No moral compass

When my babies were tiny, I worried about the possibility each in their turn might be carried away in cot death. It kept me awake even after I had checked and rechecked. Until I told myself there was nothing I could do to stop it, other than take all the precautions we knew about in those days: Not too many blankets, a sturdy regulation cot, lie them down on their sides – these days a no-no. 

I checked their breathing in the middle of the night with a mirror to look for the tell-tale fog of their warm breaths when I could not hear those whisper soft sounds and then beyond a certain age, I stopped worrying.

I felt again last night the angst of those days in the form of my worries over the dog. She’s tall enough to stand on her hind legs to reach the kitchen bench.

Last night before dinner, my husband had left out two pieces of salmon to breathe before coooking. He left them in a sealed plastic bag on the bench top. A mistake we know because while he was elsewhere, the dog must have snuck them from the bench and eaten the lot.

‘Where’s the fish?’ my husband asked when he returned to the kitchen several minutes later. I had only just arrived. We looked in the fridge and the penny dropped. 

‘I found a plastic bag on the floor before’ my daughter chimed in from the stairs. ‘I thought it had come from the bin.’

My husband was furious about the stolen fish but calmed down in the knowledge you can’t blame a dog.

Dogs have no moral compass and there’s no point trying to discipline after the event. It would not make sense to the dog who can’t put two and two together. Nor can the dog realise the gut ache that follows excess consumption of fish is a consequence of stealing. 

‘They don’t learn from experience,’ I said to my daughter who rang the vet worried about her dog who tends on the sensitive stomach side of life.

The vet told her the dog might suffer some pancreatitis at worst, and at best we should anticipate some diarrhea. 

So, all night long I expected the dog’s paw on my face. The dog is learned enough to know to let me know she needs to go outside. And it was hot last night, so much so I found it hard to sleep alongside the hot breathing nearby of a dog who might at any moment be sick.

She was not sick though, and beyond two am after I took her out for a pee and nothing more, I settled into sleep.

There’s this burden to worrying about others seemingly more vulnerable than me. The children, the dogs, the people in my care.

I try to apply the same principles that let me go to sleep when my babies were tiny. I’ve done all I can, there’s nothing more I can do, dispense with the angst. Breathe deeply and let my mind rest.

But the thoughts rush back in.

I’m part of a research project on dreaming during Covid, which asks participants to record their dreams as best they can over a fourteen-day period and also every day, preferably towards the end of the day to allow themselves to stop for ten minutes and let their minds wander.

I have no trouble remembering my dreams, especially those in the morning from which I wake, but this ten-minute exercise of letting my mind wander is tricky.

I can stop and sit, then close my eyes to let my mind wander – up to a point. But I soon get caught up in thoughts of how I will remember where my mind has wandered. I need to repeat in my head where I’ve just been in order to record as best I can its meanderings. And this process interferes with the idea of letting my mind wander.,

I was telling my children about it and one suggested that I record as I let my mind wander but that’s a whole other exercise. That’s writing, and not musing. 

Over the course of the past week – I’m half way through my part on the project – I’ve noticed my preoccupation with things Covid as well as my increasing concerns over matters of life and death.

When my mother was pregnant with my youngest brother an older brother put together a photo album of our family, a page per child. On the last page he wrote a big question mark. That question mark comes back to me now. The thought that this question mark became a still born girl who never saw the light of day. A little sister who died in utero as my mother’s placenta withered away in the last days of pregnancy because of my mother’s age, the doctor said. Though how true this was I cannot say. 

I feel the ghosts of all the lost babies in my ancestry knocking at my brain, rattling my awareness of how fragile life can be.

The lottery of pregnancy, the ultrasound doctor said to me after the scans showed my ten-week-old foetus had stopped breathing. A private grief that I carried with me for the next several months until I fell pregnant again with my last baby. The relief of feeling ill in the first trimester a sure sign my baby was holding on unlike the last.

The pain of loss stays with me, and shifts my moral compass.

6 thoughts on “No moral compass”

  1. Such an interesting post! And that dream/Covid study sounds fascinating. It’s so weird to be living in the midst of a time that will surely be written about, studied, etc. for decades. I feel like I’m in a daze half the time, to tell you the truth. Living life as usual but not quite. As for worrying and death, I just wrote a post about that — being Sophie’s caregiver for 25 years has honed my worrying to something other than worry.

    1. You must surely know more about worry than most of us Elizabeth, though we each wear it differently. I agree about this strange time that we’re living though, a time that will feature in centuries to come, hopefully with less dread than the Black Death but still with some awe. Thanks Elizabeth.

  2. Hi Elisabeth, such a long time since I commented but that does not mean I have not been following your thoughts and your writing.
    I seldom remembered dreams and if I did only a handful of those remain in my memory. Before Covid, I was placed on a medication that, oddly, gives me the most vivid, happy dreams. I often wake feeling quite euphoric about the content of the dream wishing I could go back to sleep and reclaim it (you probably recognise the medication). I have heard there are some categories of drugs that can produce horrific nightmares, but thankfully, I don’t ever expect to need them.
    I spend a lot of time on my own at the moment which allows my mind to wander uncontrolled as much as I like, most of which is about what I might want to do next.
    So, I can say that I haven’t had any dreams featuring Covid, disaster or any other worries that might normally indicate the state of my mind.
    May your dreams be as peaceful.
    Karen C

    1. It’s lovely to hear from you again, Karen. And so good that your medication doesn’t give you nightmares. I hope life is kind to you these days. Especially under the horrid weight of Covid.

  3. I’m behind on my comments because we’re in the middle of moving house and it’s hard to sit down and take the time needed to provide a thoughtful comment. So bear with me. The move wasn’t something we’d planned but a pretty-much-ideal property came onto the market and so we jumped at it. We’ve had virtually no contact with the outside world for ten months and now this. Who’d a thunk it? But things are going smoothly enough. One of the things I do find myself worrying about probably more than I should is our bird. How to get him from A to B and keep him safe. Kids you can reason with—you can turn the whole thing into an adventure—and life’s one big adventure if you’re a dog but Birdie is a creature of habit and skittish and this will be a big upheaval. We have a travel cage which we’ve put him in a couple of times. He doesn’t like it. Too used to his freedom.

  4. I hope the move went well, Jim. The thought of moving house is not one I welcome. Too many years in one place, I’ve almost grown roots. And the stuff that needs to be cleared away. Too much to imagine. Thanks, Jim.

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