Sense and Sensitivity

July 9, 2008
What I Did on My Summer Vacation
August 27, 2008

Sense and Sensitivity

I’ve heard it called emotional incontinence, crying at commercials, greeting cards, the mention of crying. This inhibition of the tear ducts often accompanies a head injury, as if there isn’t enough to weep about after trauma causes brain waves to misfire.

Long before my AVM burst into my gray matter, I reached for the tissue box. When I was young, Charlotte’s Web set me off. Actually, it still does. Then there was the fire station siren. How I hoped, each time it rang out, that there was a neighborhood cat stuck in a tree not a neighbor’s house in flames. I prefer to think of my responses as, not weepy, but sensitive.

My reaction to the squirrel should have come as no surprise, then. It was a common gray squirrel, the kind I shoo from the birdfeeder. When I passed it while walking the dog, it wasn’t common at all. It was a lone creature struggling on the side of the road, half on his back. Only its front paws moved. Clawing at the pavement, it couldn’t right itself, couldn’t move forward, couldn’t get out of the road. I paused. It lifted its head and gazed at me. I think I terrified it even more.

The tears streamed. In that instant when our eyes met, I connected to its strife, to its effort to survive, witnessing in that small squirrel the struggle in us all. I saw burning homes to to Darfur. I grieved for them. I grieved because, what could I do? Drive to yoga class with a Not On My Watch bumper sticker? How does that touch even one life in strain?

It took effort to move, not because of stiff muscles. I wanted to stay and ease its pain. Moving on seemed all I could do, though. I didn’t have a box or a towel. I wasn’t close to any houses. It wasn’t in me to try to end its suffering by ending its life. I left it, at least easing its fear of me and the dog.

The squirrel likely died by the time I returned home. I leaned on the door, still crying. It was too big, this injured animal revealing first-hand the plight of a starving, raped, violent nation on the other side of the world.

The dog peered at me, sat by my feet. I gave her an extra cookie. I hugged my husband a minute or two longer than usual, read a story – and then another one – to my son. I wrote a letter to the city and requested that they lower the speed limit on that street. It’s curvy and hard to see, though that wouldn’t have saved that squirrel. But it may keep a child on a bike safer from careening cars. At my desk, as I addressed the envelope, I wondered if I can do my part.

When I allow myself to be in the moment, even if that moment brings tears, I’m allowing awareness. With awareness I can bring balance back, even if only within me and those around me. My yoga can’t reach Darfur. In the words of another bumper sticker, though, I can think globally but act locally.

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