To a friend who is hurting,
You are saddened, hurt and angry that you have put so much energy into yet another relationship, given unselfishly of yourself to one more wounded soul. And now that she is nourished, comforted, and healed, she’s walked out of your life, abandoned you. I watch this strong woman whom I have come to care deeply about weep bitter tears. As is so often the case when I am with you, I am once again at a loss. Words of comfort seem inadequate just now. I have only my compassion and understanding to offer. I sit quietly for a time, holding you in my heart.
Then I remember the squirrel. And you, the weaver of words and worlds, quietly listen while I tell you a story…
I had been working on a case summary when I heard just out my window, a soft and pathetic wailing. When I looked outside, I discovered, to my distress, a tiny animal struggling in what looked very much to me like death throws. Its tiny body was writhing and quivering in apparent and absolute agony. I turned away from the window in horror, but I couldn’t block out the creature’s cries. My first impulse was to turn the music on loudly and return to my work, allowing nature to take its course. Within minutes though, I was reluctantly stepping outside.
It was a squirrel. Its little body was gyrating so rapidly that I couldn’t even begin to assess the damage. Satisfied that I was helpless, I ran off down the road to my neighbor’s house and began pounding on the door. Basil appeared in the doorway looking anxious, understanding instantly that I was distressed. I blurted out my story and then took off towards my cottage, trusting Basil to follow. Bless him, he did. As we stood beside the squirrel, I asked him what we should do. “Jeez, Tammie, I don’t know.” He sounded irritated. “I could chop off its head,” he offered unenthusiastically. “Oh, No!” I exclaimed, horrified. “Can you help me get it into a container so I can take it to the vet?” I whined. He clearly didn’t want to, but he said he would. I ran into our storage shed and brought out a lobster pot with a lid. Basil, grim faced, proceeded to prod the squirrel into the pot with a stick. I placed the pot on the passenger seat and sped out of the driveway. I had just gone a short distance when the squirrel began his dramatic attempts to escape. The lid began clattering, the pot began bouncing, and I was struck by two thoughts. One, I didn’t know where the nearest vet was, as we used one in another town; and two, what if the squirrel had rabies, managed to escape and bit me! I could see the headlines now, “Local woman attacked by rabid squirrel while driving!”
I was a nervous wreck, attempting to drive with one hand and keep the lid on (literally and figuratively) with the other. I pulled into a gas station, saw a young man, blew my horn and motioned him over. “Where’s the nearest vet?” I practically yelled to the poor kid. He looked leery as he peered into the blazer window at a wild-haired, wild-eyed woman, desperately struggling to hold a cover on a pot which contained a screaming, unidentified object. He told me how to get to the vet, glancing uneasily over at my captive pot as he recited the directions. I thanked him and was off again. The squirrel seemed to be unbelievably strong, and I was terrified that I was going to lose the battle. I fought with the lid, drove, and devised a plan of retreat should the squirrel win.
Finally, I made it to the animal hospital. I was not well received. The receptionist informed me coldly that they did not treat wild animals. I begged her. I promised I would pay whatever the fee was. The vet, a young and kind looking woman, agreed to take a look at the squirrel as soon as she could, and suggested I come back just before closing time.
When I returned, I was handed a cat carrying box which contained a pretty eyed, anesthetized squirrel, resting peacefully. I was informed that he had sustained what looked to be a pretty serious head injury, and had been infested with fleas. He had been treated for both conditions. I was told to keep him safely in the box for 24 hours, and that if he survived the night, he would probably recover, and it would then be safe to release him. I was presented with a ninety-dollar bill, which I gratefully paid, and off we went home.
I watched the squirrel until late into the night. He cried pitifully and I vacillated between fearing he would die one moment, and wishing for us both to be put out of our misery the next. I barely slept all night and was thrilled to find him wide-eyed and alive the next morning. After seeing Kristen off to school, I reluctantly went to work, hating to leave him alone. On the way to my office, I began to consider keeping the squirrel for a pet. I thought about him off and on all day – about my investment in his rescue, and my growing attachment to and sense of ownership of him. I vacillated back and forth and by the end of the day, I reluctantly accepted what I had to do.
That night, I watched with sadness and with pride, as Kevin set my squirrel free. As my little friend scampered away, I watched him disappear with both a sense of longing as well as satisfaction.
My story was over. We sat again in silence for a time. Then I added, “When you invest a huge part of yourself into something or someone, it almost begins to seem as though some part of them belongs to you, even though you know realistically that we belong only to ourselves. Sometimes, all we get to do is care for something or someone and then have to let go.” I paused for a moment, searching for what I would say next and then continued. “We usually feel a significant loss in the letting go, we can even feel abandoned. We might even begin to wonder why we bothered in the first place. What we don’t always recognize is that we’re never left empty handed. We can hold on to the satisfaction and pride that comes from knowing that we’ve participated in someone’s growth or healing, that our lives have made a difference. ”
You smiled at me, and I knew immediately that you understood. It seems my friend that you always do.
Yours Always, A Fellow Traveler
Written by: Tammie Byram Fowles, author of BirthQuake: The Journey to Wholeness