"I Love You" Means Cleaning Up Sh*t.
Nitty-gritty and real.
The typical barrage of Valentine’s Day posts means even less to me than usual today.
I’m not “attached” to anyone in a traditional romantic sense, but that is not why I’m not flying my V-Day flag high.
My dog is sick. She has been for several days. We slept through the night for the first time in several and (for an hour or so this morning), I took that to mean that she was maybe on the mend, and I might be able to cancel the veterinary appointment I have scheduled for this afternoon. Nope. Her eating last night did, however, add enough content to her bowels for me to see that there is blood in her stool. Fuck.
I know that is not necessarily a death-harbinger, especially if gotten to quickly, as I am doing. But I would be lying if I said I was not worried. And I would be lying if I said that I am not tired of mopping up soupy shit. And I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t feeling a touch anxious, overwhelmed, and sad.
This is love: the daily nitty-gritty details that arise when we care for something, someone—anything. It’s not convenient. It’s not chocolates and roses. Love is sitting up with a ill child or pet and cleaning up the sick and the mess that they, themselves, cannot. Love is picking up the phone and listening when a friend, family member, or lover is hurting. Love is going to work to keep food on the table and a roof over our head, and providing shelter for our loved ones and children.
Love is bigger than a Hallmark day, or any other day, and it is the sum importance of all of our days combined.
I feel the love in my worry, for I only worry about things that I care deeply about.
My worry for my dog is a little less than the worry I recently bore for my best friend. My friend’s condition was indubitably life-threatening—gallbladder issues, necrotizing pancreatitis, gout, and a few other things that he and his doctors are still trying to figure out. My anxiety was off the charts when I learned about the severity of his condition and it did not ease until I was able to be in his presence. I went to him, cooked for him, drove for him, and helped him around his house for the first few days out of the hospital until he regained some of his physical function.
I left having felt that I had not done enough. I did what I could and nothing I can do can ultimately change or cure what is going on with him; it can only help. And help I did, but I felt it was insufficient, though he assured me otherwise.
That same sense of helplessness is present with me now. My dog can’t tell me what is wrong, but she can communicate her needs. The urgency in her pacing, toenails clattering on the floor at a certain pace, her panting, belly-growls, and even a certain smell I am now noticing all communicate her state of distress to me. She looks at peace, at the moment. She is lying on my butterfly-patterned Pendleton, my small heart-shaped pillow propping up her head. She’s still. Her belly is making noises. Likely this will be nothing more than a passing bug, a virus or some bacterial something from eating something that she shouldn’t have. But what if it’s more?
It always could be more we never really know. My friend’s illness made me acutely aware of my own mortality, of my relationships and their importance to me, of how most of my people (save a sparse sprinkling) are spread all over the country. They say if you make it to your 40’s and can count the people that you care about on one hand then you are lucky. I am lucky. My close friends span my fingers and even spill over to the digits on the other side.
In the regard that I have people I can reach out to who reach back to help, guide, and hold me, I know I am lucky. I also have enough regard for myself to know that they are lucky to have me in their lives!
Love is reciprocity, it is the back and forth, not always an even give and take, but a dance in which we move towards and away from each other as needed in our shared and individual rhythms.
Love is bigger than this body can hold and yet love is what holds this body together. The love of the cosmic parents, centrifugal force, syntropy and its dance partner, entropy weaving a tapestry that is constantly coming together and coming apart.
Love isn’t just found in the brightness of birth, but in the sacred decay of the dark. The dark—where we make love and make babies, decompose, and dream.
On Saturday, when I had to go to work, I crated my little dog, knowing full well that her tummy distress likely meant that I would return to her covered in poop, and I did. I pulled her from her crate, filled the tub with warm water, grabbed my unscented dish soap (it’s what I had), and proceeded to wash the excrement from her shaggy little body. She shivered as I did this, she tried to bolt from the tub a couple of times, but eventually she let herself be soothed by the rhythmic movements of my hands moving over her again and again, reaching under her belly, between her legs, under her tail, under speckled-little snout, and down her back again. We moved through this cycle several times, eventually finishing up with the shower head to remove the last of the suds. Then I pulled her from the tub, wrapped her in a thick towel and rubbed her until she stopped shivering.
When someone or something makes its way into my heart, it is likely to take up permanent residence there. That then means that I feel their worries as if they were my own. I feel their stress, I feel their joy, I feel their challenges, and victories. When they are not well, I worry. When they are thriving, I celebrate.
I am willing to admit that there may be a bit more permeability to my consciousness than I am always capable of containing—and that is okay. My empathy makes me good at my job (as a counselor), it also makes me a good writer. I do not identify as an empath, and I refuse to be prey for those with heavy narcissistic tendencies. But my sensitivity is a gift, though sometimes I need help holding it.
That is what we do when we love—we hold each other.
We make room for each other’s tenderness, we offer space when it is requested, we tend to wounds when they are bleeding, we make food, make love in all kinds of ways! We hold each other’s hands when we are grieving, we hold each other’s hair when we are puking, and occasionally we clean up each other’s shit.
Image: (author’s own) Freckles, the Delicaté Dog Lady
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thank you......your sharing reminded me of when I was a caregiver for my wife....powerful and powerless emotions I felt....taking a deep breath as I relive it.....hugs to you...
I hope your furry companion feels better. Those moments are so hard.