Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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My Furry Teacher

Day 138 – This was part of my last entry on April 18th, four days after my 10 year-old golden retriever died very suddenly:

I thought he was my indulgence.  He was not.  He was a teacher and friend who showed me so much.  The lessons are about optimism, being present, thin skinned/thick skinned, just being and letting go, remembering the future, silence and the importance of weakness.   I’m going to write about this.  I am going to get through it.

Each time I tried to write something here, I told myself it was too hard, that I wasn’t ready.  So, I will write some details about the lessons my furry teacher brought to me.

  1.  Be optimistic – There will be days when you are carrying a tree limb and no matter how you try, it won’t fit through the kitchen door.  Don’t be upset.  It’s sunny outside and you can enjoy that limb on the deck.  Celebrate the fact that you figured out how to get it up a flight of stairs.
  2. There is no time like the present to do whatever it is you want to do–I mean, really, who is in charge of you but you?  Want to play–play!  Want to nap–nap!  If you just taste the wind and look around you, there are so many things right here and right now that are worth your attention.
  3. If someone wants to get into a fight with you, think about who they are first.  I mean, if you are about 10 times bigger and stronger and mellow as say…a miniature dachshund that’s gnawing on your leg, ask yourself how much damage can it really do?  How long before she wears herself out?  Pay as little attention as possible and eventually she’ll go on her way.  But don’t let her try to bite near your eyes.  You don’t have to fight.  Just show her your teeth and gently remind her that her head fits in your mouth.
  4. You have to just be and let go.  I mean sometimes you get a car ride.  Could be going to the dog park.  Could be going to the vet.  Could be that drive-through place that has ICE CREAM!  Could be a long drive or a short one. The thing is–you’re getting a car ride. Put your face out the window and just be.
  5. Bark when you need to.  We all need to bark sometimes.  The quiet that comes after always feels pretty good.
  6. You know what’s coming.  Everybody knows that there are great times and good people and hard times and hard people.  There’s not much you can do about when and where they come.  Remember who you are.  Remember your pack is with you.
  7. That’s the other thing.  The pack.  You might get older and slower and not able to fetch like you used to do.  But your pack is there.  They will lick your face and share a toy with you.  They will help you figure out how to wriggle out of any cone of shame.

It was so difficult to get him into the car but I managed and the other dogs nearly knocked me down getting into the car.  There was no time for leashes and collars.  I drove with his head in my lap.  Then he moved his head to rest it between the gear shift and the console.  He turned on the radio and kept brushing his face against it, making the channels change and change and change.  He grinned a dog smile for the last time. The pack followed his stretcher in and we learned that there would be no healing.  I know my vet explained it to me but I didn’t hear the words.  Moxie and Baxter got quiet and the vet went about doing his job.  I thought, what would I want to hear in my last moments?  I would want something that filled my mind with good thoughts and good memories.  And so I told him things he loved to hear:  You have the coldest nose ever. Are you wagging? You are the most optimistic dog ever.  I love you.  You are my prince.  You are the best dog.  You can play in the fountain all the time.  Look for Dugan and Honey. Look for my Mom.

I spent the next couple of days thinking about the irony of it all.  A Facebook reminder that two years earlier I had been sitting with a woman whose dog had just been euthanized. How I finally understood Snow White’s ode to perfect, unconditional love.  Someday my Prince will come.  Someday I’ve fine pure love.  Nobody told me he would have floppy ears and drool.  How the next day a small, loud plane got my attention outside as it drew a smile face in the sky over Table Mountain.  I saw it and thought, no. No really? You’re still a comfort to my soul.  You let me know you made it home safely.


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Doggone

.Days 100-105:  To those who are following this writing, all handful of you, I apologize for the big gap in communication.  But in these few days I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and other things along the way.

Today I learned that if you google ‘grieving the loss of a dog’ you will find 703,000 URLs that will take you to sites selling tombstones, sites selling jewelry, and some insights into loss.  My dog Truman has died.

Every dog in my life, except Truman, has been a rescue dog.  I was a toddler feeding Cheerios to the stray dogs a neighbor rescued.  In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, it’s still legal to shoot your dog for no good reason.  The law says ‘without malice’ but I’m not sure how you shoot a poodle without malice.  Anyway.  The  list is lengthy and includes 6 German shepherd puppies headed for the drowning pool who ended up becoming seeing-eye dogs thanks to my mother’s quick thinking.  There was a neighbor’s beaten, broken dog who I stole with the complicity of a friend. He lived out his life on a farm, guarding the kitchen door.  There was Dugan, who came into my life with his owner’s son in tow.  He opened the door to my heart for dogs after a long, dry spell.  I lived with him in the winter of his life and loved him through his death. After he died, about  6 weeks passed and I had a recurring dream.  (If this is too, woo-woo for you, oh well.)  Dugan ran toward me, would stop, and then run back the way he had come.  One night, in the dream, he ran forward with a yellow puppy.  A month or so passed and for the first time ever, I got a dog, a pure breed dog, who was not lost or abused and had not been named by anyone else.   I thought he was my indulgence.  He was not.  He was a teacher and friend who showed me so much.

The lessons are about optimism, being present, thin skinned/thick skinned, just being and letting go, remembering the future, silence and the importance of weakness.   I’m going to write about this.  I am going to get through it.


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Just Calm

Days 98 & 99:  There has been calm.  It makes it sound as if this should be a rather boring piece of writing.  Scribbling about the placid.  When did we learn to think that drama-free equals boring?  I have been to drama.  It is not an experience that I need.  Today has a very small tale to tell:  I drove to work talking to the full moon and reciting things for which I am grateful.  I drove home talking to by daughter on nifty new earphone thingies that were an unexpected gift from a friend.  I listened to my daughter’s hard day and some of her drama.  And the thought that brought tears to my eyes was that she has a lover who understands her and cares deeply for her.  I can release some of that mommy-fear about my adult daughter’s unhappy day 1500 miles from home.  I can trust her, her girlfriend, and myself and release it. And keep my own calm.  Tonight I didn’t eat dinner.  I didn’t work on anything.  I re-filled the bird feeder and passed out dog treats.  And I did something I wouldn’t have done a while back–identified myself.  There was an email from our neighborhood chat board.  Folks were asking about the free libraries by the park, talking about what a treat they are and that they could use a paint job.  And they wanted to know who put them there.  I confessed.  It felt good and it felt connected.  No fireworks.  Just calm.


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I Get What She’s Saying

Days 83 & 84:  I can’t think of one thing of value I did on Monday.  I mean, I went to work and worked.  I came home and wandered through my evening, got up this morning, and started it all over again.  Days like that feel like there is no life in living, just treading water.

The patient part of me says, Be present. Sit with it. Become aware of your surroundings.  And that is often enough.  Restless me wants to constantly be in forward motion, creating something, breaking down something, getting it in gear to GO.  I was all about GO tonight with plans to box up a few more things heading toward the exit.  Then my phone rang.  It was Mary. She is in her 80’s. We have met 2-3 times over a lifetime and I will spend some time with her in October.  She always talks as if we just stopped speaking to one another 5 minutes ago.  She tells me family stories, asks me probing questions and punctuates important information with Are you getting what I’m saying to you here?  And I do.  She always reminds me how the past, present and future are woven together and that no human story is unique–someone, somewhere has been in a similar spot and made choices too.  We spent a long while on the phone and then she said a quick Don’t forget I love you.  We’ll talk soon. 

I saw how the evening had slipped away along with the likelihood that I would accomplish much more tonight.  The conversation also energized me with an interior eagerness to put some muscle behind my decluttering.  I need/want/am going to have less stuff and need/want/am going to have more people time.  Someone once said that the person with the most toys at the end wins.  Somebody else said, the person who has the most time to play with their toys wins.  I say, the person with any toys that are used up and worn out because they were shared doesn’t care about winning because just living is so enjoyable.


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Bittersweet

Days 80,81,82: Well, it was a weekend of more doing that writing.  More reading than writing.  More community than writing.  The whole weekend had crisp air with hints and smatterings of rain.  The past and present spent a lot of time kissing one another.

Truman went for his doggie spa day.  When I went to retrieve my golden retriever, they had trimmed him into a puppy cut.  In his eyes I could see the light and love of the fuzzy yellow puppy that he was 9 years ago.  He put his head on my shoulder in the car and I thought of the long days he spent at my side when I was recovering from cancer.  I thought of how little he expects of me and how much he gives. And I noticed the white mask forming on his face and the white patches on his haunches. The dogs are 9,10, and 11 years old.  Looking at the wagging trio,  I decided not do the dishes. I didn’t do much other stuff for the rest of the day.  I threw the ball, tugged the toy, scratched ears and bellies, massaged some aging joints and we all fell asleep while I was reading.

A couple of years ago, I gave away a huge portion of my collection of cookbooks.  I had an obscene amount of cookbooks.  I collected most of them as a young mom and some of my best memories with my own mother involve hot cups of coffee and buttered toast shared while leafing through recipes –improving, mocking, marking to make, and wondering who could afford the ingredients for some of them.  I kept collecting them after she died and looking for her handwritten notes among the old ones.  My daughter and I carried on the tradition but it never felt like it ‘clicked.’ I was reminded more than once this weekend that she learns by doing.  She grew up with me having Saturday or Sunday community dinners.  Usually fresh bread and soup or chili and lots of philosophical conversation, some music and musings.  And anyone could come.  As I sorted through more of the cookbooks (and decided to give away 3 boxes), I thought about how much I miss those meals and what it would take to revive that in some way.  Later that night, my daughter called to share her pasta sauce happiness.  She started serving community dinners a few months ago for protesters on their way to the DAPL stand-off.  It has since evolved into community dinners of her own.  Fifteen hundred miles was unable to contain the savory and sweet of that conversation–how much I miss my mother and my daughter and yet how close to me they both are.

Tonight as I finished boxing and sorting, I thought about my morning and early afternoon spent with an excellent friend cooking up ideas for the fairy house we are making from a tree stump in my front yard and plotting what to cook for an event we are both attending next weekend.  I thought how good it is to have a co conspirator.  I also stumbled on a copy of The Subject Tonight is Love a translation of Hafiz’s poetry by Daniel Ladinsky.  It was a gift to a paramour from whom I separated several years ago.  Until tonight, it was pristine and unread. The heartfelt note tucked inside it reads, These words are for you and say to you from across time and truths that you are beloved in the heart of the Mystery and in the heart of the one who asks you to stretch yourself and crack open the dusty doors. Read them and speak to me about what you know, what you are learning and what you hope for.  We never had that conversation; but, after tonight, the book will no longer be unread.


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Growling Hope

Days 78 & 79: It’s raining big, splattering drops here and I am mulling things over.  I am nearly 80 days in and I’m not sure if knowledge and progress are weighing evenly with failures and unbridled whimpering.  At this point, here’s what I think:

Compassion and anger are able to be partners–even if they make me uncomfortable.  In Chapter 6 of Crones Don’t Whine, the author talks about how even the meekest among us finds and voices her outrage more easily as an older woman. She adds that the choice to go down one path ultimately means we have chosen not to take a different route.  (I am not sure I wholly agree with her about this.)   I have notes that say compassionate anger, well-intended outrage, growling hope and radical empathy–can you make your self-interest the center of this decision-making or will this always work by putting others first and self last?  This becomes a pretty important point as I go forward because I have apparently been living some of it backwards. So much of what I have read about contentment and fulfillment in this part of life is about becoming an activist, a volunteer, a voice for those who cannot always speak for themselves.  And evidently in our 60’s is when all of this is supposed to flourish.  For me, my first interaction with rescue dogs was feeding strays as a pre-schooler. I was 12 when I hid a neighbor boy in our basement because his father was intent on killing him. For years I spent every waking moment of every day being an advocate for my son, abused children, families with mental health crises, as well as women battling social and educational illiteracy.  I am finding no guidelines to say what a person who has done this from youth to 60 does from 60 on.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am not somehow involved. But there has to be balance. And there has to be something to do when I do choose self.

I must get some sleep.  I have to be up early to take my golden retriever for his Spring spa day at the groomers where he will be bathed, clipped, and have a chance to romp and play with his friends. Maybe I need to take a cue from my dog.

 


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Day 76

Day 76: I have been looking at the computer for about an hour trying to figure out how not to write this.  I could not come up with a viable excuse and I want to honestly journal this journey.

The question becomes do I convince myself that I am content with something, do I visualize what content in a situation would mean for me and then work at shaping that into a reality, or do I just fold?  And into this mixture of questions I must add the additional ingredients of my own belief system:  everything is a choice (I don’t get to blame/credit someone else) and the idea that somewhere, somehow I chose to live this particular life.

Yesterday I chose to address some feelings I had about things going on with my son.  He reminds me of the pines and cedars that grow in Colorado on the face of granite slopes.  No protection from wind and weather, not a water source in sight–growing out of stone in its own fashion.  I have chosen to be his safe place–the person to whom he can express his issues without rejection.  Have you ever seen that old footage of a nuclear explosion at a distance and then the people, homes and lives are leveled by the invisible shock wave that follows?  It’s like that.  I’d like to say that I can just deal with it some aging incarnation of Wonder Woman.  And I do when it’s grenade-sized.  But other times I am reminded that I have PTSD. (Did I mention that?  Yep, I do.)  And when the shock waves hit my surface of contentment and hard-won layers of peace and inner quiet, it feels like they melting and I am left with a puddle of self to rebuild.

And that brings me to the end of this day that I spent wrapped in mental band aids having cheese corn for both lunch and dinner.  I visualized this phase of life and of parenting much differently.  Does the perfect parent make sure they are there indefinitely?  Does it make me the worst parent ever and most selfish person to want to choose my own health and calm and structure ahead of another’s?  I don’t know.