That favorite Gauguin painting I reference every now and then is on my mind tonight, but really just its title - which is so much prettier in the original French, btw..
"Who Are We? Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Going?"
Indeed. So this happened then...
A friend who had just moved to New Orleans six weeks before Hurricane Katrina described having to evacuate his beautiful new French Quarter apartment even before he was finished unpacking.
As he was driving away from the only hurricane he'd ever been near, along with hundreds of thousands of other Gulf residents, he recalls the sudden horror of seeing car doors opening and animals being let out on the slow moving highway.
Later, he sent me a photo of sixteen animals - dogs of all sizes and a few cats, too - crowded into his SUV, each one seeming to realize that getting along in that small space with their new human buddy was perhaps most advisable.
The photos were remarkable in that none of the animals looked afraid - apprehensive, possibly - so strong, then, was their trust - I don't know another word for it - that this guy would take care of them.
Tiny cats sat atop droopy eyed pit bull/lab mixes. Frou-frou dogs, yapless at last, snuggled with big cats who busied themselves with bathing their traveling companions. (A thing I've yet to do on public transport, incidentally. I'm so unevolved, y'all.)
Bill never got over the ones he could not catch, the ones who ran into fast traffic going the other way. As days passed, he'd wonder bitterly if they weren't the lucky ones. It took all he had not to go back and find a third batch but by then the National Guard would not grant return passage.
That first bunch of sixteen? He drove inland a few hours and pulled into subdivisions, telling people what had happened and somehow, miraculously, found homes for all sixteen animals within a few hours. (Not one had any tags or chips denoting ownership.)
His second trip in was harder for reasons that are even too sad to write here. Suffice it to say that he found refuge in dark whiskey and closed shutters and died several years later, in more ways than one, like a soldier who'd seen things in battle for which no amount of training - basic or otherwise - could have prepared him.
The fact that he was a decorated US Army vet only adds to the tragedy. He had volunteered for veterans' groups for decades, he explained, ashamed of himself, of his inability to erase the memory of the worst thing to happen to him since 1967. But animals. And the worst and best of humans.
Earlier tonight I watched a woman plop a Pomeranian sized pup in the front passenger seat of her small car and I wrestled with the same damn thing I usually end up saying and went ahead and said it anyway:
"I know I sound like one of those crazy animal ladies because I am one, but an airbag killed a friend's dog in the front seat."
I think she won the prize for most pissed response: "Oh I think he'll be just fine." If looks and tones of voice could kill.
Then it hit me. I'm pretty sure all she saw heard was my white skin and southern accent. I started to tell her that the suspected condescension in my little speech was an equal opportunity non-tirade because, really, everybody knows animal people are crazy.
It's not like I was telling someone not to eat a hamburger or buy eyeshadow that was probably tested on bunnies: I was just trying to say that if a human kid is worth it...
But there isn't an excuse for me. I may be a horse's ass for 73 other reasons but, on that list condescending racist is astonishingly enough, absent.
(The fact that I loathe racists isn't lost on me: judging judgers, oh I'm wrong, all right - all over the place. Just not where you thought I was.)
For people, regarding automobile restraints, I've tried this with some success:
"I bet somebody loves you: Put on your seatbelt", delivered with my best for real/so shoot me almost an old lady grin. So far, no hateful comebacks.
A more direct approach is tempting...
"Hey, Einstein! Did you know that a small animal not strapped in is a missile in a 30 MPH wreck? Of course you did. Oh I know, it's just a quick trip to the store and isn't it funny how we're all almost always near home when it wrecks happen? It's just NUTTY I tell ya!"
The storm in question... Matthew. Which means "gift of God". We'll see about that.
All of this is probably coming from the fact that I'm worried out of my mind about a friend riding out this awful weather. She's got a boatload of animals and lives just 15 minutes from Daytona Beach. Scared tears are pressing up now as I even write this.
And I'll admit to a thin-skinned quality I'd do well to discard. Especially if I'm going to be some vehicle-safety animal crate version of Carrie Nation. Yes, reaction-free zones where detente reigns. (Or is that "reins"?) It's about animals. In general. About animal people.
We didn't ask to be broken wide f-ing open by animals. It was accidental. We didn't mean to tip over to the place where we no longer live ordinary lives and this in NO WAY implies heroism. Actually that's a sore point. I mean. Who DOES that?
It's OK to say you love animals. Parading your holy grail is a mixed bag. There is an off-putting quality to those who champion their own deeds. Trust me. The One who needs to keep track sees all. The rest of us are just muddling through.
I flinch wherever I hear someone describe themselves as "rescuer". Because if the truth is told? WE are the rescued ones, and it's like the old saying:
"They gave me a badge for being humble. When I wore it, they took it away from me."
Crazy animal people may end up killing more animals than they'd ever dream of with their unrealistic demands, infighting and egotistical parades of Oh the Good They Do.
I know real full- fime animal heroes who have non-profit rescues for which they receive ZERO outside donations, funding it entirely themselves with wise investments, so they will not be beholden to demagogues.
Know this: I'm not that noble, never have been, but, by golly I suppose I'm bragging that I know them. They live anonymous lives under the radar insofar as possible so that more animals can be reached. It really works that way.
Just so you know that I know: I'm waaaaaay down that St. Francis ladder. I'm simply that jerk who just wants to put not a horrifying thought into your head, a "what if" that perhaps you hadn't thought of before...
Btw, the airbag that killed my friend's spaniel was apparently defective: The velocity was messed up, I forgot what they said, and the pup's owner was lacerated badly for the same reason. But it still doesn't mean that bad things can't happen. All prevented by a pain in the ass couple of extra minutes before the ride.
Very few shelters can accommodate multiple pets or big dogs, and I don't know how anyone can leave them behind. I daresay in this awful storm that humans who couldn't drive away without their beasts may die. And some of you will say that such stupidity deserves it.
(You undoubtedly write other charming assessments of human foibles on other comment sections across cyberspace. Dante may not have imagined your level of The Inferno, but this writer is a little ashamed that she furnishes it in her mind's eye whenever stepping in your verbal excrement. Ahem.)
It's too early to tell how everyone will be, but my heart's breaking ahead of time just like a bunch of you. We'll need all the mercy and Red Cross and, yes, all the RESCUERS we can get for months ahead. For all living things.
Structures that take a few hours to destroy can be rebuilt. Some tearing down might be an OK thing - walls that are largely invisible.
People live such separated lives in our gated communities, behind tinted windows - and these aren't mentioned to demonize those realities. Not at all. As Ben Hecht once wrote, most of us who live in cities are sick with unused self.
In times of unbearable sorrow spread among many, we're reminded just how connected we really are. A gift from a dreadful shadow.
Scratch your pooches' belly tonight. Save a songbird: let your cat inside. There are worse things than litter boxes.