Thursday, May 20, 2010

On being hurt

I read a story this morning by a woman who has been working since 2007 to help a feral cat in her neighborhood, one Meathead by name.  A number of things struck me about this story, especially as one in a helping profession.

First was how long it took and how gradual the process was.  She started by setting out food behind the fence and now, three years later, he will, on occasion, sit on the author's lap.

Second was how specific this was.  She didn't take care of all the cats in the neighborhood; it was this cat and one other who was with him.

Third, related to that, was that she couldn't save them both; the other died, "succumbing to the upper respiratory infection he had ever since I first saw him."

Fourth, also related, is that "saved" is a relative term.  Meatie is not a housecat and will never trust people.  I suspect he still hasn't been to a vet.

But the thing that was most powerful to me is that helping isn't a safe thing to do.  This woman writes that "he has hurt me quite badly too many times, despite the fact that he only has one tooth in his head. He has a vicious paw strike capability, and those deep scratches hurt for days."  And yet she doesn't stop with the efforts.

I don't want this to be a facile message about how we should help others even though they hurt us.  It's more about how being hurt isn't necessarily a sign that you're doing it wrong, that if only you did it right, the other party wouldn't hurt us.  It makes me think that I don't (necessarily) need to take it personally if someone lashes out. 

There's something, too, about taking on the risk and allowing oneself to set the terms and limits.  I'm not clear in my mind about this yet.  I once preached a sermon that started, "Love does not mean being a doormat."  I think there's a difference between love-based service and feeling responsible for the salvation of the world.   I think it's legitimate to reach a point where you say, "I can't do this any more."  Perhaps this is selfishness.  Perhaps it is knowing oneself.  I am struggling to find the balance.  I guess all I'm saying is that being hurt comes with the territory of love.


Suem said...

It is hard to give to very difficult people and situations. In truth, most of us do give to receive at some level. I think I am OK at giving to others, but don't think I could give and keep on being hurt.

LKT said...

I don't think I could either.

Elisabeth said...

I have a friend who, in goings and comings from her church several times a week, identified 2 abandoned silver point Persian cats in the neighborhood. She would frequently see them on the top of a tall fence at the end of a small private parking lot, but they would leap away when she tried to approach them. They were thin. It has been frequently raining (as you know) and chilly. She took it upon herself to put out dry food. She took it upon herself to speak to the neighbors. She returned several times a week with food. This has been the case for over a year now. The cats have never let her touch them, but they look for her to come. None of the neighbors has been able to catch them. It is a blessing that my aware friend loves cats, and that she is willing to feed more than her own pets, to look after, in the only way she can, these beautiful cast-offs. This is a fruitful conversation--simple and beautiful. My friend is happy to be of service; the cats know they have someone looking out for them, even if they are unwilling to come forward. A fruitful conversation.

Anonymous said...

I loved the initial post, and I still do - but after a spirited discussion at our Tuesday morning group, which is trying to read Teilhard de Chardin on creation and evolution, I am wondering about possible differences between taking care of an animal and taking care of a person.

I wouldn't blame a feral cat, or any other wild animal, for hurting me, but I would blame a person. At some level, I wouldn't expect the animal to know any better, and I would be able to forgive it - but I would always want the person to be careful of me while I was being careful of him or her, and I would get angry if the relationship did not work out that way. I think this would make it easier to take abuse from the cat and harder to take abuse from the person. How can we forgive people who hurt us?

I know the usual answer is love, but I am coming to think that perhaps the key ingredient is really hope. The people who take care of the cats seem to have hope that their charges will improve in spite of everything. How can people who take care of difficult people keep that kind of hope themselves?