compassionate man, the man who extends a hand to the homeless, smiles at a child or pats the stray dog. I saw greatness today, greatness that I will long carry in my heart with compassion.