When I walk through our family room in the morning, someone says in a bright and hopeful voice, “I love you”.
No, not my spouse who is usually at work by this time, but my companion Psyche. And she means it.
Recently, I saw a study on what makes for longevity. It was conducted by Harvard researchers over a 75 year period, so it was a longitudinal study, which are rare and hard to fund, much less conduct. It studied a specific group of men and thus may have whatever the limitations of that cohort being the sample has, but it did reach some significant and valid conclusions. Longevity is dependent upon happiness and happiness upon our relationships.
I am sure the researchers referred to human relationships in this work, although I have not read the original publication. But, those of us who are highly attuned to all of life, know how much other creatures contribute to our well being. I cannot imagine life without Psyche and Ricky, our dog. Because Psyche speaks so well, both to us and to him, Ricky tries mightly to speak whenever possible — not barking, which he does too, as a great watchdog, but with vocalizations that to us seem to be simulating human speech — and is rewarded for it with lots of praise and clapping, by the two of us and Psyche as well, who repeatedly tells him “Good boy”.
One of the most important missions I have had over my lifetime, in addition to being the champion of children, especially those with disabilities and other disadvantages, has been to raise awareness about the precious nature of animals and other defenseless creatures that in the past were either taken for granted or wasted by a variety of means.
In our yard, we are doing everything we can to provide a hospitable environment for the littlest beings around us: butterflies, bees, ladybugs, spiders, Praying Mantis, dragonflies, lizards, and even harmless garter snakes. We would love it if we saw a frog, but it is unlikely in this hot, dry climate. We also have a variety of small birds and the occasional predatory raptor, part of nature but one I try to discourage from dining on our little community.
While the Harvard study does indicate the importance of loving relationships, especially in early childhood — my specialty — it does not include the importance of cultivating inter-species understanding. That is something I have tried to do on my own, by instinct.
It is in my nature to be kind, even if I have a short temper sometimes. I never, ever direct it at the non-humans in my life. I cherish them. I would no sooner harm or, heaven forbid, consume one of them, than I would a human being. It is so clearly barbaric and cruel that I cannot, truly, understand how anyone convinces themselves to do so.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. — Galatians 5:22-23
I am not advocating, by the way, companion animals. After a lifetime of thought on the subject, I believe it is absolutely wrong to bring a bird, for example, into the artificial environment of our homes, no matter how carefully and scientifically we create a space for them. Psyche now has the very best of care in every respect, from her “rooms” to her indoor tree to her diet. She also has nothing but love and positivity from all of us, including Ricky who at worst tolerates her gently and at best, finds her a bit interesting and strives to communicate with us as well as she does, with over 1000 words and phrases in her English vocabulary.
But, it is really never the same as the surroundings that are natural to birds in the wild. Unfortunately, we have bred dogs and cats and horses to live with us as “pets”, a terrible holdover term from centuries ago that continues to convey a sense of enslavement, however well meaning, on them.
We are all enculturated in our Western countries to get and keep a certain class of animals in our homes and treat them royally. I am certainly for treating all living things in the best manner possible, suited to their true needs, which we need to take the time to learn about and understand. It isn’t easy and I have personally made some monumental blunders. I think as a society, we are just waking up to what is right and wrong in this regard. Certainly, the number of people who take in rescued animals are to be commended. My families have done that over the years, with mixed success. Because of Psyche and how delicate she is, I have to be very careful about the nature of any other species with which she is in contact. Labradors are especially gentle, even though they can be hunting dogs. When they do retrieve, they have what is called a ‘soft mouth’, but even so, no domesticated bird would likely survive being picked up by even a gentle dog.
In any event, here are some pictures I took at the Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion a couple of years ago. I had Anna in tow and two cameras. It was a very hot day, the exhibit was crowded and all of those who entered were roasting. By the end of our scant 15 minutes proceeding along the path, both she and I were dripping and testy. Still, I learned enough about butterflies on the two trips I took to the Pavilion, to create one in our yard, without the tent. We have had some success with it and now have more bees and butterflies, as well as praying mantis than we did before. It is still a work in progress, but as we eliminate lawn during our prolonged severe drought, the little pavilion expands. This year we will be planting cone flowers and creeping thyme around it, both of which attract humming birds, pollinators and especially butterflies.
We learned not to touch the flowers butterflies (and other pollinators) need for food. Once touched, they will not alight on them. Butterflies like sunlight. If you cast a shadow on them, they will fly off. If your movements are too abrupt, they will avoid you. We should never touch a butterfly either. They will give up part of their wing to get away and that shortens their lives considerably. They need water, just the way all living things do. The best practice in order to co-exist with a butterfly is to plant the flowers they love, give them a place to rest such as the star lavender we have in our yard, and just admire them quietly from a safe distance. That is the true definition of love and respect for one another isn’t it? Give to each what s/he would have you give to him?
As I grow older, I have learned to surround myself only with loving, kind, positive, life-affirming creatures, both human and otherwise in every venue, starting with home and extending to all my social media sites. When selfish, petty, mean-spirited people cross my path, I try to wish them well and avoid them. The Harvard study instructs us that we can learn and enhance our lives well into our 90s, and one way I do that is to be consistent in all situations: love all creatures as you do yourself. Evening living to be 100, is just a blip. Why sully it in any way?
Images: Chez BeBe assets: Los Angeles Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion; click to enlarge
[Title: refers to the famous saying by Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun, who once referred to them as “flying flowers”.]
In Memoriam: Dr. Joy Brown has passed away. She was the essence of what a behavioral therapist should be: kind, loving, wise, patient, humble and most of all, self-reflective. The world has lost a great friend.