If there’s one thing I’ve noticed throughout my winding road of a life, it’s that most people loathe confrontation. They’ll go to great and varied lengths to avoid it. So much so, that they’ll often suppress their own values, gut feelings, and moral compass. All in the name of harmony.
I say screw that.
I hate fighting as much as the next person, but I guess I hate regret, misunderstandings, and broken relationships more.
And I’m not afraid of anger. I’m more afraid of what happens when we stop fighting. For ourselves, the ones we love, and the ones who can’t fight for themselves.
That’s why I’m usually the first to speak up when I see someone dragging a tired cat on a harness down the street, strong-arming a child, or belittling an elderly woman on a plane. All things I witnessed, and spoke up about, in one week while travelling recently.
Most people won’t do this. They say they don’t want to intrude, interfere, or stick their noses in someone else’s business. But I think it’s something else. They don’t want conflict.
Life is conflict. We are all so very different, and have such wildly different perspectives – I‘m honestly often amazed that we get along as well as we do.
Last week I innocently and enthusiastically invited my mom to an impromptu family gathering. It completely didn’t occur to me that her presence might ruffle a few feathers. I was wrong, and it set off an uncomfortable series of texts and calls to un-do the meeting. And while I still don’t think her being there would have been a problem, I completely see why it was viewed that way.
I feel badly that I didn’t realize that before I asked. But honestly, we all unknowingly do this every day. We can’t possibly always know or see what someone else is feeling about a situation. All we can do is try to be as honest as we can with each other when conflicts occur, and try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. (Which thankfully is what happened here.) But if we don’t speak up, and express our perspective, more conflict is bound to ensue.
Animals in particular need us humans to speak up for them. They have little to no voice of their own, and often rely on our careful observations and actions to keep them healthy and happy.
I seriously have no understanding of people who treat their pets like furniture. If you’re not fully prepared to take care of any animal when it gets sick, be there (IN the hospital as their advocate) when they are really sick, and fight for them to get better – don’t get one.
About a month ago, I woke up at 3am to find my 4-year old cat, Peanut, on my bedroom floor struggling to breathe. I immediately rushed her into the car and drove (in a snowstorm) to VCA Great Lakes Veterinary Specialists, an emergency Animal Hospital. I spent the next 12 hours freezing in my pajamas in the waiting room, meditating and praying she’d be ok. At first they didn’t know if she had pneumonia or heart failure.
“We’ll have test results around 7am,” the doctor said. “I’ll call you before my shift ends.”
“Um, I’m waiting right here,” I told him. Miraculously the test results were back in 20 minutes.
She was in heart failure, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, and was drowning on fluid in her lungs. The first time I asked to see her they took me right back. She was terrified, struggling to breathe, in an oxygen-filled cage surrounded by barking dogs.
Note to animal hospitals: you REALLY need cat-only ICUs. Really.
But hours later, after waiting alone in that empty waiting room all night, I asked to see her again. I was in agony knowing she was back there like that. Ever since losing her big sister, Praline, two years ago – Peanut had gotten VERY attached to me. Every time I’d leave the house, or even just the room, she’d cry and carry a ball around – looking for me.
“You’re her whole world,” my mom would say.
And now she was alone and afraid and I just wanted to be able to crawl into that cage with her.
“The doctors are doing rounds and you’ll have to wait,” was all the receptionist would say to me. Over and over.
Which I tolerated, for a bit. But all I could think about was Peanut, back there fighting for her life, thinking her momma deserted her. She had already suffered alone, for hours, while they were doing their shift change. And she wasn’t getting any better. I knew she needed me.
“I’m sorry, but I need to speak with a doctor. Now.” I finally insisted.
“You’re gonna have to wait, they’re busy,” was the cold response.
At that moment, I knew I had a choice: the hospital’s comfort level, or Peanut’s.
I could sit there quietly and be easy, or do the right thing and be a pain in their ass. My love for Peanut had to come first.
“I’m sorry, but I’m the only person here, and my baby is in distress. I don’t want to do this, but I’m not going away. I HAVE to see someone. NOW.”
It was a conscious decision, to have my own Terms of Endearment, “Give my daughter the shot” moment. My only regret was not doing it sooner.
“That’s how you show your love,” reads one YouTube comment of that famous scene. “Love doesn’t mean hugging or saying I love you. Love means being able to empathize with the person you love when that person’s pain is unbearable as if it was your own. Or maybe more.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Peanut died a couple hours later, seeing my face and hearing my voice begging the doctor to help her. It was not what I wanted, and I ask myself every day if there was anything I could have done better. But I don’t think I could have forgiven myself if I’d been patiently waiting in the waiting room when it happened. At least she knew her momma loved her.
Doing the right thing is rarely easy. It’s often messy. Life is messy, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.