Life is so interesting. Thinking back to when I was a child, I would have never guessed who the loves of my life would be, or who would be my most impactful teachers. I assumed they would be intuitively wise sophisticated elders, or stern well educated city dwellers, or wildly artistic daring characters, or soft spoken compassionately sensitive environmentalists. I’ve had a little bit of all of that. But one thing I never guessed, is that they would be rescued animals.
Before animals came into my life (I’m speaking of the furry kind), I was loving and learning from the nature landscape. From all aspects of it, but especially from the wind. I had something special going with the wind. I found it loving, unpredictable and exciting. I loved the way it surprised me, by catching me off-guard and gently tickling my skin. It also made me laugh, when it would take crazy-control of my hair and make it look silly. I liked the sound of the wind passing through trees, like melodic paper wind chimes. And the most magical… to watch it make things come alive and dance; to be lifted up, gracefully float, drift, twist and whirl, or race off into the distance.
I still adore the wind, but I don’t pay it as close attention as I used to. At the moment, I love the feel of my chihuahua’s fur. And the sound of her breathing, grumbling and dreaming (she makes noises when she dreams.) I love the way she can sit and happily do nothing for hours. She’s happy to just be. I also like to watch her discover new things and get excited, like when she discovered the vast grass field across the way, or random stinky smells on downtown streets. She reminds me of what it means to be alive, and to focus on the little things. The things that aren’t really little — like love, light, air, sound, touch. The things I often take for granted.
Some time ago, I think last summer, I came across the work of Janet Hill. In particular, I was attracted to her animal paintings. They seemed like such a fun fantasy, a wonderful daydream to have. It never occurred to me that someone could actually live that way, in real life. Then I found Wolfgang2242 on Instagram. I felt like I found a wellspring of hope for dreams. His instragram account was so full of a real life that I never imagined possible. I’m sure there are other people living this way, but I’ve never personally met them or seen their life captured so intimately in photos. (Side note: I’ve visited eclectic animal sanctuaries in the country, but never in the city, not in this way.)
Wolfgang2242’s name is Steve Greig. He has ducks, chickens, lots of dogs of various breeds and sizes, a pig, a rabbit, and I’m sure more that I haven’t accounted for. They all live happily together — in a beautiful conventional home, in a metropolitan city. From what I can see, it seems like a seamless bunch. All of the animals are rescues (mostly seniors, some with special needs, many with tragic pasts.) When looking at Steve’s photos, it’s like looking at a carefully (and lovingly) pieced-together puzzle. Small pieces and big pieces, fitting into each other, unpredictable pairings that make a complete and unforgettable picture.
When I look at Janet Hill’s art or Steve Greig’s photos, I feel at home. I feel like I understand. And I feel a sense of relief, like anything is possible, and everyone is free to live and love.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book titled Big Magic, she talks about finding your true work, your purpose or life calling. She says that with everything exciting and rewarding, there is a price to pay. For every calling/craft that appears like a suitable adventure or purposeful work, there is a “shit sandwich” that you will have to eat. It comes with the work you’ve dedicated yourself and your life to. If you don’t like the taste (or the hassle) of this particular sandwich that comes with your work — don’t take it on. (These aren’t her exact words, I’m just giving you the gist of her point.)
There is no doubt in my life that Steve’s life is a TON of work. There is no doubt that family members and close friends tried to convince him to not take on such a big responsibility and expense. I’m sure on many occasions (like when Englebert went missing for 36 hours, the littlest of the crew, a teeny chihuahua with special needs), Steve must scratch his head and wonder if his heart can take the burden of this much love, worry and responsibility. My guess is all Steve has to do is think of the rewards. All the moments of joy, laughter, beingness, closeness, contribution and insight the animals have brought to his life. He also knows he is making a choice in how it is all orchestrated. Much is up to him, but the unpredictable moments, the more than challenging times, must come along as well.
There are things in everyone’s life that makes perfect sense to them, but to others looks extreme, burdensome or unknowable. The life of a firefighter fighting fires, or a woman eager to birth/adopt children, or an ice skater spinning, or a writer alone in the woods, or a man taking in an abundance of rescued animals… it’s all people in their element. It’s all people diving into the best life possible for them in that moment. We all have something like that. Something that comes at a price, but is more than worth the effort. The trick is to be honest with ourselves. To ask ourselves and answer honestly: What brings tears to my eyes? What moves me emotionally? What makes me smile? What lights me up? What do I dream of? What feels uniquely mine? What do I cherish more than anything? What do I want to be remembered for? And after that, ask yourself if you will gratefully eat all that comes with it, the good and the bad. And if your answer is the same… then that my friend, is your life work. Go for it. Embrace it fully. Live and breathe it… and never look back.