One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy reading is because I like having that moment where I relate to the story—that moment when I read a passage and say “Yea! I totally know what they’re talking about! I guess I’m not alone in the universe!” I also love reading because it exposes me to things I have never experienced before. And just say that experience finds its way into my life, I can call upon the stories for help and sort of know how to handle the situation better.
The later happened to me recently and unfortunately it wasn’t anything sweet or wonderful. It was gross. Completely utterly gross. If you have a weak stomach, move along. This one’s not for you.
For those of you who read “Blood, Bones, and Butter,” you may be familiar with a passage in which Gabrielle Hamilton explains her sense of responsibility for her restaurant. In this passage, she describes a scene that took place in the back ally behind her now highly-successful restaurant, Prune. Behind her new, precious, dream-filled restaurant, lay a grungy looking rat who appeared to be not just on death’s door, but more like hanging out in death’s foyer wondering where the hell the grim reaper was to put him out of his misery. Despite the appearance that it was still somehow breathing, this little creature teetered on the edge of a windowsill that Gabrielle struggled to reach in order to help it/get rid of it. Unfortunately for both rat and Gabrielle, the struggle ended with her accidentally knocking the rat from the sill, where when it hit the ground (WARNING: DISGUSTING STORY GETS WORSE HERE) it exploded, freeing all the horrible maggots that were thriving inside the rat’s dead body. But like a champ, Gabrielle buckled down and said (I’m paraphrasing here) “This is my restaurant. This is my responsibility. I must clean this and take care of it.” Despite having people that worked for her, she felt she couldn’t make anyone else fix this ungodly mess. Prune was her baby and as the restaurant’s big mama in charge, she was responsible.
Fast forward to me the other morning. I decided to take my dog for a sunrise walk and when I let my pup outside, I saw him run toward an unusual pile located just beneath the tree in front of our house. Immediately I sprinted into action shouting “No! Get away!” (My dog has a real talent for finding horrific things and getting his nose right in there). Sure enough, his keen sense for all things “BLECH” worked again. When I reached the leaves I saw my own little back ally terror—a very dead raccoon… we’ll just leave the description at that. Almost immediately I thought of Gabrielle and the rat, and I thought “This is my house! This is my responsibility! I can take care of this! I am woman!” So, I got a shovel and a garbage bag and went to work. After 10 minutes of dry heaving loud enough to wake the neighborhood, my husband woke up to find his ill looking wife struggling, albeit trying, to take care of business. Together, we defeated the nausea and placed the raccoon in his final resting place—a very fancy black garbage bag that we put on the curb for pickup.
Now, although there are so many other parts of that book I wish I related to instead of THAT moment, I was happy that when I saw the raccoon I didn’t pass out. I didn’t puke or cry or call someone for help. I tried my hardest to take care of it myself because I felt empowered by Gabrielle’s desire to take charge.
We learn from what we read. We experience new things, feel compassion and empathy, feel joy, feel encouraged, feel angry, sad, ecstatic–all because of the things we experience through stories. And if and when the time comes, those stories we carry around within us will be there to help guide us…even through the grossest moments of life.