Sunday, February 04, 2007

Church Signs: "Deep Water"

Church Signs: "Deep Water"

Today was a sharp, bright, cold winter day. The temperature stayed below freezing, even though the sun was out all day. Last night, we experienced our first real snowfall of the winter, so there were children out today sledding, and grownups on cross country skis.

I didn't feel well today. I wasn't as sick as I have been for the last four weeks, but I felt nauseous and bland all day. I still have a bit of a cough and a sore throat and a runny nose, but it's miles better than it was last week. Today was the kind of Saturday made for curling up inside with a friend or lover, to make a fire, or play cards, or watch a movie together and sip warm drinks.

I would have liked to have been doing that today—sharing my time and space with someone with whom I am comfortable, someone with whom I can snuggle or rest in old familiar ways. But instead, I'm trying to remember the last time I saw someone who knew my name…It takes me several minutes, but finally I decide it was Thursday. I spent that afternoon at a coffee house with my friend Greg. As I write this, I'm going on 54 hours of total isolation.

Today, my only human interaction was with a child, a boy who looked about nine years old. He was coming back from sledding. I said hello and asked him how it was. "Awesome," he said. "I had, like, a thousand wipeouts!"

I said hello to his father, too, my neighbor, a man I've met a couple of times before, but he just kind of nodded and looked at me warily, as though I were a stranger approaching his child, even though we were standing ten feet from what he knows is my front door (and we all live in a co-housing development, where community is supposed to be intentional.)

In addition to the boy, I also talked to a hog I found in the woods. There were three of them, actually. They were big, tragic-looking hogs, trapped in a pen near the power lines behind the prison. One minute I was walking through the woods, crunching white powder beneath my boots, breathing in the clean scent of fresh snow, and the next, I smelled manure and then there they were. They had no straw and no water, and it looked, based on the lack of footprints around their pen, as though no one had brought them food yet today. It was nearly dark. There was suffering in that place.

One of them, mostly black, with misshapen haunches and disturbing black circles around his watery eyes was gnawing on a dead tree branch. I walked up to the pen with a stick to offer them a scratch. One came over to me, but she just stood there, with her snout against the fence. They all had wild looks in their eyes, unpredictable, unstable, like people in an asylum. Because I had nothing else to offer, I tossed some dead leaves into the pen. They scarfed them up, then one of them dashed around the center of the pen in a frantic, jerky pig-run.

I said nice things, in a soothing tone of voice, but I did not feel safe there, and I could not stay. The sun was going down, I was lost, and it occurred to me that whoever had posted the No Trespassing signs I'd been ignoring might not take too kindly to my presence at this pigpen. Dueling banjos came to mind…

So I said goodbye and walked quickly toward what I hoped was home.

I've been worrying about those animals ever since. I've been thinking I could go back, bring them some table scraps or at least some water…but whenever I think this, a voice inside me warns, "Don't make friends with dinner."

There was a sharp and rusting metal collar hanging from a long-dead tree that had fallen into the pen. It seemed so violent, so ominous dangling there. There's only one reason to put a collar like that on a hog. And it's just sitting there, brazenly in their midst, quietly waiting for the day when a man will walk into that pen, pick it up, and secure it to a thick, naïve neck…

The suffering in that pen was hard for me to be near; I want to alleviate it. I prayed for them. I did tonglin breathing as I walked away. I thought of calling animal control, of sneaking back every day to make sure they are okay.

Someone, somewhere, is raising those hogs. They are big and fat and surely someone is feeding them, and not loving them…for a purpose. It's a purpose I can't condone or, even worse, be witness to. I know what it means to love an animal, to name it and scratch behind its ears and care about its feelings--and then to arrive home from school one day and hear it screaming as they take it away. I know better than to go back to that pen. And yet, perhaps I could make their lives less awful if I did…

I saw no one today, except that kid, his unfriendly father, my cats, and those hogs. I had no where to go, and no one to be with. I called several friends looking for something to do, but none of them were available.

This is deep water. It's cold and scary and if I sink beneath the surface, how long would it take anyone (aside from my best friend) to notice I was gone?

Apparently, more than 54 hours.

When trapped in deep water, you must be patient. You must sometimes float. You can't always swim; it's just too tiring. Sometimes, you must just do the work of not panicking, and trust that the current will take you someplace, eventually, where your toes can touch down again.

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