Another day, another story!
I love these missives I receive from friend and soul sister Kaya McLaren. Sometimes she actually writes me handwritten letters but I also love the ones she posts on FACEBOOK that read - For Friends Who Love Long Letters . . . and then she goes off into a menagerie of words about her journey, her life, her work, her friends, THE TREES and carries me along with her.
I think so often how about I want to say words about this or that, share this little thing or that big happening, but I keep rushing, rushing , rushing into the future while my words fall alway. Time keeps on slipping . . . and here we are all caught up into the fall of the year. Snap. It happened. Just like that. Our lack of rain produced a lack of glorious colors this year on the hill like we had last year. No brilliant reds and bursts of gold. Lots of brown, sneaky peeks of autumn colors. But the chill in the air is here. The leaves still fall. I still become wistful for all that ever was or will be good in this world. The smell in the air stirs up memories of childhood sometimes so thick I have to brush them from my mind to carry on. But it also brings to the surface a deep, resounding sense of gratefulness. Thankfullness. I can understand why we approach Thanksgiving season and why it is cradled in this season. No matter the history. There is something about this time of year that leads me into a deepness that is silent worship. Me looking out through the thinning trees and being so moved by the experience that it has been to be alive. Ever. At all. Anywhere. Anytime.
Maybe that's what moving into the winter season is all about. The settling. The introspection. Those great books that call to us to read them by the fire and only by the fire. At a slower days pace. Spring finds me giddy. Every year I yell and jump and say - look what we've survived, we're still alive! But by fall, I'm just so thankful that we've survived any of it after all.
I had the strangest dream. More of a thought wrapped in a dream. My year has been filled with pressures and deadlines. To-dos and near misses. A few disappointments, mishaps and some certifiable exhaustion. But in my dream - suddenly I saw my year from a different perspective. I saw all the good things. They stood out like bright beacons, an absolute string of stars. Brilliant, intoxicating. And in my dream I said with a sense of amazed wonder - This has been the best year of my life! - And what stood out to me was that it had. Only, I hadn't noticed. I had been so busy working, striving, hurting, worrying and so on that I hadn't noticed this phenomenon amazing occurrence that was the joy of my days when looked at from a different perspective. Maybe from a healthier distance. From a distance . . .
There are so many things I want to share with you. The stellar people that God has brought into my life this year and the projects I've been able co-work on. Next week I'll get to venture into those waters and share the details in the meantime - I want to talk about - you.
It's come to my attention recently that a few friends - good friends - people I adore with all my heart - have been having a tough go of it this year. Dark times. Silent storms. But here's the thing - from their facebook posts you'd never know it. I know, I know. Some people write beautifully about the burdens they carry or the shadows that assail them and put it out there for all of us. No one did that with more beauty or transparency than Kaya during her walk through the valley of death that is cancer. What is remarkable now is watching her as she has climbed into the sunshine on the other side and into a new day. But some of us, some of you, will never pull back the curtain on that shade of our lives on social media. Not that we wouldn't do it or you wouldn't do it over a cup of tea with a friend or a stranger but to do so in other places doesn't work for you/us/them. It feels too vulnerable, invasive, or - - - - fill in whatever word works for you here. But in spite of this - and not to put a spin on things - we continue putting sunsets and flower pictures and happy moments or share photos of family and friends we love and who make us so proud. What got to me was these friends were having dark times and I DIDN'T KNOW IT. I was keeping up with them only through their facebook posts and sporadically. Or through the posts of other people. So, I just want to encourage you with whatever you're going through today - and I know some of you are walking through tough times. Don't worry about all those perfect sunset pictures and don't strive so hard to be something when you already are something.
A beautiful letter from a reader came to my box a few weeks ago. I shared part of that letter with the River Jordan Reader Posse group on facebook. But the letter also came with a book by the sender - To Hear the Forest Sing, Some Musings on the Divine, by Margaret Dulaney and a few days ago I finally opened it and began to read. I want to back up and underline portions I've already read in the first essay but mostly I want to share with all of you - please find and order this book. I don't even know where or how but I'm sure it's out there on line somewhere. At least I hope it is. That it's still in print and you can get your hands on a copy. Because it is amazing medicine for the soul. And down deep, no matter what ails us, that's the medicine we need most.
Hold fast dear friends. Hold fast. To your faith and your hope in the face of evils that are so dark that seem that they should be spoken in whispers. Spend some time on the internet searching statistics on child abuse, sex trafficking, or the sexual exploitation of children and you'll want to crawl into a hole fathoms deep - or become so angry that you spend your life in a hopeless fit wanting to right those wrongs and seek justice. Make donations, support awareness, vow to contribute something to the causes that burn in your heart. And all the while. - hold fast. Because otherwise you slip down that chasm that brings no one out into the light. And I rather think we are here for this purpose, to hold hands and walk out into the light together. To be the light ourselves in the face of all that darkness. If we aren't - what then?
I realized this morning that somehow I had gone from one photo that captured my attention to having just looked at twenty photos of celebrities just walking down the street. Just photos of celebrities doing nothing but looking cool walking down the street being rich, famous, in shape, wearing cool, casual clothes and great haircuts. Insert some kind of little cartoon face here because it dawned on me - I'm doing nothing but looking at cool photos of famous people walking down the street and I don't even know why I'm doing this.
But then I realized why.
Because last night I had read about all those statistics about children and my heart broke so deeply I couldn't even cry. My wonder about the level of horrid was exactly that. I was horrified by everything I had read - and I kept reading and reading until I knew more than I ever wanted to know. And then - I had to look away. This morning my subconscious mind still knew the damage. My conscious mind was screaming look away. Look away. Rich, tan people in casual clothes abounding with blonde hair and perfect white teeth. All is well with the world.
But all is not well, is it? With the world? Or With us? We are all dancing as fast as we can to some piper that is beating a drum that demands more than we can give.
Until we stop. Until we listen. And realize. This isn't the spirit of which I am made up of. This is not the music of the spheres or the dance that I'm called to. This is my life. To reach out to right wrongs where I can, as I can. To show a cup of kindness to someone near or far. To do the best I can with who I am where I'm standing today. And, to not worry that the world doesn't see the battles that I'm fighting or understand me right now. My place is to see the dark battles that others are fighting and to strike a match where I can, when I can, as long as I am able.
Some days - I'm more able than others. Like most of us. We lean on one another. For a kind word, a cup of soup, a tiny prayer.
I've loved to watch Melissa Conroy's drawings all year on Instagram. She began doing something with - well, just go see them. Circles. light. shadow. movement. And recently my prayers have been shaped like her drawings. I think of someone and when I do I send them those circles of light. I think this are good prayers. I think they hold power and count for something.
Today on this Sunday on this hill Sister and I will be cleaning out a storage shed. Shaking old boxes, dodging mice and spiders. We're having to get 'our minds right' like in that old Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. But eventually, the job will be done. Then I'll shower immediately with Dawn like Sister has told me we must do. (By the way - I dreamed once Dawn detergent cured Zombies. - Just make a note of that) Then I will make a cup of tea and sit on my porch and watch a few more leaves fall. The squirrels will chatter and dash up and down the trees stealing the corn I put out for the deer to eat so Mom could watch them. The birds will gather at the feeders. The sun will lower and the sky will cast that shade of red long and slow the way it does through the branches here in Tennessee. The day will tidy and tuck itself in. And I will think of you and all you do to remain human in this beat up, bruised old world.
Be gentle with yourself. All is not lost. We are still here in this thing together.
Peace, love and light.
I had to say goodbye to my my loyal companion of the last decade of my life. What a blessing to have ever known the devotion and love of an old dog. The end was a long time coming but the 'so long' finally found us. He hung on way past the time he could make it. On our last regular trip to the vet when I was trying to 'fix him' and make him all better and they started talking 'quality of life' and gently let me know that he really wasn't going to need an update on those vaccinations because time had grown as short as time does.
There is really no need for me to go into how faithful and loyal an old dog can be. Those of you who've experienced this know all so well. I've read your Facebook posts and mourned with all of those who have said goodbye. I've lost family pets and good dogs but I've never known a beast such as this. He was a constant, gentle presence in my life with the most serious mind-reading eyes. If I cried he came and leaned on me, larger than life, soaked my tears in his fur. My happiness was his happiness. Truly. All he asked in life was a little food and water - and me. Granted he had the whole family and loved every one. Tolerated grandchildren leaning and cleaving. One who followed him everywhere toddling with one hand clutching his fur and one thumb in his mouth.
It was twelve years ago this little creature came into my life. He was to be a present for my mother. I researched dogs and for some reason beyond comprehension decided the gentle giant of a Great Pyrenees was just the beast my mother needed. Something to fill in the large, empty space my Dad's passing had left behind. The little space her fourteen year old dachshund's passing had left. Looking back I guess I was searching for the largest animal that could roam the halls of home.
I traveled to a goat farm in Smyrna that had advertised Pyr pups for sale. Not the blue-blood variety with long lineage papers but the kind that had a working goat farm. A Daddy dog and a mama dog and a cage full of puppies. A litter of eight perhaps. All pressing their tiny faces to the bars saying take me, take me. In the end I picked one. He had the baby fur of all Pyrenees pups. Silky to touch. It's their first fur. Eyes large and almond. Most human. And loved to be cuddled. He rode in my lap all the way home. Spent one night with me then I drove off to Florida to deliver him. Eight hours later I was crying as I handed him over to my mother. The thought of leaving him behind left an ache in my heart I couldn't explain. Three days later when I was ready to head back Nashville way she released him and said, I think he might be too big for me when he grows up. Maybe I need a smaller dog." This is the heart of a mother. She couldn't take from me what was meant to be hers when it caused me such pain. I drove home with the puppy who would become BIG DOG TITAN in due time.
When I first moved to Nashville I saw a sign for doggy day care and thought - What kind of person would bring a dog to day care. Then I discovered it was me. My guilt trips are not limited to my children and so while I wrote grants at NSCC he popped in a few days a week for 'social time' with kids his own age. He used to sneak away when he was still a puppy and in a little while as I searched frantically for him he had gone to visit the other pups at Doggy-Do's.
He snuck off one night to visit some cows and didn't come back. I was beside myself with worry but got a phone call the next day from a woman in her 70's who said, "We think we have your dog here. I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday but he's a really big dog and he's got a big mouth so I was afraid to reach down and read his tag. We've had him locked up in the goat pen all night."
By the time I arrived he was inside this tiny country house in the kitchen with the woman's mother who was 92. She looked at me and said, "He's nothing but a baby!" She told me this twice. He'd eaten fried chicken and greens and cornbread. Happy to see me, a big smile on his face, a full tummy. Yes, we all know that dogs really smile.
He was a road warrior that covered thousands of miles with me who'd rather spend eight hours in a car than five minutes out of my sight. He loved to put his feet on the console and stick his big head out the sunroof. Gave me those special eyes when I put on my shoes. The ones said, "We're going? You're going? I"m coming too right? Taking me too right? I'll go lay right in front of the door right now so you don't forget me." The sight of my suitcase depressed him unless he figured out it was a road trip where he could travel along.
In a photo shoot so many years ago for a book cover I asked if I could bring my dog so that I could just look at him. It was the only time I've had photos that weren't 'gently touched up' as they put it. Someone once told me in that photo, God threw you a bone. Which I thought was funny but it was Titan that had made me smile. Did I mention he gave hugs? Friends and family can attest to this. Writer friends who came and stayed on the way to their next gig always ended up having a little photo shoot with Titan before they left. Shellie called me one day and asked, "Am I imagining things or does Titan give hugs?"
The last few years have been terribly rough on the personal front and he was my stable grace. On the longest ride of my life, him with me every mile filling up the backseat, I'd constantly reach back to touch him, to ground myself in the continued realities of his love. He stayed by my side and it wasn't until he passed that I realized how much he had tethered me to this world through that storm. He was my silent, strong. He showed me both what it was to be loved by God - because surely it is this absolute and unconditional - and what my loving God might look like if I could be half as true.
In the last months of his life he needed help to make it up the stairs because he had started to fall. He needed a fan in his face to help him breath when he slept. He had entered his elderly years yet I remained his sun. He still managed to bounce on his feet and run around in big circles when I came home. Desire overpowering his able. And, I think that desire to see me through the hard places had overpowered his able for a long time. But the night came when he couldn't go on, was in horrible pain and the next morning my sister met me at the vets for one last trip.
She brought her favorite soft blanket and a little fan to blow in his face. I sat on the floor, held his big head in my lap, said, "Good dog," over and over again. Best dog ever. So in that way he went to sleep with his head in my lap, my sister holding that fan to his face. Crazy to have these kind of luxuries when the world has gone mad and people are hurt and dying everywhere yet, in the final hour for anyone we love, family and friends, for a soldier in arms who has served by our side, we would wish a peaceful passing.
I will never have another dog like this in my life. Not like this. And, I had sworn to my mother I'd never have another dog period. No cat. No dog. No fish. No nothing. I'd be free to be me and travel when I needed and not search for sitters. No loving no nithing. But then a dog that ate in the trash, wandered the roads, got hit by a car, never had a bath, was matted and ticked, showed up at the house before Titan died. He officially belonged to a neighbor in that when they yelled he was supposed to show up. I started sneaking him food, putting a blanket out for him when it was freezing and he was left in the cold.
Soonater we said good-bye to Titan I left for Florida to continue packing for Mom's move for the 1000 time. In my absence, my sister paid a special visit with the neighbors and had a special conversation. When I returned the dog known as Kevin had been shaved, had his shots, wore a collar. He sleeps now on the floor as I write this. He's too young to snore. He is thankful for kindness, for food, and wants to be loved, to be petted or receive a gentle touch. Things all foreign and new to him. I've tried to tell him, it's not fair to you - you know. I had a great dog once. And, you'll never be him, can't be him. Kevin the dog we call buddy just looks at me as if - It's ok. I'm just happy to be here. I'll take what you've got. Even leftover love. It's more than I've known. I have pictures of this transformation I'll post later this week.)
There will never be another Big Dog Titan in my life. But God's teaching me that love's not just for one season. It's a perpetual thing. That it grows in the giving not in the keeping away.
CS Lewis wrote:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal."
I have given my whole heart and I'm learning to give it again.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.