I’m sure many of you more evolved readers recognized, in my histrionic lists of details and melodramatic claims of being the BEST PERSON FOR THIS JOB, the breathtaking arrogance underlying it. I had not, although it has been my practice over the last few years to search within myself for answers to Life’s Questions, and so I knew some learning was on the cusp when this idyll became a hell.
I had already noticed that, at least in some aspects of life, if I’m having a hard time with something the difficulty probably lies somewhere inside me—after all, we can each interpret our environments best only from the internal standpoint. When we humans share communities and families, we also share frameworks and expectations, so when ten thousand pin pricks mar an otherwise perfect picture for me, and I describe those pin pricks, you all can relate, to some extent, to the frustration and disbelief that I’m experiencing.
Pin pricks, however, begin to be comical once they reach the point of caricature—like these ten thousand have. It has really felt to me as though every single thing I’ve done since arriving here has caused or revealed or portended a new problem. Everything.
In addition to the exhausting (if not quite exhaustive) lists I’ve already posted, when I turned out Sikem yesterday noontime, my finger got caught in his halter as I was removing it, and he was behaving like an ass anyway and leapt away, twisting my knuckle and bruising my pointer. “You hurt me,” I cried, with such childlike disbelief and anguish that a part of my brain thought whoa there. Where did that come from? I closed the horses in and sat down, sobbing, on the grass just outside their pen. Spackle knows from long experience that such things will pass, but Tessa and Sadie snuggled in, licking my face and refusing to be pushed aside. This was only somewhat comforting.
Also, yesterday, I decided to fix the indoor environment. It’s been a chilly 65, even with the struggling gas fire (another pin prick was having to learn how to light it, only partly successfully), which is not a temperature I find hospitable. After reviewing, in my mind (another prick—where were the instructions? Why had no one written them down???), the working of the giant wood-burning stove, I lit a fire in it . . . and discovered that it had been not only cleaned, but evidently re-blacked this summer (prick! prick! prick! prick! prick!). Before I asphyxiated inside (it was happening—I could feel it!), I opened a bunch of windows to the then cleaner outside air, also welcoming in the last of the summer’s flies (prick!), turned on several fans, and took the dogs outside while the poisons filtered out. Unfortunately, the fumes had no effect on the flies (an aside about the flies and killing them—I have smashed so many flies that all the other insects in the house I’ve just let be. The spiders, the moths, a strange beetle.)
A called yesterday morning, and I wrote the next couple paragraphs after her call. The rest of yesterday’s post is relatively obsolete and won’t be published, but this helped open me up for some much-needed person understanding:
A. called from central France this morning to check in—the first time they’ve been able to easily access a land line from which to telephone the States. I had thought that their radio silence might have been either of two things—1) they knew that everything would be fine with me, or 2) they suspected things weren’t and wished to continue their trip in peaceful ignorance. Since what’s really going on here is a combination of 1 and 2 (minus, evidently, their suspicions), it hadn’t occurred to me that the real reason for the lack of a call was simply 3) the difficulty of locating an actual telephone. At any rate, A stated, genuinely, that I was free to call Z to come back and take over, or to leave things with G&N and just extricate myself. They did not begrudge me the new pair of work gloves I bought for myself on their account at The Junction when I went in search of heavy horse salt, 30 minutes driving away.
Their flexibility in the care of their place is one of the reasons I am unbegrudgingly, myself, staying here; I know I could leave. But as I stated before, I care too much, and so I’m stapled here by my own moral judgment. And let me tell you, if you haven’t run afoul of my moral judgment yet, lucky you.
Here are the things that I learned about myself yesterday, which finally clarified and coalesced last night, kind of like head cheese if you’re the home butchering sort. If you’re not, you probably don’t want to imagine what that is.
I have a belief that just because I CAN do something, I MUST do it. I’ve recognized this pattern occasionally for several years, but hadn’t realized just how ingrained it was. It first came to my attention when, desperate to have the house clean before guests arrived, although I hadn’t taken the time to do it myself, I had enlisted the help of my mother. She was downstairs, cleaning my toilet, my mother, when I realized that, ability or not, I needed to hire housecleaners. Just because I could clean toilets didn’t mean that I had to, or even that I should (because I obviously wasn’t)—someone needs that money more than I need that work.
Nothing fundamentally different about that out here: I CAN deal with a lame horse, but does that mean I MUST? Yes, but only a conditional yes. I’ve been missing the “conditional” part: Saying yes to something does not always mean that one must follow through to the bitter end—especially when the parameters change unexpectedly or drastically, especially when there are other options available, and especially if the end is looking to be more bitter than it deserves. Not every agreement is a marriage. Contractors charge for change orders.
So, given all that, why was I still here, and why was I still letting myself feel constantly pricked? Then, then I recognized the shadow side. I saw the arrogance, and what it led to, the martyrdom. I was completely blind to the conditional. I had been acting, believing, not only that if I CAN I MUST, but also that what I can do is going to be better than what someone else will be able to do. That’s when I lost my breath for a moment, and felt, suddenly, deeply ashamed. Who am I to say that my ministrations are the ones that are needed? It’s been pretty clear that Snickers is getting better, even though her treatment is a far cry (prick!) from what the vets originally suggested. My torqued finger is fine this morning. The house is pleasantly warm and fresh-smelling; the flies virtually all dead (I’ve become expert with a swatter).
I am not a perfectionist in my own life, for things that I create for me; I am quite happy to leave errors so that Allah won’t be offended. It has been my habit however, when I take something on for someone else, to assume that they expect perfection of me. That the horse must stand calmly and steadily improve in the dictated manner. That I will be able to fix Sadie, who has licked herself raw out of anxiety—months ago and totally unrelated to me—and continues to do so. That I will leave the house sparklingly clean and all ready for the cold season. That I will finish tending to the tree farm. That I will clear important trails. That I will, in short, be better at caring for this place then K&A, who are not only two people, but are the homeowners, the ones who have set up this life to suit themselves. They are just happy to have me fit into it a little, so that they can have a short break. I may have skills that make me suited to be a temporary chatelaine here; but those skills are not unique, or uniquely necessary.
And therein lies revealed the shadows of arrogance and martyrdom. “I AM TRYING SO HARD TO DO EVERYTHING PERFECTLY!” I scream in my head. “WHY IS IT ALL SO DIFFICULT?!?” and, when offered a reprieve, a way out, I declare that “NO, I’m FINE.” I will stay here—fighting against myself—and continue to beat up myself about it, and ultimately you, even though I desperately don’t want to hurt ANYONE.
Talk about choking environments.
So, here I’ve been, dizzy and ill, stuck in a whirlpool, rudder fouled by my own lines.
I’m not sure the weather out here, uncannily mimicking my internal struggles, has been anything more than an unrelated coincidence—that would be arrogant—but this morning, when I woke, light of heart, the sky was a clear, bright blue, not a cloud in it. You can see for miles.
N.B. I called Z this morning to see if he could take over before Sunday, and he needs to check with his other responsibility to make sure it’s okay with them, and then he’ll get back to me. I am, truly, perfectly comfortable with whatever happens. And Sikem responded well to me today.