“Such a fat pig,” “Big cow,” or “get your whale of a body up and moving” - things like that regularly run through my mind and my self-talk and bring me much shame and my self-loathing to the surface. I now know that when I am using these terms that my self-care or program are faltering. Instead of being just darts and arrows I have thrown at myself for years, I’m beginning to use them as “red flags” to identify destructive behavior and try to turn such negative behavior into something I can use to signal me into better health. It is my deep wish that one day these words will be erased from my tapes and vocabulary, but until then I am trying to turn these weapons into tools. Swords into plowshares as it were.
I can remember hearing my best friend abused by my next door neighbor in the halls of our school. He’d grab her breast if no teachers were around and say “How now brown cow?” to let her know that her quickly developing body was a playground for his overactive, perverted imagination. Cows were aplenty in our small Wisconsin town. I rarely could see them without being reminded of that abuse. And if her body and development could bring so much shame and abuse, then my own wasn’t far behind. Instead of growing into our bodies with pride and joy they became scary and foreign to us. We were both much more physically mature than most of the other girls in the playground. 12 going on 17. The boys in our class wanted nothing to do with us, but we sure turned the heads of older boys and every dirty old man in we came in contact with. How now brown cow? Not very well thank you.
Porker, piggy and fat hog were regular retorts I heard thrown regularly at others who battled with their weight. Looking back at old photographs I see now that I was never fat as child or even a teen - I was big and womanly, but never as fat as I had pictured myself to be. I loathed my body and punished it with exercise as often as I was able. The cruelty of those words was my motivation not to have them lobbed at me. But somehow they frequently came out of my own mouth, and played all of the time in my own head.
In 1978 we began to understand that our 7th grade world was far bigger than our small town in Wisconsin. We heard about brutal seal hunts and saving the whales. We found that we could do very little about our own situations, but maybe, just maybe we could make a difference “out there”. Our little passionate hearts knew that something had to be done and so we would hold monthly bake-sales and send all of the money to Greenpeace to save the whales. How far away from the Midwest they seemed, those big, beautiful oceans, filled with big, beautiful wildlife. Whales were the only animal that I was able to not mind being called. Even though the whales were huge they were still so graceful and beautiful. I loved them with everything in me. Never did I imagine that one day I would live just minutes from one of the largest birthing areas of some of the largest whales in all of creation. Standing at the lighthouse last summer and watching a pod of Minkes surface filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.
I remember hearing bits and pieces about the movie Whale Rider. When it came to video in 2003 I was almost afraid to rent it because I knew it would change me forever. Paikea’s story of overcoming the restrictions of her culture and fulfilling her call was very close to home for me. Tying that into my love for whales made it almost unseeable because I knew that the emotions I would be facing and the story I would be confronting would teach me much about myself and touch deep places where I rarely wanted to go. It was an incredible experience to see her rise out of the waves and know that her grandfather was watching her. I am brought to tears even now as reminisce about the depth of emotion that rose out of me. It has changed me forever.Pigs, cows and whales have always told me their stories. Living across the street from a dairy farm in my high school years allowed me to stand at the fence and commune with those Guernsey cows. When life was confusing and loneliness was at it’s peek I would speak to them, feed them and look deeply into their beautifully lashed big brown eyes. I told them many secrets I had been carrying for years. They always listened and never judged me.
I can remember one Christmas living in southwestern Ontario we took neighbors up on their regular invitation to our children to visit and see the neighbors baby piggies. Little did we know the level to which these farmers practiced their craft. Room upon room of growing pigs, level upon level of heat and stench that was almost unbearable. It would have been comical if we all weren’t so shocked by the intensity of the conditions. I remember though that what I hated most was that the one mother sow rolled over onto one of her little piglets. When I heard the scream it let out I wanted to jump the fence and free it. Instead ran to find the farmer to tell him that one of his herd was going to die. He shrugged and said nonchalantly “oh, we loose lots that way” and went on with his work. I was appalled, and unable to shake the sound of that screeching piglet for weeks.
I tried to process it with my husband who never understood the emotional connection I had with those animals and he proceeded to tell me about other pig stories that would only add to my pain and difficulty. He spoke of a farmer who he had known who had to remove a piglet from it’s family because of sickness and when re-introduced back into the herd it was attacked by the mother and left to die. I found that these stories resonated so deeply with my own pain that I was unable to exercise them from my mind.
So it was with these floating in my distant memory that I came upon this prose today and found myself reduced to tears and remembering the level of connection I feel for these animals. I have been slowly reading Anne Lamott’s new book, Grace (Eventually) and began the third chapter, Bodies in the quiet of this morning. I treated myself after our Lenten spending fast and purchased it full price from the bookstore across the river. I know her books move me like little else and so I have been portioning it out like a rich box of candy, piece by little piece. Savoring every word. It took me by surprise and I know it is well timed for my “centering” theme this year.
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow,
and the sow began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow”
Where does this self-blessing come from? I truly don’t know. But I long for the ability to self-bless and nurture this bud into a flower.