Empathetic Acting – Okay or Nay?

“I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.”
– Meryl Streep

***

Okay, my dander’s all up.

For those of you that know me well, I’m sure you’re shocked. I mean, me?  Irritated? Feeling passionate about something? Shocking, I know. But alas, ’tis true.

And in this day and age, you’d think it would be about politics or Trump or something. But nope. This time, it’s about theatre.

Theatre?

Yep, theatre. I’ve argued over a lot of things before, but theatre is new to the list.

[Disclaimer: I had originally intended to say that I was arguing with an actor for the first time, but my husband politely reminded me that that is sooo not true. I have a lot of friends who are actors. And I argue with them about everything. So, I scratched that and made it a little more specific – it’s definitely the first time I’ve argued with someone about acting.]

To be even more specific, the argument was over who should and shouldn’t portray certain characters.

Okay, here’s how it started. This was a post I saw on Facebook.  Apparently it’s a new “pledge” that we’re supposed to take, both as actors/directors, but also as theatre and movie-goers (that’s all of you):

“As a cis performer, I will never play a trans character. Should I ever direct or produce, I will never cast a cis actor to play a trans character. As a cis consumer, I will do my best to avoid projects that do the above. In addition, as a white actor, I will never play a non-white character. As an able-bodied actor, I will never play a character with a disability.

I will not occupy space that isn’t mine.”

I write about a lot of things in this blog, so I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m a community theatre actress. I’m also sure I’ve mentioned that I live in tiny little nowhere, right smack in the middle of the bible belt.  And if you didn’t know, now you do. And armed with that knowledge, I’d say you could probably correctly infer that “trans” actors, “non-white” actors, and “disabled” actors are probably a bit few and far between in this area. So, when I saw that “pledge” that all of us actors are supposed to take, I recognized the absurdity – at least for my little neck of the woods.

If we waited for those people to show up – especially ones that had the ability and the desire to tirelessly work, unpaid, for months, to produce a show that would be viewed only three or four times – we’d never get anything done.

So, I said that. I commented on the post.

And it all went downhill from there.

I was accused of not hearing these people’s cry for justice. For not allowing them to tell their own stories.

Okay, stop.  If this were Hollywood, there might be tons of people showing up to claim these roles. But it’s not. It’s a little county in the middle of the North Carolina mountains. We performed The Wiz for goodness sakes. We had approximately one and a half black people in it and we had to beg them to do it.  (And how lucky we were to get them – holy crap, they were phenomenal.) But were they offended that we did the show anyway, even though we were unable to cast the entire thing with people of color as it is intended?

I don’t think so.

Or were they?

We did To Kill a Mockingbird. While we had a few people of color who were able to join us but, again, we were faced with a 99% white cast. But we still did it. And it was phenomenal.

Should we have left that story untold because we didn’t have enough people of color to play the roles?

We performed Wait Until Dark. I portrayed a blind woman, Suzy. Should I not have done that? Should we have not performed that powerful show about a disabled woman who uses her superior intellect to outwit her would-be killer? Should we have not shown that audience that anyone can overcome their disabilities and kick some bad guy booty, simply because we didn’t have a real blind woman to play the role?

And how about when we performed The Dixie Swim Club. My good friend and actress Rebecca portrayed an aged woman with Alzheimer’s disease, who didn’t leave a single audience member dry-eyed for four straight performances. Should she not have done that?  Should she not have given a voice to the millions that suffer from that horrendous disease because she didn’t herself?

What about my sweet friend Cynthia portraying Shelby, the diabetes-ridden daughter in Steel Magnolias? Should she not have done that since she’s not diabetic herself? Should I not have portrayed her distraught mother who loses a child because I’ve never lost one myself?

No.

No, no, no.

Let’s stop this.

Theatre is one of the most beautiful things around. If you haven’t been a part of it, you’re missing out. It accidentally teaches you empathy. You become another person. You literally “walk a mile in their shoes,” so to speak. What better way to understand someone than to tell their story? To actually become them?

Now, I get it. I know where this pledge came from. Apparently Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson was recently cast as a trans man in an upcoming movie and there has been a cry from the trans community about not being represented fully because it is not a trans person playing the role. There’s even a hashtag for it – #supporttranspeopleinentertainment. I get it. I do. But my question is this – was there a more qualified trans candidate?  You have to be more than trans – you also have to be an actor. A damn good one. Acting is a business, like any other. You have to be great at what you do, or you’re going to passed over.  I’m all about fighting for equality – believe me. I run my mouth about it all the time. But there comes a time when you have to really ask yourself what you’re doing. Are you really asking for equality? Or are you asking for special treatment?

Regardless of the big Hollywood story, however, let’s take it back down here to our level. In the community theatres of the world, you are just not going to have the abilities to fill every role with a person who is what they’re portraying. And, frankly, isn’t that what acting is all about?  Isn’t that what we’re doing?  Telling a story for someone else?

Is there really something wrong with that?

If you ask me – NOPE. Not only is there not something wrong with it, but it is exactly what we all should be doing – acting or otherwise. We need to take every opportunity we’re given to try to understand what it’s like to be someone else, and to let their story be heard. For the actors of the world, we do that with our acting talent. For the writers of the world, we try to do that with our writing talents.

I recently read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Ms. Picoult wrote a powerful, almost life-changing novel from three perspectives – a privileged white lawyer, a discriminated black nurse, and a male white supremacist. And my, what a story it was. In the end of the book, she wrote an author’s note. In that note, she said that she was well aware of the backlash she’d receive from writing this book. How dare her try to speak as a black woman? And she was right – there was definitely backlash and mixed reviews. But as she described in her note – she has written about many characters in the past – victims of rape, men, abused spouses – all things that she, herself, is not. And how did she do that? By talking to them. By learning about them. By putting herself in their shoes and living their lives through her words.

And why did she do it? Because she could. She was given a gift. She’s a storyteller. And with this gift, she knows that it is her duty to give voice to the voiceless. She is using her talent to change the world, one novel at a time. And, personally, I think she’s doing a damn good job of it.

Stories deserve to be told. Silencing them is never the answer.

Never.

What say you?

***

“Stop explaining yourself. Shut up and act!”
~ Craig MacDonald

***

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Sunday Run: A Heathen’s Story

“It was not enough to come and listen to a great sermon or message every Sunday morning and be confined to those four walls and those four corners. You had to get out and do something.”
– John Lewis

It is Sunday morning, and I am not in church.

Now, this is no different from most Sundays for the past few years, mind you. But as the granddaughter of a devout Southern Baptist Christian, there’s not a Sunday morning that dawns without that old ingrained guilt in my soul for not having my buns firmly planted on a pew where they belong.  However, Guilt and me have gotten a bit used to each other.  I don’t let him talk me into things as often as I did when I was younger.

So, no church for me.

But, why?

Sigh. Honestly, I don’t know.

I have a ton of excuses, but not really any that would impress Grandma. I mean, my life pretty much revolves around ample Sunday morning churchgoing opportunities. The aforesaid Grandma, for instance. I know where she’ll be, without fail, and would love to have me join her. And I do sometimes, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not for the church itself – that’s to see and spend time with her. She lives a good 45 miles away, though, so it’s not the most convenient scenario for every Sunday morning.

You know what’s not 45 miles away though? The church at the end of my driveway. Yes, my house literally sits in the backyard of a small Methodist church that my mother-in-law attends. But have I ever been in there?  Nope.

(Okay, that’s a lie and you’re not supposed to lie on Sundays. One time I went in and peeked around when no one else was there. But I’m thinking that might not count.)

Another nail in my Sunday morning heathen coffin? My husband actually works at a local church on Sunday mornings. Yep.  As he gets up early and heads to town to get the rented venue open and rev up the sound equipment for the upcoming hip, contemporary, and even entertaining church service, I sleepily wave goodbye to him and snuggle deeper into the covers.

I kinda suck.

So, with all these opportunities staring me in the face – why don’t I go?  Oh, I don’t know. I’m not an atheist. (Although some have mistaken me for one lately and that’s okay. I’m not offended.) But I’m also not really a believer either. At least not in that book written by a bunch of men who were as flawed as I am.

But let’s not get into that.  That’s not what this story is about. My faith, or lack thereof, could fill a novel and you don’t want to read that and I don’t want to spend time talking about it either. So to save us both a word-induced nap, we’re going to skip that subject and I’m going to try to get to my point.

Alright. As we’ve established, I was, again, practicing my newfound heathenism this morning and not attending church.  What was I doing instead? Running.  I find myself doing that a lot on Sunday mornings lately. Whether there’s some deep sense of spiritual guilt that drives me out the door on these mornings in order to more quickly pass those previous pew-allotted hours, or I’m just making use of the rare few moments of alone time with no responsibilities, I’m not sure. Either way though, my running shoes see a lot of Sunday morning asphalt.

Today being no exception, I laced up my shoes and headed out the door to beat the forecasted midday heat. And what do I run into?

Churchgoers.

Yes, seeing as how I’m in their backyard, it’s inevitable to go for a run and not pass the church. But I usually try to time these Sunday morning excursions so that I don’t have to face the good people of the world as they exit their cars and head into the sanctuary where my darkened heart “belongs.” My mind supplies enough ingrained guilt without those angelic pairs of eyes adding to the heap. But alas, this morning something went wrong and I blew it. I wasn’t watching the clock and I messed up.

So, I steeled myself. I put on my “armor” (aka headphones) and prepared to rush right by them without a glance in their direction. They were not going to make me feel guilty on this particular morning, no sir. I’m a grown up and I can do what I want. I can certainly run fast enough in my running shoes to get away from them in their Sunday best if they try to catch me, right?

Game on.

I increase my speed, prepare to zip right by, and then…..one of them speaks to me.

Crap.

Busted.

I mean, come on lady. I’m running here. I have my armor in my ears – can’t you see? I’m dressed in way-too-short-for-my-age running shorts and a tank top; I’m obviously not rushing down here to beat the church bell.  Surely to gosh you’re not going to invite me in there looking like this, are you?

She mumbles something and I reluctantly remove my headphones.

I’m sorry, what?” I call out, slowing my pace but not fully stopping – acting like I want to hear her reply, but making it obvious that I have no time for chitchat and that my hell-bound soul has already made its decision to run this morning and she was absolutely not going to change that.

“Just wanted to make sure you saw this!” she calls out cheerily and points to the wooden box in the corner of the parking lot.  To my surprise, she was showing me a water stand.

Now, I’d seen this water stand before. And I appreciated it for its uniqueness and the kind hearts that must have erected it. We are a beautiful mountain county and many bicyclists make their way through our secluded area on their weekend treks, so a wooden water stand had been built and placed at the corner of the church parking lot with a drawing of a bicycle and the letters “H20” painted on its side to make the bikers aware that there was refreshment waiting for them. So, it wasn’t a surprise to see it – I live here and I’ve seen it many times.

But I sure was surprised to have it offered to me.

If you get thirsty during your run, make sure you get some water!” she called out, and smiled and waved as she made her way into her house of worship.

Well, I’ll be.

I couldn’t help but grin.

What a gesture. Not only was she not there to make me feel guilty about not attending church services, but was actually offering to help me in the activity I chose to do instead of accompanying her into her sanctuary.

Wow.

With a smile plastered on my face, I called out a thank you to her retreating back, and continued on my journey.

So, no. I didn’t go to church today. I didn’t go last Sunday and, frankly, I probably won’t go next Sunday. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t commune with my own personal version of the God that exists in my life.

God was everywhere this Sunday morning.

My lungs breathed her air. My eyes beheld her beauty in the cloudless sky above me and the mountains that surrounded me. My feet caressed her earth as they padded across six miles of terrain.

And then, in the midst of it all, she not only acknowledged my unique form of worship, but she took the time to speak back to me.

She stepped outside and offered me a drink of water.

***

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
– Dalai Lama

***

Conditioned.

 

I’m hurt.

I will react.

I’ll scream in anger.

I will tell you that I’m in pain.

I’ll tell you (loudly) that you’re wrong.

I’ll forget myself and feel all that is true inside.

I’ll show you the fear and rage and pain that you caused.

And then I will immediately change my mind.

I’ll remember what I am allowed to feel.

And I will remember what I am not.

I’ll tell you that it is not your fault.

I will tell you that I am sorry.

But I’m not going to be.

Not really.

***

 

 

A Running Revelation

***

I glance at the clock. Only three minutes left. Three more minutes until I can shove all these files back into their holders and shut down this glaring screen. Three more minutes until I can push the paperwork aside and head home to throw on my running shoes and see the real world–the world that exists outside my window as I sit trapped behind a desk.

I’m a real estate paralegal. If you ever buy, sell, or refinance a house, I’m the face behind the paperwork. Sooo much paperwork. Legal terms, rights of way, percentage rates, amortization schedules, title insurance, property taxes – it all stacks up to the ceiling in my office.  Or at least it seems that way some days.

(Okay, it doesn’t really. I’m neat to a fault when it comes to my office. Things are so organized and put away where they belong that I don’t want to disturb them. Thus feeding my procrastination tendency. But anyway…)

Escape is near. T minus one minute. Organization complete, files and papers where they belong, tabs all closed, computer shut down…5:00 p.m.!  See y’all tomorrow.

My car rushes home to beat the sunset. (There just aren’t enough precious daylight hours this time of year.) A rare, warm late February day is screaming my name.  I’ve grown tired of the treadmill. My running shoes are begging for asphalt, and I plan to oblige.

I race into the driveway, run into the house to throw on my running clothes (a tank top! In February!), grab my headphones and hit the road.

I tune in to an audiobook, my preferred listening material for runs. I’m reading Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories by Tom Hanks. (Yes, that Tom Hanks.) As the crunching sound of my footsteps hitting gravel-filled pavement takes me along the curvy, country highway near my home, I keep Tom Hanks talking in my left ear as my right ear stays tuned to traffic. It’s not the best way to listen to a book, but even divided attention is enough for a book this good. And besides, safety first. I’m sure Tom would understand.

I continue on. Find a good rhythm. Crunch crunch crunch.

I round a corner and notice an old, abandoned home on my right. You see a lot of these out in the country. I always wonder what happened to get them to this point – what is the story that caused everyone in the family to pack up and leave the place that once held all their memories?  And could they (if “they” still exist) possibly know that a lone runner passes their land almost daily making up possible scenarios to explain their forgotten property?  As a writer, these untold stories tumble in my head, yet rarely make their way to the computer screen once my run is complete.  I wish that weren’t the case. I wish I could be like Tom Hanks – I wish I could see mundane things and put them into a collection of brilliant stories for some runner to listen to as she pounds the pavement.

But, alas, I’m just me.  I have great ideas, and then I forget them.

I need to do better.

Crunch crunch.

My attention returns to the abandoned home on my right. I’ve run by it hundreds of times as I’ve run this route, but today something is different. The bushes are cleared. The lawn has been mowed. A new sign has been added reflecting the home’s address.

Work trucks are sitting nearby.

It is winter. I haven’t run this route in so long that I didn’t notice what was happening. The cold and snow had kept me away but now the sunshine has led me to the change.  Then, as I look more closely, a sun ray lands on the newly-added numbers on the run-down home. An address.  My running route’s abandoned home now has four simple numbers adorned on a post outside. So someone can find it.  The mailman, perhaps?

Well, how about that!?

Crunch crunch.

Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, those four random numbers strike a chord in my memory. What am I remembering? I know these numbers somehow.  What do they mean?

It hits me!  I did the work for this house.

This house.

I sat there months ago looking at yet another mound of paperwork that resulted in this! I didn’t know that the people buying a house to fix up (yet another house in a string of houses that fill my working days…) were actually buying this house to fix up.

Wow.

Look at what I’ve done. Look how important I am.

Crunch crunch.

As Tom Hanks fill my left ear and my right ear stays on guard for oncoming traffic, my inflated ego surveys the product of my handiwork. My profession has just become three-dimensional. I see the product in real life. It’s no longer just a bunch of words and numbers and plat drawings. It’s a renovation. It’s a renewal. It’s someone’s hopes and dreams.

It’s no longer a house. It’s a home.

With a satisfied smile, I continue running.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

As Tom Hanks proceeds to regale me with everyday life happenings turned into the poetry known as short stories, I feel the inklings of my own story beginning in my mind. The story of a mound of paperwork turning into a home. The story of the real life that lies beyond the papers and the computer screen.

When I get home, I’ll start my story. But where should I begin?  Eh, I’ll figure it out. This story will make it to the computer screen this time.  Not like the others that disappear before I slip my running shoes off inside my front door. This one is good.  Too good to forget.

I run.

I look.

I listen.

Crunch.

Tom Hanks is still talking, his stories are still flowing, and yet. Yet. I feel like my story is just not good enough. Something isn’t right. So I saw a house that I did the paperwork on? Big whoop. Why does this matter?

What am I missing?

In the midst of my conundrum, my right ear detects a truck heading my way.

It’s an old pickup truck–faded red paint and a loud muffler. Typical transportation for this country area. In the distance, I can just make out the area on the front bumper where the license plate should be (a spot that renders itself useless in the state of North Carolina where you only need a back license plate). Squinting in the late evening sunlight, I see what the owners of this truck have done with this rectangle of unused canvas.

They have adorned it with a rebel flag.

A rebel flag.

Thoughts of any ego-filled, renovated house stories take a prompt backseat as my liberal blood boils. No, a rebel flag is nothing unusual to this area. We are in the bible belt. The “south.” Even as a transplant, after more than four years of living in this area I should be used to these sights by now.

But I never get used to it.

Angrily, my feet take me closer to the truck heading my way in the distance.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Who is this person? Has he never picked up a book? Has he never known a person of color? Listened to their stories? Learned about their ancestors and the struggles they had to go through just to survive? The inhumanity, the suffering…has it all fallen on his deaf ears?

The offensive truck comes closer and, as it nears, veers well over the centerline of the road into the oncoming lane to give me a wide berth.

Interesting.

As a runner on narrow country roads, this unfortunately doesn’t happen often. Some drivers seem angry that I’m sharing their space and will refuse to bend the rules of the road to slide over to safely pass me. In fact, some will even angrily stare at me as they glide by, refusing to budge even an inch outside their allotted, rightful lane.

But not rebel flag man.

No, rebel flag man not only surprises me by getting over but, as I start to make out his face behind the passing windshield, also smiles.

And then waves.

Waves.

What do I do? I’m not going to wave at a man sporting a rebel flag on his truck. It represents everything I’m against. It stands for all that I deem wrong with our country.

And then, it hits me.

(No, not the truck. An idea.)

That license plate is two-dimensional.

It’s “paper.”

Much like the things I see on my work computer screen, that little rectangle probably doesn’t tell the whole story. In order to fully see the man behind that wheel, I’d have to know more than just the information presented to me on the “screen” at the front of his truck. I’ve only seen the outside of his “house,” I haven’t seen the “home” that lies underneath the paperwork.

Suddenly, this thought process transcends well beyond a miniscule runner on a country road faced with a rebel flag toting truck driver.  So much of what we see in this current world is two-dimensional. Words seen on a screen; snippets of a remark seen on a news reel; a status posted on Facebook. It’s all “paper.” None of it has depth.

What if we could see it all in 3D? Would it look different?

My mind has considered all this in the few seconds as the truck begins to pass. In a last minute decision, my eyes meet the driver’s and I do what I didn’t think I would do. What I didn’t think I could do.

I smile.

And then I wave.

And then?

Well then, life goes on.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

There it is. That’s it. Simple as that. This is my story.

Both my feet and heart quicken their pace. We have things to do.

I rush home, throw off my shoes, and open my laptop.

***

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Another shooting.

More senseless deaths.

More Facebook warriors demanding justice. “More mental health awareness!” “More gun laws!” “Less gun laws! Second Amendment, by Gawd!” “Get God back in the schools!” “Get God out of schools!”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

We all get so desensitized to what is happening because it happens SO OFTEN. We are a country where a mass shooting headline on the news is just another mass shooting headline on the news.  “Oh man, another school shooting. That’s so sad. Thoughts and prayers. Let’s see what’s on the game show network…”

Look at who we are. Look at what we’ve done.

And note that I say “we.”  Not “you.” I’m including myself in this. I’m just as guilty.

I sat and argued on Facebook this morning. I think that no one – a person with mental health issues, a criminal background, or none of the above – should have access to automatic killing machines. I’m a big ole liberal. Guilty as charged. And if you are hugging your guns and spouting the 2nd amendment after something like this happens, I truly think you suck.

But after a few pointless comments here and there pointing all that out, I stopped.

It doesn’t work.

NOTHING CHANGES.

Instead, I changed gears.

I started reading about the victims.

As I started scrolling through the names that have been released so far, I, for once in my life, didn’t just skim them. I really read them.  I read the names. I looked the pictures. And I saw their stories.

I saw beautiful, 15-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. Her long dark hair reminded me of my long, dark-haired 15-year-old step-daughter Lauren.

I read about Nicholas Dworet. I saw that he was a swimmer and that his swimming had improved dramatically over the past few years.  He even got a swimming scholarship and was headed to the University of Indianapolis after graduation. My thoughts immediately went to my 17-year-old step-son Riley. I thought about the awards ceremony we attended last year where he was chosen as the representative for the “Best of the Best” swimming candidate for our county.

Then I saw little Cara Loughran with her red hair and freckles. And suddenly I was looking at my own little redheaded, freckled 18-year-old daughter Kelly.

And then?

Then I looked at the 19-year-old perpetrator. 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. A 19-year-old boy who will now be charged as a man who committed at least 17 murders.  And as angry as I am at him…as absolutely furious as I am that this man took the lives of all those poor innocent people…I can’t help but see something else.

I have a 19-year-old son too.

And while my 19-year-old son Jeff is very mature and a great kid, he’s still just that. A kid. This was not a man that committed this act. This was a child.

A messed up child just grabbed an automatic killing machine and took out 17 people while we were sitting here wondering what our significant other was going to get us for Valentine’s Day. Or while we were sitting here moaning because we were single on Valentine’s Day. Or while we were sitting here groaning at all the lovey dovey couple stuff posted on social media and raising hell about this Hallmark holiday that is just a money racket.

While we were living our every day, mundane lives that we take for granted, hundreds of lives were just completely changed forever.

So.

What is the answer?

What will stop this?

I don’t know.  I have theories, but what the hell do I know?  What do you know?  Yes, you, Facebook warrior. What do you know? What is the answer?

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

Dear God, I don’t know.

But here’s something I do know.  And that is that there are parents sitting somewhere today who don’t need the “what ifs.” They aren’t comparing these children to the ages of their children like I am. Why?

Because these were their children.

This isn’t a what if. This isn’t a it could have happened to us. This is the real deal for them. Their babies are gone.

THEY ARE GONE.

And we’re not doing a damn thing about it except fighting on Facebook.

We are a bunch of friggin morons.

Sorry, nothing Earth-shattering in this blog. No answers to be found here.

Just one mother who knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am the luckiest woman on the planet to be able to go home and hug my babies today after work.

And who also knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that this could have been my family on the news today.

And until each and every one of you out there, greedy NRA ass-kissing politicians included, realize that fact too, nothing is going to happen.

Nothing.

***

‘We can say, yes, we’re going to do all of these things…thoughts and prayers, but what we really need is action. PLEASE. This is the 18th [shooting] this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, get over your politics and get something done.”
– David Hogg,
student survivor of the Margory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
February 14, 2018

***

 

Text sent during a 2014 shooting at Florida State University

Loving Lenny

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

“Something is wrong.”

It was three years ago today on a bright, cold winter Saturday morning in February. I had popped out of bed early and hurriedly thrown on a pair of old jeans and a comfy sweatshirt, excited that this much-anticipated day had finally arrived. After six full days of this animal-lover’s pleading and begging on Facebook for someone to adopt a sweet, lonely pit bull mix that had found his way to our local animal shelter, my prayer had finally been answered. Little “Lenny” (the name I promptly bestowed upon him after observing his ‘gentle giant’ ways that mirrored his namesake in the classic Of Mice and Men) was going home! And who had adopted him?

Lenny’s shelter photo – Facebook, Feb 2015

You guessed it—me!

After seeing that there was no public interest in saving this sweet boy from his ever looming demise date, my big-hearted husband finally gave in. Lenny was coming home to join our family. Lenny would be pet number five.

The only problem we faced was timing. The shelter (which was unfortunately not a no-kill shelter) had scheduled sweet Lenny to be put to sleep on Friday. But because of mine and my husband’s out-of-town work schedules, neither of us could work it out to go pick up our sweet boy before closing time on Friday. So, the shelter graciously agreed to extend his date to Saturday—with our promise that we’d definitely show up by the time they closed at noon. No problem! I rose with the sun with my happy heart pounding out of my chest. Our baby was coming home!

And then I walked into the living room and everything changed.

There lied my precious fat calico kitty Patches on her little pet bed, struggling for air.

“Something is wrong.”

At first the words came out in a whisper, but as I realized the seriousness of the situation, they gained strength.

“Something is wrong!”

I called out to my husband, “Richard! Something is wrong with Patches!”

My husband came into the room and said, “Let’s get her to the vet. Hurry.”

I began scrambling for my shoes and for a large towel to wrap my sweet cat in. We rushed to the car and started the thirty minute drive to town, with me all the while holding my fluffy girl like a baby in my arms in the passenger seat. We made it to the emergency vet and while my husband ran to the counter to explain what was happening, my beautiful cat’s gentle sweet soul left her body as she lay in my arms in the waiting room.

My girl was gone.

The last photo of Patches – February 6, 2015

Just like that. This day that was supposed to be filled with such anticipated joy was just bombarded with a soul-crushing sadness that I couldn’t possibly have seen coming. I heard voices swirling around me, offering help–burial services, cremation–but all I could do was look at the lifeless eyes lying in my aching arms. My sweet girl had seen me through so much over the past few years. She had watched my children grow with me. She saw my marriage fall apart. She saw me fall in love again and welcomed this new, amazing man into our world. She had been my constant through all the changes swirling around me.

And now she was gone.

I looked up into my husband’s empathetic eyes and saw the pain I was feeling reflecting back at me. He gently took my arm and led me to the car. I wouldn’t let Patches go. I held onto her lifeless body and couldn’t bring myself to put her down.

“Honey. We have to get to the shelter.”

My husband’s sobering words pulled me out of my stupor and I glanced at the clock. 11:00 a.m. In the rush of the morning’s tragic events, time had slipped away from me. We lost my baby that morning but we still had work to do. We didn’t have time to take my sweet Patches home and bury her and come back to get Lenny. We had no choice. We had to go straight to the shelter or we’d be too late.

We pulled into the parking lot of the shelter and my strong, stable husband finally convinced me to turn my kitty over to him. He gently took her from my arms, covered her lifeless body with the towel, and placed her into a box. We had no choice but to lay her sweet body in the trunk until we could get her home to her proper burial. After we got her in place, my husband took my hand and walked me into the shelter. There, we found our Lenny.

And he was terrified.

My eyes locked onto his and I saw his fear of the unknown. I saw the uncertainty and questions that I was feeling too. Could I do this? Could I switch gears so suddenly? From the heartbreaking pain of loss straight into the joy of a new adoption?

No. I couldn’t. And my sweet Lenny didn’t expect me to.

Dragging our terrified new pet to our car, my husband placed him in the backseat. And, in a last minute mindless decision, I climbed back there with him. We both cried all the way home. Both of us were scared. Both of us were leaving what was familiar to us and embarking on a journey where nothing would ever be the same. Both of us were shaking, sad, and weak.

Lenny’s ride home from the shelter – 2/7/2015

We needed each other more than ever.

Now, three years later, here we are. We’ve adjusted. My sweet Lenny helped me through one of the hardest days of my life back then. And I think I helped him through his, too. We snuggled on the couch on that cold Saturday back in February until our pain began to subside. We held onto each other until we realized that our broken hearts had just enough room for each other. My gentle giant coaxed me back to happiness and taught me to open my heart to another furry soul. And I taught him that some people just won’t ever leave you.

They just won’t.

We’re a team now, sweet Lenny and me. We didn’t have the happiest of starts, but we’ve promised each other that we’ll have a happy ending. Instead of me saving him, he saved me.

Someone told me once that they believed that my precious Patches chose February 7, 2015 to leave me on purpose. She knew that this would be the day that I would be able to accept her departure. I don’t know about all that. But I do know this.

A whole big furry ball of gentleness and love immediately filled the spot that she left behind. Was that divine intervention? I don’t know.

But I certainly know who’s a good boy.  My Lenny, that’s who.

Lenny and mom. February 2018.

***

“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”
– Bruce Cameron