It Was Always a Love Story

Usually, I publish my longer pieces on this blog, a bit of a #LongerView. I link to them on Aim for Even where I provide a swinging bench and invite the reader to sit a moment, if the topic suits.

Today, I offer you the same as I say a final goodbye to feline EmmaRose in The Roses of Our Lives. About eight months ago, I wrote about her leaving for an animal sanctuary.

I never doubted my decision but I never lost the ache in my heart, either. Love is what is best in us.  For me, EmmaRose was always a love story, and as you will discover, that never changed.

Sitting Silence

In times of loss, I have always gone silent. To me, silence has always been a response but it is only in these later years that I learned to sit silence as a response to loss.  watching 0314

Certainly, silence has been my only response on this blog for well over three months. Almost daily, I posted on Aim for Even. There was the interruption from hurricane Hermine, and there was the first of two hip replacement surgeries.

The surgery went extraordinarily well but the patient lost a way of life, totally unexpected. Loss is often evident to everyone around us before we meet it face-to-face.

And so it was for me with feline EmmaRose. She appeared frequently on this blog, and while she lives still, she lives elsewhere.

My hospital stay revealed that I was no longer able to care for EmmaRose even beyond my recovery from hip replacement surgery. More and more, autoimmune disease dictates what is possible for me. In this case, accompanying anemia keeps my energy level quite low.

This partnership of autoimmune disease and anemia has been affecting my life for some time—quite seriously—yet I chose not to hear what my rheumatologist was telling me. Neither did I sit silence for counsel. Rather, I ignored or reinterpreted every medical pronouncement, an old behavior of mine. Emma meditating 0313

Only in losing EmmaRose did I sit silence. I knew the right thing to do and did it but the right thing is always so hard to do.

Is that because I ignored my intuition, my “gut,” until I could no longer deny it? Or is it because doing the right thing always asks something of me that I don’t want to do.

Good questions, and I will ask them all my life. The answers are time sensitive but the questions are eternal. They allow me to see me as I am; always, it is revealing.  

I sit silence, all eyes and ears.

And if I am fortunate, a bit of magic shows itself. I have never doubted the presence of magic. It stays hidden in plain sight, its last protection. As fast as this world whirrs, magic is missed.

So often, we chase what we will never catch. Where is the magic in that? As a believer, I tell you that once you have walked through a magic portal, you will never forget the experience.

Some years ago, I discovered an animal sanctuary, deep in the Florida forest. It is not a rescue or a Humane Society but a farm for medically needy animals to live out their lives in a family setting.

If it sounds idyllic, it isn’t, and to me, that’s what makes it perfect. Not too long ago, I was an administrative volunteer for this sanctuary because its mission is like no other. There are no paid staff and there are two veterinarians on site. And yes, it exists entirely on donations.

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Magic always wends its way.

So, EmmaRose, now medically needy herself, returned to where she once lived. Daily, a little girl sings to “her best kitty ever,” as a family helps EmmaRose adjust, again, to life on the farm. At the very least, the scent is familiar as is the love.

And I cry but my tears are more for the joy of the years we knew than for the years we will not know. Love always overflows loss.

No matter how dark the moment, there is always a sliver of light. If I sit silence, the world cracks open just a bit.

I no longer focus on the future, what I may or may not experience. The only life I know is the current moment. It has my complete attention. Even without death, some lives leave us. We never know when we must let go, when we must change.

Sitting silence is immersing myself in the experience of being alive, raw and unfiltered, whether it’s the loss of health or doing the right thing for EmmaRose.

I know that each loss reveals its worth in its own time. And then there is the magic. If I sit silence, I will not miss it. I will not go whirring by.  

The Holiday Pounce or the Cat is on Steroids

Sometimes the holiday season is just upon me, unannounced points of light pristine as newly fallen snow. It is joy uncontained, this magic of my holiday heart, a music all its own.

This year, I am very like the boy in “Walking in the Air.” The music is new to me but in England it is a beloved Howard Blake song written for the 1982 television adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman.  It is a traditional holiday favorite.

Perhaps that is how holiday traditions are made. New only one time and for all the holidays yet to come, remembered, sometimes as magic.

In ways unforeseen, feline EmmaRose and I are exploring our own version of walking in the air. In keeping with the title of this post, she is on steroids. For that matter, so am I.

It has not been what I would have anticipated for either one of us.

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As you can see, most flights of fancy are in EmmaRose’s dreams. That said, there are moments the catnip mouse flies through the air, ever prey to EmmaRose’s declawed but deft paws. Usually, a serious nap follows. This has always been her way.

EmmaRose has reached a certain age where chronic inflammation in her gastrointestinal tract is now permanent. Prednisone gives EmmaRose a chance to keep her life as she has known it. In all things, same old, same old is EmmaRose’s idea of walking in the air.  The even keel is her joy.

As a woman of a certain age with an increasing number of chronic health conditions, I, too, aim for the joy of even. Every morning I check our respective steroid doses on the daily calendar. EmmaRose’s is in liquid form, which she prefers dribbled on flakes of tuna.

I take my tablets with warm, lemon water and set the timer for an hour. I meditate; EmmaRose naps.

Meditating on steroids is not a busy blur. Just the opposite, actually.  In the opalescent hours, dark and not far from morning–dawn’s assurance lurks–my body stills into one breath after another.

Inflammation signals, initially insistent as pain, ebb. More like soft points of light than not. Tramadol fans the flames of burning joints into embers as Gabapentin wends its way through the maze of misfiring nerves.

Within the hour, my body finds its balance to begin the day.  There will be constant shifts as medicine and body seek mutual agreement. Cooperation is fluid.

I am “floating in the midnight sky,” glimpsing the possibilities a life with traditional medicine may offer. The points of light are innumerable. Such is the dawn of change.

But even change will not stay. One cannot hold onto the midnight blue for it is only a moment’s ride. Always, the magic lasts just long enough for us to remember to believe.

Whether or not we go walking in the air is our choice. We can enrich our experience as much or as little as we choose. We are not confined by what our bodies can or cannot do.

Our most powerful tool—our curiosity, our ability to imagine—is what wraps and re-wraps the world so that it once again is new and shiny.

To go walking in the air is to “take the world by surprise,” to open our arms to joy, believing nothing is impossible. It only takes a moment to believe. And then our feet touch the ground.

To accept that walking in the air is as necessary as keeping our feet on the ground is to know joy, ours to live or not.

It is a game of catnip mouse with declawed paws.

It is the awe of experiencing each moment for none can ever stay.

Sometimes we walk in the air. Sometimes our footsteps are one in front of the other, grounded. It is an ever shifting balance.

Happy holidays. You are all points of light.

In Stillness, the World Awakens

It is still dark on this new day but what was night—despair–gives way to the light that is the hope of the new.

In some parts of the world, this particular day has already spent its light but where I live, the light only now gently overtakes the dark. It is my first moment of a day, fresh and unique.

I press the button to adjust the bed to a sitting position to begin meditating.  On more days than not, feline EmmaRose, all 5.5 pounds of her, makes herself comfortable on my soft belly.

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We begin together. She purrs, kneads my stomach, and then lies down to sleep or to stare out the bedroom window. I focus on my breath–in and out, in and out–I stare into the darkness as it becomes light.

I breathe my way into stillness as the world around me awakens. My body recognizes the opening of our daily dialogue.

A mind scan of my body reveals the concrete block stiffness from the previous day but as yet no pain stirs only tingling and numbness in my thumbs and index fingers. I begin there.

Tingling turns into the familiar electrical “bzzt” in the tip of my right thumb, then the left as well. Another “bzzt” charges through my right thumb and then through both index fingers.

I take a deep breath in an attempt to release my thumbs and fingers from the buzzing but the breath seems off, stale. My focus is on thought and not on breathing. Quickly, I attempt to exhale what I have not yet breathed in.

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For a while now I have been aware of this futile attempt to suppress a breath, as if I could. I breathe in fully this time so I may release completely  the fear that it is: my doubt of regaining the full strength of my thumbs and fingers.

As the fear breath goes through my upper body, its weakness seems to increase as does the stiffness in my legs. Only when it has traveled my body am I able to exhale fully what has no substance ever, fear.

Once again, I am one with my breath—in and out–as I sense each finger and then my thumbs until warmth flows through both hands releasing the  electrical “bzzt.” Stillness softens the stiffness of my upper body as it warms to the day.

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The pain in my right leg announces itself. It is a frequent caller so there is no fear as I focus on the pain, searching it out with my breath—in and out—until I reach its core.

We “sit” together for as long as it takes for the stillness to make its way through every cell of my body. I never know the precise moment that it stills, only that it does.

Now, it is the mind’s turn, a movie all its own.

A fragment of a Louise Erdrich quote is first to float through, something about  sitting under an apple tree to “listen to the apples falling all around…in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

In the stillness, an entire world awakens around me in this day that is now bursting with light, inviting me to partake in all I can as I am able. It is a gift to taste the sweetness of a new breath and in gratitude, let it go as it must.

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Feline EmmaRose decides to stir, sometimes to bathe but other times, just to get on with her day. And as happens more often than not, her movement coincides with the ding of the timer silencing the stillness.

I try to hold it, of course, but like the breath, it, too, must leave. And in response, my body sends signals from everywhere, announcing this issue or that. I am ready to taste the apples of this day, to savor as much sweetness as I am able.

As long as you are breathing, there is more right with

you than wrong with you no matter what is wrong.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

A Day in Search of the Theory of Everything

I am at the point in my life where I can appreciate every day of the week as just another day.  I keep plans to a minimum. It keeps me open to just what any day can bring.

Every once in a while, a day does take on a life of its own. Often, when there is a plan involved. So it was with last Monday and my plan to see the movie, The Theory of Everything.

The day began like any other Monday as I perused my WordPress reader for a #MondayMusing post to share on my Twitter feed. The first post I read–Core Spirit–made an indirect reference to the Theory of Everything.

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It is a thoughtful essay on consciousness, in particular the differences between the scientific perspective and the spiritual experience. These differences are centuries old.

To me, science confines itself to the natural world, what it can prove/observe.  Those in the spiritual community—poets, philosophers, religions—confine themselves to the experience of just being alive.

In the Core Spirit essay, scientists seek to define the natural world; the spiritual seek “communion” with it. Yet, it is a world we all share. That we have unique and different perspectives should serve to broaden understanding—fuel curiosity—ultimately, it still divides rather than informs.

As for the Theory of Everything explaining all the laws of nature and accounting for all that has ever happened? The essay ends with: “Einstein said that knowing this equation would be reading the mind of God” (Core Spirit).

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To my mind, agreement upon that equation will not come readily but then I am one who immerses herself in the wonder of the moment. Science may  find the equation; some say it already has. For me, science only adds to the awe.

I was pleased at the coincidence of coming across the post on the day I planned to see the movie about the Theory of Everything.

I checked the movie’s show time once more before leaving but paid no attention to the movie theatre location. That, I was sure I knew.

When I arrived at the third movie theatre location, I was told the movie is now out on DVD. The movie theatre employee looked at me askance, of course, but she did have to make a phone call to discover that information. We both learned something.

If I had read the complete movie listing, I would have discovered the fourth location where the movie was, indeed, playing at that specific time, out on DVD or no.

Of course, it was too late to drive to that location. I was not dismayed. There might be a day to see the movie but it was not that day.

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Once home, I checked my email. Within the last twenty minutes, I had received an email from the Washington Post, asking to re-publish “Learning Zen from a Beagle,” my post about a blind beagle showing me the way.

Had I gone to see The Theory of Everything, I would have missed being available for a back and forth email session with the Post editor. I would have missed this moment in my life. Maybe, I would have missed everything now unfolding.  Maybe not.

As for my next plan to see The Theory of Everything, my name is in the local library queue. On another day, my name will come up. Who knows what will unfold.

 * * *

For a thoughtful and concise post on the equation and the Theory of Everything, here is Matthew Wright’s “How Stephen Hawking Reconciled the Irreconcilable.”

For a considered discussion on consciousness, here is “The Akashic Field and Consciousness.”

If you are interested, here is the link to the Washington Post’s republication of “How My Blind Beagle Taught Me Zen.”

Learning Zen from a Beagle

Humans have to work at equanimity for often there is a well-established mindset that stifles openness. Mindset often closes the door on mindfulness. There is, however, an enviable equanimity—evenness—that we associate with dogs. They can meet a moment with all they have and let it go.

If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are:

you are probably a dog.

Jack Kornfield

 A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times

My mindset in reading the Kornfield quote was, “Great! A pithy, Zen quote about how to meet difficult moments.” Well, it is and it is not—such is the nature of Zen. Mostly, however, I thought of a dog named Gumby.

First Days 0708A beagle mix–maybe dachshund, maybe rat terrier, maybe neither–Gumby was mostly black and tan with a bit of white on her chest. Long-legged yet petite.

I was thinking of the evening when diabetes claimed her sight. We were on our walk with Gumby determining our route, as always.

In an instant, her long legs searched wildly for the sidewalk that seemed to have disappeared. Yet, she did not stop but kept going until she found her stride again.

That evening and every walk thereafter, she decided our route by beagling– scent memory.  She walked me miles—some days as many as five—I followed, trusting her to take us where we needed to go.

Blind but completely present, Gumby walked me into the world so I could see it as it is. It was not the world I wanted but it was the world we were in. We walked, every day and every night for two-and-a-half years.

We even appeared on the evening news as concerned residents regarding a dangerous cross walk. Gumby’s blindness went unremarked. Few ever noticed she was mostly blind, unless they looked directly into her clouded eyes. And even then, who could be sure?  Gumby remembered 011812

But if any light ever entered her eyes it was in listening to Puccini’s La Boheme. Whether it was a “Live at the Met” radio performance on a Saturday afternoon or from a CD, we sat through all four acts together every time.

She came to me as an older dog with few teeth—hence the name, Gumby–I never knew the origin of her love for classical music or opera.  It ceased to matter how she had once lived before her life with me.

She taught me to meet the moment with whatever I happen to have wherever I might happen to be. She took me many miles through many difficult moments. Years later, I am changed and unchanged.

I still sit through all four acts of La Boheme, completely present in its story, as if for the first time. It was my favorite opera before I knew Gumby but now each performance is a new experience. Was it her favorite opera? That has ceased to matter as well. It was the only opera in which we sat together in meditative stillness.

Mindset comes from experience, our memory of a time past. But sometimes, with enough time and space, we can reflect on difficult moments, returning to the unchanged as the changed being we are.

I took her beagling. She taught me Zen.

 

The Magical Spice of the Gingerbread House

Perhaps the real spice in ginger is its magic, similar to the sparkle more in evidence this time of year than during other seasons. Resembling ginger’s spice, there is a warming of hearts and sometimes, even the healing of them. Of course, that’s where the magic is.

Ginger, and in particular gingerbread, has been associated with Christmas since the 17th century when gingerbread became a popular art form across Europe. It was in the 1800s when the Germans began baking and building gingerbread (lebkuchen) houses.

Hansel 1214The popularity of these houses coincided with the publication of a Grimm’s fairytale about “Hansel and Gretel,” two children who could not resist eating a gingerbread house. Very few people ever have, young or old.

Gingerbread houses are still associated with the holidays, a remembrance of one way the magic is celebrated. After all, gingerbread houses have their own kind of magic, rather like the hearts of children in any season but during Christmas, well….

You can see it in their eyes every day of the season, reflected in the soft glow of colored lights, mirrored in the round, red baubles hanging from the branch of a Christmas tree.

If you are fortunate enough to catch a child’s image in a bulb, you might also look more closely into what the ornament reveals for you. It is not as if the magic excludes.

It is as if we are once again that child in stolen moments wondering just what awaits us. Perhaps wishing for a certain gift or just being dazzled by the sparkle of everywhere we look. The scent of the freshly cut tree, an aroma reserved for one time of year only.

As an adult I may be mostly Buddhist but I delight in remembering the Christmases of holiday seasons past. Also, IGretel 1214 am almost child-like in enjoying the wonders of this giving season, be it gingerbread houses or their creators with their works in progress.

For me, there is no greater love than in the eyes of these two children, my great-niece and great-nephew. In their home, they carry on their family tradition of celebrating Christmas. They share it with me—some 2,000 miles away—courtesy of their grandmother’s love—and her camera.

The Artist 1214Every time I look at these photos, it is Christmas.

And yes, there is my naïve hope that the heart of the giving season—the magic that the heart of a child knows—will stay as the heart of the world this year and not be boxed up with the shiny bulbs and colored lights.

We can hold onto the spirit of the season—there is no need to keep it locked away for another year—its spice will sustain us, heal us like the ginger so necessary for a gingerbread house.

The spirit opens our hearts in ways we find difficult—even impossible–during other seasons. Increasingly, we are weary of the shininess of the season yet we thrill to the glow of colored lights, imagining lives behind windows in gingerbread houses, as if magic only lived in the imagination.

It does not. It lives within our hearts.

Any child can remind us on any day. It is for us to return to a moment in our lives–maybe it’s Christmas or maybe it’s not–when we believed in magic, the spice that heals.

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