Today is going to be a challenge. I volunteer at the local zoo, which I absolutely love to do and am grateful for the opportunity. I get to observe elephants….what a blessing and sacred gift this has been for me. I am able to be with them quietly and simply observe their being. The zoo collects data about what they do, how much they move, interactions with each other, and anything else that we, the observers notice. This helps to provide these wonderful creatures with the best life possible and to try and make any adjustments needed, as well as to keep learning about them. I started volunteering while I was still working, and it quickly became my favorite part of the week. Now that I am retired, and my weeks are very different, this still continues to be one of my favorite parts of the week. I feel very lucky.
Today there is a special event at our zoo…..it is an opportunity to return any items that were obtained through wildlife abuse and trade that people may have inherited or been gifted that they no longer want to keep but don’t know what to do with these items. All the items will be collected by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and used for educational purposes. It’s a good thing.
Over the years, and particularly since volunteering at the zoo, I have become educated about the many horrible abuses that we humans inflict on our fellow beings on this earth. Although the animals that I observe are in a zoo, and we know this is not ideal, this zoo works hard for education and conservation and many of the animals are rescued animals. I feel good about being part of this education and so pleased when I hear families talking with each other as they learn about things that they did not know. Like how elephants are killed for their tusks so that trinkets can be made from the ivory. How our tigers were rescued as they were no longer “suitable” for the pet portraits (“Have your photo taken with a tiger cub”) that their “owner” had obtained them for when they were cubs How elephants are really trained for those “elephant rides” or how they were trained to perform in circuses, with cruel instruments like bull hooks that leave bloody wounds. The cruelty is beyond understanding and is heartbreaking. And heart-opening.
Heart opening…..it is difficult to hear about and learn about all the pain inflicted on animals, but we can use this pain to open our hearts. To learn, and to help in whatever way that we can. As I continue to age, I become more aware and ever more sensitive to other creatures, the earth, and all that is around that I did not have or take the time to really notice and pay deeper attention to before. It hurts, but perhaps I can use that pain. I no longer eat meat and will work toward including fish in this, which I still occasionally eat. I now look around in my closets and in my house and see a different thing altogether when I see leather items. I’m working on that and am pleased when I see “vegan leather” items in stores now.
And this brings me to the event today. My mother died 11 years ago, and left me her belongings, one of which was a mink coat. It was something that she treasured and loved having, and I understand what it meant to her….times were different and there was not as much awareness. And now it is hanging in my closet…..and I cannot bear to think about how this was made, how these animals were killed for their fur so that it could be made into a coat that is not really to keep someone warm, but rather to look beautiful. A status symbol in days past. Something to be proud to own. And now, for me, a symbol of cruelty and shame. But….it is a part of my mother and who she was…..and I deeply feel that part of her. This coat that she wore, that was around her ever more frail body toward the end, that she held onto as the gift from her husband, my father, who left her 15 years before her time came. Although there were some challenging mother-daughter dynamics between us, I did love her and do treasure the good and loving times and memories. She was my mom. She is gone. And I miss her. And this coat…..it feels like a part of her.
It is a part of her, however, that I cannot resonate with. And so now it comes time to let another part of her go….My journey, my own heroine’s journey in this life (the book that I hope to write) includes my struggle to emerge from the definitions of myself that were imposed on me by others that were not true to my inner self and being. It has taken me all these years to feel as if that real me, the me that was buried under trying to please everyone else and fulfill their expectations (at the cost of my own soul) is finally emerging. I am giving it Voice, I am listening, and I am working to act with more and more integrity toward that true self inside.
So I will donate this coat, and donate it from the place inside that tells me that I cannot keep it nor can I give it to someone else to wear (which would only continue the practice of admiration for the slaughter of these animals). I feel the pain of letting go of that part of her….even though I know it is only a coat. Not really, though. It is a part of her that I don’t relate to, a part that I do not agree with, and a part of her that I need to let go of as I stand more strongly in the me that must be heard and validated. I let go of the coat with some grief and sadness, but with a realization that I must choose me first…..that indeed, this is my life…..and I need to live it for me. And abide by my own values. I send love to the spirit of my mother, and I now send love to the spirit inside me. I must fully emerge before it is my time to go. The time to do that is now. The choice I must make is me. With blessings to all…..and I now include mySelf in that – first. Then, when I give to others, it will truly be from my heart and soul. It will be genuine – and that is the best gift of all. The journey we take, I believe, is to start with the Self we were born into, and finally, finally come home to that. Welcome home.