How to Love

Excerpt from “Be First a Good Animal” by Meditatio Ephemera

Here I will avoid waxing romantic about unconditional love and otherwise anthropomorphizing animals, who deserve better than to be likened to humans. In truth, I have no idea how my cats and chickens feel about me.

But this much I know: My animals are masters of careful attention. When they choose to keep company with me, they see, hear and respond to me just as I am in that moment.  They are not projecting their own fears and hopes onto me; they are not preparing a response to what I am doing or saying. They are not inwardly composing a grocery list while feigning interest, nor critiquing my appearance or mannerisms. They are fully with me until they turn that same,  singular attention elsewhere.

This may seem a simple thing, and it is. But simple does not mean easy, and I have yet to meet a person as accomplished at paying attention as the most distracted animal.   This matters.   Poet Mary Oliver describes attention as “the beginning of devotion,” the necessary prerequisite to love.  When another truly attends to us, we feel seen.  Appreciated. We feel as if we matter for just who we are.

More often than not, we humans fall short in this foundational act of relationship; preoccupied by our own wants and needs, we fail, again and again, to be fully present with each other.  How lucky we are, then,  to have animals with whom to share our lives.

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