It’s striking to hear a quiet person, a person who habitually describes others as “lovely people,” who hates conflict and whose main motivation is to be kind and giving to others so they will experience being loved and respected, heat up about an injustice. My sister-in-law, HS, a small animal vet, just told me of her experience volunteering at a local animal shelter years back, hoping to save animals. Expecting to diagnose injuries and metabolic abnormalities, social needs, allergies and infections, administer remedies, do corrective surgery and dental care. Instead, cat after cat, dog after dog, was lined up to be euthanized. She had to do fifty animals in one day. Reasons given on the paperwork seemed to be random: Non-sociable. Dental abscess. Respiratory infection. When she couldn’t see serious symptoms of these things in the animals on death row, or judged the problems correctable, she questioned those in charge. She received pat answers from hardened workers whose main concern was that mixed breed or unattractive, less “adoptable,” less “premium” (a fee added to adoption fees of purebreds) animals were taking up resources.
She described the people in charge of these euthanizations as hard, cold, uncompassionate. Not animal lovers at all. Their concerns revolved around running fundraisers using photos of cute, sad puppies and kittens, and making sure they always had space for the purebreds that brought in more case at sale. What the salaries were, she could only guess.
I made the comparison with charter schools that call themselves “non-profit” but which are run by venture capitalists to funnel public money into the pockets of high power administrators and their contractor and “consultant” friends.
HS spend the whole day with us, driving us around the local city, taking us to coffee (away from my brother, not a coffee drinker), lunch and a little shopping. I bought a tiny string of LED lights and a Sherman Alexie book, she bought a favorite vegetarian recipe book for my daughter. I tried to share costs with her on groceries, but she wouldn’t have it, and I could see this is something she loves to do, to make people happy. Sees herself as having no “talents” like my family does, has so much to give and has given so much. She vowed to give at least fifty pro bono vet services to stray animals brought into the clinic, to make up somewhat for the fifty she was told to euthanize. The three dogs and five cats of the household are recipients of her and my brother’s love for broken animals. They are like their children, and not in that pathetic, misplaced affection way that some childless humans show toward their cuffed, pampered, purebred lapdogs. Each cat and dog has free reign to live well and do the jobs that suit them, to belong to a family. They don’t run the household, but give it more character.
After another gourmet meal at home, my brother arrived late, with a bellyful of feeling and stories about the students he just helped graduate from the school where he teaches. He is well loved, H says, never has a hard word to say about any of his students, inspires a love for biology in just about everyone he teaches. Keeps out of the school politics, focuses on the students, connects with families, teaches from his heart. We talked about biology, evolution, the books we were reading, and went to bed.
“When M was a boy, was he afraid of anything?” H asked me. She told me he’d hitchhiked to Newfoundland when he was sixteen, which none of us had known. I told her maybe of losing someone, animal or person, he loved, I said, or talking about certain things. Nothing else. His Newfoundland pony, Solomon, for example, who H said was suffering from founder’s in his feet and should be euthanized, but he wouldn’t talk about it at all–not up for discussion. She, who hated any animal to suffer needlessly, and he, who wanted things to take their natural course and not let go until necessary. “They can live up to fifty years,” he told me, when I was surprised Solly was still munching in the stable, fifteen years after I saw him first at the farm. He has goats and sheep, built a stone chicken coop, a big glass and wood greenhouse, lean-tos for firewood. Out in the pasture is an experimental bat house, a miniature house on stilts, complete with any crevices in the usual old house places so the bats could move in. (See his blog http://bigbrownbat.blogspot.ca)
This is the sibling I guess I feel most similar to. Within two years in age, both biology majors, biology teachers, same feeling about that vocation. We are not close in the sense we can share anything and everything, but similar, and lots of unspoken understanding, I would say. He is more reticent, though, and I wish I knew more what he was feeling, wanted, needed, what might be bothering him. Especially so I don’t say something insensitive or fail to do something helpful. But he’s very generous, lots of fun, and especially enjoys having his niece here. My kids all consider him their favorite uncle, though my oldest brother, whom they’ve seen less, comes a close second. All my siblings have the gift of being uncles and aunts, and most of them have had ample time and energy, not having children themselves, except now my youngest sister, whose daughter is now five years old. They just hang out, explore, talk and listen as equals. My kids have memories of smearing Cobequid Bay mud all over their bodies, going to a historic farm, exploring my brothers’ truck cab, building a frog pond, complete with frogs, running a general store, painting pictures.
We will be seeing each of my five siblings (with two spouses and a niece), my parents, and maybe my uncle and a cousin. That’s all the way across Canada stopping here near the Great Lakes, Montreal, Halifax, and Newfoundland, where my parents have a little cottage on a cliff. Since no one is there, we’ll not stop at my childhood home.
My daughter and I are on our own today at my brother’s house, she doing some work for her online course in interpersonal communication, I writing and working on job search and study plans. Strawberry picking, supper and a movie tonight (H’s pick is “Finding Dory”). Tomorrow the local village is having a Canada Day celebration, with a boat treasure hunt, parade, music, and fireworks. I’m wondering what I can offer back for all the hospitality they have given us, and how to show how much I appreciate it.