When does caring turn to interfering?

I have a deeply ingrained urge to help others, to be of assistance when I can. It’s part of being an empath. I feel strongly for others. I have a tendency to take someone under my wing and advise them if they seem needy. There are many people I listen to and never give advice to as they seem wiser than yours truly. But for those who seem like they could use a hand, I advise. I suggest. I hope. I inform. I try and give the information—the benefit of my own experience—to save them trouble. But where is that middle ground between helping and interfering? Between caring and expecting too much? Today I question my own motives in getting involved with others. People have their own path to walk, their own lessons to learn. I want to be able to let people have their own experiences. Will I be able to do this?

An incident the other morning with a long-time friend has me questioning my own motives in helping others. He put his head in the sand at the wrong time. His mare was very sick, and he did what I considered a minimum to get her help. In other people’s eyes, maybe he did a lot. That is debatable in the horse community. His attitude was, it’s his prerogative to expect the best and only change that if things go wrong. My outlook is, if you prepare for the worst, this enables you to manage the best. This comes from experience. You will know all your options and can act accordingly. With horses you must act quickly and monitor constantly. Especially with colic or an impaction.

During the course of the day my friend acted as if he were afraid to deal with his mare. As if the problem did not exist. I guess he could not handle it emotionally. Some folks are like that. But help is only a phone call away. Vets are often happy to give advice over the phone, especially if you have a history with them. The one in question is a super friendly, happy vet that takes calls 24/7 and makes house calls. In my friends denial, he did not call the vet until nine hours after I suggested. In the mean time he gave his mare a shot of something to help with pain and promptly…went into the house to watch TV. Once you administer a shot of Banamine, you must walk your horse and keep her on her feet until she is well clear of any danger. When I arrived a few hours later, his horse was laying on the ground. If a horse lays down for too long, a gut can become twisted, killing them. Keep them walking! I have had sick horses in the past and at no time would I ever be in the house unless I had to relieve myself. I can’t imagine being so complacent as to be inside watching the boob tube until my horse was visibly on the mend, able to be on her own.

When I told him his horse was on the ground he was stunned. Since he was ‘hoping for the best’ that did not leave room for reality. To him, administering the shot was the end of his responsibility. He thought it was a guaranteed fix. In his mind the shot meant being off the hook and treatment was done. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Reality is give the horse the shot, and walk her around, not letting her lay down. All day if you have to. All night if you have to. In the past three people and myself took turns walking a sick horse around for hours in a snowstorm until the vet arrived.

If you put ‘hope for the best’ in one hand, and poop in the other hand, guess which one will pile up faster. You must get off your buttocks and do something! You must take action, especially with a thousand pound animal you care about.

I suggested he do a dozen helpful, very simple things to monitor and care for his animal. All were ignored. After almost a full day of inaction, it was finally clear to him that she was not getting better. He knew a vet visit was in order. He yelled at me in panic, “I did not see this coming!” After nine hours of her not getting better, and me hounding him about it, he had no idea he might have to take her to the vet? How is this possible? He didn’t think to empty his horse trailer of hay, just in case he needed to take her to the vet? Giant forehead slap. Apparently watching TV was more important. Comforting himself was all he knew how to do. He’s big into comforting himself at every opportunity and claims he prefers to “not get involved” with just about everything going on around him. The Universe won’t let you do that.

He thinks anything more than the bare minimum is, in his words “…getting all hysterical.” I almost laughed out loud when he said that because, speaking of hysterics, my friend was in such a panic on his way to the vet that he drove into his own 12 foot wide chain link gate and ripped it out of the ground. Only when things were dire did he wake up. Then his panic got the best of him. He was not prepared and he so easily could have been. The vet had no luck removing the blockage (which can kill a horse), but they would try again in the morning.

Years ago I lost a horse to an impaction, a blockage. So the next morning when I went over for coffee, I asked him if he had prepared himself in case he had to make a hard decision about his horse. I was polite. I asked instead of told. He blew his top saying he wanted to be left alone to drink his coffee. Excuse me, it’s too early to consider that in five minutes you might get one of the most difficult calls of your life? If a horse has a blockage that is not fixable, euthanasia must be immediate or the animal suffers greatly. You don’t have the luxury of hemming and hawing to make a decision, or taking time to enjoy drinking your coffee while the world waits for you. You cannot hide in denial. He still was in denial that his horse might die. He was still in denial he had to interact with the world. In frustration over his stubbornness and lack of caring, I blew my top about his lax attitude regarding his animal and left him as he wished. Maybe not my best moment. Where was my compassion? My guess is it was buried in tons of ongoing frustration. But still, that was not the best thing for me to do.

Several years ago I lost my own horse. The circumstances were similar. I did not prepare myself enough, mentally or emotionally. I thought I had, but I still feel that pain today. I foolishly thought that as long as the horse was at the vet, all was well and I didn’t say goodbye to him. My heart still aches over that. In being so forward with my friend, I was trying to save him from that pain. Maybe that is what is at the heart of my feelings over this incident. My great loss could have been lessened had I prepared better. I didn’t want my friend to have to experience this pain.

I know my friend can handle life at his own pace. I thought all this time I was helping. As much as I was trying to prepare him for the worst, I may have swung over that line and gone into the nosy, interfering landscape. Maybe he will be fine without my help. But it bothers me greatly when the life of an animal is at stake. Today I learned the blockage was shifted and the horse is better. Thank goodness for that! Of all the brouhaha, this is the most important thing. She is still on the mend a full week later.

A recent blog entry by Julie Krupp is helping me process all of this. Check out her lovely blog and the post titled resolving difficult people. It gave me much needed insight about what my core values are (and more). ❤ I am an action-oriented person who is very self-sufficient. Being able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and do for myself was deeply ingrained in me by my mother. Hence, inaction, avoidance, and denial drive me nutty. That would explain the dynamics between me and my friend. Me = action oriented and proactive. Friend = relax and ignore the world until something goes wrong, then panic.

When I first met my friend, he was a newly single person who could not cook one meal for himself. I taught him how to cook and now he’s quite proud of his accomplishments. I showed him how to get around in our small community, helped with dozens of technical things beyond his knowledge and experience, made phone calls for him when he was too painfully shy, helped him grocery shop, and drove him to the doctor. I did so happily. He accepted my help gladly. But I can’t make him have the same experience level as me, or the same desires as me, or the same life outlook as me. He has his own wonderful path to live. Perhaps in future I will assist only when asked. Perhaps some day his quiet nature will be a boon to me.

Years ago a counselor gave me wonderful advice that I still use today. It may help me figure out a new attitude in my struggle to hit the middle ground in assisting vs having undue expectations of others:

“If you have a skill you have taken the time to work on and have mastered, it might frustrate you if the other person cannot match your skill level. It may bother you that they aren’t doing as well as you. For example, if you are a great communicator, and your friend is not, don’t expect them to rise to your standards quickly, or at all. Don’t get mad at them for not being good at something that you are good at. After all, think about how long it took you to master that skill yourself.”

In the bonds of friendship, we care deeply about each other to the point of not wanting harm to come to our friends. I believe that is what motivated me to speak so to my friend. But that isn’t always possible or desirable. Sometimes you have to let people have their own experiences, even painful ones, in order to grow. It’s harder still to watch a friend suffer from something you had to live through. There is a feeling of wanting to protect them. I don’t have any hard and fast answers on helping vs. hindering, caring vs. interfering. Life isn’t so black and white. But I am thankful for the opportunity for continual growth and insight. Be well.

I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.

Since I was a child I was crazy about, and always felt at home deep in nature. My happiest memories are out in the woods on a walk, or wading in the reeds at the edge of the lake watching the leopard frogs leap, sometimes spying a doe quietly watching me, or watching minnows swim by my feet as I walked along the shore.I know every inch of the acres of my mother’s property back home in Northern Wisconsin. I know every toadstool, bed of moss, insect, tree and plant.

A green carpet of mosses, ever present in the Northland.

I recall my mother and grandfather teaching me about all of nature around me, one lesson at a time. I learned about the eye of the Walleye and how it glowed like moonstone when light reflected off it. We were delighted if we came across the slow, quiet black and sky blue spotted salamanders dozing underneath a patch of wet leaves. We watched the phoebe build her nest, feed her young, and saw the babies fledge. We were not allowed to touch or bother her nest, even after they hatched. We had respect for the small Mayflies that lived on the wing for only a day, after their time in the water. We were always dazzled at the delicate and unearthly beauty of the larger-than-life Luna Moth.

A Luna Moth averages 3.5 to 4 inches wide.

We watched as dragonfly nymphs crawled out of the lake on a magical day they all seemed to know about. We watched as they broke the white ‘string’ on the back of their nymph skin. Over a few hours they would unfold their long sleek bodies out of that teeny tiny outfit. They would pump fluids into their wings before they flew away, much like a butterfly does. Often we would gather these discarded skins and scare other kids with them, as they resemble big, fat spiders. The clue to an already hatched (empty) dragonfly husk was the telltale white string.

Grampa showed us toads, and how, as a defensive move they would pee on you if you picked one up. In my family, all toads are called toads Grampa Toads. He taught us the difference between toads and frogs. Toads looked like the earth with pebbles on their back, and usually have very dry skin. Frogs were wet and found in the water, unless they were those tiny golden/brown wood frogs. Leopard frogs were the olympic swimmers and jumpers of the bunch leaving green frogs, and pickerel frogs in their wake.

My mother would often show us how to softly approach the rare orchid the Pink Lady Slipper, careful not to destroy the surrounding area. Oddly, in Minnesota there is something in the soil the Lady Slipper loves as it is the state plant! In Wisconsin it is very rare, even protected. We knew these plants were to be admired and then left alone.

The delicate Pink Lady Slipper of Northern Wisconsin is found in dense, wooded swamps.

Even my time in Manhattan I was able to find and bond with nature in the Ramble of Central Park, or strolling down the public gardens of Riverside Park. I was lucky enough to rent a small garden plot up by a horse stables near Central Park. I volunteered my time on Cathedral Row, complete with wandering peacocks, helping maintain the vast rose gardens there. I fed the birds on my 3rd floor apartment in the flower box, much to the utter dismay of my cranky New York landlord.

Unfortunately as a young woman, I did not have the nerve to follow my bliss. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved studying the behavior of animals in their natural environment. I loved every living thing. I lived and breathed it. But my interests were also in the arts. Upon deciding to get a degree, my father was deceased, and my mother’s second husband had also passed away. He was the love of her life, and she was floundering in her grief. I had no idea how to help her heal other than be a good daughter.

Thus, I felt I had no direction from the outside. I kept waffling on what I wanted to get a degree in, or do for the rest of my life, at what I felt was the decrepit age of 27. I knew to get a degree in marine biology I might have to get out of my hometown and go to the end of the world—California! I could not imagine doing that in my wildest, wildest dreams. Such a gentle homebody I was. So I stuck it out at home going to college majoring in graphic design in the cold terrain at the head of Lake Superior.

It has been a source of some personal angst over the years that I didn’t take the bull by the horns and get my degree in biology—my true heart’s’ desire. How different my life would have been! Where would it have taken me? Why was I such a wallflower and so delicate that I could not imagine it, much less make it happen? This brings me to the thought: If we could be born knowing exactly what we wanted out of life, and with the wherewithal to make it happen, that would sound ideal but it’s not how this planet works. You have to do your own evolving. You have to stretch and grow beyond what you think you are capable of. Things get in your way to help you evolve and grow. Those things are called challenges, and they help forge your own personal nature. Otherwise how would the learning and growing happen?

It was after the recent bulldozer incident that I knew what my lifetime profession should have been, and is in fact, what I am at my core today. I have finally arrived—in fact I have always been—a naturalist! A person interested in all things natural be it plant, animal, behaviors, ecosystem, or environment. I am now and have forever been a student of—and steward to—Mother Earth. No college degree needed.