I’ve experienced a couple incidents recently that remind me of the frailty of life.
First, one of our cats got sick. (Yes, that's a picture of him drinking out of our kitchen sink!) He was a big cat that looked like he should roar. Instead, he had a high-pitched chirp. And he was very loving, earning the nickname “Lovey.” Anytime we needed to track down his whereabouts, we’d usually find him snuggled next to one of the kids on their beds. He’d even climb bunk bed ladders so that he could curl up next to someone.
So, it was with great sadness that we watched our big lovey cat slowly deteriorate over a month’s time. We took him to the vet and thought he was perking up, but even with help, he still kept losing weight until eventually we were practically hand feeding him. During his last few days of life, he stopped drinking, and my husband I worked together to syringe water into him. By the end, he could hardly walk without having to stop every couple of feet and lay down in exhaustion.
Another incident, about a week later, involved our dog catching a baby squirrel. Those who’ve been following my blog for a while might remember that last spring my daughters and I rescued four tiny motherless squirrels that fell out of a tree in our back yard. Ever since, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for them.
Well, this time, our dog happened to come upon a little red squirrel in the back yard. It was old enough to be out of its nest and zip around the trees with its siblings, but it certainly wasn’t nimble enough to escape our dog. Even though our sweet Golden Retriever only “played” with the baby for a few minutes, she broke a front arm and back leg.
I donned garden gloves, scooped up the baby, and deposited it into an old hamster cage on a soft bed of rags. I kept it warm on a bag of heated rice, syringe-fed it puppy formula, and gave it as much TLC as I could, but it grew continually lethargic until after a couple of days it finally died.
The death of the cat and then the squirrel both really affected me. Yes, I cried. And I felt a heavy, depressing ache in my heart that didn’t seem to want to go away.
Both of the experiences reminded me that life is indeed frail. So many things are like a flower—here today but gone tomorrow. It’s easy to want to pull away and to stop caring in order to protect ourselves from feeling the heartache and pain that come with loss.
But through the death of first the cat and then the squirrel, I tried to tell myself the pain never has to be wasted, that we can reap so much from the painful moments of life, particularly as writers:
Don’t avoid the pain. The painful moments in life help us appreciate the joys of life with more keenness. If we taste of bitterness, then when we finally bite into sweetness, it will be all the sweeter.
Pain can make us stronger. The longer I live, and the more heartache I experience, the stronger I grow as a person. I gain wisdom, perspective, appreciation, and more character through each challenge.
Channel the emotions. Let them flow into our books and bring them to life. The more deeply we allow ourselves to feel the joys and pains of life, the more passion we can pour into our stories.
Keep life in perspective. It’s short. We don’t have forever. Remember the things that matter most, especially when we’re discouraged by rejections, low sales, or stinging reviews.
I know one of my writing strengths is that I’m a passionate person. I’m passionate about life, about cats, about baby squirrels, about my family, about many things. I feel things deeply, which comes with the deeper heartaches but ultimately higher highs.
Hopefully, the more passionately we feel things, the more passionately we can live out the time we have on earth, and the more life we can bring into the stories we write.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: When we write, we pour out our hearts and souls; when we live, we fill our hearts back up.
How about you? Are you letting your pains and difficulties make you into a better writer? Are you channeling your passion into your stories?