Too often my hands have come to rest on a rapid beating heart, a fading pulse, a trembling wing or unweighted limb. In their distress, an animal will yield the offending paw or hoove, rest a heavy muzzle on your shoulder or chest and surrender.
The knotted cold fabric of scar tissue is all too familiar to my fingers now. They have spent years, like a potter at her wheel, throwing and shaping it. I love the process of untangling its wires and easing its tension into smooth cable. At first it feels vacant and unyielding, seemingly without energy or animation. But as the heat of contact pries it from its anchored grip, electricity and fluid rush into the space created and pulls it onto its feet like a puppet, akimbo as it rises and stretches itself.
The old horse, neck and back sunken, grey hairs framing amber eyes has legs like gnarled tree trunks, crooked and thick with clotted veins running their length. The black dog on its back, tongue lolling, chest rising and falling in time with the respirator. The masked veterinarian leaning over its open belly, knitting together what the grill of a passing car has set asunder. The tug of the stitches over time will leave a trail on the skin like a passing caterpillar. My friends tabby, victor of a long ago night fight has a crease of bubbled tissue where the upper half of his ear was. He loves to have it rubbed between my fingers until it changes from pale white to salmon pink.
A hundred, a thousand such creatures have walked through my life. Their scars tell the story of falls, fights, surgeries and untended wounds. Joints click, tendons sing like violin strings stretched across the bone, raised scars like topographic maps trace mountain ranges across haunches and hocks. Each one of them seems even more precious to me for their scars. My hands feel and my eyes see them as greater than whole, somehow more than their unimpaired, unmarked brethren. They never accept pity, they move unfazed, perhaps slower but with conviction. To me, they are warriors and heroes of their own stories. They wear their scars like crowns and jewels. The weight of them does exact a toll but head high, eyes soft, they carry them like a rich tapestry cloak. It elevates them somehow. The one eyed horse seems to see more deeply, the three-legged cat seems light on its feet, the arthritic old dog unmoveable like a great oak rooted into the earth.
Funny then, as I gaze down at the thin thread of crinkled skin and run a finger over a tangle of sinew beneath my pulse that I feel none of that power and mystique. Resolve and resilience are replaced with frailty and numbness. My steps now are tenuous, my movements more slowed and deliberate from caution. My bone is not my own, it now lives within a house of metal. My tendons scrape against its door, the skin closes around it like a drape.
It helps now to look into their eyes, to draw on their power. And when the muzzle rests on my shoulder now, it is to give comfort rather than take it. And I surrender.