Yes, it’s true. I’ve been in love so many times I’ve lost count. I fall in love at the drop of a hat. At first eye contact, or sometimes at first touch. Maybe it takes until the first snuggle or the first kiss, but I guarantee, I will be in love. Oh yes, I will be in love. Some people would say I fall in love too easily, but I’m not sure. I’ve been told I am destined for a broken heart, and yes, that has happened more times than I would like over my lifetime. But I can’t help myself. I just can’t.
I can’t even remember my first love. I think it was my grandmother’s cat, Mister, who wounded me once with all four claws of one paw drawing red stripes down my shin, but I forgave him right away (it was my fault; I was bothering him). Or was it our dog Brownie or our later dog, Skipper? I loved that dog so much! Maybe it was my first pony ride, when I decided that I just HAD to have a horse or two in my life always. Or the guinea pig? Or the wild bunnies we raised from babies that the dog brought home one day? Or the birds that I learned all the names of when they would alight at the feeder, pestering my grandmother to no end until she finally told me I had to look them up myself in the bird book?
No matter. I loved them all, each a distinct individual, each with qualities to love. I loved the birds for their color and entertainment and their ability to fly. I loved the cats for their mysterious eyes and wise disposition and the occasional cuddle. I loved the dogs for their fierce loyalty and their doggie sense of humor and the wet, silly kisses. (Skipper even let me use her as a pillow.) I loved the bunnies, the cats, the dogs, the horses. I loved the toads I collected and the salamanders in the creek. I cried when I learned that Blackie the Pig (who belonged to a friend’s family) was going to slaughter eventually. I loved Blackie, too.
I’ve lived where I live for over 30 years now, and there are bodies buried all over my place; bodies of loved ones that I’ve outlived. That’s the trouble with animal family members – their lifespans are so much shorter than ours. There is an old Irish adage, “Three horses for the life of a man.” Even our longer-lived horses don’t live long enough to suit us. But to be a caretaker of such beautiful souls is an honor and a privilege that I wouldn’t trade, even though losing them is extremely painful. I have lost dogs and horses and cats in the past, and each and every one of them was special and the grief of losing them was keen. My first Irish Setter, Bumper. My shaman cat, Howard. My first horse and teacher, Dusty Rhodes. My big Palomino, Red. My Gordon Setter, Fionn. My Springer Spaniel, Barney. Many other pets, who just don’t have the long life we humans enjoy. It is excruciating every time. They say the depth of the grief is equal to the depth of the love. My grief has been very deep. Even the loss of wildlife personalities during my rehabilitation efforts takes a toll on my heart. One may well wonder why I repeatedly subject myself to the heartbreak.
In the past 3 years, the losses have been great in my animal family. I have lost my big black Percheron mare Connie, my beautiful 20-lb. steel grey cat Moby (ah, my feline love), my giant 13-lb. rabbit Gandalf the Grey, my ginger cat Calvin, my calico beauty Bitty Boudicca (Boobah for short), and my second beloved Irish Setter Connor. Yes, the losses have been great, and with the death of my Alf, my equine partner and best friend, they seem almost unbearable.
It will be 4 months tomorrow since Alf died, and I still find at times that I can’t talk about him without my heart squeezing up and the tears pushing out. Would I have traded my life with Alf so as to not feel this terrible, haunting grief? Never; not a chance. As one of my garden tombstones reminds me, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” I’d say it’s well worth it to have been blessed with such loving devotion, the unconditional love that only our animal companions can give, if even for a brief time. The love I shared with Alf was worth this sorrow, worth every day of heartbreak now that he’s gone. And so it is with all the others, in their own way.
I feel that my lifespan is longer because I am here to tend my corner of the Garden, as we all are, and with great power comes great responsibility. I am meant to see these beautiful souls in and out of the world and hope that, in exchange for their love and loyalty, I can help make their brief lives joyful and serene. They deserve that, for all of the gifts they shower on us by their living.
No, I can’t stop falling in love. And I don’t think I want to, because for all the heartbreak, there is tremendous joy in my life as I give and receive love. The Love Exchange. Love is the answer to all of my questions. Love is the reason we came here. Love is divine, and I will never shut it out. Yes, it ends someday. No one gets out of this life alive, after all. Yes, my heart is broken, with each and every loss. But it seems that with every heartbreak, I grow a bigger, stronger heart that has even more to give. Somehow I don’t think that’s a bad thing.