Why Dogs Stopped Flying.

Before humans, dogs flew everywhere.
Their wings of silky fur wrapped hollow bones.
Their tails wagged like rudders through wind,
their stomachs bare to the sullen earth.
Out of sorrow for the first humans—
stumbling, crawling, helpless and cold—
dogs folded their great wings into paws
soft enough to walk beside us forever.
They still weep for us, pity our small noses,
our unfortunate eyes, our dull teeth.
They lick our faces clean,
keep us warm at night.
Sometimes they remember flying
and bite our ugly hands.

—-Kenneth W. Brewer

Lois in June.

Almost 10 months ago, my dog Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since we think she’s almost 12 years old (a rescue, so we’re not sure) we opted to not have her endure treatment, but to make her “last days” comfortable.

I put last days in quotes because here it is, almost 10 months later, and she’s doing so well she may outlive us all. I’ve learned over the past 10 months to take each day as it comes. I wake up, gauge how she’s feeling, and go from there. Some days she’s bounding out of bed before me, a big grin on her face, tail wagging, giving me body slams to get me up, licking my face. Other days I’m up first and she looks at me forlornly, her chin on the ground, big eyes gazing up as if to say, “Sigh. . . Mommy I sure wish I felt better. I feel like shit today. Why do I feel so bad?” On those days I take it easy with her and stay home if I can, giving her extra pets and love, extra treats if she’ll take them, walking a little more slowly with her around the yard. Hoping that she’ll feel better tomorrow and that this isn’t indeed the beginning of the end.

But seriously, the “bad” days (also in quotes because every day with Miss Lois is a good day) are few and far between. Sometimes I forget she’s sick. Sometimes I look to the sky at whatever god may be there (take your pick) and ask, “Are you granting me a reprieve? May we have her just a little bit longer than we thought? Is this all really just a bad dream or a misdiagnosis?” Then another bad day happens and I’m reminded of how precious every day is, every moment is really. Every second with her that she feels okay I’m eternally grateful for. I’ve learned through her to not just be grateful for the big stuff, a house, a car, a loving husband, but the little stuff. The moments, the seconds, the minutes when she’s lying beside me in the early morning and I can hear her breathing. Every second.

On her bad days I’m reminded of the fluidness of time. Nothing stands still, we’re all moving, changing, flowing, getting older. I’ve noticed little changes in her during this time beyond the diagnosis. She moves slower, has a cloudy blueness to her eyes, has a calmness, a resignation that wasn’t there before. She doesn’t react as psychotically to thunderstorms and fireworks, but resignedly goes to a closet or the shower. “Not again. . . sigh,” she seems to say, her paws padding on the wood floor clicking away from me. “Not again.”

I have days, weeks even where I think it might always be this way. She will always be okay, we’ll always be together, everything will always be fine. Time stands still. Then something happens to remind me that nothing stands still. Everything moves and changes. Her salivary gland blocked up a month ago and I knew this was the end. I prepped myself for it, steeled myself to feel the pain. But after overnight minor surgery? She’s a new dog and again I’m looking at the sky in gratitude.

This past week, my good friend lost her beloved horse to cancer. Blue had been diagnosed almost the same month as my Lois and over the past 10 months my friend and I had consoled each other and talked with one another about our fears and our hopes for our loved ones. In a weird way every time Lois did better I thought maybe Blue was going to do better too. Sometimes this was the case, sometimes not. When he passed suddenly I was reminded like a savage blow to the head that nothing stays. People and pets pass. Time passes. Hope isn’t always enough to keep the ones you love with you for as long as you’d like. The anger and frustration I felt, the sadness I felt for my friend was overwhelming. I felt hopeless to help, was at a loss for words when I called her, just felt damn mad that someone I cared about had to go through this. The hopelessness was a like a tight collar around my neck, choking the hope out of me. It made me hold Lois a little closer every time she walked near, gripping her around the belly in a tight hug, smelling the beautiful doggy smell of the fur on her neck, vainly trying like hell to just hold onto one damn moment of good against all that pain.

Not too sound too “guru” or anything, but because I’ve been meditating a year now, in a weird, strange way I’ve been able to relay all of this shit into my practice, which has been struggling as of late. Since Lois’s diagnosis my distraction has reached new levels of hilarity, getting so bad that I was actually reaching for my phone to check email during my 20-minute sessions. It was weeks before it dawned on me that maybe this wasn’t the way to go about things. I put the phone on a high shelf, backed my minutes up to 5, and started again.

Now I’m up to 12 minutes as of today and am slowly building up to where it was before Lois got sick. It’s okay I did that, obviously I needed to. No beating up of the self allowed. And it’s okay I get frustrated I can’t hold onto anything. Everyone does. You’re not supposed to be able to hold onto anything in this life. And you’re supposed to go through frustration after frustration until it hits you like a Tyson blow that maybe this is the point. There is no holding on. You have to let go. Of everything. Every minute. Every minute of life is a free fall. Loosen that gut you’re holding in during meditation. Loosen the grip on your doggie’s neck. Loosen your breathing. Loosen your thinking. Breathe. Loosen the criticism in your head about how you can’t help your friend. Let go of it all. Every minute. Every second. Instead of holding onto the moments with your beloved doggie daughter, practice just BEING in the moment with her. Lightly. And when it’s time (and yes, in my head I’m thinking, please don’t let it be time anytime soon), breathe. Then let her go.

Grateful 5/6/13.

Tonight the gratitude is hard to find through the worry and anxiety. My girl had surgery today for a salivary mucocele and has to spend the night at the vet. I’m SICK to heart because I want to hold her and hug her and tell her it will all be better soon. She hates the rain and it’s raining hard right now and it’s dark. Sending my love and light to her with every fiber of my being. And I’m grateful that:

She came through surgery okay. She’s old, and I was worried the anesthesia would be hard on her heart. But she’s a strong girl. We wouldn’t have even done the surgery except it’s been bothering her a lot, she’s having trouble breathing and sometimes swallowing. If we can get through this, my gut tells me she’ll be much better.
I have Lois in my life. She’s my best friend, my confidante, the one I tell all my troubles too when the demons come and I doubt myself and my choices and my abilities.
I was able to write today. As emotionally sick as I feel, at least I was able to write.

Gratitude 9/25/12

I’m grateful for music which can lift me when nothing else on Earth can even come close. I let it take me away and for just a moment I surrender and am no longer groundless but am clinging to the notes, and not beating myself up for clinging, just enjoying, laughing, floating, and reveling in the happiness it brings me. Whether it’s STAX, Leonard Cohen, Francis Dunnery, bad House Music, ’80’s New Wave, ’70’s Soul, ’90’s Quiet Storm, or any of the other thousands of kinds of notes I let sink in my ears, it’s all good. All of it heals. It makes the groundlessness easier.

I’m grateful for another good Lois day, her laughing face giving me kisses, urging me outside, reminding me that there’s much to be learned…..outside.
I’m grateful for friends calling from afar, just to say hi and remind me I’m not alone in this unpredictable, crazy atmosphere and existence. We’ve all got our life to breathe through and even when I feel alone, I’m really not.
I’m grateful for unexpected kindness. You brace yourself for a lashing and instead receive goodness and generosity and kindness. So grateful and so much more valuable because you guessed wrong.
I’m grateful for birdsong. Just that. Trilling, rolling, lilting birdsong. Precious and beautiful. I want to hold onto it for the days in our winter woods when it’s completely silent. Too damn silent. For when I long for the song of birds. I take it in and hold it, before letting it float back onto the fall breeze. Surrendering it for someone else’s ears to cherish.

My Girl.

On August 27th, my doggie daughter Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer.

I savor every quiet moment with my girl, the good as well as the not so good. She roams our woods searching for a good place to do her business, walking through our forest floor, ferns brushing our legs, mushrooms of every size and shape and color dotting the leaves. Brown tiny-tree like stalks peeping out, and huge white mounds the size of bread loaves or flat like dinner plates. Tiny red umbrellas, and lacy orange fluttering down the side of a stump. Once a tiny pink elfin mushroom, and once, even a magical blue too bright to be real.

She hunts for the perfect spot and I breathe through the fact this might be one of our last days together. I hope we get to roll in the snow one more time. She so loves the snow. My beautiful girl.

My favorite moments of all are when she sleeps by my side early in the morning after The Hubby has gone to work. On her back with her legs splayed out snoring softly. I lie there and listen to the birds and breathe and try to hold onto it, to remember what it feels like to hear crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance, their echoes calling for my girl to come play, to actually hear the sun rising and to hold onto and remember what it feels like to be loved by Lois. Her gentle eyes telling you everything will be okay Mommy, I’m here, everything will be okay.

Her koala smile tucked into her closed mouth, turned up ever so slightly at the corners, such a small grin conveying such huge happiness. Her soft snore, the way she softly barks in her sleep, her paws tap-tap-tapping on the sides of her crate in the night as she chases rabbits or deer or runs with the direwolves chasing shadowcats. I read, listening to her and The Hubby snore in tandem, each one on either side of me and I am content.

When I first read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” many years ago and Tereza described to Tomas her love for the dog Karenin, how she might just love Karenin more than she loved him, I rolled my eyes and wrote her off. She’s just a dog. Tomas is your husband.

Then I fell for Lois and my whole world changed. I understand how a dog can make you see the world differently, can make you see yourself differently and teach you things about yourself you never knew. They look at you in such a simple, pure way, with such a clean love and never, ever do they expect anything back. What little you have to give them they will take gratefully and never begrudge you a single thing in return. They never resent you or feel threatened by you. You can hate them and even beat them and they will still crave your love.

It is such a purity of spirit, such a generosity, love at its essence. It makes all other forms pale in comparison. You give them love and they give you the world.

You have so many things in your life, your family, your job, vacations, cars, hopes, dreams, goals, anxieties, fears. All they have is you. And that’s all they need.

You never see a dog with self esteem problems. Sure they might be afraid or shy, but a dog never goes around hating herself. Lois just smiles, wags her tail, and looks at you with those big dark eyes as if to say, “Aren’t I cute? Aren’t I just the greatest? Don’t you love me? I sure love me. I sure do. You do too, right? I can see it. You’re DYING to give me a pet. And a treat. And a belly rub. You loooooooove me. You really do. I can tell. Who wouldn’t love me?”

Lois has taught me more about life than any person ever did or will. Dogs have the uncanny ability to act as a mirror. We look into their eyes and they reflect back onto us that which we love most about ourselves. And for most of us, it’s a shocking sight, one we’ve never seen before. For many, including me, it’s the first time we haven’t felt indelible self hatred from reflected images.

Instead of walking around this planet beating ourselves up, dogs remind us why we should love ourselves and each other. I feel better about myself knowing Lois. And by being her Mom, she has taught me to finally get rid of the self-hatred I’ve been carrying around since I was a child.

Taking care of her has been my greatest honor. Loving her my finest gift. And each day I have left with her will be my best.

Gratitude 9/12/12

Today I am grateful for the late summer sun warming my face as I take my girl out for her afternoon constitutional. The crickets sigh their end of summer song longingly, drawing out their notes in hopes to make it last. The air is still and quiet, holding its breath, waiting for that moment that change in the air when you wake up and notice the leaves have started to turn.

I’m grateful for words and the trickle of them that have started to drip through my fingers after so long a drought.

I’m grateful for photographs and the very few I take where I can say to myself, “Yes, that’s it. In that photo my eyes were open and I really captured what I saw. I was able to look beyond the immediate to something more.”

I’m grateful for the people who care about me in this world, who check in, ask how I’m doing, and really make an effort. Because it can be a big, ugly world at times and friends very often are more family to me than family. I’m grateful for their love, and for their complete and utter acceptance of the flake I can be. It makes me feel like I can handle anything.

I’m grateful for wonderful morning dreams, the kind that take you outside yourself to a better, dreamier place. Would be so easy for me to cling to such dreams in times of trouble but I must remember like everything they are only air, just a mist that drifts away.

Gratitude 9/11/12

Today I am grateful the blanket of summer has been lifted….the air has come rushing in and the day is so bright and sunny the very air is edgy with relief and joy….it feels like a little girl squealing with delight on a carousel and sounds like a whisper of silence and crickets. I am grateful my girl Lois remains asymptomatic and a reflection of the joyful weather, her bedtime bodyslams are forceful and committed, utter bliss and ecstatic doggie laughter behind every one. I’m grateful for hot coffee milky and warm smiling to itself and saying, “Remember me?”. I’m grateful for the need to somehow capture this gratitude in words. Every moment is fleeting and yes, one day far in the future perhaps I’ll read this again and remember, but I know the memory will be soft-edged and fuzzy like the inside of a sweatshirt. It won’t have the clarity, the committment, the prismatic light that this very moment has. I have to breathe it in and let it go, breathe it in, and let it go. And I am grateful for the courage to do that. Lastly I’m grateful to have traveled here today to find 2 quotes from strangers, wonderful, uplifting quotes that made me feel buoyant, lifted, full of light. Much like the weather. Namaste.