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Across the Divide
Trudy gives lessons in love
I have often said that everything I know about love I have learned from my animals. There were many dogs, one or two cats, several horses, and even my sister’s goats and sheep. They have all taught me so much, even sometimes by showing me things about myself I didn’t like. There is no resentment or judgement in their teaching. They just live in the moment with complete honesty.
When I think of honesty, I think of Trudy. That mare doesn’t mince words. If she doesn’t like you, or at least doesn’t like you in the moment, you know it. But when she loves you, you know that too. It touches my heart so deeply because I know that means, in her view, I have earned it. Even with all my imperfections and despite my many mistakes, Trudy has decided that I am still loveable.
People can’t always show love with the same ease that animals do.
Many years ago, I was young, not long out of the Air Force, living in Southern California and struggling. I’d been laid off from a good paying job and was having trouble finding anything but hourly work. I was barely making enough to eat and pay rent and everything else was lapsing. In the midst of all that, my car was stolen, and my house broken into. I felt discouraged and lost and frightened. I was questioning my entire direction in life and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
For a time, I moved in with my uncle as I tried to pull myself together. He was a retired Navy officer, living the bachelor life near the beach just north of San Diego. He gave me his spare room and his support and even some of his cash. He was incredibly generous, and I’ve never forgotten how he helped me.
As much as I loved him and was grateful for him, my uncle was a complicated man. As with all the men in my dad’s family, alcohol played a big part in his life. After growing up with my dad’s drinking before he got sober, I wasn’t comfortable with my uncle drinking himself into oblivion most nights. It was hard for me to watch and, if I’m being honest, it scared me.
Eventually I pulled up stakes and moved across the country to New York, and began a whole new chapter. My uncle and I fell out of regular touch and even though I moved back to California a few years ago, we never reconnected. I sent a card once or twice, but he never responded. A chasm had grown between us and in my head, I wondered if maybe he was angry that I had not paid back some money he lent me. I honestly can’t remember what or if I owed him anything, but I probably did. Maybe he felt I had disrespected him and was glad to see the back of me.
But more likely, he was just content to know that I had recovered and was getting on with my life as he was getting on with his. I made peace with that. He had helped me when I desperately needed help. That was the truth of it. He owed me nothing and I felt I had no right to intrude on his life if he chose not to invite me.
A few weeks ago, as I drove back from a short vacation at the beach, he suddenly came into my mind, and I wondered if we would ever see each other again. Later that night he popped up in a dream I was having. He didn’t really do or say anything, was just there.
A few days later, I was notified of his death. He had died the day after I dreamt of him.
After finding out about his death, my siblings and I were left with trying to figure out what to do. He had no children, no spouse, no heirs, and no will. As I am the closest geographically it has fallen to me to manage his funeral and the settling of his estate. And that feels right.
This is how I repay him. This is how I show my gratitude.
My uncle was not perfect, he was not a saint. He was a human comprised of both light and dark, greatness and flaws. But as I’ve learned from Trudy, I accept that and I love him. We are family.
Maybe it’s not true that everything I know about love I learned from my animals. Maybe animals just showed me how to love more honestly and with more ease.
Maybe they just made me better at it.