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.

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

Of Alarms, Animals, and Awakened Hearts

When the fire alarm went off, feline EmmaRose and I seemed sure it had something to do with me. She gave me her usual look of what now? My thought was I had finally succeeded in leaving an empty tea kettle on a hot burner long enough to melt the kettle’s bottom.

Quickly, I realized it was not our smoke detector but the fire alarm for the entire building. It was someone else’s burner/pan/tea kettle. I went outside into the warm, North Florida midnight air as did the rest of the building’s residents.

I did not put EmmaRose in her carrier and take her with me for she has such dread of any interruption of our routine—it upsets her for days—and although she is not fond of the fire alarm, it is not an unknown to her. Was this not yet another human event occurring for no apparent reason?
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That seemed EmmaRose’s attitude, and she was correct. We never knew who pulled the alarm and probably never will. However, it would take 40 minutes before the alarm was finally silenced. Neither management nor the fire department could locate a key. This was not routine.

Within minutes, I decided the alarm was too much for EmmaRose’s ears. Standing among my neighbors, I heard myself say, “Well, I’m going to go get my cat.” I turned and walked toward my apartment.

Why I said aloud what I was thinking I have no idea but it produced another kind of human alarm.

“WHAT GOOD IS A CAT GOING TO DO??!? HOW WILL THAT HELP US?!?”

My back was to the man who was bellowing. I knew who it was, Carl. He had been talking nonstop to anyone and everyone but no one seemed to want his opinion, especially the firemen.

Still garrulous with my thoughts I shouted, “I think a lot more of animals than I do of people.” His retort was a strong suggestion that I grow up. I offered he might do the same and walked into my apartment.

EmmaRose met me at the door, ready to get into her carrier, and together, we went outside and away from the building but still in the vicinity of Carl’s voice.Eyes Open 0513

“I’ve been on the battlefield! I was in Special Ops! This is nothing! We are all upset!” Then, he stopped and looked around. After a few breaths, he mumbled something to the effect that I was making it worse for everyone.

It seemed more residents were bringing their pets outside. Maybe I had made it worse.

I looked at Carl. “Well, I didn’t think I was but if I have, I apologize.”

“Well, I apologize, too,” he said, adding, “peace?”

“We’re done,” I said.

Both of us remained quiet for the duration of the alarm as did every dog and every cat.

The next morning, Carl and I found ourselves face-to-face, again. We rarely saw each other.

“Good morning,” I said to Carl and meant it.

“So, we’re okay after last night?”

“We’re fine, really.” I extended my hand to him, and he shook it.

“I don’t know why I said that about your cat.”

“The alarm is hard on animals’ hearing,” I said, adding “I didn’t need to say what I said, either.”

“No, that was all right.”

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At this point, we actually heard each other; our own alarms had finally shut off. For longer than the 40-minutes at midnight, Carl and I acknowledged each other’s value—a traditional Catholic soldier and a Buddhist animal lover—each worthy of respect for the human beings we are, a veteran and a hippie.

Carl is a fine teller of stories and excels at revealing the punch line. We laughed a lot and genuinely. We found common ground in a thoughtful discussion on democracy, in our mutual disdain for both prejudice and the healthcare system.

As he started up the stairs to his apartment and I to my vehicle, I heard the limp in his step, something I had not noticed.

I called out to him. “How do you feel about acupuncture?”

“I believe in it. Why?”

“I know a good one. Would you like her card?”

He says he would. I return to my apartment for the card, and he comes down the stairs to get it.

He thanks me and adds, “When you make a mistake you just have to own up, don’t you?”

“Yes, and then let it go,” I say.

And so we separate with hearts awakened.

The quality of modesty, or humility, comes naturally when we’re attentive. When we see how reactive and unkind we can be, this humbles us considerably.

Instead of causing despair, however, this painful realization can connect us with the tenderness of bodhichitta [or, awakened heart].

Modesty, or humbleness, is the opposite of armoring ourselves: it allows us to be receptive and hear what others have to say.

Pema Chödrön

(No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, pp. 134-35)

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When to Carry and When to Let Go

My previous post considered the constant connection we have with our world, one more immediate than ever before. There is a continuous buzz of busyness. It can overwhelm one to stillness, this blogger included, so I took a week off from publishing a post.

A break in routine is an opportunity to create a change in the way we live unless the break is just another form of busyness—same behavior just different surroundings or situations.

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A true break means we attend to basic requirements only and not carry the world with us so we may meet the mundane as if for the first time, eyes fresh and bright. It requires us to drop what we carry so that we hold only the moment we have.

There is a well-known story of two monks who come to a river where they meet a woman who needs assistance in crossing.

Without a word, one monk picks up the woman and carries her across. She thanks the monk and leaves. The two monks continue on their way, one troubled and one not.

Finally, the troubled monk can stand it no longer and asks, “Why did you carry that woman across the river when you know we are prohibited any contact with women?”

The untroubled monk responds, “I only carried her across the river. You are still carrying her.”

If it is a break we intend, then it is much like residing in the gap between thoughts. In no thought there is no mind just pure consciousness. In a break from our routine, we no longer carry the busyness of everyday. We put it down and rest. When we return to our river of routine we cross, carrying our load again.

For me, this short break from blogging was different than previous ones. It started with a stop. Simultaneously, I dealt with a colorful but significantly sprained toe on my left foot and an aggravated inflammation of my right knee.

I note that the injury to my toe is probably related to increasing lupus inflammation issues but the injury occurred after my trip to the library in search of Zen novels (I found two). In fact, it was after I put down my library load that I stubbed/sprained/jammed my toe.

Resting and reading Zen provided me another perspective on balance both physically and emotionally. Perhaps my knee was more troublesome that particular day as in addition to wandering around the library, I had stocked up on groceries for the week.

My usual routine is either the library or the grocery store but not both yet organic, freshly ground almond butter was on sale, and I had new recipes to try, in particular Zoe’s cookies.  I would have to wait most of the week to make them but they were worth every step to get the ingredients. EmmaRose thought so, too. EmmaRose meets Zoe Cookies 0814

When not reading, I put down other emotional baggage that tends to clutter my routine, remembering that people really are doing the best they can and there are always options–this is true for me, as well. Sometimes, my routine blinds me to what others face so I do not see what they are carrying.

Now, I return to the river of my routine. I know the moment is all I ever have and that it is more than enough. After all, I only need to carry it to the next moment.

The First Peace in Relationship is Life Anew

This past Monday, feline EmmaRose and I experienced the imperative inherent in impermanence. One being can never know another completely, which is as it should be. The richness of relationship, its mystery, keeps us curious and often, in awe.

In her sun 0413As a cat, EmmaRose is ever present. Routine is her preference for that means food and shelter—her sense of security—is not threatened.  For the three and a half years she has lived with me not even the furniture has been rearranged. It seems she appreciated this more than I knew.

We spend most of our time in the bedroom, which doubles as my work area. I work from an adjustable Tempurpedic bed complete with laptop and bed table. EmmaRose is quite partial to sleeping on the Internet router, especially in winter, or near/on my lap while I write.

Our living room has never had much furniture. There is still a lovely antique, wooden rocker with a padded seat. It is more comfortable than it looks. Also, there is a large, rust-colored ottoman suitable for human and feline window gazing.

There WAS a twin bed box springs and mattress that I tried to disguise as a sofa-daybed. For me it was ugly, uncomfortable, an unpleasant reminder of another time. From time to time, however, I would find EmmaRose curled up and asleep on it.

That I regularly removed accumulated cat hair from its quilt cover should have told me that this was a nocturnal sleeping place. Did we not once watch a possum in moonlight from the sofa-daybed?

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In hindsight, it is obvious that a good deal on a used loveseat and recliner changed our relationship. In fact, EmmaRose seemed to sense imminent change the moment we heard the knock on our front door.

She did not watch the daybed leave the apartment, preferring the familiarity of the bedroom to wait for the moving in and moving out to cease. Only then did she return to the living room.

Although she is only five and a half pounds, she has an immense presence, especially when she communicates. We don’t focus on the actual meow or word. Rather, we pay attention to tone, and her feelings regarding the loveseat and recliner were quite clear.

Here we were in the reality of impermanence. The known furniture was gone and the unknown leather furniture was here. Accepting loss precedes learning to live with what is. Becoming once again secure in one’s world is unique to each being–there is no set amount of time.

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We can immerse ourselves into the newness of our world or we can skirt the change for awhile. Regardless, it is up to us to seek that first peace so integral to relationship, which is precisely what EmmaRose did three days and four nights later.

It was during the opalescent hours, as one day becomes another, that EmmaRose beckoned me to the loveseat for window gazing. In the light of the waning crescent moon, I glimpsed an occasional firefly but soon the purr of EmmaRose brought me, too, to sleep.

 

On Either Side of the Windowpane

watching 0314We are always in relationship–some small, others grand–ours is to co-exist. Life is what we have in common. It is sharing space with one another, including the insect in the room.

In the subtropical climate in which I live, co-existence with insects and bugs is possible year around. There are seasonal changes, sometimes marked by a winter’s bloom and other times, yet another change in foliage color.

Through it all, insects and bugs make their way on either side of window panes. The world of bugs and insects is fragile in its beauty and terrifyingly transient. There, living life to its fullest, even for a nanosecond, is never questioned, and death is just as imminent. The more I watch this world, the larger my own life becomes.

Insect and bug death is more common outside my windowpane than on the inside. Feline EmmaRose and I are content to observe all the life around us, although there are times I escort bugs and insects to the world on the other side of the pane. Relationship requires decisions.

Our windows look onto a carpet of grass that slopes to live oaks, pines and vines of woodland too thick for human occupation. Gray squirrels flick their feather-plumed tails, scurrying in and out of the woods in constant search of nuts not yet sprouted. Rarely, do they look to insects and bugs as food but they are never off the menu. Woods within 0514 This spring, EmmaRose and I have watched a pair of cardinals pecking seeds at woods’ edge as well as enjoying bug protein. The silken-red male most often appears in mornings, taking breakfast from what seems to be a favorite series of spots.

It is early evening when we see an earthen-brown female with a tufted, red crest and subtle red highlights. She stays closer to the woods, most often preferring low branches to the ground.

The brown thrasher is quite common of late. It seems a good year for insects and bug protein. To me, the reddish-brown streaks of the thrasher splashed through its mostly white chest seem velvet in texture. Thrashers, cardinals, and squirrels can be territorial but EmmaRose and I have yet to see a squabble.

The world outside the windowpane seems orchestrated and random. I wonder at all that I never see. I like that there is yet another world beyond mine.Bunny right side 072813

This week, there is a new crop of clover, always a favorite for the eastern cottontail rabbits that enjoy the cover of the woodlands as well as the grassy area borders. We watch kits and adults alike.

EmmaRose seems most attuned to rabbit watching. Often, she puts her paw on my arm and meows; it is my cue to look to the world outside the windowpane. More often than not, a rabbit munches the green slope at the edge of the woods.

Relationships are a collage of images collected over a lifetime, snapshots of the world on either side of the windowpane.