Animal Wise: Midnight and getting it right

Midnight at Devoted Barn

Midnight at The Devoted Barn in Newport, Michigan. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

On the first day of Animal Reiki III, I wasn’t sure I’d get it right.

Sure, I’d been practicing for 10 years, mostly with animals I knew. I’d taken all three levels of “people Reiki.” But I wondered if I really had my “stuff” together enough to be of any use to the animals at The Devoted Barn, a volunteer-run animal sanctuary just south of Detroit.

There’s nothing like starting something new to bring old “who the hell am I to think I can do this?” chickens home to roost. I’d just left my corporate job to devote more time to my independent writing and editing projects, and to expand my animal Reiki practice as well. Even though I knew it was the right move, change is fertile ground for doubt.

That first day in the Devoted Barn, a cold rain on the roof drowned out the voice of the tour guide sharing snippets of each animal’s story. Perhaps it was just as well. Our teacher, Kathleen Prasad, had emphasized earlier in the day that the animals are not the circumstances that brought them here. They are not the rage, the cruelty, the indifference. To see them as victims diminishes them (and us) and gets in the way of healing. Learning to create a healing space for the animals — not fixing them — was why we were there.

We dispersed for our first treatment session, and I looked for Midnight, the black cat I’d seen strutting along the back wall of the stables. I found him — or he found me — near the front of the barn. He stretched, looked at me, and meowed pointedly.  Accustomed to obeying cats, I sat on a picnic table, and he settled immediately into my lap.

I remembered to ask Midnight’s permission and to tell him to take only the energy he wanted or needed, that it was really up to him. I remembered the Reiki Precepts — for today only: do not anger, do not worry, be humble, be honest, and have compassion for all living things — and to ask him to help teach them to me. I remembered the breathing techniques we’d practiced that morning in the hotel conference room. What was I missing?

Midnight just kneaded and purred, and as the minutes went by I began to shift out of “doing” Reiki and into “being” Reiki, and being present for my new feline friend and teacher. I filled up my heart and being with the energy I have known since before my birth — that unconditional, unwavering love of Source — and let it flow through me for whatever Midnight needed in that moment. That’s it, I remembered as the rain, the cold, the mud, and the “should” storm receded.

The next time I looked up, my fellow students were gathering in the middle of the barn for instructions on the next treatment session. Then I looked at Midnight, and he calmly met my gaze with a “You’re not going anywhere for a while” look. He stayed in my lap through another treatment session. After listening to Kathleen’s instructions, I tried some quiet chanting … but he was just as happy without it. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a horse watching with interest. You’re next, I told him silently.

When the time was up, I thanked Midnight, stood up, gave him one more chin scratch, and gently set him on the table. I hadn’t missed a thing.

What our grandmothers leave us

51pCIyD8BvL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Something in Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry made me think of the classic Truman Capote short story, “A Christmas Memory.” You have a young child and an older relative who are each other’s best (or only) friend. It’s essentially the two of them against the world until they are confronted by larger forces — in the Capote story, Those Who Know Best; and in Backman’s 2015 novel, by the grandmother’s death and the puzzle she leaves behind.

This novel was translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch. Whenever I read a translation (whether it’s the Bible or anything else), the language purist in me always wonders how differently it read in its original language, and how the author meant for this word or that phrase to function. At no point does the novel read as if the translator wasn’t quite sure how to convey something in English. The language feels so authentic to the story and characters that, if I could read Swedish, I’m guessing it would be spot on.

Elsa is seven going on forty. She is different. Her teachers say she needs to try harder to fit in, and she is relentlessly bullied by other children. She lives in an apartment building with her mum and stepdad, who have a baby (whom she calls Halfie) on the way. Mum’s mum, Granny, lives in the same building. She is the kind of crazy that climbs zoo fences, shoots paintball guns at door-to-door evangelists, and more. You wonder how she’s functioned in the world for her seventy-some years, but this is a retired medical doctor who has traveled the world and saved untold lives. The building’s other tenants are an assortment of scary, mysterious, or annoying neighbors. So it seems like any urban apartment building in the world.

Granny and Elsa have their own secret language, one that stems from Granny’s stories of the mythical Kingdom of Miamas and the Land-of-Almost-Awake, places where being different is standard operating procedure. Theirs is a life that makes sense, if only to the two of them.

Then Granny dies, leaving her granddaughter with a series of apology letters to deliver. In the midst of her grief and disorientation, Elsa now has an important job to do.

Her mission takes her first to a reportedly vicious dog and a germ-phobic loner who will become the Scarecrow and Tin Man to her Dorothy. Or the Ron and Hermione to her Harry, as Elsa is a Harry Potter fan. Then, one by one, she delivers the letters and discovers not only the stunning connections among her building’s oddball residents, but their connection to Granny — and to Elsa. Their stories are much like Granny’s tales of Miamas, which at first “only seemed like disconnected fairy tales without a context, told by someone who needed her head examined. It took years before Elsa understood that they belonged together. All really good stories work like this.”

Pearls and secret family recipes are great, but a sense of connection to what was, what is, and what can be is one of the best things a grandmother can leave her granddaughter. Granny, with her messy, maladjusted life, bats this one out of the park, as does Backman with this book.

 

 

Chosen by cats

If you are in transition, chances are an animal is or is waiting to be your teacher. Cats in particular choose us for these missions, although some cleverly let us think we do the choosing.

For example: A tiny, loudmouthed tiger kitten adopted me at a Southern Indiana animal shelter when I was just out of graduate school and unsure of the next step. When I picked her up, she looked me straight in the eye and meowed. I’d passed muster.

UnknownRaven Mardirosian describes a similar experience in “Just Another Crazy Cat Lady Story” (2014). She had just arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado for graduate school. On the East Coast, she’d left behind her fundamentalist Christian family and her “sort-of” girlfriend at their Christian college, which banished Mardirosian from campus when their relationship was uncovered (by said girlfriend).

It was the beginning of many years of wandering — if not running — and yet there she was in an animal shelter, about to take on the commitment of adopting one of two kittens. She was drawn to the darker one, as the orange tabby reminded her a little too much of the beloved family cat whose loss she still grieved. But when the orange tabby’s tiny white paw grabbed her finger, Mardirosian knew she’d been chosen.

That orange tabby, Avery, became Mardirosian’s link to a kinder, gentler way of being amid a return to the East Coast and a series of jobs, schools, apartments and girlfriends. People in her life asked: When are you going to grow up? When are you going to get right with the Lord? Avery just napped in her lap, knowing she would figure it all out.

While living in New York City, Mardirosian adopted Zoey, a little gray street cat, through a fellow CCL (crazy cat lady). After thoroughly vetting Mardirosian and her living space, CCL brought Zoey for a trial visit.

Zoey turns her eyes my way: jade green, with just enough of a razor slit to show that I’m not the only bitch in the room. …

Then she decides to come over and say hello.

She likes you.

The magical three words. All of the chasing after my parents’ love, the attention of the beautiful redhead or blonde or black-haired girl at Henrietta’s … flies back in one terrifying sword of truth — she likes you — as Zoey remains in my lap, not quite seated, not quite standing.

She does, doesn’t she?

Still, in the beginning there was fearsome hissing and screaming, broken glass and an abscessed injury to the base of Avery’s tail. Though Zoey did settle down, she remained moody and opinionated — much like Idgie, my aforementioned loudmouthed tiger cat.

Mardirosian developed a unique relationship with each of her feline charges: “I’m much more aligned to Zoey, the secret observer. The runner. I’ve got that skill down pat. Avery challenges me to remove the labyrinth that winds its way around my heart and let others love me.”

Her account of Avery’s illness and the agonizing decision to let him go, after nearly two decades of life and love, is wrenching. Though deeply moving in and of itself, it brought back the loss of Idgie, who passed at age 16, quite vividly.

Even in her grief, Mardirosian recognizes, as I did, that her friend and guide is “safe, happy and free. … This crazy cat of mine will fly on. I may not know how — but trust the energy that propels him forward will move me in the same way.”

At our city shelter, I met a tortoiseshell kitten. I picked her up, and she reached out and patted my face with her paw. Lucy is now an easygoing 3-year-old, a very different cat with a new set of lessons.

My education continues.