Friday, January 6, 2012

The Zen of Shoveling Shit

What the hell am I doing here? It’s ten degrees outside. The ground is frozen, wisps of week-old snow pocketed in the grass. My hands are the lovely pale periwinkle of an amateur sunrise; my teeth are chattering uncontrollably; I may have had ears at some point, but they have become holes through which the icy wind finds passage into my skull.

It’s fucking cold. And what am I doing here?

I’m shoveling dog shit, that’s what.

They told me never to work with children or animals. Children, okay, no problem there – never could get the hang of micropeople, anyway. Then there are the dogs.

There have always been dogs. Years ago, the first day I walked among them, I knew there would always be dogs.

And with dogs, comes shit, and shit must be shoveled. So here I stand, shivering, trying not to get cold poo on my hands as I transfer yet another shovelful into the ubiquitous and life-saving used grocery bag.
Sometimes – more often lately, it seems – I ask myself in desperate tones, Why do I do what I do? Why don’t I get a job doing something that doesn’t involve bodily waste or the handling of angry animals? Why don’t I get a nice career in a boring, lucrative field like accounting, or geology, and perhaps go one week without coming home smelling of cat urine? Making money… and no long discussions about diarrhea? What’s that like? Is that even real? Did you know there are people out there who don’t know how to spell diarrhea, because they never have to? What’s that like?

Scrape, scrape. Loose stool is the worst. It’s like trying to scrape jelly from the table with the edge of your toast. Gah, yuck. You can never get it completely out of the grass, you can only move it around until it dissipates.

Why do I do what I do? None of the answers I’ve given myself over the years have been satisfactory. I look down at my scars – my many scars, crisscrossing my arms and hands, mostly, with a few on my knees and one particularly good one on my right bosom – and sigh, because I can put a dog or cat to each one. I remember the name of every animal I’ve come across, and I realize that that, right there, is why I do what I do.

Scrape, scrape. Almost done. It’s all in the slight flick of the wrist, or would be, if my fingers weren’t like frozen sausages around the metal handles of the scooper.  

… Because to me, each one is worth it. Even the really bad ones, the ones you dread seeing on the schedule – the cats who scream and fling their waste at you, the dogs who snarl and snap at you, and roll like gators in the catch pole. Every one of them is worth my time and my remembrance, and why shouldn’t they be? The scars they leave on my skin may be the only lasting impression they leave in this world, and I will gladly bear them – as long as I live, an echo of you will live also.

Sigh. I tie the bag shut and toss it into the dumpster.

The yard is clean, my friends, my crazy dogs. So I’ll sit with you, like I used to: staring into the setting sun, calm and undemanding, waiting to go home. The cold wind blows my hair; you lift your noses to it, and everything is, for the first and maybe the last time, alright. I stink like a house full of dogs, and one of you is about to cop a squat after all my hard work, and someone is about to walk through the door and get everyone riled, and damn my hands are cold, and I’m fairly certain that I have poo somewhere on me… and still, the simple perfection of this moment outweighs the infernal push and pull of the day, and hold us all in stillness.

Help me to remember that, my friends, when I’m in tears scraping hardened liquid feces from the concrete floors and walls of your runs, or getting piss paw-prints smack in the middle of my scrub top, or getting my softest parts clamped down upon by your unsympathetic jaws. Help me to remember the stillness, and the rightness.

They told me never to work with children or animals, and I defied them. But with dogs comes shit, and shit needs shoveling. And that’s alright – a little shit is a paltry price to pay for a cold wind, a lifted nose, and a brief glimpse of perfection. 

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