Porch

One week ago, I sat on my porch and watched a diagonal thunderstorm. Branches and leaves flailed violently and I’m not sure the thunder ever stopped—instead it hummed low like an idling truck with shocks of explosions here and there. Its growl never stopped, though.

Out there on my porch, I stayed awake the entire night. I sat on the porch through the whole storm which stopped around 2:30 in the morning. I love a good storm, but I love night sounds even more. Night birds seem to have a more glottal call. Or is it sadder? Heavier? Their voices move like fog across the grass.

On that porch, I’d tossed several logs of wood into a rusty fire pit so the flames would keep me company. They were logs I’d chopped on my own from a tree that had fallen in my backyard during Tropical Storm Imelda. It took me months to finally do something with it. I knew before she fell that her foundation was shotty—that the right kind of angry wind would finally break her. I should have done something sooner, but I didn’t know what to do. Instead, and as I reluctantly anticipated, she finally fell. Of course then I really didn’t know what to do so after neglecting her for months, I finally decided to chop her up into as many pieces as I could. 

I watched those pieces burn. I watched them spark and smoke while they hissed and popped. If I’d have given them any, I could’ve told you every log’s name. I remember how it felt to axe each one. I remember which ones made me cry. I remember which ones made me feel strong. I remember with which one I finally got the hang of it. Now they simply burned.

Next to the porch with the fire and the logs, my little duck, Dorothy sat floofed atop her nest as her eggs hatched. Quite literally they hatched through the night—through the storm, the grumbling thunder, the night sounds and the wild, darting embers. Between the sounds, I’d hear small peeps from under her fluff. The next time, there’d be more.

I couldn’t leave her out there alone. I know that out in the world, ducks hatch alone, but I couldn’t not be there. Maybe it was me that needed her more than she needed me. I told my friends that I stayed out there to protect her from predators because there are many—and it’s true, that was the reason I went out there in the first place and dragged my rusty fire pit with me along with frumpy, splintery logs—to keep watch over her. But a week later as I think about that night, something tells me she would’ve been fine without me. Or not. I don’t know.

I stayed on the porch with my boots propped on the edge of the firepit until a dusty blue sunrise gathered behind the rain-battered trees. Dorothy was used to me being there by then and let her ducklings out despite my presence. Nine little lives emerged from beneath her and as a small group, they ventured about two feet into the yard to lay together in the wet grass. They nipped each other’s beaks, shook their heads, and stayed very close to their mom.

It was then I was able to see the shells from which the ducklings hatched. Carnage. Shells cracked, torn, layers dangling, juices stale. Those small, fuzzy, peeping creatures did that. I’ve found nests sadly ravaged by rats but I gotta say, they got nothing on the strength of these ducklings. Rats’ll crack an egg. A duckling will destroy it. A mess of brokenness two feet away from a brand new pile of eyes seeing the world for the first time. They were here because of their strength, will, and perseverance. They were here because they were loved.

—-

I’ve tried a dozen times at least in the past week to sit down and write this story—to find the words to share with y’all about the beauty, wonder, and frankly, weirdness of an all-nighter on the porch in the rain with my fire and my duck. But every time I’ve started to write something, the words escape me. Actually, it’s not that they escape, they’re just not there. One week ago, the world seemed like a different place. And in a lot of ways, it is, but in some ways, not at all.

I’m not sure I’ve said what I want to say. I’ve even debated posting it, wondering if it’s not the right time. I’ve decided to because even in all of this, there are small ducks. In all of this, under a little porch in the rain, there are small ducks. 

Life is so, so fragile. It is so fragile and it is always worth firghting for.

I love you.

Broken but Still Blooming

Sometime last year, I found a blooming whisper beneath a broken gutter. She brought a pale yet warm light to an otherwise dank, dark place and I left in absolute awe of her strength, will, and bravery. I’d forgotten about her until an aimless wander yesterday which led me to her again. My girl, I am wonderstruck.

Here is a link to that story: https://adonkumentary.com/2019/09/29/broken/

And here she is today. I am so, so proud.

In Orbit

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on a clear, late-spring day in Texas which means that it’s painfully bright outside. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for the sunshine, but it’s times like this I wish I’d just go ahead and get myself some prescription sunglasses. In quarantine, I have yet to wear my contacts and I don’t intend to start unless I absolutely have to. The problem with having shaky hands is that even mundane tasks like putting in your contacts are often frustrating enough to set your mood up to be annoyed and grumpy for the rest of the day.

I’m outside tinkering in my garden which is already yielding the best tomato crop I’ve ever, ever had. From between the leaves that I’m pruning, I look over at my sweet donkeys three on the other side of the fence and let out a sigh of silly relief. They all three had their hooves done yesterday and I’m not sure why, but I absolutely obsess over the health of their hooves. (Not in a healthy, responsible pet-owner who should care about the health of all their animals kind of way…no…this is utter, panicky obsession). I worry every single time that my (amazing) farrier will see something terribly, terribly wrong with their hooves. I don’t know why. I actually lose sleep over this. It’s a worry I’ve latched onto which at this point in my life, I realize is 1) a part of the larger anxiety/OCD/panic disorder that I’ve been wired with since I was born and 2) always worsened when I’m going through something or distracting myself from dealing with something (consciously or subconsciously). But they’re all fine. They’re all just fine. Happy and healthy, from their ears to their hooves, and so for a while, I can let out that anxious breath I’ve been holding onto.

In a row along the table in my garden, I’ve lined up the tomatoes that were ready for picking and there are 29. 29! That’s in addition to the 17 three days ago. I’m so proud. I’m so incredibly proud of both the plants for just straight up kicking ass and also of myself for (literally) being able to reap the fruits of my labor. It is so, so satisfying. 

And geeze do I need something to feel good about right now. Don’t we all? 

Whoever you are reading this here blog, I know you’re going through some varying degree of discomfort, stress, fear, worry, grieving, frustrated, sick, recovering, or mourning that the rest of the world is experiencing in one way or another, so I don’t have much to add to that topic.

Instead, I’d like to add that we’re all spending a whole lot more time with ourselves than we’re probably used to and so space is becoming tight and certainly uncomfortable. And for many of us, that means having to use a kitchen knife to finally pry open a puffy scar on your arm that has a nasty infection brewing underneath it but haven’t dealt with because you know the second you pour antiseptic on it, it’s doing to hurt like the dickens. But now you’ve had a fever for six weeks, so time to bite the washcloth and dig in, I guess.

And as expected: it. effing. hurts.

But look, what matters is that you’re opening that shit up and giving it the air that it desperately needs. Will it heal all the way? Probably not, but maybe. Who knows? How long will it take? Don’t worry about that (ha, I get the irony of that last statement 😛 ). Just let the air in. Give it the right kind of medicine. Let it breathe. Contact a professional if it’s beyond control. And most importantly, know that you are brave for facing your pain no matter how bad it hurts. 

Also, let out long sighs every once in a while, even if it’s not necessarily attached to something you’re able to “let go” of. (I hate the term “just let it go” like, wowza, brilliant solution. I hadn’t thought of that, thank you! I’ll just unclench my fist, let it sail into the wind, and frolic through a fucking wheat field with perfect beach hair under a cute boho hat because I LET IT GO).

Let out an exhale because it feels good. It just feels good. If something attaches to it (like okay great, I know that at least TODAY my donkey’s hooves are fine but I know after the next time it rains and they’re walking around in mud I’ll inevitably panic), well then, great. Let that go with your breath. But do not hold that expectation of having to let things go and solve every problem over yourself. That is false-positivity and incredibly toxic, especially to the most vulnerable. 

Sigh.

As a weird (and sophomoric) side note, I’ve connected with most of you by way of social media and I should let y’all know that I have closed down my Facebook account—not just my Donkumentary page, but my personal one, too. I loathe Facebook. I get the importance of it for growing and sustaining businesses, but I was at the point of being downright mad every time I logged in and so, (as it goes) I put on my cute hat and frolicked through a field barefoot as I let Facebook go. (side note…do people not worry about ticks out there running around in fields?)

The closure of my Facebook page also comes at a time where I’m beginning to wonder if this here Donkumentary (in its current form) has run its course. If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you may recall that I started this 5 years ago when I moved away from my hometown for the first time as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back home. Then I took up a fascination of and love for donkeys and had to tell the world about it. But there are a lot of wonderful and more consistent, dedicated, and expert resources out there and specifically, many good books and essays that talk about the wisdom of donkeys and how they’ve changed people’s lives and symbolize the misunderstood and stereotyped. So I don’t want to be redundant. My life is completely different than it was five years ago in both incredibly empowering but also very difficult ways and so I have to ask myself, “what do I need?”

I hang out on Instagram pretty regularly so if you’re on that platform and want to keep up, you can find me at the handle: adonkumentary. You can also message / email me. I love that kind of stuff. Digital pen-pals, as it is.

Perhaps this wonder is coming from this place of social distance and isolation (although I’ve never really been comfortably social) or perhaps it’s brewing because the entire, literal world is undergoing a massive black-hole of change and is pulling me and my small bliggity-blip-of-a-blog into its gravitational orbit. I don’t know. I still love donkeys. I still love telling stories. I still strive to break the stigma over mental health. I still want to sell my cute books to raise awareness about bullying and donkeys while supporting a really great cause. But. Change is a thing. So, who knows. I’ll take my time. My mom always warns me about being impulsive and even though I’m in my early 30s, she still calls me out on it. So mom, you can exhale 😉  

Sigh.

I’ll leave you with this: a song someone sent me just earlier today that I just think is great. ❤ 

 

 

Love you.
Jess

 

Brakes

I’ve no idea the time of day. Through the slits in the shutters it’s light, but dim. Maybe it’s cloudy or maybe we’re dipping towards the evening. I really have no idea. Although I can’t see them, I know my eyes are swollen because even that dusty blue light trickling in burns the backs of my eyeballs. I’m not a cinematically pretty crier. Blotches. Snot. Puffy eyes. Real-life, y’all. I let out a long sigh (something I haven’t been able to do for hours now), adjust the heavy comforter around my neck and close my eyes once more. My throat is sandpaper.

However many hours ago it was (more than 4, I know this much) my body snowballed into a full-blown panic attack. Snowball might not be the right term…more like instantly transported. Appeared then reappeared like a subatomic particle. Was not and then *poof!* was. Anyway, I say my body and not my mind because throughout the whole episode, my head stayed surprisingly in the right place. Instead, my body and primal instincts completely overwhelmed all of my systems and nothing my brain, sense, or breathing could do or say was enough to be heard by my instincts. The bullet train had left the station and there was no catching it.

I’ve had panic attacks before. Real panic attacks. Real, crippling episodes of utter chaos. They’re almost always random and not in response to some in-process circumstance. They’re always terrifying and they always take time to realize what’s actually happening. Being someone who was diagnosed with a panic disorder years ago, I’ve learned that it’s damn near impossible to explain the realities of panic attacks to those who’ve never experienced (or witnessed a loved one experience) them. They’re often written off as just being anxious. Overreacting. Being dramatic. Hey just breathe. Just try and breathe. 

I’m not laying in my own bed which in a weird way, I’m grateful for. On the one hand, my own bed would offer the safety and seclusion of home, the view of my donkeys outside the bedroom window, the chattering of ducks and chickens in the yard (all my critters which tether me to the planet), and the knowledge of being completely alone which my ego would certainly prefer. Panic attacks are not pretty. I hate to use the word humiliating but laying in this bed with a swollen face and wearing an old t-shirt of my little brother’s because mine is somewhere on the floor in the bathroom covered in vomit is, well, awfully vulnerable and difficult to have anyone else witness. The loss of all rational function and contrast between mind and body is…what’s the word…otherworldly. An out-of-body experience but also weirdly, deeply, internally intimate. 

On the other hand, had I been alone, I’d have believed I was having a heart attack or a breakdown and no doubt would have called an ambulance and ended up in the ER. Thankfully, I’m at my parent’s house. If there’s one person who has seen me at my absolute worst, raw, and real, it’s my mom. Fate, I suppose, held off on cutting the wires of the elevator sending it plunging to the ground until I was with her.

With my eyes closed, I try to relax all the little muscles around my eyes and the lines along my neck but just as soon as I consciously let them go and jump to thinking of something else, they’re tense again. My jaw. My brow. Even my guts. All of my insides have banded together. I imagine all my organs clenching one another to try and keep safe from an imminent attack — see because that’s what my body has told them to do. Danger is near and we are either going to run or battle. There’s something calming in imagining they all have little arms so they can group hug. Sweet body. I imagine my liver is scared not having her gallbladder friend to hold onto. Maybe pancreas has stepped in. She is known as the most empathetic organ, afterall. 😛 

Here’s what a panic attack is NOT:

  • Worrying too much
  • Overreacting
  • Overthinking
  • A sign of weakness
  • Just your anxiety
  • Being scared
  • Being dramatic
  • Something you can just relax away from
  • Something you can just distract yourself from
  • Something you can talk your way out of or breathe deeply to make go away
  • Something WRONG with or about you
  • A sign that you’re too emotional
  • A sign that you’re too sensitive
  • And let me repeat: A PANIC ATTACK IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS

Here’s what is actually happening during a panic attack:

  • Your body & mind have triggered its “fight or flight” response which is not a mental function but instead, a physiological one
  • Something has triggered this response. It could be something real-time (a near-miss car accident, being mugged in an alley, someone jumping out of a dark room to scare you etc) or it could be something stored in your brain somewhere. Maybe it’s a response to long term and unrelenting stress. Maybe it’s stored up trauma. Maybe it’s a phobia you forgot about or didn’t realize was there. Maybe it’s a suppressed event which you can’t even recall but physiologically is still quite active in your mind.
  • Your instincts (and subsequently entire body) go into survival mode which triggers a complex, impressive, and instant hormonal chain reaction
  • Your brain sends signals through your sympathetic nervous system which pumps your body full of adrenaline (imagine flooring the gas pedal in your car) so everything speeds up. Heart rate. Breathing (because literally your airways widen). Blood pressure. Blood to the muscles. Senses become sharper. Even blood sugar reserves are released. And keep in mind, this happens instantly before your eyes and ears have even processed any sort of threat.

What SHOULD happen after a panic attack (or once the threat has been mitigated) is that the parasympathetic nervous system (the brakes, if you will) should return your body back to homeostasis. But where I guess the disorder kicks in is in the imbalance of these two systems: the gas and the brakes. Someone cut the brake lines (much like the below video for you Always Sunny fans.) Dammit Charlie. Wildcard! 

 

I flip over in this guest room bed and pull the blanket over my head. This has been by far the worst attack I’ve ever had. Most of them last no more than an hour. There’s not a specific thing or ritual that pulls me down from them. I think it’s usually just within an hour (or two) my parasympathetic nerves start to breathe and a bit or normalcy returns. This time was different. It wasn’t until I eventually passed out from pure exhaustion that I suppose things were able to begin resetting. For the hour before I fell asleep / passed out (whatever may have been the case) my mom told me over and over to try and sleep. “You need to close your eyes. Try to sleep. You don’t need to go to the ER. You’re not having a heart attack.” She kept her hand on my wrist feeling my pulse the whole time.

But that adrenaline. That uncontrollable response Would. Not. Cooperate. That van was going to crash.

My mom must hear me stirring because while still under the blankets, I hear her footsteps. I pull the covers down to peek out with my swollen eyes and she asks how I’m doing.

I don’t know, I tell her. But I’m really sorry you had to see all of that.

She reassures me that it’s okay. That she was glad I was here instead of alone. That she hoped she hadn’t upset me by trying to convince me I didn’t need to go to the ER, but she’s seen me do this before and knew we could get through it. We could get through it with grounding.

Moments before I ended up in the guest room bed, my mom filled the bath with a few inches of water and told me to sit on the edge of the tub with my feet in the cool water. The idea of sitting still felt out of reach but I must admit that within a few minutes, I did finally feel like there was ground beneath me. Though I was still sobbing and shaking and trembling, and feeling like this must be a mental break, this can’t just be a panic attack, I need to go to the ER, my heart is about to explode, I can’t see straight, I need to run and jump but I also can’t move what do I do what do I do what is happening what is happening—the cool water on my bare feet did something.

Or maybe it was that my mom ran a bath for me. I’m in my 30s and my mom ran a bath for me. As an independent adult there was something both embarrassing and reassuring for me about this. How did I get here and why am I like this are questions that bubbled up like a newly opened Coke. Why do I need my mom to take care of me. Why can’t I just calm down. Dammit body, what the f*ck. But also, my mom is still here for me. 30 years later and my mom is still here. She still knows. She’s around and we have a solid relationship and I know that if the tables had been turned, I’d be putting her feet in water. Reassuring, indeed.

It was shortly after that that I changed my shirt, crawled into bed, and slept.

You’re not shaking anymore, my mom tells me.

I think my insides still are, I say, but yeah, it’s not as bad.

She runs her hands through my hair like she used to when I was sick as a little girl and says, you got through that, honey. You got through that on your own.

I tell her that I wasn’t on my own, that she’d been there to help me like she had so many times before.

For the rest of the evening, I don’t eat but I do drink Gatorade. I sit in the living room with both of my parents now and we reminisce about my childhood. That it’s funny to see me in my brother’s shirt and how when I was a teenager, I raided my older brother’s closet all the time. Remember my goth stage? There’s that picture from that one Easter where I look like I’m about to sacrifice a small animal in a pentagram. We laugh about my mom having never been able to handle us throwing up and I applaud her for not abandoning me as I, an adult, upchucked over and over to the point of dry-heaving in front of her. I thank her again. I ask them if I’ve always been like this and they say that this is the worst they’ve seen it but that I made it through and if it happens again, they know I’ll make it through then, too. That they’re glad I was at their house. And honey, you’re safe. You’re safe.

I tell this story because panic attacks are real. They are real and I’ll say again, they are not a sign of weakness. Being in the storm is terrifying but you will get through it. You will, I promise, and when you do, instead of letting your mind fizz with self-deprecation for being someone who has these episodes, thank your body for doing what it’s wired to do. Your body is trying to protect you. Even if there’s an imbalance in your systems where the brakes have been cut, still, it happens because your body, even without your consciousness’ control, wants you safe. In time, it will pass. Maybe stick your feet in the water. If you’re alone, maybe call someone you trust to just be on the other end of the line while you’re crying. Try anything to find the ground. But most of all, love yourself. Love yourself for everything that you are.
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A final note — if you do struggle with panic attacks and are not confident in your ability to get through them or want help to start digging at the roots, please contact your doctor, counselor, or therapist. I do. I think that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to even type a post like this. Take care of yourself. Lean on others when you need to. Seek help before things are out of control. There’s zero shame in that. Instead, there is a lot of strength in doing what you need to do to feel supported, whole, and seen. Whoever you are, I love you. Truly, I do.

Grow. Grief.

It’s dark out which by no means means it is late. No. We have entered that time of year where the sun falls at 4:30PM forcing the chickens, ducks, donkeys, dogs, and heck even myself into an earlier, Pavlovian need to eat and bunk down for the night hours before they (we) otherwise should. I’m standing at the back window watching the patches of ground visible from the light by the lamp next to me. Leaves swirl and snap in all directions as the chimes outside my backdoor clash and clang. My phone griped earlier as a “wind advisory” alert was issued for my area and boy, they weren’t kidding. I could swear my house (though short and stout) is swaying.

Although I can’t see it, I’m looking in the direction of my garden. The weather forecast suddenly showed yesterday that tomorrow night, this swampy little corner of the world would welcome (well, maybe not welcome, but we’re polite in Texas so I’ll say it) the first hard freeze of the year. When I say hard, I mean low 20’s. To give you perspective, I wear a jacket below 75 degrees always. Low 20s is otherworldly. That kind of cold just isn’t in my blood. Give me heat, give me humidity, give me air like a warm washcloth. Like a fancy fungus, I thrive there. Maybe this means I’m cold blooded—I do sometimes think after I’ve eaten too much that I could stand to lay on a flat rock beneath a strong heat lamp like a pet lizard. Come to think of it, I’d do well under a heat lamp most of the time. My office. My kitchen. My bed…there’s an idea.

My garden also does well in this marshy place. It’s happy here. Hot sun, wet ground, pollinating bugs-a-plenty. But for the squirrels, this is optimum garden housing. Though I’ve pretty much always struggled with growing a cooperative garden (be it the soil, my technique, a one-off drought, or my inability to give it the attention it deserves), I have done really well with this one. I’ve become utterly obsessed with it. I spritz it. I fertilize it. I prune it. I talk to it. And for the first time in years (the last time being at my funny farm in north Texas with buck wild cucumber, onion, and pepper success), I’ve grown plants and achieved a small harvest. I enjoyed a bowl of my very own, homegrown edamame the other night. I’ve got a pile of green beans sitting in my refrigerator that I plan on frying in a couple days. And I had a dozen or so perky, little tomatoes that were a mere two or so weeks from reaching ripeness and I was really hoping I could slice them up and dash them with salt and pepper. 

Alas, tomorrow night, the hard freeze. Hours of it. Low 20s. That’s a death sentence for my last remaining growth out there…my sweet, sunny, perfect little tomato plants.

Sure, I’ll cover them with a warm blanket and hope that somehow, someway, they survive, although I’m not optimistic (in fairness, I am by nature not an optimistic person…so even if the conditions were even slightly different, I doubt I’d be at all sunshine and rainbows about it—further proof that maybe I am in fact, cold-blooded.) I’ve also decided that I will pluck some of the larger tomatoes from their stems, place them in a sunny window and hope they continue to ripen. 

Another gust of wind whips the window and I sigh. What will I do now when I become over stimulated or feel myself tumbling to a panic attack? For months, it’s been the ritual of escaping to my garden which has helped pull me down into quietude. My own, secret garden. Only I have known what lies within its boundaries and there, I have found peace. My fortress of solitude. 

Of course I have my donkeys and the barn and a place with them to rest, relax, remember who I am, and find grounding. I always do. I talk often about how those three, little peanuts are my tethers and that’s not changed. But there’s been a uniqueness to this place I’ve grown—this place that without my constant tinkering and attentiveness may have otherwise not succeeded and tomorrow, I must say goodbye. 

I feel streams of tears begin to roll down my cheeks and I have to laugh a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever shed a tear over plants. What’s wrong with me? But then the seal breaks and suddenly, I’m in a full on, blotchy, snotty cry. I don’t want to say goodbye. I don’t want to see it die. I want her to continue to grow and glow and reach for the sky. 

She’s worked and tried so hard. She’s overcome so much. She’s created incredible things and tomorrow, it ends.

I wipe my face and wonder if I ought to make some tea and turn on a dumb TV show to distract myself from this confusing and odd moment, but I stop myself and hold my place at the window, staring into the barely illuminated darkness where leaves are flitting chaotically. This means something. This means something because I don’t think I cry for no reason. I don’t think I spend my time doing things that don’t matter. So what does it mean?

I wonder if my compost will freeze? I do love composting and the whole idea of it: the death and rot and breaking down of once living things that over time, transform into unmatched nutrition for future growth. What a circle of life there. 

Maybe that’s what this whole garden thing is—a breakdown of something in order to make room for something new. A closing door. An end but also not really. My hope is that the soil will be healthier when I start a new garden in the spring. Maybe it’ll have held onto some of its nutrients that I fed it and maybe after a till and a fold in of compost, it’ll be ripe and ready to begin again.

Another gust of wind whips and although it’s barely past 5:00, I decide I might change into comfier clothes, take my contacts out, and stare at something for a while—the ceiling, outside, or maybe some random show that just makes some noise to fill space so that the only room that’s left is the consideration of my own rotting, breaking down, shifting, dying, grieving, and regrowing with something (hopefully) fuller, brighter, and more fruitful on the other side. I think we must all experience this cycle whether we realize it or not. I suppose the important thing is that we’re minding it. We’re giving it time. We’re trying and we’re taking care. Most of all, I think it’s important to admit that we, like the seasons and the things that thrive within them, change too. We till. We nurture. We grow. We die. We breakdown. We grieve. We start building again. 

Yup, I’ll make some tea. And there’s always Fraiser on Netflix, although that show is not dumb or random. Not even a little. It’ll forever and always be one of my favorite. That sounds good right now.

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Broken

This morning, I followed a hummingbird after she made a stop at the feeder hanging on my back patio. She flew around to the darker side of my house; the neglected side of my house shaded so heavily by overgrown trees that grass doesn’t grow. This is the side of my house with the grumbling a/c unit that needs to be fixed, where spider webs hang between every surface, and where leaves from last fall still lay in deep stacks in the mud. I wondered why the hummingbird chose to fly this way.

I turned the corner to the dark side of my house just in time to see the bird buzzing away into the mess of trees. I rarely visit this place and it’s been a while since my last time. It’s a sloped surface protruding with large tree roots and scattered, rotting leaves. Cloudy, white webs speckle the wall and tree trunks and there’s a damp coolness to this space which is exaggerated in the already hot morning. 

Down from the trees, the hummingbird zipped once more to the far side of the a/c unit. Quietly, I stepped around to see her hovering in front of a small, bright green plant right next to the wall. She stuck her long, stick-beak into a tiny, yellow flower, body frozen (but for her wings). She switched flowers just as a stick snapped beneath my boot and—poof! She disappeared into the trees.

The small plant was no more than a foot and a half tall with delicate, glossy green leaves. Near the end of every thin branch was a shy, pale yellow flower, each one with five petals. The plant practically glowed in this otherwise shadowy, wet place. What was it doing here? 

I took a few steps closer and crouched down in front of the juxtaposed plant. Its leaves were jagged along the edges which seemed to contradict the sweet softness of its flowers—like small kittens in razor wire. I didn’t dare touch the plant, scared that I might get poked or worse, that I might smush or harm one of its pale, yellow whispers. It’s strong, I thought to myself as I stood. To survive on this side of the house—to even have the will to grow—must take courage and will power. Still, it puzzled me how the plant came to grow in this spot all alone. 

Suddenly, a drop of water plopped onto one of the leaves from high above so I looked up only to see a hole in the rain gutter which lines the roof of my house. The hole was about the size of a quarter and rusted around its uneven edges. Moments later, another drop dripped down. 

I was unsure how the hole would’ve gotten there, but also realized that if not for that rusted hole, this small, strange plant may have never grown. Not only did water drip from it, but I imagine at high noon, light shined directly down onto the plant. 

Crouching back down, I sang a little tune, having heard somewhere that talking and singing to plants helps them grow. I don’t know if this is true, but it couldn’t hurt. Plus, this small, circumstantial growth must be quite lonely in the darkness of this forgotten place. A strange and beautiful plant, born from brokenness, here only because something else over which it had no control, failed. A smile in the shadows, a source of food, and a pop of pale yellow in a dark and otherwise dreary place. She stands her own with jagged armor and with perfect, petite poise. 

As I stood and walked away, I heard the buzz of the returning hummingbird but continued on without turning, leaving the plant to provide on her own. She has what she needs, there on the far side of the house. A happy happenstance. A light in a dark place. A product of brokenness. 

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Softness

I’m sitting in my spot—the one in the far, left nook of the couch by the window that looks out towards the donkey’s barn and pasture—as my coffee cools and the night is swelling into its final, heavy moments before the prick of dawn. I spent the fifteen or so minutes before this trying to meditate without much success. Meditation for me looks more like a whack-a-mole game of trying to silence my internal dialogue. Relax your face, I tell myself. Soften your shoulders. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that angry email I’ve let sit in my inbox for a day. I guess it was my mistake that got me there, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I owned it. But the world seems so unforgiving these days.

Relax your throat. Deep belly breath. Notice the crickets outside. Mistakes are supposed to help us grow. We are supposed to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities so that every day, we can do just that much better. But that email. The failure. The broken glass on the floor with me standing over it. In many ways, I’ve always been clumsy. 

Soften your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Imagine your breath is a jellyfish gently propelling itself through darkness. I’m sorry, I’ll say, I misunderstood. Because I truly did. I thumbed through my notes which I remember jotting down with what I later learned was incorrect information. My cheeks get hot and red when I realize I’m wrong and a giant hole opens up around my heart which swallows it into a pit of shame. 

Whack-a-mole. Whack, whack whack. So I abandoned my not-so-quiet spot on the floor, made myself some coffee, and settled into my couch nook.

I take a sip of my coffee which is mostly cool now. My brother makes fun of me for preferring room-temperature coffee. I don’t like hot coffee and I don’t much like cold coffee either. Hit me with that middle ground. This makes me smile because my brother never pokes fun with harshness, only silliness. He’s appalled at my coffee preferences and habits (because I also do this thing where I’ll make a whole pot of coffee, only drink one, cool cup form it, and spend the next three days pouring my morning coffee from the same full pot I brewed days ago instead of making fresh coffee). But he never makes me feel bad for it. He just laughs about it which in turn, makes me laugh. Actually, his recognition of my (albeit strange) brewing practices makes me feel seen.

Dawn will break any moment. To me, the anticipation is exciting every single morning. Sip. Breathe.

I recently finished watching the Amazon Prime series, “Good Omens,” which is based off the novel written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fantastic read (and wonderful listen if you’re an Audible subscriber) and I’m happy to have found that the television series is just as remarkable as the book. They did a phenomenal job adapting the story for the screen. I highly recommend.

I bring this up because there’s a moment in the television series where the angel, Aziraphale, sighs and says, “I’m soft.”

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Since finishing the series, I think about this moment often. 

I’m soft, he said. I’m soft. 

My chest still feels hollow and empty as my shame is berating my heart somewhere else that I can’t see, but boy can I feel. I absolutely loathe making mistakes. I hate letting others down, of course, but I also know that a misstep means the beast of self-consciousness is fed. I close my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’m soft,” he said. And he said it with a sigh. With a release. With a surrender. 

Softness. 

Softness, I think, is porous. My big donkey, Bunny, keeps relapsing with what’s called “white line disease” because her hooves are soft and porous. It’s been raining nearly non-stop for months which hasn’t allowed her desert-evolved-hooves to dry out and bacteria thrives there. Only in dry, open, and clean air can white line disease start to heal. The hooves need to harden and in hardness is protection. 

Maybe I’m soft. Maybe that’s why the monsters of doubt, anxiety, and depression thrive in my being like bacteria. My face feels so hot. I hate screwing up. How could I be so careless?

I take another sip of my cool coffee. The blackness outside has shifted into navy blue. Ron Swanson, my rooster, perches on the fence and crows—a deafening break of silence. 

I’m soft, I realize. I’m soft. 

I picture Aziraphale’s face and try, too, to surrender to the idea. I let go of the tension in my face, my shoulders, even in the muscles between my ribs. I let out an audible sigh. Ron Swanson crows again. 

But softness is what allowed Aziraphale to become sympathetic to the human race and even, I think, fall in love with them. Softness is how Aziraphale was able to connect with and find a partner in the demon Crowley, ultimately saving the world through their camaraderie. Softness allowed them to see one another. 

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Softness is why my brother making fun of my coffee habits doesn’t hurt my feelings. He sees me as a person with unique traits and I receive the comments as being seen as an individual. Softness is our ability to see one another as humans with strengths and weaknesses. With talents and flaws. With complex histories and room for growth. Softness connects us, it doesn’t block us out. Heck, softness is why I got into donkey rescue in the first place—because those long ears and thoughtful eyes passed through the netted walls of my soft heart and found a home in there and I never, ever, wanted to see another donkey suffer.

To be soft is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable, in my opinion, is to be brave. Knocking down the calloused walls knowing that the rawness behind it might be seen or judged by others takes strength. To recognize, admit, and own missteps with the intention of improving moving forward is something that as imperfect beings, we should all be trying to do. No one is perfect, so bust down that wall that you’ve built around the insecurity of not being perfect all the time—it’s not doing you any good.

I learned quickly as a novice gardener that the soil must be tilled, soft, and porous in order for plants to find strong rooting, ultimately allowing them to grow larger and hopefully, bear more fruit. So maybe if we till ourselves, allowing the surface to soften from time to time, we’ll experience growth in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. We’ll see each other as individuals with complex pasts and beautiful minds—that in our collective imperfection is infinite possibility for growth and connection. 

I’m soft. 

I’m soft.

I’m soft and for the first time all morning, I don’t have to remind myself to relax. Let flow, the feelings that rise. There is so much to learn and so much room to grow.

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