Permission from a pig

EstherAnyone who knows me knows that I have fallen in love with Esther the Wonder Pig. This social media superstar is a real pig – who, just three years ago, as a tiny piglet, somehow escaped the horrific factory farm system and made her way to Steve and Derek, two men with hearts as wide open and big as the sky.

Steve and Derek quickly realized a couple things:
1) Esther was no family-pet-style mini-pig. She was a commercial pig, bred to grow quickly and become food.
2) Esther was not food. She was family, part of the brood of pets in Steven and Derek’s Toronto home.

Because she was not food, Steven and Derek questioned what else they had considered to be food.
They knew the dark side of the world’s industrialized factory farming, but had never really delved into it. Now they did. Within weeks of Esther joining their clan, Steve and Derek became vegan. Esther and all animal-based foods were literally no longer on the table.

And then Steven and Derek, affectionately called the Dads, did all manner of brave and outrageous things.

Esther became the “spokes pig” for their message of veganism and kindness to all creatures on earth. The Dads began to share photos of their giant house pig (Esther is now 700 pounds) along with witty, heartwarming and engaging comments on social media. Esther now has an ardent global following of almost half a million people and has inspired many people – me included – to adopt a vegan diet.

Keeping Esther in her Toronto home was a municipal violation. So the Dads decided to open an animal sanctuary called Happily Ever Esther. They crowdfunded the purchase of a farm and raised far more than the $400,000 they were asking for – all from strangers.

Esther and her dads have been in the news and on the news all over the world. Celebrities have come to visit her. People flock to see her, make donations and passionately share her story.

I’ve wondered often what has made Esther the Wonder Pig such an incredibly popular phenomena. After all, there are loads of cute animals on social media. There’s a ton of funny stuff too, and vegan recipes and calls to action against animal cruelty abound on the internet. So what is the magic of Esther and her Dads?

I believe it’s the permission they give us. The permission we rarely are given (or take!) to be ourselves.
To love openly.
To be vulnerable.
To ask for help.
To be kind and generous.
To care desperately.
To be authentic.
To be different.
To be brave.
To dream.
To challenge the status quo.
To embrace and welcome others.

It’s a marvelous gift. And when you receive it and open it up, you automatically pass it on to others.

So wave your freak flags, love and shine on!

That last time

When I was a little girl, my father moved to Germany. Before the Internet and cheap long distance calling, letter writingairmail was our chief way of keeping in touch. How I loved and dreaded seeing those familiar, thin, blue, air-mail envelopes with his spidery handwriting in our mailbox. Dreaded because he wrote increasingly morose or chiding messages as his own unhappiness and alcoholism consumed him. Loved because he was my father and I wanted to love him.

My father died in Germany more than 11 years ago. We never had a service for him and I don’t even know where his grave is.

For months after his death, I would go to my mailbox still hoping for a card or letter from him. As seasons and milestones passed with no message, the finality of his death sank in.

Last night I dreamed that I received a stack of letters from my father. The letters had somehow gone astray and were finally reaching me these many years after his death. My dream self shuffled the letters, hesitant to read what was in them. Then I said aloud:

Sometimes it’s best if you don’t know it’s the last time. It’s best if you don’t know it’s the last time you’ll see someone. Or the last time you’ll go to a favourite place. Or the last time you’ll do something you love. If you knew it was the last time, it would break your heart and you couldn’t enjoy that last time. If I read these letters, I know it will be the last time I ever read a letter from him.

I cannot remember the last letter I received from my father. I am glad I didn’t know then that it would be the last. It would have broken my heart.

It all comes down to this

 In her last two years, my mother was plagued with increasing poor health and dementia.

Her move from living in her own house to a quasi-nursing home was swift and dramatic. I bundled her home with me on Christmas Day so I could help her get over a flu bug and by New Year’s Eve she was sipping “champagne” at Victoria Place retirement home.

We whittled her many possessions down to what was most precious to her. We filled her one new room with books, photo albums, vases, some paintings, a chair and a large cabinet. I also stashed many of her endless crafting supplies in the nursing home’s rec room, but my mother never touched them again.

Everything else, including her house and car, was given to family members or charity or sold.

A month before my mother died, I had a birthday party for her and invited all her friends. I brought her mother’s vase to the nursing home and filled it with lilacs. My mother could no longer recognize some of the people at the party, but she exclaimed over the vase and was lost in memories of her mother, of lilacs, of birthdays past, of the vase and of bringing it to Canada.

In her last week, my mother was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The only possession she ever expressed any concern for was her false teeth. Where were they? Could she have them in?   

Eventually she slipped into a coma and her teeth were taken out. It was just my mom then – naked under a sheet in a mercilessly sunny hospital room with her family and her dearest friend at her side.  

That’s what your life comes down to. You. Your experiences. And the people you love.Image

Namaste, divine child

I remember when I finally got it, really got it, that my mother had been a child once too. I had heard my mother’s stories about her childhood and understood intellectually that she had been a girl, had had parents, had grown up. But in my mind’s eye, she was always and only my mother – important and yet only tangential to my needs.

That childish view continued until I moved away from home and disengaged from the complicated child-parent relationship. I began to see my mother as another human being in her own right. When that happened, I could also finally understand that she too had been a child once.

And there, for the first time, I found a common ground with her.

I remembered what it was like to be a child – small, vulnerable, dependent, innocent, evolving. Seeing her in that light allowed me to love my mother in a new and unconditional way.

I live in the downtown core of my city where all the social services are housed. I see a lot of people, many of whom are referred to as the “the dregs” or bottom rung of society. They are the homeless, mentally ill, elderly, physically and mentally handicapped, poor, addicted, immigrant.

And they too were someone’s child once. That thin, dirty man picking cigarette butts out of the gutter and arguing with himself was someone’s baby boy. The meth-addicted prostitute whooping in the moonlight was someone’s little girl.

When I encounter people (particularly people who may be challenging to be with for whatever reason), acknowledging the child that was and the child that is still within them helps me to find our common ground.

It’s my version of Namaste, except in my version the child in me recognizes the child in them. The result is still a divine recognition.

Happy birthday to my mom, who came screaming into this world 84 years ago today. I wish you could have stayed longer.

Happy birthday to my mom, who came screaming into this world 84 years ago today. I wish you could have stayed longer.

Egos and asses

donkey sanctuary 026This summer I went to The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada – a beautiful working farm where donkeys that have been abandoned or abused can live out their days in comfort. The Sanctuary’s website warns, “Be prepared to be charmed” for good reason.

The donkeys at the Sanctuary are used to visitors and seem to love being patted, brushed and generally adored.

On my first visit to the Sanctuary, a donkey named Misty took a shine to me. She laid her head on my chest, rubbing her ears and cheeks on me. Then she put her head on my shoulder breathing rhythmically in my ear. I was enchanted. I felt special, chosen.

A few weeks after that visit, I eagerly returned to The Donkey Sanctuary to see if Misty and I were still an item or if it had all been a fluke.

Spotting me, Misty strolled over and laid her big head heavily on my shoulder. I happily wrapped my hands around her ears and rubbed her forehead. This was proof to me that I was indeed the donkey whisperer.

Then one of the Sanctuary’s volunteers rushed over declaring “I am concerned about Misty’s behaviour. This is aggressive. Please step away!” She would not accept my protests that Misty and I had a special, cross-species love. Oh no. Eventually I was sorrowfully convinced to “move away from the donkey.”

And so, once again in my life, what I thought was love turned out to be nothing more than some ass trying to dominate me! Ba dum bum.

And here, my friends, is your wise nugget for this post. If my ego hadn’t been so thoroughly engaged, could Misty have made such an ass of me?

Love doesn’t hurt

I’ve been single and dating for about 35 years. I cannot begin to count the number of hours I’ve spent first revisiting each thrilling moment with whomever was my newest love interest and then, soon enough, miserably dissecting the meaning behind his every word and action looking for a clue about how he felt  and where our relationship was going.  

For me, the first flush of “love” was so heady, a giggle in my tummy, a big, old endorphin rush, brain-soaking-in-chemicals, walking-on-air high. I would be obsessed and infatuated and fully charged. The feeling was deliciously addictive and it was easy to want to fall in “love” with that mysterious, smouldering stranger or smiling sweetie who made me feel soooooo good.   Image

But here’s the trouble with highs and addictions – they have a dark side. The high doesn’t last forever. Eventually I’d crash. I’d hurt. I’d be confused, needy, exposed. That’s not love.  

Now I know better.

Real love doesn’t hurt. With real love, you feel great. You’re sure of your own feelings and your partner’s. You treat each other with care and respect. Everything isn’t perfect, but anything is doable and manageable.  

Real love is not a drug. Real love is sustenance. It nourishes your soul and your life.