CONGRATULATIONS to the winners of my Animal Blessings contest, and huge thanks to everyone who entered!
The choices were tough. I received nearly 70 entries! I do need to report that cats were BY FAR the most represented in the entries, with dogs a very distant second. Three horses and one dead squirrel were also represented (yes, that's right...one great essay was about how an experience with a dead squirrel turned the reader into a vegetarian). I love all animals, but as a cat owner myself I had to smile at the feline love that came through in the contest!
Because I had so many entries, I narrowed them down with these two guidelines: 1.) Did the essay express in what way the animal had been a blessing? and 2.) Was the essay 500 words or less (or at least close)? Since that was the only "rule" I set for the contest, I didn't consider any essays that were over 700 words. (Lots of really, really good essays were way over the word count!)
I'll be posting some of the "honorable mentions" soon, but for now, meet our wonderful winners:
I had forgotten how easy it was to receive and give love. Without any strings attached. Without earning her trust. Yet, there love was, sitting in front of me with bulging eyes, an under bite, and Yoda like ears.
I am adopted, and although I don’t consciously let that define me in any terms, it is still very much a part of who I am. My heart beats a little faster for those who are displaced, not wanted, or abandoned. Perhaps that’s why I immediately fell in love with Poppy. Poppy, who came from North Carolina’s coast with heart worm, teeth problems, and was left at a Pound. She was lucky to be placed into Chihuahua Rescue and Transport and spent a year with a foster mother. I saw her little picture on the internet and knew that it was meant to be. Much like the way my mother saw a tiny black and white picture of me and knew that I was meant to be her daughter.
Her kisses in the morning wake me up. Her sighs at night put me to sleep. Her eerie way of knowing when I am sad is comforting. Her dancing and dainty feet keep me laughing. Her flying white fur prevents me from wearing black. She charms everyone who meets her and has a legion of fans. To say that she has changed my life would be corny. To say that she is the light of my life would be the very honest truth.
—Kimberly Mohn, Morrisville, NC
“Four-eyed Bucky Beaver” is what the other kids called me in school, along with other names that painted my 10 year old heart with isolation and defiance. My mother always said having just one true friend was more important that being a part of the group. I accepted my fate and my one best girlfriend and I romped in the woods, crawled through sewage pipe portals under busy streets and lost ourselves in the wooded land across the way.A CAT FOR ALL SEASONS
Then things changed and my best friend forever was gone. I now had to face the taunting and loneliness of suburban school life with the outer strength of indifference, a void swelling in my chest, my imagination and inner life my only escape from the darkness I felt enfold me.
It was with this emotional backdrop that a horse named Ugly opened himself to me and became my bridge to self love and confidence that would be a lesson of survival through adolescence and beyond.
We would drive 25 minutes out of the plats, through cornfields, past banks of scrub brush filled, wooded land to get to the 30-acre farm for riding lessons. Cathy, wearing her carrot brown hair in two long braids, would greet me and help me saddle up the random horse of the day. Infused with the searing smell of horse sweat, I loved the solid feel of the well worn blanket and saddle being hoisted to the waiting steed’s curved back. These were Pony of the Americas, so when standing shoulder to shoulder, I could just see over the saddle horn as I came to mount my excitement for the day; looking forward to running the barrels and improving my time on flags.
On one particular day, Cathy brought out a horse with a mostly brown head that washed into speckled spots of lighter color ending in a dirty white rump. She said his name was Ugly, but I immediately defended him saying I thought he was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. I could see myself in him and felt indignant that a creature so magnificent could be saddled with such a name. Putting my boot in the stirrup, I pulled myself up with confidence, feeling the usual surge of power that came with being atop an animal with such gentle power. I felt at peace.
Cathy laughed and said Ugly was now my horse. She said I was the first student who Ugly didn’t buck off right off the bat. I now felt exhilarating fear and adventure humble my indignant thoughts. All my attention was with Ugly now. And so began a deep friendship and mutual respect between horse and girl.
From Ugly I discovered the power of becoming one with another being, wholeheartedly giving your trust and experiencing the connectedness of an unspoken friendship and understanding with each other. I would experience this later in life with my grandmother and then again with my life partner. Ugly and I broke a couple of fences as our friendship grew, but I was never thrown to the ground. I had to learn to know when he was ready to ride fast and how not to fight my own body, dancing with his wild energy. I loved him intensely.
Two years later Cathy’s family sold the farm and all of the horses. I remember feeling such a deep loss of abandonment. I cried in my grandmother’s arms for hours knowing that my friend was gone. I came to understand the gift of life that Ugly had given me through my experience of interdependence with him. To this day, I still search the passing farmland and open fields for his distinctive marks, so beautiful. I still hold his fiery energy inside; sharing it now with confidence with the people who I know will ride my emotions with me through this adventure of everyday life.
—Gail Hixon, Yellow Springs, OH
Striper – so named for the banded pattern woven throughout his fur – was not a fair-weather cat. He was the faithful family pet and resident lap-warmer for over 17 years; steadfast through moments of joy and times of heartache. As the one member of our family who just happened to walk on four legs, he joined us as a kitten when my children were young adolescents; reached maturity when they were receiving high school diplomas, and settled into senior when they said their “I Do’s.” Striper was the wise family member who knew when to curl up on your lap when you needed a friend, and when to perch on a windowsill when you needed your space. It is regrettable that - throughout all the years of his devotion - I did not find the true gift in his loyalty and feline intuition until it was gone. But if hindsight lends clarity to insight, then I have found a gift in that.
Hindsight reflects upon certain memories of Stripers’ life that stand out. The memory of a freshly chewed hole in the beautiful cashmere sweater I’d just purchased reminds me that there are angry moments in life about which you will laugh later. One recollection captured in a precious photograph finds Striper fashioning himself as a scarf around the neck of my sleeping son; giving comfort and security to a young man’s dreams. Brief moments such as these are forever a part of who my son is now, and for this I am forever grateful. I can reflect upon a time of trepidation when Striper became very sick and spent days that seemed like months in the veterinary hospital; each day spent worrying and wondering how I’d tell my children, should he pass. The experience renewed a sensibility of the gift in each day; that each day must be a treasure completely spent and never saved for the uncertainty of tomorrow. The most difficult and poignant memory surrounds the last few moments of his life, when I held him as he slipped into a peaceful sleep to take his last breath. The moment was a closing to his illness and suffering that coincided with the sudden and devastating end to my 30 year marriage. At that time, the exquisite pain of the experience coupled with my own hardship left only the foul taste of life’s cruelty. Looking back, I see that this cat of quiet majesty, love and dedication had given all that he could to our family, and was leaving us with memories that would continue to walk us through life.
Indeed, hindsight illustrates how much our cat Striper has enriched our lives in ways we may not yet fully realize. My daughter is rewarded with a profound respect and love for all animals. My son benefits from the knowledge that sensitivity and compassion are not gender specific. And I have gained a very difficult lesson in how life must go on, and found rewarding enlightenment that memories built upon love never end.
—Jackie Liss, Coatesville, PA