Sunday, October 22, 2006
Magnolia Sammy and other Creatures of My Imagination
Animal Rescue is People Thing
I have often been asked as to why I help animals and each time I am asked this, I am always confused and unsure of not so much what I want to say, but rather, what the person asking the question really wants to hear. I often wonder why any other act of kindness I might direct toward a two legged creature is usually met with thanks, praise or just without question, without a need for a reason. Although I have been unable to figure this out, for the most part, it has never truly bothered me..that is until a recent incident finally forced me to bring this practice of prodding into my psyche, for just the thing that makes me tick, to a resolution, a resolution that I can live with, in fact a resolution that causes me to raise my chin just an inch or two higher, and to that, I am resolved. And so, with my chin up, I share that incident with any other inquiring minds as to what makes me do things I do.
“Magnolia Sammy” is a young and playful orange tabby who is full of energy and who zing-zangs around his outdoor home, one he shares with a few other felines in New Orleans, on a street heavily damaged by Katrina, Magnolia Street. Sammy’s home on Magnolia Street runs right through a neighborhood or New Orleans called “Milan” Milan is, or rather was, a neighborhood of low- to middle-class families, a high majority of who were renters (Claritas estimates 1999, Census 2000). Pre-Katrina, Milan was a predominantly black neighborhood with 73% black population, slightly higher than the 66% black population for the entire parish of Orleans, Louisiana. Additionally, 28.6% of Milan lived below the poverty status as reported in 2000, whereas 27.9% of the entire parish of Orleans was considered to be living below the poverty status during the same time period. If you consider the demographics of the pre-Katrina Milan population, you can easily determine what I know to be true......the Road Home program has not brought these people home.
Magnolia Street is one of my early evening feeding/trapping spots because Milan’s empty, open and ruined buildings that used to be homes, all abut another New Orleans neighborhood, Central City. There is no need for me to fine-detail Central City for you as Time Magazine did a fine job in its June 18, 2006 article, “ The Crime that Stunned New Orleans:
The brutal murder of five youths over the weekend was a grim reminder just how much crime is making a comeback after the post-Katrina lull” It is widely rumored that the “occupation” of New Orleans by the National Guard was a direct result of the quintuple homicide subject of Time’s article. Recently, on October 21, 2006, two New Orleans men, both 18, were fatally shot in Central City....at 3:55 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. For these reasons, I work Magnolia Street and other streets in this section quickly, as quickly as I can. It was one of these early evening trapping sessions on Magnolia Street that I once again received that question, the question, along with a puzzled look and was yet again asked to justify my efforts to help a living creature. Only this question didn’t confuse me, it angered me, and, it saddened me......the person asking the question this time, the preacher of the neighborhood church.
I was in the middle of setting a trap in hopes of catching at least one of those juvenile black cats that keep giving me the slip when from around the corner came two gentlemen and one woman, all carrying pamphlets. They introduced themselves as being members and the preacher of the local church in the neighborhood and told me that they were taking a walking tour of their neighborhood to welcome its parishioners back. Before I could offer any explanation as to why I was crouched down on the ground of one of their “neighbors” yards, rigging a trap as I peeked around the corner and down the alley between the house and the gutted out business next door, I was a little shocked when the preacher asked me if I just started work on my house or if I had been back for awhile. I immediately let him know that this was not my house, nor did I live here before Katrina and his reply was to laughingly acknowledge that it did seem unusual to come across a white woman on this block. He further acknowledged that he was just now getting back into the swing of things and getting to reacquaint himself with his “flock” and as his community’s leader, he felt obliged to ask me just what was I doing that afternoon, on that front yard, and so I told him the story, all three of them.
I first came to Magnolia Street in the ongoing animal rescue efforts in this city around July 15, 2006. I had gotten a request for help from another individual, this person helps in Plaquemines Parish to help the remaining animals, and she had received the initial request for help from Jane Garrison, one of the three founding members of Animal Rescue New Orleans, a non-profit organization which continues to work in devastated areas where animals still remain in need of help. Apparently, the woman who used to reside at this address on Magnolia Street, had evacuated to Texas and could not return yet, but was desperate for someone, anyone to look after her “babies” At the time, I did not spend an inordinate amount of time wondering as to why she couldn’t get back yet, so many are still waiting....waiting on money, waiting on so many things. So over the next few months, I tended to these babies, but in addition to provided food and water for them, I also began to implement a spay/neuter effort in this colony so that no new babies were produced in a neighborhood that was empty and ill equipped to support additional animal life.
As time passed, I would occasionally talk to a person who had moved back to their home around the block or down the street, and because it is such a sporadic progression, it has taken me these past months to put some sort of identity to the woman I have never met, never spoken to, but know her through her babies. From what I have gathered, the woman is an older woman who has had a hard time, which of course is redundant in this instance; in her case, a hard time is indicative of her entire life....she has cared for a son, an adult son, who has Down’s Syndrome.
That was the information that helped put into perspective for me just why this woman has not been able to return yet; it also explains the handicapped parking sign on the telephone pole in front of her house. Much of this information was given to me from a young black man who lives with his mother in the neighborhood and who was the one who confirmed for me in September of this year that they were still waiting on her Road Home paperwork to be completed....it is a long, tedious, painstaking and painful process that those effected the most, the working poor, have had to and continue to go through to just get back home.
After I told the preacher and the two church members what I consider to be a sad story, I told them that I hate that I can’t do more but that these cats, these babies, I must admit, do get extra special attention....I make sure that these particular animals do not wait a day or two, or three, for food refills, because somehow there is a connection and I do not want to let this woman down, it is the least I can do, and unfortunately, the most I can do for her.
And then it came, again, but this time from a preacher’s mouth and that look of disbelief and wonder was on a preacher’s face, as the leader of this re-acquaintance committee was the first to comment upon my story. The preacher without flinching, looked me square in the face and said this: “I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine something, I want you to imagine all the things you could do, all the things you could accomplish, if you cared about people instead of animals”
The silence that followed his question was deafening, in all 30 seconds it lasted because for the first time ever, I had no confusion, no misinterpretation and no wondering about how I should answer; for the first time ever, my response came with an amazing clarity, an amazing sense of sureness to the response, and an amazing sense that I was finally saying just what I needed to say. I looked the preacher square in his face, and also without flinching, told him that there was no need for me to close my eyes and imagine a thing because my eyes were wide open when I received a request for help, from a human, a request that sought to obtain help for yet another human, who had been contacted by yet another human in this equation, the human with the handicapped son, the human with no way home, the human who, even with the loss of her home and her life as she knew it, wanted more than anything to have her animals looked after until she is able to return to this city. I then told him that this is exactly what can be accomplished when you care about people, the people of his congregation, the people who he was re-acquainting himself with that day. And then before I got back to the really important matters to be handled at that house, I told him that since he raised the issue of imagination, I was going to respectfully share with him just what I do imagine, when I close my eyes. What follows is a perfected version of what I told him that day, I will never be able to recapture word for word, but these were the thoughts that came that day, that I expressed to him in some non-verbatim degree of what is now on paper:
• I imagine a day when compassion is inclusive rather than exclusive, when “All God’s Creatures” means all God’s creatures, not just the cuddly ones; just imagine what you could do if you care about All God’s Creatures
• I imagine a day when caring yields to compassion; when thoughts without action are only a dream and it is commonly accepted that good will has no effect without good acts;
• I imagine a day when compassion is no longer unique and is instead commonplace, when the sight of a white woman performing a task in the yard of a black family’s home is not automatic cause for concern to a passerby;
• I imagine a day when compassion is consistent rather than convenient, when serving a meal to a homeless man is no longer an obligatory act of Thanksgiving, and instead each and every day is considered cause for Thanks and reason enough to help those in need, any creature in need, any day of the year, if and when each opportunity to make a difference presents itself. A day when “the right thing to do” and “the right way to be” are obsolete phrases because there is just no other way to do it and just no other way to be
• I imagine a day when compassion is reserved for life rather than inanimate objects of our own lives, when it is collectively extended to the cat which sits on our car hood in the winter, instead of to the car that may be scratched.....cold steel metal, equipped with every top of the line amenity is still, cold steel metal
• I imagine a day when compassion is conscious and without conformity, when a Sunday “peace be with you” handshake is always a welcome, but nevertheless random act of kindness, and is never again, considered a quick fix for our actions or inactions, and never considered a sufficient substitution for daily, and deliberate act of kindness
• I imagine a day when compassion is expressed toward every parishioner of the church, that is God’s church, when an individual from an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood, tends to the pets of black woman, or any other thing that the woman who is miles away from her home feels she needs, and does so in that other predominantly black neighborhood without a second thought; and finally;
• I imagine a day when each “congregation” of every denomination proudly honors their respective churches, preachers, priests or reverends, but never forgets to honor God’s church. God’s church has no stained glass windows, no walls, no alter, no cathedral ceiling, but is beautiful nevertheless. God’s church is every color of the rainbow, and the rainbow as well. God’s church has boundaries without boundaries and include fluffy clouds, shooting stars, the green grass and trees, the bluest oceans, the darkest lakes, the tallest mountains, the deepest valleys, and that church has the largest congregation of any church of any denomination, a congregation which includes without exclusion every creature, All God’s Creatures, that inhabits that church, each and every day
As I waited for the indignation that I was sure I was about to hear, it never came. The preacher looked at me for a split second, smiled what appeared to be a genuine smile and told me that I had given him something to think about. Then he said “God will bless you child” to which I responded “He already has”
Footnote: Please understand this is in no way intended to be disrespectul about religion or any facet thereof, rather, it is more about my ultimate choice to be firm in my reasons for any actions or inactions I take, regardless of who is questioning my motives.