A ramble about going somewhere

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We have a train that runs through town here and in the warmer months, when the windows are open we can hear the whistle blow and sometimes that whistle blows loud and long and other times it’s a short sharp warning and I like to hear the rumble of the train cars as they roll along the tracks. Some complain about the sound, but for me, the sound is comforting, like a distant lawnmower on a summer afternoon or a football game on the television on a crisp autumn day. The train has been somewhere and is going somewhere and it has not yet arrived.

Like me.

And now, even though the windows are shut tight against the cold winter air, we have the sound of owls. I woke up this morning and though I had not looked at my watch yet, I would later learn it was 4:30. My husband turned towards me and whispered, “can you hear the owls?” It sounded like courtship and the sounds were comforting.

I don’t know much about owls. I know that when they fly, the breadth of their wings is spectacular and wide, and I know that children dissect owl pellets to understand the food chain, astounded at finding entire skeletons. Owls like seclusion, and they like to be left alone. I, too, like my share of seclusion and moments where I don’t like to be disturbed. I like living in a place where owls nest. I like living in a state where owls, coyotes, deer, marmot, elk, mountain lion, bear and moose are accessible.

I moved to Colorado in 2010, feeling pulled as if by a magnet, only knowing that I wanted to be in the midst of the mountains and live more life outside and wanted to surround myself with others who felt the same spiritual peace when immersed in the woods on a hiking trail. I was 51 and my move was the biggest adventure of my life with the exception of the birth of my two extraordinary daughters. I felt so young and free driving through the density of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana and when I hit Iowa, the rolling hills and endless miles of farmland, burdens I hadn’t even known I still carried were lifted and I began my new life weightless.

That drive across the country in 2010 reminded me how vast our world is. The road was always changing.

I moved to a townhouse at the base of the foothills in Boulder, and walked, ran and hiked daily. Sometimes more than once a day. My best thinking has always been while silently moving along a dirt trail and one day soon after I moved, I huffed and puffed my way up the hogback across the street and came to a high point where I sat and looked east, across the plains, seeing for miles and miles. Life slowed and I inhaled.

I can be anxious and self-calming has been a lifelong learning experience. Sitting on a rock that day, hearing only the wind, without a flock of others bearing down on me, I understood how my move had gifted me with more than mountains. My move had dropped me into the midst of nature, and her glorious silence, her immense skies, and the animals who lived just outside my door. I had not known the full power of the daily presence in vast outdoor space to soothe my soul.

When my previous marriage of 18 years had ended, I began hiking alone. Those hikes involved a smashing intensity of purpose and a desperate attempt at letting go of depression, anger and fear and included chaos in my head at the start of each solo journey. I was once a fast and steady hiker and the only thing that held me back at times were steep slabs or rock with nothing to hold onto for balance or rickety ladders that led up a rocky too difficult to climb.

I’ve slowed down. I needed to slow down. I liked slowing down. I see and hear things that I once was oblivious to.

My brother, his wife and their 16 year old granddaughter were hit by a drunk driver on New Year’s Day who was driving without her headlights on. Rich has two broken femurs, countless other injuries, was intubated for almost three weeks, remains unconscious, and his wife lost her spleen and their granddaughter has a head injury.

My brother almost lost his life in October after heart troubles led to a near fatal allergic reaction.

We are not close, differing in world view, politics, and lifestyle, but he is my brother, my first childhood playmate, there is a bond that distance, time and difference cannot eliminate. He is a kind and gentle soul and has had more than his share of difficulty and I think, he has cheated death twice now.

The pain I hold in my palms, as tenderly as possible, is the ragged pain of my parents. You cannot know real fear until you have children.

My parents have, in three short months, been notified twice that their son’s life is being threatened and have endured seconds, minutes, days, weeks, an eternity of fear that he might not make it.

This is not the natural order.

I recently returned from a business trip to Salt Lake City. The trip was to provide training at a trade show and the work was both rewarding and exhausting. I was walking back to my hotel for a quick mediation break, a moment of quiet before the evening’s events. As usual, my brain was full and my head was spinning with the conversations of the day and what was to come, when an unusual sound pulled me from my thoughts. I heard a pounding sound, but couldn’t place it until I noticed a woman a few feet in front of me. Her clothing was dirty and torn and she did not wear socks. She held a large rock in both of her hands and was using it to flatten a can. There was a bent and wobbly shopping cart next to her that held what looked like the beginning of her day’s work. She did not notice me when I walked by.

I only got a few feet past her before I turned around. I could not un-see her. I could not pretend she didn’t exist. I approached her with a $20 in my hand and she did not notice me standing next to her so I said, ‘excuse me’ twice before she looked up. Her eyes widened and I imagine mine did as well because at that moment, we were one person. We were both wearing our suffering.

Her eyes filled with tears, but I could feel a growing full-fledged sob in my throat so I turned around and cried my way back to the hotel.

I was profoundly reminded that we are all connected. We all touch the same earth. The owls, this homeless woman, my feet, your feet.

I can remember many tear-driven hikes and moments in the mountains where solitude and the earth provided me with something human beings could not. The branches of trees, the scent of pine needles, the musky undertow of decaying leaves, the impossible blue sky and the sound of the wind singing comforted and tethered me to my own life.

I have not been sleeping well and this troubles me, but the sound of the owls remind me how large this life thing is, how we all run together like water colors bleed together on paper and it grounds me in the universe, as did the eyes of a homeless woman on the streets in Salt Lake City.

Like the train that runs through town, I have been somewhere.

As have you.

 

 

Posted in Grief, love, Mom reflections, The art of living, The creative process, travel, Truth | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I thought I knew you: A letter to the other side

the-divideDear Friends and Family that are Trump Supporters:

We are standing on opposite sides of a canyon and no amount of reaching across this divide helps us to touch. The walls are slippery and jagged and our heels are dug in and so we look at one another from afar, wanting (maybe not wanting?) to bridge the distance. I am in profound pain, angry at times, and confused. I thought I knew you.

Though we, of course, shared differing priorities, I thought we shared a life philosophy. Isn’t that what drew us together? Today I’m bewildered and befuddled and the water that I once thought clear is muddy, so murky that seeing the earth below is impossible.

I might love you but I don’t know who you are any longer. I don’t know how to talk to you. It’s like we are each floating in separate boats on a wind-torn lake with the wind pulling us in opposite directions, the details of your face harder and harder to see as you move away, until I’m not sure if it was even you I was looking at to begin with.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know how to talk to you or bridge this divide, this space where both of us have our feet planted solidly on different foundations and so this written expression might be messy. Forgive me if it is.

I’m not certain if we can ‘agree to disagree’ or ever understand one another. But maybe we can each find a way to communicate our emotions so that we have more information. What comes from there is anyone’s guess.

I recently had a conversation with two people who are polar opposites from me politically. I was testing the water. They were people I don’t know. I was testing myself, I think. I was trying to see if I could hear.

One was a woman who had called Hillary Clinton a baby killer because Hillary is pro-choice. This woman told me that she viewed everything in life through the lens of the bible and that abortion is murder. Another was a man who saw his insurance rates go up and did not believe that access to insurance is a human right. He did not believe we should take care of those that cannot take care of themselves.

I believe a woman has a right to chose what to do with her own body and I believe this vehemently. I believe that we should offer a hand up to those in need. How could I possibly argue my position with these people?

You want me to listen to YOU but you don’t want to hear ME. How will we bridge this gap?

I’m writing this on the assumption that you want to know what I think despite your own silence since the day after the election. Engaging with strangers has been practice for talking to you, someone I actually care about.

I cried myself to sleep on election night. Many of you told me that my emotions, my personal response, my feelings of loss were over the top.

The earth shifted. I mourned mightily. I had believed I lived in a country that was making enormous progress towards liberty and freedom for all, a country that would not tolerate hatred. I believed that the majority of those I held near and dear supported the rights of every human being and who would fight against injustice and would protect our natural resources. People who believed that it is better to build bridges than build walls, people who would not tolerate or excuse a man who mocks the disabled and women and who throws twitter tantrums. I believed that most of the people I knew were intelligent, thoughtful human beings. I believed we were finally ready as a country to elect a woman as President, not a perfect woman, not as a token female, but that we were ready to appreciate and elevate a woman who had spent her entire life in service. An imperfect woman ready to do the job that needed to be done.

I was wrong on many of my assumptions.

The bar was lower than I thought possible.

The hypocrisy and the nastiness Trump brought to the table was horrifying, yes, but what was most disturbing was the support you provided him. The way you said things like, we need a change, he says what he’s thinking, he’ll surround himself with good people, and so on and so forth, excusing every single disgusting action this man took.

This experience was more painful for me than 9/11 in some respects. Why? Because after 9/11, we had each other. We held hands across the horror. We stood united against transgressions against human liberty, regardless of skin, gender, religion. We stood together.

This wasn’t a hockey game where my team lost or I didn’t get a job I had hoped for. This election was a loss of all I hold near and dear as a human being. Do you understand that? I want to talk to you about this grief, but whenever I open my mouth, you say things like, get in line, get behind our President, get over it, and do not attend to my feelings of incredible loss. You do not listen. I cannot and will not normalize this man’s behavior and I cannot and will not blindly follow any human being. I thought you were smart enough to do the same.

I was blind to people I personally knew, blind to thinking that any of them would support a man who mocked the disabled on public television, has no respect or understanding of women, has lied over and over again and uses rhetoric that is meant to create ‘other.’ Rhetoric that is meant to divide us. Did you know Hitler used the same tactics? He thinks Mexicans, like my husband, are criminals and rapists. Trump cannot acknowledge when he is mistaken, has never apologized for his mistakes, corrected his lies, does not display an understanding of grace and humility, and has no desire to learn to understand the daily workings of the United States government. Trump thinks in tweets without context or content. He attacks anyone he believes has wronged him. He states that he knows more than anyone else, despite his utter ignorance about our very Constitution.

This is my opinion. And maybe you don’t really care.

What am I to make of you now? How am I to reconcile who I thought you were with the man you worked to put in power?

I walked into dangerous conversations. I could not believe this nastiness really existed. I found myself so angry at times that I almost stooped to their level. I’m teaching myself how to speak up, how to stand up, how to use my voice. But it’s messy.

Did you know that I, like many women, have suffered abuse, harassment, and sexism, culminating in my divorce mediation hearing in 2014? Massachusetts alimony reform laws ignore the contribution of stay-at-home moms and do not protect these women. My ex husband made six figures. The experience was sexism on steroids. We do not advance as a society when our words are pure hypocrisy and bullshit. I sat outside in a public lobby while my ex and his group of attorneys reclined in leather chairs around a conference table. But these things mattered little compared to the experience of my youth, my life as a girl. They were just one more layer.

It breaks a woman a bit when she grows up under the majority judgments and rules of men in a society that lacks the sounds of women supporting one another. Some of the fractures we endure when younger, take decades to heal. Unfortunately, women contributed to this as well. During my youth, society viewed sexual abuse or sexism through the lens of “what did she do to bring this on,” or “maybe if she wasn’t wearing a low cut blouse,” or “she was drunk, what did she expect,” and so on. When I was younger, my voice fell silent because I was afraid to be blamed and in fact, I DID blame myself. It must have been my fault. I must have done something wrong.

I never told. I didn’t fight back.

Today, I do have a voice. It is wobbly and uncertain and gets pretty emotional at times, but I’m not going to stop using it. I can’t.

When you request my silence, I am newly assaulted.

I announced on Facebook that those that supported Trump were not welcome in my life, and I wrote those words because my first instinct had been to just write in a fit of rage, “F*!k you Trump supporters.” I figured that it would be wiser to try to express myself a bit more maturely.

Those words were my first attempt to say something I continue to struggle with, but just as I want a President who can take a breath and consider that he might not be correct or might have made a mistake, I, too, need to walk that talk.

I could have chosen my words more wisely.

My anger and frustration are borne from your blind devotion to this man. I have not heard you denounce his policies on the things that are the glue that holds a society together as human beings. I have not heard you denounce these things. Does that mean you support his efforts? Will you speak up? Would you speak up for me if my rights were threatened? My children? Your neighbor? The barista who serves you coffee? The person sitting next to you on the subway?

Do you have my back?

I’ve heard people say, “I’m not a racist. I’m not a homophobe. I’m not a climate denier,” but when push comes to shove on fighting for these things either by calling into question a cabinet selection that wants to eliminate public education or pretends the involvement of Russia into this election is not an issue, I hear crickets.

I want to hear you. I want you to hear me. I struggle to reconcile the friend or family member I thought I knew but who has voted for a man who represents everything I find reprehensible. The distance between you and I is deep and traumatic and yet what I hear is ‘get over it, move on, let it go, wait and see.’

When you say this to me, this is what I hear you saying: Let go of your values, your hopes, your belief system. Stop fighting, lie back and enjoy it.

And I have to say, no. No, I will not.

I will not and cannot be silent. I was silent when I was a young girl in situations I could not handle. I was silent because I was young and frightened and I could not find my voice to shout, “Stop. This is WRONG.”

But I have a voice now. I’m older and wiser. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right, even if it means a bitter divide with those I love. I have a larger vision, and it is not one that only surrounds my life or those I love, it is a vision that wants everyone to be treated with respect and human kindness.

I was raised Catholic, converted to Judaism, and have a lot of the Buddha in me today. I’m a religious mutt.

Do you think you could tell me what you are feeling for real? Tell me how you are navigating the decision you made with the person you believe yourself to be. Help me understand that you are still there and you can still see ME despite our different life perspectives? Help me understand that you give a shit about my values. Help me see that you are not just advocating for yourself.

Appreciate the pain I’m in even if you don’t understand.

Do you even want to understand? Because if you do, the first thing you need to do is understand that for me, and millions like me, this experience is akin to grieving a death.

If my activism is an affront to you or my values seem silly to you, then maybe we are at such an impasse that we need to let go of one another for now.

We have a country divided and yet we talk about building walls and getting cozy with foreign evils. We have a man in power who sits in an ivory tower lining his own pockets and fanning the flames of hatred.

I find the likelihood of a backwards slide into a past that was not kind to women, religious freedom, sexual preference and civil rights abhorrent. I thought it would be to you as well.

The silver lining? I and many others like me are mobilizing. We are learning how to get involved and are ready to shoulder the responsibility that you have, with your vote, shirked. We are awake now. We are ready to battle for human justice and to protect our planet. The bear has been poked and will not be going back to sleep for a long time.

But, I so wish you were next to me and that we were fighting together.

 

Posted in Grief, growing up, The art of living, Truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Awake

dragonfly

Dragonflies come to life by bending their abdomens and cracking the skin below their head while twisting into an impossible position. They emerge head first and upside down, spending hours waiting for their new skin to harden. Only then, if they survive, do they spread their wings.

This metamorphosis usually begins in the dark of night and ends before dawn. That they survive this vulnerable stage, when they are easy prey, is astounding.

I love dragonflies. I had one tattooed on my shoulder in 2012.

According to multiple sources, dragonflies symbolize change in life and perspective, and represent emotional maturity and understanding. When I got my tattoo, it was because I was in a period of enormous life transition and I wanted to capture the moment. I was changing my perspective about myself.

Dragonflies awake and take off, shaky at the beginning, sometimes falling to the ground, but eventually flying off. The ugly shell they awoke from is left behind.

Over a year ago, I bought an extraordinary book, Dragonflies by Pieter Van Dokkum that I suddenly felt drawn to read. I curled up on the couch last Sunday while my husband watched football. I put my phone on the coffee table upside down and fought the urge to take it in my hand to engage in yet another conversation or argument. I needed a break, a quiet space in my head. I needed to learn how to conserve my energy for the inevitable fight I know we will face in the coming months and years.

I’ve never had the urge to jump out of an airplane or wake board or anything that involves the precariousness of feet not on the earth. When I was a little girl, my most common nightmares involved falling. Dreams where I fought the free fall, always awakening before my body hit the ground. Dreams where I miraculously halt the momentum and suddenly land safely on a mountain or inside my room before bolting awake.

But during the past few weeks, I’ve had the strange experience of floating above, drifting in space, sometimes while sharing drinks with friends, sitting next to my husband on the couch, or during yoga. It’s a moment where I have the sensation of both being beyond this world, holding it at arms length, while also being so emerged in the present moment, one that says, “You don’t belong here. You have important work to do.”

Metamorphosis?

Dragonflies begin life submerged in water, as nymphs. Once they are born, they do not live in water, but instead survive off the bounty found there. They are considered ferocious to other insects and small fish around the water’s edge. They are carnivores.

The nymph bears little resemblance to the beautiful fairy like creature she will become. There is little to hint or suggest the extraordinary colorful or ethereal and strong wings. There is little to suggest to the untrained eye that anything beautiful and powerful could possibly come of this.

I’ve thought of that often these past few days.

These past few months, have not been beautiful. I have felt absolutely powerless as others say to me “If you are feeling frustrated, you should go to the hairdresser or buy a new pair of shoes,” or “You must not be a good Christian woman (which incidentally, I’m not. I’m a Jew)” or “Tickets are cheap, time for you to move.” I’ve listened to people tell me that words are not a big deal; we all say things we regret. I’ve been told, to quit whining, respect the new President elect, and to just get over it and give him a chance.

These comments make me shudder in disgust or pain but also simultaneously are awakening something powerful and strong and brave. These words return me to my young self, a woman who had bosses that felt comfortable grabbing her ass or stealing a kiss or older men who felt it was their right to take advantage of me. A young self that did not feel powerful or brave. A young self that felt ashamed and dirty. A young self that didn’t fight back because the social climate was one where if something bad happened, it was the woman’s fault. She was suspect.

The worst, the absolute worst, for me as a grown woman today, and the hardest thing to reconcile is the silence by the President elect’s supporters in regards to his racist and sexist rhetoric. By their seemingly blind and fervent acceptance and defense of men who believe in conversion therapy or don’t believe grabbing a woman is sexual assault or who honestly believe words do not have the power to hurt. By men who do not publicly denounce the KKK.

Words have more power than a punch. And the pain from them can linger an entire lifetime. Silence in the face of injustice hurts too. This I know.

Ugliness.

I wonder if my floating is forecasting the casting off of an ugly shell? Is it possible that out of all this division, ugliness and anger, something beautiful and powerful is trying to be born?

I think, I hope, I must believe, yes.

I cannot see beyond the ugly shell we are all entangled in right now. I don’t know how yet, my vision is not clear. I don’t know how this gap will be bridged. But I do believe that something extraordinary has the potential to grow. I do believe that when we are done twisting out of this hard shell, when we are done hanging upside down, when we are done trying out our new wings and stop floundering on the ground, that we will begin to soar.

Because this is our only option.

 

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Reaching Back and Leaning Forward

cosmos-bees

Every fall I write about the ‘yearning’ I experience in September. Here’s this year’s ramble.

I sit in the backyard listening to crickets while cosmos gently sway in the wind, sometimes becoming weighed down by bees nosing the scrumptious center. The light and long shadows of September are here and with them comes nostalgia, a sense of all that has passed and all that is to come; a tender and heartbreaking joy.

The shadows are longer and the contrast stronger, and the lawn I just mowed smells green and grassy and brings memories of football on a television and my favorite flannel shirt. I am pulled backwards in time. I might be looking at our wildflowers, but I am not there.

I am walking across the street from my old home in New England and the maple trees that line the field are red and capture diamonds from the sun. Crisp, sharp air fills my lungs and lures me to eat apples and chop onions for chili as summer fades from view. Or it is August and my final summer in Waterville Valley and I am driving on Route 49 listening to the Indigo Girls and singing Get out the Map at the top of my lungs with the windows open wide or I am a child kicking through the leaves walking to school in new shoes from Tom Mcan.

Summer leaves, but she bears riches in her arms with the gift of Fall.

I am cast both into the future, sensing the longer shadows of my own days and the movement of time and also into the past, a past that comes to life every September. I am a young mother who swaddled her newborn baby and left her to nap outdoors in her carriage on a fall day so she could rake the leaves or a grown woman with her camera snapping pictures on drizzly day trying to capture the impossible beauty of Autumn trees, red, yellow, green, brown bark. I am alive.

Leaning into the future, I see treasured moments. I can almost measure time or feel it’s passing, like the way wind passes through me on a mountain summit. One daughter is married and has moved into her first home with her new husband and another is embarking on a longed-for adventure with her first apartment in the city.

They are moving through their lives and weaving a future and I cannot separate my great grandmother, grandmothers, mother and all my aunts, nor myself, from the steps they take. We hold hands, somehow we hold hands. I sense the time when I will not be a part of their physical world, but we will still hold hands. Some divides are impossible to cross, but the past runs in our veins and merges then with now. It always has. It always will. My words will linger in their ears forever just as I can still hear my grandmother’s voice whispering “Live your life, Rob, live your life.”

Melancholoy. Yearning to return to the woods of Waterville Valley to breathe New England fall air while wrapped in wool, returning home with a cold red nose and a peaceful soul.

Reaching back and leaning forward.

Fall is the consummate contradiction. I long for the past and feel peace in the present.

The length of the shadows is an embrace from something I cannot name, but that feels like the soul of everyone and everything that has come before me. Early evening sunlight reaches for me and I close my eyes, enraptured, and I feel all the moments, I see my entire life. I understand in a way I could not when young that this moment, the one I am in right now, will pass all too soon, never to pass again, and I know it is the simple ones I’ll wish I could reach back to.

Moments like watching my husband sleep. I touch the space on his forehead where his hair meets skin and I am so in the present, so aware of all the scars and barriers that could have kept us apart and yet did not. Knowing we are on the greatest adventure of our lives as we age together.

Reaching back and leaning forward. I am alive.

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Helping him die

Tigger-me-sleeping

There was a tiny perfect pin-sized droplet of blood on his leg, vivid and red, alive. He was lying in my lap, motionless. Rob reached over me with a tissue to dab his leg, where the IV had been, and the care he took to do so left me breathless.

He was 15 when he died, or rather when I helped him die.

He was deaf, blind, incontinent and struggled to walk and he had a belly that filled with fluid as fast as it could be drained. He was in the beginning stages of congestive heart failure and had a cancerous tumor blocking both valves in his heart.

His name was Tigger and he was my dog, but he was far more than that. He was the one constant in my life adventure as I raised two daughters, divorced their dad, tried to remember who I was as I began a new life as a single woman. He accompanied me on my drive across country when I moved from the suffocating suburbs of Wayland, Massachusetts to Boulder, Colorado at the age of 51. He even got to witness the beginning of my new relationship to the man I married in April.

The things I miss fascinate me. Things like the motion of stepping over the rug he had countless accidents on at the front door upon coming home, or being awakened by the sound of him scooting around at night because he was uncomfortable or the morning ritual of helping him out of his crate saying, ‘it’s okay,” while I sponged his urine dampened fur. I desperately miss the way he hobbled in my direction whenever I returned home and how he was always there to comfort me.

I couldn’t ask Tigger what he wanted when his health failed. It was up to me.

I had to make an assumption without knowing anything for certain. I read “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gawande this past summer and finished the book believing that the act of reading it had been a gift because it provided me thinking tools to imagine my own mortality and consider what was important to me, study what I was afraid of, and provide an opportunity to articulate what circumstances would need to be present in my own life that would have me ready for my own end point. My own personal thoughts about quality of life were all I had to go on.

I received loving and gentle advice from his vets when I pressed, and from friends who had stood in my shoes and especially from Rob but it was up to me to make the decision.

There were medical interventions we could take advantage of, but these available measures were not a cure and would only prolong his life an additional three to four months. Months where he would potentially have his belly drained weekly, endure the addition or changing of countless medications and months where he would still not be able to remember what to do when standing outside on a beautiful day in January without a leash or collar, be able to cuddle comfortably for too long with me on the couch, or be allowed to sleep outside of a crate, in order to keep his accidents contained.

What kind of life was I prolonging? The only thing that seemed to give Tigger comfort was my presence and I could not be with him all the time. He slept underneath my desk on a soft pillow when I wrote, and I pulled him up beside me on the nights we stayed home watching television or reading. Seeing those deep eyes plead with me every time I left hurt my heart.

My own philosophy about humane death and life quality were empty words if I couldn’t apply them to the most loving and loyal creature I had ever known. Still I waited ten days after he experienced a sudden collapse, a syncope, before I called the home euthanasia organization and told them through sobs, “I’m not ready. I just want to understand what the process is.”

I called Tigger’s cardiology clinic, still sobbing, asking them if I was a horrible person for considering euthanasia, to which they replied, “No.” They told me the fluid in his belly was pressing on all of his internal organs and he had to be uncomfortable.

A few days later, on a beautiful gift of a winter day in Colorado, a spring day in January, I brought Tigger outside and he just stood looking at me, as if trying to remember what to do. This was a dog who once had to be leashed so he would not run away. He squinted his eyes as if the sun was too bright and stood on wobbly legs, confused.

The morning he left us, the day I helped him die, was horrific. I curled up beside him at 5 a.m. and then lifted him on to the couch and sat with him next to me petting him over and over again and telling him how much I loved him. The hours lasted forever, went too fast, and then the vet was there, and she was kneeling beside us on the floor and I fell apart.

Tigger barked, howled almost, when Rob let her in. He hadn’t barked for weeks. Did he know? Was he protesting? Did he want to stay? In our fifteen years together, he had always had a knack for sensing my emotions, licking my hand or curling up next to me whenever I felt lost or sad.

I don’t know how long I sat with him in my lap, stroking his head, unable to catch my breath and waiting for someone to say, ‘just kidding. no need for euthanasia, he’s all better.’ But the technician eventually asked if we were ready and I felt like I was melting, disintegrating into the sofa, poof, disappearing. I finally said, yes, and I bent to kiss his head, inhaling that sweet, slightly pungent scent of his skull, saying, I love you. You were the best friend I’ve ever had. Thank you.

His heart beat slowly and then it….stopped. The absence of the pulse was impossible to grasp. He was alive and then he was not. He was gone. His body was there, his snout elongated and aged, his eyes open, now absent of light, but he was gone. I still don’t understand how this is possible. How he was one moment there and the next gone. No drama. No shudders. Just gone.

After a few moments alone with my lifeless best friend, we lifted Tigger onto a soft fleece coverlet and he was swaddled and placed in my arms. Rob put my clogs in front of me so I could slip into them and carry him to the car.

I pleaded, did I do the right thing?

I felt old, broken, fragile and lost as I stepped down the front steps with him in my arms, my feet tentatively seeking the steps. We walked to the car trunk and I laid Tigger down. I kissed his head and said, thank you, I love you. We watched the car pull away with him and then things went blank for me. Rob cried. I cried. I passed out exhausted on the couch, slipping into sleep mid-sob, and Rob went into our office to work. When I woke, I cleaned the house. I vacuumed and cleaned toilets and sinks and then exhaustion overcame me again and I fell on to the couch, weary and worn. When I woke, I was frantic. Rob had left for an evening meeting and I wanted him home. Now. It was too long to be alone. It was too quiet.

When Rob returned, we went to get something to eat. I fell apart when we came home. Like a child, I could not believe he was really gone. I wanted to see that body, the wobbly back legs trying to balance on the wood floor looking to see what door we were entering. I wanted to see those beautiful dark eyes looking at me, saying…oh you’re home. You’re home.

I wanted everything to be okay.

There is an enormous distance to be bridged between individual philosophy and reality. Common wisdom tells me I did the right thing, letting him die with as much dignity as possible and without living in pain, but I am tormented with not knowing for sure.

His absence is loud and deep and at times I feel untethered. No shiva calls, no mourning period, no ceremony where his passing was recognized. No certainty that I gave him what he would have asked for himself if he could. This is not easy.

His ashes are in a light blue box on a shelf in our living room. Some day I will buy or make an urn that is worthy of holding his remains, but until then I whisper to what I have left of him, “I love you. I miss you. I pray I did right by you.”

Tigger left us in January 2016.

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Nothing Happened. Everything Happened.

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” Bertrand Russell

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Road tripping does good for the soul. Adventures that involve new sights and minimal deadlines and space to freely roam open my eyes and mind and provide that mind space that is so critical to creativity. It’s not so much about inspiration as having room for new ideas to move around, stretch out and work to grow in the background. And it’s not something that I find easy to manifest at home. Home is work, the road is play.

We have been gone for ten days and we spent time in Durango, Scottsdale, Prescott, Flagstaff, Telluride, and Ouray before heading home. We did the touristy thing at Four Corners and met a talented Navajo artist and business man and found lovely art and artists, in some unlikely places. We mountain biked in the desert, in a cactus forest on Brown’s Ranch which boasts over 100 miles of beautiful single track, and we rode our road bikes along Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff for close to 40 miles on a pristine road that wound around lakes with wide shoulders that went for miles and miles. We spent a misty Sunday morning in Ouray and met a woman living my dream, the one where I have a storefront that is also my studio and where I sell my own art. We drove over extraordinary passes with mountain ranges that had us wondering what the price of land was.

We watched two kittens play and drank tequila, and ate pulled pork with dear friends and I spent some time playing with another friend’s dog and found that though the lump in my throat remains, the one that has been there since Tigger died, I am healing. Before we went to sleep, we stood outside and listened to coyotes howl and woke in the morning to eggs and bacon.

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I met an entrepeneur outside of Salida, the owner of Tiny House Coffee, which is housed in a tiny house on wheels, and drank a honey latte that had bee pollen sprinkled on top of it and told the young man that I would be reaching out to him soon to learn the story behind his young shop.

I had never heard of bee pollen before so on our drive I googled it and Rob and I learned something new and we thought, let’s try this. We look things up a lot on our drives when we pass something unfamiliar or suddenly wonder at the meaning of something, like Gunga Din, a term of endearment Rob calls me (it’s a poem by Rudyard Kipling). We learned a little about Navajo Nation and compared the vibe of Telluride to Ouray and talked about our dreams and got out of the car in the dead of night at Kenosha Pass on our way home and we hugged in the mountain silence straining our ears to hear wildlife.

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I discovered in Ouray, where every shop owner greeted us the instant we talked in the door and chatted that though I tend to experience those too-soon initial hello’s by cringing, I could let go of that a little when the owners are not doing it by rote. We talked politics with a woman who owned a jewelry store and met a talented shop owner who was a potter and who’s husband is a glass blower and, in part, because of her enthusiasm and knowledge, we came home with a unique set of wine glasses.

We gave our leftover dinner to a homeless woman on a street corner in Durango and something about the shame in her eyes touched me and I cried. At dinner our final night a drunk man at the table behind us mistook Rob for a man he had met while letting his dog play and we didn’t tell him he was mistaken.

Everywhere we went we met people who had a story, and these things are the moments that remind me of my story, that remind us of the story we are living. We road tripped across Colorado and lots of Arizona and held hands in the car and said, what a wonderful trip, and then when we arrived home, we said ah how wonderful to be in our own bed again.

We drove through desert, prairie, mountains, and mesa and we did not waste time.The ideas we allowed to play, those ideas that were given space to grow for a few days are now ready to come to life.

Nothing happened. Everything happened.

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Practicing letting go

Tigger

We are practicing letting go, wondering how we will say good-bye to the magical and anxious little man that follows us from room to room. We are without a map or clear directions on this journey and find ourselves a little lost. He lies now on a blanket in the sun that will soon drift across the hard wood floor, lifting his head from time to time  and looking into space.

We spent Sunday night in the emergency room, after Rob found Tigger lying on the floor crying, making a sound he had never heard him make. I was walking out of the bathroom when I saw Rob gently stroking Tigger’s head which was angled away from me until something, maybe it was his almost blind eyes becoming aware of my shadow or movement, caused him to swivel his head to face me.

His eyes were pleading and frightened and I can’t quite remember whether I first went to put on my shoes or began to look for his crate, but after I tried to pick him up, I knew we were on our way to the vet. Immediately.

When I lifted him he arched his back and almost flung himself out of my arms, and how he didn’t remains a mystery to me. I began to sob then, I think, and Rob said, “Do you want me to come with you,” and I said, “no, I’m okay,” because the Broncos were on and he had done so much for me over the past week bringing the girls out for the holidays and because somewhere in my brain I still held out hope that Tigger would never die.

Who was I kidding? Looking back at Sunday today, there are missing pieces in the puzzle and countless gaps in conversations and I needed Rob by my side, just to hold his hand, a hand that was tethering me to the universe. Rob somehow knew this and ignored me telling me to get in the back seat with Tigger.

He is still alive. There are no easy answers, and logic doesn’t have much input or weight in this process of deciding when to let Tigger go. I suspect this is a place for me alone to navigate.

Tigger is almost 16, becoming incontinent, vomits frequently, is deaf and mostly blind, can barely walk thanks to nerve damage in his rear legs after emergency back surgery over ten years ago, and he has heart cancer and advanced mytrovalve disease. He can no longer navigate the two steps to our front door and sometimes just stands and stares into space as if seeing ghosts. He is failing more every day.

But Tigger still enjoys his meals and every now and then wags his tail when Rob walks in the room and he is comforted by my hand on his spine. He likes to be picked up and placed on the couch next to me where he snores lightly as he sleeps. I still see the puppy he once was, leaping like a bunny as he ran in our yard back east and how he vomited on my lap the minute we pulled into our driveway when we first took him home as a baby and the way he sat in his booster seat when we drove from Boston to Boulder as if asking, what are we up to this time, but trusting me all the same.

Tigger has been the one steadfast constant in my life as I raised two daughters, ended a marriage, tried to remember who I was, moved to Boulder, fell in love and moved again. Rob and I had joked that he should be our ring bearer when we get married, though we worried he might not be able to find us. Tigger used to sleep with me, curled into my spine as close as he could get, and I found great comfort from him. I still remember the days before he had back surgery when he hiked with me in New Hampshire, romping ahead with a smile on his face.

I’ve abandoned his leash now when I walk him because he is so unsteady on his feet and become accustomed to the moments he just stands in the living room looking at nothing at all joking with visitors, “he’s talking to dead people.”

I was as certain as I could be that this trip to the emergency room was it, this was the moment he would leave me. I sat in the back seat with my hand on his back saying, “it’s okay, Tigger,” and if I am honest I was not offering those words in comfort, but as a way of letting him know it was okay for him to let go.

He was whisked out of my arms when we arrived at the emergency room, after I blubbered the basic information they requested, immediately wondering if I had even answered the questions and we began our wait.

I signed a DNR.

The vet was a kind woman, but as she gave me information about his condition and what our options were, I found myself frustrated and confused. I told her that at his age I was not looking for heroic efforts to prolong his life just to give him exta time. I told her I wanted him made comfortable and most definitely did not want him to feel pain. I told her I knew he was dying.

I wanted her to advise me. I wanted her to look me in the eye and say…something. Anything that was not medical gibberish. I wanted her to tell me my options and compassionately point me towards the right path.  Was it best to treat him knowing his death was coming around the bend quickly? Was I caring for him best by prolonging this downward spiral?

I want to be with Tigger when he dies. I want to be resting next to him with my hand on his back and his almost blind eyes locked on mine. I want to be the last thing he sees so that when he leaves this world, he does so feeling nothing but love.

Oh if he could only talk.

Rob and I went to get something to eat while they tapped the fluid out of his belly and I asked him, “When is is best? Do I wait until he has completely lost all capacity for being Tigger or is dying with dignity something that only happens when I head that off at the pass?”

I suppose I am trying to answer a question that has no definitive black and white. And I suppose I am trying to answer a question that is different for each and every one of us.

Today, Tigger had a follow up appointment. We think he may have had a seizure yesterday, which seems likely given the fact that he seems more confused and lost than ever. The vet told me that this new medication was Tigger’s last chance. His tumor had grown and was blocking the valves in his heart. It was only a matter of time, he told me, but perhaps this medicine would buy him a few more months.

Still I ask myself, when will it be time?

I went for a walk this afternoon in the almost-spring like sunshine in January and began to cry. I suddenly knew deep in my belly, the place that always tells the truth, that Tigger’s time was running out and it was time to let go.

I am not looking simply for more time in this universe. There must be quality of life for me. And that means I am able to enjoy the outdoor air, that I can enjoy food, can use the bathroom alone, and look at those I love and tell them how I feel and what I am thinking.

I texted a friend and said, “He keeps looking at me as if pleading for me to save him,” and my friend said, “You just need to figure out what save is.”

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Life Rituals

Drop your questions in the dirt

Drop your questions in the dirt

I moved to Colorado almost six years ago and since then my daughters, now young women, have visited me many times. I’ve traveled to Denver International Airport more times since I’ve lived here than my entire lifetime in Massachusetts. I don’t drop my children off or pick them up outside with the other arrival and departure traffic, though that would be easier.

It’s important to me to see them the minute they arrive up that escalator at DIA, it’s important to me to stand in the midst of others waiting for their loved ones and feel the arrival airport energy. When I finally spy them, laden with carry on bags, I run to them, wrapping them in an huge and tight embrace making no secret that this momma’s heart is now full of joy.

The girls and I have an airport ritual when they leave as well. I watch them as they wind through the security line and once they place their belongings on the belt and begin to walk through the x-ray machine, I go to our secret spot, the windows that frame the escalators that travelers use to make their way below to their to the train and their departing terminal. I wait there and invariably find myself fighting tears. Their sweet smiling faces when they spot me on their way home mirror mine: happiness that we had the time together and good-bye sadness. Once they are out of sight, I cry. I don’t try to hide that any longer.

I suppose it’s a silly ritual. But this ritual, like others in my personal life journey is powerful.

There is value in creating a pause in my life without instead moving quickly from one thing to the next. This ritual moment allows me to absorb the complexity of loving. This moment’s pause lets me sit with the joy and sadness of what is now a memory.

I have a habit of rituals like this, perhaps born from a life that has a tendency to move too fast from experience to experience without actually considering how I’ve been changed, what I’ve learned or recognizing how I’ve been moved and inspired.

One of my favorite habits is to review the day just before I fall asleep at night and to spend a moment in the morning, cup of warm coffee in hand, slowly entering the day, savoring the morning quiet before beginning all over again.

When I travel, and especially when my journey has been extraordinary, I spend time considering where I’ve been and where I am now going in silence or by looking over the images I captured on my camera. The last thing I want to do is share or talk with another before I know where I’ve been.

When I say good-bye to my daughters and spend far more time in the airport to do so than others might think necessary, it’s in part due to recognition that these moments are measured, that our times together are no guarantee, but are instead a gift.

I live in this place, a space that knows what we have today will continue to evolve over time as life does. Nothing is static. I like this space too. I like taking my moments to recognize the treasure that has just been placed in my hand and recognizing that it has now ended. I like absorbing the magnificence of what has passed and making room for this emotional depth to become a part of who I am.

I like feeling where I’ve been most of all.

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Children = Hope

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I visited Ghana in June of 2013 with Routes to Africa founder, Chris Bierbrier and for me, the trip was incredibly challenging. I was in a state of cultural shock and mighty embarrassed that I was struggling. My coping mechanisms while at home include running and yoga, a glass of wine in a quiet room at the end of the day, mindlessly navigating Facebook and other social media sites and chats with my boyfriend. None of these things were available to me while I was in Bolgatanga and I struggled to find myself. I struggled to find beauty. Follow the link below to learn more.

http://routestoafrica.org/trips/children-hope

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“Wilderness. The word itself is music.” ~ Edward Abbey

 Moab

REI’s #OptOutside campaign is brilliant. It’s brilliant because regardless of how individuals ultimately decide to spend Black Friday, it aims a spotlight on the value of the natural world to our well-being, both personally and as a collective. It’s brilliant because it’s authentic. I know this because I used to work at #REI. I know this because I found my ‘people’ there–friends of all ages who spent their free time hiking, skiing, and cycling, any activity that brought them outside. I know this because our adventures in the outdoors were supported by the corporate mothership.

I’m a firm believer in the power of the outdoors in replenishing me in order to give my best self personally and personally. One of the beautiful benefits of working for myself is an ability to visit outdoor places on week days to avoid crowds. I’m a seeker of solitude, quiet, and the lovely sound of wind whistling through trees, the first site of light at dawn, and I’m enraptured by full moon walks without headlamps. I have a longing, or a dream, that our nation would have one night a month where all artificial light was eliminated so that every human being could look up and see the night sky without light pollution. There is something magnificent about remembering how small we are, how while we are significant in our unique existence, it’s not all about us.

My fiancé and I decided to celebrate the cool months of fall in Colorado with a four-day camping trip to Moab, camping just outside Canyonlands. We were there to mountain bike during the day and enjoy the full moon in the evening. I was going to experience the White Rim for a day – something I had been pestering Rob to do since I met him. It was our first camping trip together and I won’t lie, the preparation for the trip was pretty darn exciting too as we rediscovered our cool gadgets and gear from GSI Outdoors, REI and Goal Zero and tested our iconic Coleman stove.

The trip was fantastic, but we learned something: Camping has changed significantly. And I’m conflicted.

The quiet of our campsite was disrupted by the generators of motor homes and campers. There was the glare of a television inside a camper a few sites away. We chose a more secluded spot in the campground, which had many empty spots, but new arrivals invariably chose the spot next to us and I wondered if it was because our human company provided comfort? One young couple broke the branches of Juniper trees for firewood and our moonlit walk across slick rock just outside of our campground was interrupted by a drone hovering in the distance. We declared that if we had a bebe gun we would shoot it down without apology.

I was disappointed. I was angry at all the other campers who seemed unable to appreciate solitude and leave behind the comforts of home for a few days and just exist in the serenity of this beautiful place. And then I thought, was this fair? Is it perhaps possible that our campmates were spending time outside that they might not have precisely because of these creature comfort?

I’m as conflicted as Edward Abbey was in his evergreen essays in Desert Solitaire.Essays that I believe are even more relevant today.

“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.” ~ Edward Abbey

The soul of me wants everyone to understand how it feels to hear nothing at all, nothing but the natural world or how it feels to eat a simple meal next to a campfire and have it taste better than any damn five-star restaurant or how calming it feels to be disconnected from all our technological addictions. And the other side of me wants to be more generous and appreciative of those that are afraid or uncertain of our natural world and without judgment embrace their experience in whatever way it manifests itself.

But I am conflicted. I am selfish in my search for solitude and simplicity. I am selfish in my need for escape.

Leaving Canyonlands on our final day we spied a campground that said the magical words “no trailers,” and we decided our next camping trip would seek this spot.

Maybe we can coexist. But I’m still conflicted.

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