From the archive:
The dog, who had managed to do a very good impression of being really ill while there was chicken and crackling sent by my son to boost her failing health, was charging round the room in true setter fashion with a stuffed hedgehog dangling from her mouth. Looking at her, you wouldn’t think for a moment there was a thing wrong with her. Odd that.
If Ani is feeling unwell, which is thankfully rare, she retreats under the sofa cushions and doesn’t come out. You get to know her moods and emotions just as clearly as if she could speak. You may not know what exactly is wrong, but that something is not right somewhere is very obvious.
In the same way if I am feeling under the weather, sad or upset for any reason, Ani knows and is always there, cheering me up or just quietly being with me. She doesn’t know the causes or details, any more than I do when the boot is on the other foot, but she sees, smells, feels enough to just know things aren’t right.
We humans look to our animal companions and see their empathy, accepting that whether it is down to an arsenal of physical senses developed far beyond the capacity of our own, or perhaps due to some kind of sixth sense that simply knows, our four footed friends are aware in ways that we are not.
I’m not so sure that is true.
We all know those elderly couples who seem telepathic in their knowledge of one another, who no longer need to speak in order to share the dance of their days. Perhaps that is down to a lifetime together, learning the minute, wordless signals that allow them to read the silent stillness of each other. Siblings can be the same. My own sons seem to read each other’s mind so often and with such clarity… even in their randomness… that it is a family joke and they look at me with accusatory eyes when I do the same.
An odd choice of word, a look or the set of a shoulder may say much when we really take note. And sometimes silence holds more meaning than simple quietness and we question, in words or within ourselves, where the problem may lie and while we may not be able to help in any practical manner we can be aware, and that may be all that is needed.
Such things we can dismiss as familiarity, of course. Similarity, parity in experience perhaps, but is that all there is to it? I wonder sometimes.
I remember a night long ago when my mother, who had been to visit me in Paris, was taken ill on the way home. This was a time long before mobile phones; we communicated by letters that took a week to arrive. I had waved her off on the journey home after a wonderful day. She wasn’t even forty at the time but by two in the morning she was being rushed from the ferry to hospital after suffering a stroke. I woke in the middle of the night to hear her calling me by the name she always used. Clear as day, as if she was in the room with me. I put it down to missing her after the brief visit, but was uneasy for days and mentioned it over breakfast to my boss. Then I wrote home.
A few days later I had a phone call. She had waited until she could speak clearly again. She described what had happened; between consciousness and oblivion she had called for me and followed a path by a big house in the trees on one side and a field full of flowers on the other. It had led down a narrow alley to a cottage in the middle of the woods with a big tree outside the front door. This, oddly enough, was an accurate description of the route I took into the tiny town where I lived, every day. Outside the house was an olive tree.
There are other tales I could tell, stories that have their parallels in many of our lives. These things are not rare, but, I think, indicate a ‘forgotten’ sense that we no longer use to its true capacity; something that may have atrophied yet which can reassert itself sometimes.
Attention seems a prerequisite. We notice nothing unless we choose to see. But I wonder if there is not some kind of attunement that goes beyond the physical signals of body language or the shared experience of living that allows to pick up deeper echoes. It seems to me that it is those about whom we care the most that we can ‘tune in’ to more readily and to me that suggests a desire to do so; a desire to be in a close enough harmony to be ‘on their wavelength’.
How deep this attunement through affection may go is another matter, when we simply ‘know’, perhaps in the middle of the night, that something is wrong; or we make a call or visit because we feel we ‘have to’. There are no physical signals, no words, heard or read upon which to base our intuition. How then do we know?
I have no answers, only my own beliefs. But it is worth pondering perhaps whether the sixth sense so often posited is a reality we all share, but one that has fallen into disuse over the millennia of our evolution, except when triggered by that awareness we call love.