Feb 09 2015
A friend and I were talking about crazy pet stories the other day, and she reminded me about talk that introduced us to “Cholo, the Pet that Would Not Die.” It was such a bizarre tale that I had no idea how I had ever forgotten it.
Cholo was a black and white mutt of indeterminate lineage. He lived an unremarkable life, right up until the day he got mowed down by a car. The family loved their little dog, but his skull had been fractured in the accident and one eyeball had popped out. They could see brain matter dripping out of his head, and it was obvious that the little fellow was not going to survive.
As much as they didn’t want to do it, the family knew that the most humane thing they could do for Cholo was to put him out of his misery. They could not afford to take him to the vet to have him put down, so they did the best they could do.
They didn’t want for him to just lie there suffering until he died, so they grabbed a gun and a shovel and took poor Cholo out into the desert. They didn’t just shoot Cholo once. Oh no. They shot him five times to make sure he was out of his misery. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Then they buried him in the desert and sorrowfully went home.
A week later they opened their front door and to their horror found Cholo sitting on their doorstep. He had regained consciousness. His eyeball had somehow popped back into its socket. He still had five bullets lodged in his little body, but he had been able to extricate himself from his grave and find his way home from the desert to the people who had lovingly tried to do what was best for him on the day of his “death.”
The family, realizing that by “helping” poor Cholo they had actually caused a whole lot of harm, took every penny they had, bundled up the little dog, and took him to the vet. They only hoped the vet could undo the damage they had done in their efforts to do the right thing for their beloved family pet.
The vet was the person who told the story. He reported that despite the little dog’s car accident and the family’s subsequent attempts to help him, Cholo was actually in pretty good shape. He said that the family did not need to give their life’s savings to repair the damage they had caused. They were able to take Cholo home, and all was well.
Dogs are the most forgiving of animals. I can’t see a cat coming home to a family that had shot it five times and buried it in the desert. But how often do we do the same thing as Cholo’s owners do? I’ve never shot a dog once, much less five times — but in my own ham-handed way, I try all the time to do the right thing and instead do something that is exactly the opposite of what I have intended to do.
Life is a minefield. Does the young mother whose child recently died want a word of condolence, or is this the day she has said she can make it through church if only nobody mentions her loss? Does the recent widow want to laugh, or does she want you to share her grief? Does the mother of the bedridden child want to talk about the burden she is carrying, or does she want to forget it for just a moment?
It’s a temptation in such situations to just say nothing, but that causes problems of a different sort. A few years ago a dear friend died suddenly, leaving her husband to mourn her loss. The husband mentioned months later that most of his former friends had pretty much forgotten him, choosing to take the easy way out and not risk offense by avoiding him completely.
I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but I can tell you one thing — I always, always do the wrong thing in any given situation. You can call me Cholo’s Mom. I am the one who puts the bullets in the gun. I pull the trigger myself.
(Parenthetically, who shot that little dog anyway, so that not one of the five bullets hit any major organ? Somebody here is really, really inept.)
As I have grown older and, hopefully, wiser, I am learning that the reason I keep getting in trouble for saying the wrong thing sometimes is because I choose to say anything at all. In the act of offering love to people who are undergoing trials in their lives, we often forget that philosopher Paul McTillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
The hard part about listening is that a lot of times the people you are listening to aren’t actually talking. They speak with nonverbal cues that have nothing whatsoever to do with speech. It is hard to remember to let people speak nonverbally instead of running all over that nonverbal conversation with words like a rhinoceros, because you’re too blind to see the part of the conversation that doesn’t have words.
I am a good rhinoceros, sometimes. I can trample nonverbal conversations just as effectively as I can shoot wounded dogs five times and then bury them in deserts to put them out of their misery, even though I have never shot an actual gun. It’s all part of trying to help, and then doing exactly the wrong thing.
But I am not completely untrainable. Recently I have been trying to stand back and wait for those verbal cues. Or when I say something, I try to make sure that the first thing out of my mouth is not something relating to the tragedy at hand. I do not always succeed, because there is that inner rhinoceros and he is big. His first instinct is to trample, and he is hard to control.
Then, when I have trampled someone’s feelings and made things worse, I gallop away, hating myself for a week or even more because someone who was smarter or wiser or kinder would have known how to be a better friend. But alas, I have only been Kathy for all these years, and the older I get, the more Kathy-like I become.
But I have also been on Cholo’s end of the exchange. Well-meaning friends have tried to help me and have done just the opposite. I remember the visiting teacher I had, years ago, who was determined she could help me lose weight if I knew more about diet and exercise — even though I had forgotten more about nutrition than she ever knew.
The interesting thing about her unwanted and unsolicited advice was that she closed every visit by giving me a plate of highly caloric treats that were made with ingredients Fluffy and I would never have eaten. I tried to thank her graciously for the stuff every month, and then we threw it into the trash. We always shook our heads at the mixed messages she sent, and I tried not to be upset. I did not always succeed.
I want to always be as forgiving as Cholo. After reading his story again last week, I am going to work on it some more. But just as much, I am going to work on trying to really help the people I want to help. I want to help people the way they need help — not the way that my first easy impulse tells me to help them.
After all, the rhinoceros Kathy and the spiritual Kathy could have two distinctly different ideas when it comes to the help people actually need. The rhinoceros Kathy may be louder, but the Kathy who listens to the still small voice is the one whose ideas should be trusted.