Sometimes, life doesn’t play out the way you think, or hope, that it should. Sometimes, it does. Am I disappointed in the results of last night’s election? Of course. Half of our great country is. The other half is having a good day. Good on ’em. They got the results that they wanted, at least for the short term. How those results will parlay into the change that they seek remains to be seen. What’s done is done, for sure, and it’s time to move on and hope for the best. Sure, I am in shock, as many are, and I worry for the millions of people who placed their vote hoping for a change for the better; it’s a change that may not come. I am worried for those people that live with inequality, because this election has given rise and permission to those who would further that inequality, with an option for violence front and center. Change on many fronts is coming, as demanded and received by a vast number of voices yesterday, but it’s a change that holds a great deal of uncertainty for countless others, for a myriad of reasons.
Although the start to my day was not what I had thought it would be when I went to bed last night, I soon remembered that my routine here on the Farm did not change overnight. I still had three sets of dog eyes reminding me that they were waiting for their breakfast, followed by a romp in the yard. I heard the wails of the wee donkeys echoing out of the barn, wanting attention and freedom from their stalls. I knew that Alex, Diva and Sassy would be waiting by the gate to the field for their morning hay and ear scratches. Planting the last of the garlic and clearing the garden for Spring was also on the agenda for my day, as was the usual daily cleaning of stalls and paddocks. Somewhere in all of that, I would take a trip into town for chicken grain and shavings to mulch the garlic bed when I finished planting. Any gaps would be filled in by numerous other chores that needed to be done. And at the end of the day, when the Man comes home from work, we will wonder what to have for supper, and after tucking all of the critters into various stalls, rooms, and cages, we will settle in to watch a movie. The dogs will gather around us on the couches, and maybe I will build a fire in the stove to take the chill out of the Fall air. It’s a routine that doesn’t change much from day to day, even if it happens to be the day after a doozy of an election.
I fully realize that the decisions that other people make are based on their life experiences, current situations and/or the hope for a better future. I am no different, so I do not hold that against them. The life that the Man and I have built together here on the Farm is based on all of those factors, so why it should it be different for anyone else? It isn’t. What is different is that while one candidate promised that the life we have built would remain with no threat from the government or religious fanatics, the other promised to dismantle our marriage, take away our rights, and return us to the days of having to worry about our personal safety. But I get it, I really do. It’s self preservation at it’s finest, and no amount of reasoning works once someone has their knickers in a twist, no matter if it’s an educated, well informed twist or one based on fear and lack of understanding. It’s all about perspective, and what is important to me may not be important to others, including family. It just so happens that what is a big deal to me is being able to walk down the sidewalk without fear of harassment or physical harm.
Change has come, for sure, and time will tell how it effects the Man and me in the future, if at all. What hasn’t changed, though, is the love that we share, and the unwavering commitment to each other. Come what may, at the end of the day, that is all that matters. This bond we share is built upon the same principles of many of the votes cast yesterday. Past experiences and hope for the future. While we wait for that future, however challenging it may or may not be, we will still be building this world we call “The Farm”. We will continue to foster all who enter this world of ours, both human and animal, because that is what we do, and it’s who we are. It is our chosen path.
Yesterday, millions of people took a stand in an effort to have more control over or change their own path. That is their right, and I support their right to vote for the person that can help them to a better place in life. My place in life is right here, at the Farm, with the man that I love, and there is nothing about it that I would change if I could. I am happy with the choices that I have made in life that have led me to both where and who I am. For the multitudes of people who voted for their own path yesterday, I truly hope that the choice that they have made is the right one. For them, and for us…
I had been feeling uneasy for a few days concerning Alex, my horse, like something dark was coming, although I did not know what. He was “summer lean”, as those in the horse world would say, but that is the norm for him. Physically, I could find nothing with him that would support my uneasiness. I started to tweak his diet, as I usually do this time of year anyway, to help him bulk up for the coming cold months, and I had already started to see him respond. All I could do from then on was continue to watch him from day to day, and hope that the dark cloud in my mind was imagined, and not the foreboding premonition that it felt like. The other day, when I woke up, the cloud was still there, along with a healthy case of nausea. I went to the barn to check on and turn out Alex and his stablemates, and noticed nothing wrong with him or any of the others. I set them up with fresh water and hay, then proceeded with my day on the road with Susan, my farrier friend. As usual, it was a good day, as I always enjoy her company, horse knowledge and wisdom, but I felt antsy throughout the day. The horses that I helped with that day all knew me well from past visits, and they knew that I was a bit off my game. The one thing about horses is that you can hide nothing from them. They see and feel everything, and I wasn’t able to interact with them as I usually do. I did my best to leave my uneasiness at the barn door, but I couldn’t, and they held me at leg and hoof’s length, both physically and mentally.
The Man arrived home from work shortly after I did, and after spending some time with him before he ran into town on errands, I went out to replenish everyone’s fresh water and hay. I grabbed a few flakes of hay on the way through the barn, and as soon as I stepped into the back yard to greet the wee ones (both donkey and horse), their tension hit me like a wave. They were on high alert, especially the donkeys, and on first glance, I could see nothing wrong with either them or their surroundings. Then, I heard it. Heavy pounding coming from the big horse’s paddock. My first thought was that Diva had decided to play in the giant water trough, as she has a fondness for doing, but then realized that it couldn’t be her, as the pounding was too erratic, coming in a flurry for a few seconds, then stopping completely. I dropped the flakes of hay and headed towards the gate, not knowing what I would find, but it didn’t feel right. In seconds, I had reached the gate and was quickly scanning the field, hoping that I was wrong and that it actually was Diva who was gleefully destroying another water tub. And then I saw him.
He was on his side, with most of his lower body inside one of the horse shelters, and he wasn’t moving, even when I called his name. My immediate thought was that I was too late for whatever was happening, and that he was dead, but as I neared him he started thrashing and kicking his legs up against the inside wall of the shelter. My mind shifted to colic, which in horses quite often can be deadly, and I knew I had to get him up and moving. He was clearly exhausted, and the panic in his movements mirrored what I saw in his eyes. Having just spent the day trying, and failing miserably, to keep my anxiety hidden from horses, I knew that this moment was key to whatever came next. I took a deep breath, centered my thoughts, and quietly said his name. “Alex” I whispered, as I knelt down beside him, laying one hand on his neck. His huge head swiveled towards me, and as he looked up at me, I saw the panic and fear in his eyes instantly disappear. I am not sure if a horse can feel relief, but in that moment, that is what I felt from him. Good sign, I thought, for in my small handful of colic experiences, the discomfort and fear in a horse’s eyes that is feeling that much pain does not go away that quickly. After calling the Man, and asking for his help, I again knelt at my best friend’s side, trying to figure out what was happening. I soon realized that Alex had been trying to get up, most likely after napping or rolling in the dirt, and had become wedged up against the wall of the shelter. With no room to get his legs under him to either get up or simply roll over, he had spent all of his energy pounding his feet and legs against the close wall trying to move. He lay there breathing heavily, his muscles shaking and his eyes following me intently. Far from relieved at realizing it wasn’t colic that had brought him down, I now worried that he might have injured a leg, hoof, or somehow injured himself internally while struggling so heavily for who knows how long. Or, possibly, all of the above.
I cradled his face with my hands, whispering to him that I was going to help, but that he had to preserve his strength so that he could help me help him when the time came. His eyes followed me as I rose, and as I turned towards the barn, I heard him sigh deeply. When I returned moments later with a halter and a lead, he had remained still and was waiting for me. I went behind him, and with my hands dug as much of the hard packed stone dust away from his body as I could to help him roll away from the wall. Wrapping the lead around his front legs and planting my feet, I looked him in the eye and whispered “Now, Alex, now!”. I knew me being able to pull him over was a long shot, but that was my only thought at the time. He kicked and arched his back, trying to roll over, with me pulling on his front legs with all of my might. It might have worked, and nearly did each time we tried, but his arching caused him to stop the roll with his head. By the time the Man arrived, I had slipped the halter over Alex’s head, and while the Man braced himself to hold Alex’s head and halter still, I again wrapped the lead around his front legs. I met Alex’s never wavering gaze, and he knew it was time to try again. He pushed, I pulled, the Man held, and after much groaning and straining from all of us, and with the Man and I dodging flying hoofs, Alex rolled onto his left side and onto his feet. I held my breath, watching as he shook off the dirt like a phoenix rising from the ashes. With still held breath, I watched him run out of the shelter to greet Diva and Sassy, who had remained close throughout the whole ordeal. I had expected him to be limping after what he had gone through, and he was, though his head was high and majestic as he ran around the paddock a couple times, as if he were checking to see what worked and what didn’t. His body language told me all I needed to know for the time being, and as he ran and stretched his legs, the limp nearly disappeared. The Man and I continued to watch him for a few minutes, and after giving him some medicine to help with the muscle soreness, we left him in Diva and Sassy’s care, who continued to follow and watch him closely with concern. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we realized how scared those two must have been watching him struggle. He is their Alpha, and as with all of us here at the Farm, all things truly do revolve around him.
I spent the next few hours cleaning stalls, and the Big 3 all had brand new, clean and dry bedding waiting for them when they came in for the night. Alex’s bedding was extra thick, because though he usually doesn’t lay down to sleep each night, I knew that on this particular night, the chances that he would rest those overworked and aching muscles were pretty high. When it came time for them to walk the short road that led from the field to the barn, I watched Alex closely for any signs of injury that might still be setting in. I could still see a slight limp in his back legs, but by morning, that would most likely be gone. His head was high, ears were alert, and the average man would see nothing that would indicate what had happened just a few short hours before. After everyone was settled into their stalls, happily munching on some grain and hay, I went to spend some time with Alex before turning out the lights for the night. He has never been one for being overly affectionate, so I wasn’t expecting anything different from him this night. True to form, he didn’t want to be fawned over, but he did lower his massive head, gently placing his forehead onto mine. We stood that way for about 10 seconds, eye to eye, then he turned back to his grain. For those 10 seconds, he offered love and gratitude in the only way that he knows how to show it. It was freely given, and gratefully accepted.
In the few days since, the uneasiness and foreboding that I had experienced leading up to that day has disappeared, and life has returned to normal here at the Farm. Earlier tonight, I stood next to Alex, with my head buried in his neck, while he ate his grain. As a rule, he has never liked to be bothered while he eats, but tonight he leaned into me as I wrapped my arms around him. For now, he still wants me near, and I am happy to oblige him. He is content, and tonight he will sleep feeling safe and knowing that all is well within his kingdom. I, too, will sleep peacefully knowing that in the morning, I will be greeted by the knicker of a horse that truly understands how much he is loved…
I’ve learned to keep my opinions to myself, and on most days I am successful at it, or at least I think I am. I live my life my way, you live yours as you see fit. For the most part, it works out just fine for all involved, no matter if you are a close friend or a casual acquaintance. We all have different life experiences to draw upon, with odd quirks that can either be entertaining or maddening to those around us. We all have different views on religion, with different levels of belief (or not) in a higher power governing our lives. Live and let live, you do your thing and I’ll do mine, let’s raise a glass and toast to our differences…and be kind along the way. That’s my philosophy, and it’s served me well over the years. Unless, of course, it’s election year. That is when I struggle. When someone is making life choices that only determine their own fate and surroundings, it truly is none of my business if it does not effect me or my loved ones. When that person (or a group of like minded people) are willing to vote for someone or something that will adversely effect my life, and they are ok with it, then I have an obligation (and a right) to speak my mind. For months now on a popular social media site, I’ve watched as others spoke their minds and posted their memes, most often with “facts” that are untrue, or at the very least greatly misquoted. The amount of frothy hatred that was appearing on my news feed was getting more than a little overwhelming, and I made the decision to not subject myself to what they were saying, even though in some cases, they were friends and sometimes family. One tap of a button allows me to not see the hatred, the racism, the bigotry and the outright lies that they themselves choose to believe. I cannot change what they allow to fill their lives, but I can choose to not let it drag me down on a daily basis.
The other day, I made a comment about how I had blocked another person from my news feed because I did not want to see their daily dose of misinformed hatred anymore. The mistake that I made was the wording that I had used. Many took offense that I had used the word “unfriend” instead of explaining in clearly needed simpler terms that I had only blocked their posts from appearing in my news feed. Hell fire rained upon me from all directions, and I have to admit, I was taken completely by surprise by the reaction from some people who follow my posts. One person wrote that they thought I was “better than that”, others wrote in great detail about how disappointed they were that I could pass judgement so easily on others, and that I was, in fact, the one that was now discriminating against others for their beliefs. It was clearly pointed out to me that I needed to stick to posting pictures of the garden, the dogs and the horses, as well as daily updates of how long the grass has gotten and how many eggs I had collected that morning. I was so shocked and initially hurt by the accusations of judgement and discrimination that I made the decision to delete any political posts that I had recently posted, and would from now on mind my own business and let others continue to create their own path, complete with their own consequences. I would move on and let be, or so I thought. That night, and for the few days since, I have slept very little, and my mood is dark. Not because others may think badly of me (I’m a big boy), but because I think badly of myself for allowing others to bully me into censoring what I say and post, while they continue to post their thoughts, comments and memes willy-nilly without bothering to do even two minutes of fact checking with reliable sources. “Freedom of speech!!” they scream, except for if someone doesn’t agree with their bigotry. Yes, we all do have “Freedom of Speech”, as guaranteed by the Constitution of this already great country we share, but with that freedom comes a responsibility to be truthful, not hateful. To judge each other by our words and our actions, not by the color of our skin. To celebrate our differences, not promote candidates that would undo years of progress, or laws that would further separate us into different classes not worthy of the same rights. To be accepting of our individual religious beliefs, not promote violence if we don’t share those same convictions. To promote unity, not divide by using fear and lies. To show compassion, not look down upon. We have a responsibility to be kind in all that we do and say to each of us every day…and that also applies to what we choose to post on our social media pages. If you choose to post something that is untruthful, hateful and divisive, then it has not come from a place of kindness, and the results will have far reaching effects. Life truly is about choices, and the words that come out of our mouths and the company that we keep will surely determine the paths that we take.
I will admit that I might have gotten a little testy the other night, and if I hurt anyone’s delicate sensibilities in any way, that was not my intention. It was born out of frustration, and of concern for my future and the futures of those that I hold dear, and for that I will not apologize. Your freedoms do include being able to say and do what you like, as do mine, but not at the expense of others. I will continue to share photos and updates about the Farm, and about the Man, and I will do that mostly because that is what a great many people have to come to love and expect. I will also continue to share those things because they are the two things that I love the most in this world. For the same reason, I will continue to voice my opinion on the current political scene, and will keep an open mind about what other people may care to post, if they are reasonable and intelligent postings. I will also continue to censor what others post if they do not come from a place of kindness and compassion. I don’t allow that in my life outside of social media, and I will not allow it within.
Because, as a matter of fact, I believe that I AM better than that. We should all be better than that…
It’s a rainy day here at the Farm. The skies are dark, and it’s cold and damp…and my body aches. I have thought about writing this entry for many months, but whenever I sit and try to put words to paper, my muse fails me and my mind goes blank. Perhaps it’s because this blog I call “Me and the Man..” has always been about just that…me, the Man and this life we have created called The Farm. It’s not about just one of us, only one of our horses or chickens, and even though she may be worthy of her own blog, it’s not just about Miss Sassy, the resident queen donkey. It’s a joint effort that brings us joy, and I like to share that with others who like to take time out of their day to read about our day. For me to sit and talk about me, and the struggles that I face every day, is very difficult. I’ve grown old and wizened enough to know that life isn’t just about me, and I try every day to make sure that others come first in every way. The Man will tell you that I rarely complain about physical pain, but when I do, it’s usually pretty bad, and if I then stop talking about it, it’s probably gotten worse. But I’ve come to learn that keeping quiet isn’t always the best policy, and that sometimes sharing the bad with the good is a better balance for the soul. For my soul.
In February of 2008, The Man and I were in Honduras, participating in what would become our last trip with a group of doctors and nurses providing care to a population in desperate need of medical help and attention. We worked long days providing surgeries for various maladies to the local and very poor mountain village people, and we collapsed with exhaustion each night. In previous trips, we had never had any spare time or days off, but this time we did have a free day, and the Man and I spent it at a local orphanage. We brought food and sweets to pass around, and spent hours with the children that lived there. When we weren’t playing soccer, swinging, telling stories or playing tag, the children were very excited to show us where they lived and what their daily lives were like. We toured their sleeping quarters, with dozens of bunk beds filling the sparsely decorated rooms. We shared a meager meal with them in the large dining hall packed with wobbly picnic tables, and for desert, we all enjoyed the large cakes that we had brought with us. The young boys were eager to show us the large flock of chickens that provided them with eggs and meat. It was an amazing day filled with laughter and piggy back rides, and when the day ended there were lots of hugs, and even a few tears. I had particularly bonded with one young boy, and he held my hand as we walked to the end of the long dirt road where our cab waited. He hugged me tight, and cried in my arms, not understanding why he could not leave with us. My heart was broken for him, and as we drove away, I knew that this day, those children, and this young boy would all have a lasting impact on my life. Little did I know at the time just how lasting that would be.
The next day, completely drained physically and mentally from the past week, we started the long journey back home to the Farm. By the time we arrived, I was sick with what we assumed was some sort of flu, most likely caught from someone on the plane. I became sicker by the day, and for nearly a month, no doctor could figure out was wrong. By the time I was admitted to the hospital, my organs were on the brink of shutting down, and I could feel Death’s cold fingers reaching for me. Finally, Typhoid Fever (a more serious form of salmonella) was determined to be the culprit, and after nearly a week cooped up in a tiny room hooked up to all sorts of machines, I was sent home to finish recovering. The only remaining question was how I had contracted food poisoning in the first place. It was the Man that had the answer. The young boy that had wept in my arms when we left the orphanage had also spent a great deal of time riding my shoulders, with his hands using my face for balance. It was this same boy that with his friends had helped to slaughter the chickens that morning that we had eaten for lunch. And it was pretty safe to assume he hadn’t washed his hands between the beheadings and his ride on my shoulders. Mystery solved! I was on the mend, and life would go on as before. But no…it did not.
A few weeks later, I still did not feel right, and my body still ached, specifically various joints. I was also battling what I thought was a bladder infection, as well as incredible pain in my eyes. The pain in my knees hobbled me to the point of needing a cane to walk, and only the darkest of rooms eased the pain and pressure in my eyes. Severe depression entered my life, and it became increasingly difficult to continue working at the group home I was managing. My physician at the time didn’t seem to believe that all of my symptoms were real, and at one point threatened to admit me to a psychiatric unit for what she thought was the “real” issue. True to form, I gave up trying to explain to anyone what I was going through, and stopped complaining. Only the Man saw me struggle every day, and finally one night, an obscure illness that he had read about in medical school popped into his mind. It was soon determined that the severe food poisoning that had nearly cost me my life had left me with a condition known as Reiter’s Syndrome. Knowing (and proving) that it wasn’t all in my head was, of course, an immense relief, and I was filled with hope that soon my days of physical and mental pain were nearly over.
Having Reiter’s Syndrome means my immune system has been damaged, and if I get something as simple as a splinter in my thumb, my body goes into overdrive to attack it, and will also attack anything in it’s way, specifically all of my joints, my eyes, and my urinary system. The new, politically correct name for it is Reactive Arthritis, since our good Dr. Reiter ended up being a Nazi war criminal. Informally, it’s known as the “Can’t pee, can’t see, can’t climb a tree” syndrome. On any given day, one of the three symptoms keeps me company, but every once in awhile, they all strike at once. When they do, you can pretty much count me out for a week or so, mentally and physically. For the most part, though, the average Joe on the street wouldn’t know. I have a slight limp, but I am very aware of it, and most likely only the Man notices. The strength in my hands are a daily challenge, and some mornings, I cannot lift my coffee cup. I’ve tried a variety of medications to help keep the arthritis at bay, but like most drugs, some work, some don’t, some make me sick, and some have side effects that make me question taking them in the first place. But regardless of whether or not they work, or how strong the pain is, this place we call the Farm does not take care of itself. Horses, donkeys, dogs, and chickens all need tending to, and summer brings more than I can handle with gardens, lawns, fence mending…the list goes on. There is no rest, at least until Winter arrives, which allows me to slow down a little.
Some might wonder why I share this part of my life, and to be honest, I’m not comfortable with it. I share because there are others who live this secret life as well, and understand the struggle, then maybe they won’t feel as alone in their pain. Life can be good despite it all. I have one friend, a young lady, who is one of the bravest people I know. She has been suffering with arthritis her entire young life, but she never gives up, never lets it get her down. She has no way of knowing how much of an inspiration she is to me, but I think of her whenever I am at my lowest. Her story, her struggle, her determination to not give up…it lifts me up and pushes me forward. If my story can help inspire others the way hers does for me, then this is why I share.
There is one other person that I think of whenever my hands have no strength, when I cannot hide the limp or when my eyes hurt so bad that I wear sunglasses indoors. It’s been 8 years since he cried in my arms, and by now he is a young man. I often wonder if he recalls that day, and if he knows the roll that he has played in my life. Some might point out that if we hadn’t visited the orphanage that day, I would not be burdened with this disease, and they would be right. Do I regret sharing the day with him. Absolutely not, and if I could go back and perhaps forgo the shoulder rides in order to have avoided all of this, I wouldn’t. My path is my path, and it matters not how I got here. What matters is that for one day, that young boy, and others like him, felt that they mattered, and that someone cared enough to spend time with them. If I had a thousand lives to live, each one would include a visit to that orphanage, and each would be full of laughter, soccer, shoulder rides, and cake. And chickens…