This kind of thought wasn’t completely new for me – I confess I’d dwelt many times on the fortunes of other men, wistful and envious of the assets they enjoyed.
“What would it be like to be him?” I had asked myself, him way up there with all that money, with a daddy who provides private airplanes and the family’s own airport, with new trucks and horses and jet skis and scuba diving lessons there for the asking.
“What would it be like to be him?” … riding high, the life of the party, the totally unselfconscious, self-assured fellow who plays pool like a master, drives cars like a professional racer, rides horses and ropes calves like a rodeo champion.
“What would it be like to be him?” … towering above toads like me, with that tall muscular body, with such good looks and so many women hot after him that he callously brushes the discards out of his life every few months.
This, though, was the first time the question had ever been aimed in the other direction, asking “What would it be like to be her?” … not UP there above me, but DOWN there, below me. Down there with all that loneliness.
I shifted in that illuminated second from my one-down perspective, that blunt yearning known so well by the poor, the uncool, the disadvantaged, to a one-up view, the sudden knowledge that I had unintended power over this small creature. It was the same type of thought, but painted now in the colors of sympathy rather than those of envy.
I stood and considered the consequences of this new idea. How would it feel, I wondered from this new perspective, to care about what her life was like? How would it feel to do something about it?
I called her back over, and she came, very reluctantly. Suspiciously. Worriedly.
I stroked her head and neck tentatively and she cringed under my hand. I petted her some more, telling her what a good dog she was. She relaxed a fraction. I scratched behind her ears, and stroked along the length of her back. She leaned against me, snuggling up close. I dug my fingers gently into her fur, roughing it up and scratching down her side. She flopped down in the grass. I slapped her shoulder a couple of times, stroked the side of her face. She rolled over onto her back. I patted her chest and scratched her belly. She closed her eyes and sighed blissfully.
As I rested there on my knees gently stroking the fur under her chin, reflecting on how little this cost me and yet how it had never occurred to me to do it, she lay there absorbing the touch as if she was a sponge as big as a house, a desert a thousand miles square, and I was the first drop of water she’d felt in a year.
Yet rather than happy I had made the discovery of this new way to look at Molly, I was deeply bothered that I had only now noticed.
I was doubly bothered that this lesson was not in any of my schoolbooks, not in anything my parents had ever told me, not in anything I learned from my friends. In fact, it was just about 180 degrees opposite of anything I got from any of those sources.
To us, animals could be disposable entertainment devices or rare meat walking around on four legs, but they were never anything more. I myself had treated animals as targets, and even found pleasure in it.
I was a hunter once, sort of. My Wicked Stepfather took me up into deer blinds for East Texas’ frigid fall deer season in my teens. I grew up with coon-hunting friends and a peer group of friendly killers to whom hunting of any sort was a threshold of manhood. Later there was an adopted Dad in California who took me out on pack trips into the wilderness and infused me with his deep love of the mountains, and who regaled me with great stories from a lifetime of hunting exploits – of bringing down bear and deer and other difficult and worthwhile game. I had a Ruger .30-06 rifle that I was so proud of – though I no longer own it, I can still picture the matte beauty of its walnut stock, and the shiny perfection of its barrel.
It only happened to me once, but I can tell you what’s it like to see a big muley buck on a hillside across a canyon, and to raise such a rifle to a position firm against your shoulder and cool against your cheek. I can tell you that there is a feral joy in getting that animal in your sights, and I can describe the leap that a hunter’s heart makes at the thought of having that deer. Of owning its life, bringing it down with a shot through the chest. I can tell you what it’s like to visualize bringing it home bloody and gutted, hunter triumphant, full grown Man.
We humans really do have such things in us. A cat readying to pounce on a mouse, all feral intent, teeth and claws ready for the kill, could feel nothing more intense.
But fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s like to actually do those things, because I missed the shot. I never got my deer. I never got my bear. Instead, in this luminous moment with Molly, I found this doorway…
— CONTINUED —