Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘death’

Love Is Forever

Wynonna Judd recorded a song in 1993 entitled “Only Love”. The lyrics refer to the flags flown on a ship’s mast, often called pennants, though historically, they’re called pennons. Flags indicate a ship’s activities, such as commissioning, religious services being conducted or inviting officers for drinks in the wardroom.

Out of all the flags I’ve flown,

one flies high and stands alone.

Only Love.”

As far as I can see, the lyrics continue, on this island of green, I can put my trust in just one thing.

Only love sails straight from the harbor.

Only love will lead us to the other shore.

These lyrics may have been written by an Armchair Zen Master, or perhaps they just sounded good and fit the meter. Somehow, it seems a deep level of philosophy is conveyed.

Peaceful waters, raging sea,

It’s all the same to me.

I can close my eyes and still be free.

When waves come crashing down, 

Thunder all around,

I can feel my feet on solid ground.

I like the metaphors of the boat, the sea, the threatening weather. In the first verse:

I’ve sailed a boat or two, on the wild blue.

Yonder do dreams rarely come true.

It’s not often you’ll hear poets come out and say that “dreams rarely come true”. But it’s truth.

How can love be forever, you may ask. Isn’t that one of the great heartbreaks of life, losing those we love?

Love is not something that comes and goes. We’re talking about real, honest-to-goodness love here, not infatuation, obsession, fascination. Love is kind of a magical thing, a wonderous thing. While other children don’t know me from Adam, might even be afraid of “the stranger”, my kids and grandkids love me deeply.

It’s a wonderful and predictable thing with babies. Being the grandfather, I could only see the babies intermittently. A holiday here, a visit there, an afternoon of babysitting. At first, baby sees me only as not-mommy-or-daddy, and that’s all that counts. Nothing but mommy and daddy will do for those first few months. Before too long, after witnessing the same wide grin and squeaky “It’s Pop Pop!” greeting, complete with hand gestures, baby begins to recognize me. Then, somewhere around the six month mark, suddenly baby remembers me! My ear-to-ear grin is met with a wiggling toothless smile, and we officially love one another.

Love is forever. It doesn’t die when those we love die.

I love my departed mother as much today as I did when I was a child. Perhaps not more than my younger self, but in a way deeper, broader. I know not only the rigors of raising children as she did, but by now appreciate the fashion in which we were raised. Safety and security, fun and wonder, guidance, support, laughter and hugs. Coursing along through my life I’ve had to come to recognize and appreciate the other aspects of adulthood which she navigated. Loss. Death. Insecurity. Divorce. Illness. Tragedy. Gone a decade now, I think of her as often as when she was living. At crossroads and challenges, I’ll often listen, trying to imagine the things she would say to me on the occasion. At times, she is still my mentor, as I ask myself “What would Marie do?”. She was absolutely decisive.

 

My Dad, Mom, sister & me. Circa 1966.

My Dad, Mom, sister & me.
Circa 1966.

 

My dear friend Richard died, just a couple of weeks ago. We met through work, lived our lives in parallel, raising kids, buying cars, high school graduations, weddings, grandchildren. We spent about seventeen years together, a better record than many marriages! We spent a lot of time together on the road. Shared some philosophies. We were sometimes mistaken for brothers.

Love is forever. It doesn’t die when those we love die.

My grandpa, the original Pop Pop (from whom I take the sobriquet), has been gone for more than twenty years. I never heard his voice raised. Never heard him utter a profanity. He was the gentlest and kindest, most patient person I’ve known throughout the course of my 56 years. With him, I felt secure and loved. My mother’s father, he was the next best thing to mom, almost equal in my book. I find I love him no less today than I did when he was with us on the planet.

Love is forever.

 

Pop Pop, Nana, my sister, and me. Circa 1970.

Pop Pop, Nana, my sister, and me. Circa 1970.

 

As the road behind me grows longer with each passing year, I’ve come to know the simple sense behind a life with an end. While there are babies born to bring me toothless smiles, and there are beautiful young people standing together promising love ’til death, while there are green springtimes, bright summers and glorious crystal winters to look forward to, there will also be sorrow. There will be loss and pain and hardships to witness, presuming life continues as it always has.

It’s comforting to have all that love stacked along the road. Up the hill or down the hill, I am bounded by those who love me on every side. My heart is filled with the love of all the dear ones I am now honored to see in the flesh, and also with the love of all those that have gone before me, to the resting place where dreams do come true. Love is something that comes out of nowhere and fills a space that didn’t exist. It’s free to give and never runs out.  Another song, Minutes to Memories, by John Mellencamp, puts it this way:

My family and friends are the best things I’ve known,

Through the eye of the needle, I’ll carry them home.

Love is forever.

 

And of all the flags I’ve flown,

One flies high and stands alone.

Only love.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

The Maple in the Grotto

Along the south end of our property, where the nature trail begins, there is a little respite I call The Grotto. It’s a little crook off the trail, beneath the shade of a forty-five foot sugar maple, surrounded by Concord grape vines, vetch, hops and bridal veil vines. To the south, the Grotto is open to the treeline between our house and the next.  A rivulet lazily drains the area, though it remains moist and swampy most of the year. In the summer, the evaporation of the rivulet cools the air, which settles and gathers in the Grotto, a natural air conditioner.

The Grotto

The Grotto

Within there is a little seat, a bench made of two lengths of chimney-liner. It is here that I’ll sit briefly and drink in the nature’s bounty all around, or in the winter, imagine the days of summer when the cool Grotto air will be a welcome relief at the end of a hot and humid day afield. The floor is presently covered with last year’s leaf-fall. Typically it would be mowed, once required by the growing season. This year, we’re watching to see how long this humus-enriching layer will take to decay. In the meantime, it makes a nifty carpet, with the crunchy sounds of fall.

The Leaf Carpet

The Leaf Carpet

When we bought the ranch 30 years ago, I remember looking at that little maple tree, located at the far edge of the property, an island in a field tilled for corn. It was probably not more than fifteen or twenty feet tall. Maybe aged as many years. “One day that will be a big majestic maple, like the aged ones along the road frontage.” I recall saying.

The Grotto Maple

The Grotto Maple

For the first ten or fifteen years I hardly noticed the growth. A long process that stretched out into my future, one of those “someday” things. From time to time, while mowing or walking the trail, I’d stop to admire the tree. Like the Johnny Goldsboro song, it was getting big.

Here it is, it’s “someday” now. The tree towers over the corner of the ranch, a spread of 30 or 40 feet, shading the cool Grotto and inundating it with autumn leaves in their many colors. With no less than five main trunks, it has grown into a beautiful and admirable specimen.

It’s fascinating and humbling to think of our maples. The ones along the road frontage are huge, 60-footers, with trunks so big it takes more than two people to stretch arms around them. One was brutally trimmed by the power company, but is otherwise healthy. Several more form the treeline, and I must imagine when Lowe’s were building this house, they selected a few saplings that were in the right place and said “These can stay.”.

I imagine the new home owners (in 1906), looking out those round-top windows and saying “That little maple sapling will be a fine specimen one day.”

The Lowe’s are long dead, and I now love and revere the trees they left for me. I look at the Grotto maple and realize that indeed today is my “someday”, and here this gorgeous tree stands just as I had imagined thirty years ago.

It’s a comforting thought, within the circle of life, that I may watch this tree grow and enjoy it, then leave it behind for others that follow.

Sort of a “hand across time” to the future, tied irrevocably to the past.

And those huge 125-year-olds out front?

I suspect they’ll be here long  after me as well, to look after the next family that moves in, to provide shade, maple sap, autumn leaf piles.

And they will spy a little sapling…

Ellie and the leaf pile

Ellie and the leaf pile

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

As Bob Lies Dying

My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, is dying from cancer.

 

My Sisters, circa 1970

My Sisters, circa 1970

There are lots of details of how it started five years ago with a simple skin cancer. Treatments. Recurrence. Spreading. Treatments.

Now he is leaving the hospital after his kidneys began to fail. He’s going home, to finish his journey “on his own terms”, as my nephew, his son, states.

Not only a beloved family member, but a contemporary. Just a few years older than my wife and I. Stuck in denial? It’s unreal. It’s unfathomable.

I’ve always looked up to and admired Bob, since I met him when I was about 16. I remember the first time I saw him. My sister Bonnie and I were driving through Johnstown and there he was, playing basketball on an outdoor court.

“There’s Bob!” Bonnie screamed as she saw him, turning down the volume on the rendition of “Bobby’s Girl” she played repeatedly.

We couldn’t stop right away because she’d just finished a cigarette, and Bob hated cigarettes. We hit the drug store for soap and breath mints.

Thirty-plus years later, Bob lies dying.

Bob is a third-generation farmer, but a college-educated one. A degree from Cobleskill Ag & Tech. When his father got out of the dairy business, Bob went to work for the town and stayed there until retirement.

He was cantankerous, sarcastic and flawless. He never smoked, and drank little.

When they were married, Bob, along with help from friends of all kinds, built the house he and Bonnie would call home, (I mean he built it, he didn’t have it built for him) eventually filling it with a girl and a boy and dogs and cats over the years.

Bob went down to the creek and hand-picked the stones to build the double-faced fireplace, the centerpiece of the living room and kitchen.

I guess I really don’t simply look up to and admire Bob, but am in awe.

As I grew into a young man, Bob’s example was quite a high bar to reach for. Like great people from history, Lincoln, King, Kennedy, Salk, I always felt that Bob was one of those people whom I could never equal. I could never be all the things Bob was, but I could try to emulate as best as I could.

Now, Bob lies dying.

These days are fractured. At work I am distracted by demands, and the pace of the day engulfs me. A tech calls for support and I run to the parts room. FedEx Freight is on the line about shipping from Houston. Someone relates an anecdote and I laugh. Then I remember. How can we be laughing? Bob lies dying.

At home I fall into the routines of daily life. Filling the pellet stove. Letting the dog out. Letting the dog in. Then I remember. How can these things fill my mind while Bob lies dying?

I drive to work. I drive home. I think of Bob as he lies dying. I think of my sainted mother, our dear late friend Mary Mone, her husband Frank. How life and work and laughter and driving and letting dogs in and out just continues as we lay dying, as we entomb our loved ones and friends, as the flowers on the graves fade and wither and are removed by cemetery caretakers.

I think of my own death, my own funeral. How strange it is to think that family and friends will be mourning my passing (perhaps), while all around them and dead me the world will keep going. It won’t hesitate for a moment. It will make little difference to anyone other than the undertaker.

With this thought I am kindred with Bob. And all the Bobs and dead me’s that have come before us. We are never ready to say goodbye.

And the world and the pellet stoves and the dogs and FedEx carry on. It’s a strangely warm sensation that they will continue with nary a skipped heartbeat for those that still have them. The world will keep spinning, and the universe expanding. Babies will be born, Bonnies will be married. Bobs will build homes.

Many years ago, behind the hearse in a procession of cars a mile long, we wound our way to the cemetery. The procession moves slowly, as if it helps to slow down the parting, spread out the pain and loss. Someone at the back of the line was not in the procession. They peeled out and raced past the cars and the hearse, on their way to work or responding to an ambulance call or going to see their sister’s new-born baby. Even in that moment was an understanding that we can’t all join in the procession. The world can not slow down because you died.

And I am writing blog posts and approving overtime and buying Gravy Bones for the dog and I remember.

How can we write and approve and shop as Bob lies dying?

In New Orleans, the band plays jazz ahead of your casket as it wends its way to the cemetery. I don’t know much else about a creole funeral, but I know it embraces the concept of celebrating a life as we move the decedent to their final rest.

My mind is fogged with all of these thoughts. In little glimpses, my armchair zen reveals lessons learned. The sense of the constant and timeless universe. The sense that we are all but specks on a speck of a rock in a far-flung galaxy arm. We come and go as through a revolving door and the universe is unaffected.

Still, something in my upbringing, my life, my past, my desire and attachment, feels impending loss despite conscious efforts to navigate this in a learned and wise fashion. Now is the time to bring all my living and zenning and caring to my sister and Bob. Their kids. Their grandkids. There is work to be done. I must go now.

As Bob lies dying.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

One Step of Our Journey

This is the third of a 3-part journal entry. To follow the story from beginning to end, read The Call, and The Longest Ride (ACZ Archives, November 2014) prior to reading this post.  – Paz

First Frost

First Frost

Our journeys together have the power to overcome that endless river, the cosmic clockworks, time itself. Our lives are filled with memories of moments. Each of these, like a snapshot, a sound bite, can be recalled repeatedly, at will. It is the essence of timelessness. It is the attainment of immortality, in a manner, in that we each live on in the hearts and minds and lives of others, long after our imminent demise.

This I have learned from my grandfather, the original “Pop Pop”. From my sainted mother, Marie Lillian. From a few others that have gone before me. Their faces, their voices, their smiles are engraved in my memories. They have shaped me and continue to do so. Every so often you may hear a little New Jersey in my pronunciation. You may be showered with proverbs credited to my grandfather. “My grandfather always said…”

This day, my journey with my beloved dog of nearly fourteen years, Chuy, brings us to the Veterinary Clinic, following a sudden onset of a loss of control over his legs. Unable to stand without assistance, unable to walk without careening side-to-side like a drunken man, this appointment is one I sorely dread. What is the prognosis for an old dog that can’t walk? I couldn’t say the words out loud to the receptionist.

“I’ll wait outside in the van with Chuy.”, I told the kind woman with the saddened face sitting behind the desk.

Why is this tale fitting for Armchair Zen entries?

More than any time in my life I felt an inner calm, an inner peace, a sort of “knowing”. I find it difficult to express. Here was one of the dearest things in my world facing the real end, yet I felt prepared to move through this. Yes, it saddened me. Yes, in spite of years of stumbling down the zen path, I still felt some impending loss. Still, it was not a fear of loss. Not a sense of longing for past days, nor so much the feeling that something big and important, a constant through so many years, was to be taken from us forever.

There seemed, somehow, to be a natural ending occurring. A shuttering of sorts, akin to the putting-away of domestic things in preparation for winter.

These things are not gone or ended forever. They are squirreled away in storage quarters, or buried beneath the frozen soil, or in some cases, standing right where they’ve stood all year, but now without foliage or flower.

Vernal equinox brings that which fades into Autumnal equinox. The book of moons remains unchanged. Such is the way of all things.

Doctor Durie walked out the front door of the vet clinic. He had that concerned Doctor look on his face. Not the “it’s great to see a happy dog for another well-check.”, nor the caring half-smirk of “So, he didn’t learn from the first porcupine, eh?”. But the look of “Oh [sigh]. What do we have here?”.

I described the symptoms robotically. He can walk, but has no balance, falls over. His eye is twitching. His head is tilted to the right constantly. Maybe a stroke?

“Strokes are extremely rare among dogs,” Doctor Durie stated. Kind of him to share, but that didn’t help me. He picked up Chuy’s head, listened to his heart.

Doctor Durie patted Chuy’s head. Then he looked me in the eye, poker-faced.

“He’ll get over it.” the doctor concluded.

“What? Seriously?” I nearly shouted. I was dumbstruck, elated, confused, anxious. I hugged my dear puppy.

“It’s vestibular syndrome,” Doctor Durie stated, and went on to explain how tubes balance air pressure between the two ears, affecting balance. A tube or vestibule stops working on one side and their balance is shot. “He’ll learn to compensate for it. A few days to a few weeks. There may be some permanent change, but he’ll be okay.”

I paid the nominal vet bill. “Best twenty-five bucks I’ve spent all year!” I said to the happy-faced receptionist. Glee all around, for the receptionist, for Doctor Durie, for me. Chuy wasn’t all that gleeful, but if he could have understood the conversation, he’d be gleeful in his heart.

One more step in our wonderous journey together. A reprieve, however brief!

It would be a few days before Chuy could really walk on his own without bouncing off of my leg every third step or so. Today, more than four weeks after I first received that startling call that Chuy had collapsed, he’s almost back to his old pace.

He retains a crooked head, cocked slightly to the right almost always. If he shakes his head as dogs are wont to do, he sometimes staggers afterward. I think his hearing is worse than before, and his dog-tracking is off a bit (his rear paw doesn’t land where his forepaw was lifted while walking, as has been the case hitherto.)

Day two of his ambulatory recovery, we pressed, both of our old, less-than-perfect selves, to walk the trail all the way to the top of Nishan Hill, as we had done hundreds, perhaps thousands of times before. Our place of reverence and serenity, our hilltop cathedral.

“The longest journey begins with a single step.” says an old proverb. There is only one journey for each of our conscious minds, and it is our lifespan here on Earth. The single step is forgotten long ago. It was a day in 1960, when my mother’s beaming smile let go of my hand that first time, that moment.

She knew what she was doing. She didn’t want to let go of her baby. For me, it was the first, single step.

For her, it was but one step of our journey.

 

Back on Top

Back on Top

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

The Longest Ride

This is the second of a 3-part journal entry. To follow the story from beginning to end, read The Call prior to The Longest Ride (November 2014). The third part is One Step of Our Journey (December 2014). -Paz

Hilltop Cathedral

Hilltop Cathedral

Yesterday the call came. My dear, thirteen-plus year-old canine companion had collapsed. He was conscious, but couldn’t stand or walk, and a rhythmic twitching of one eye gave us dread, this must be the end of our trail. I stroked and cuddled my pup, and reminded him that he was the best ever before retiring, expecting him to pass silently in the night.

I awoke to find Chuy in the same state as the night before. His eye still twitching, unable to walk, nearly unable to lift his head.

I was prepared to sit a death-bed vigil. Discussing it with my wife, we had to admit that a dog that couldn’t walk would have no quality of life. If I sat a vigil for Grandpa, it could be weeks. At least one could sponge-bathe him. Not so with a dog. “There needs to be some dignity.”, I remarked, knowing what that meant in dog-ownership world. “I’ll need to call the vet now.”

I put it off for a while this morning. After thirteen years together, these last hours seemed utterly precious, invaluable. Once I call the vet, there will be an appointment time. An ending time. A curfew.  For me, it was as if that time would be midnight at the executioner’s.

I helped Chuy up, (actually, lifted him to his feet) and guided him out to his favorite hedgerow where he could relieve himself. Unable to stand, he stumbled in the tangled undergrowth, fell to his shoulder, and emitted a small cry. Three things he would never have done two days ago. It was heartbreaking to see such a coordinated, strong, active athletic dog reduced to this, and no doubt unable to understand any of it.

There was some small glimmer of hope as I called the Vet Clinic, made an appointment for two-fifteen. I thought perhaps we’d discover some strange malady, a fungus on the brain, some kind of allergic reaction, a reaction to poison, perhaps he found and drank automobile coolant. I grasped at any straw of hope.

Now I was forced to decide: How would Chuy spend his last hours at home?

Outdoors. No doubt. We went out, but were unable to walk around because he was so unsteady. I’m guessing it saddened him as much as it did me, as that’s always been our modus operandus. If I calculated it, it would be thousands of hours outdoors. Walking, flying R/C planes, fishing, riding to the store.

Unable to go much further, he settled on the grass just at the end of the driveway, one of his familiar posts. I suppose this is exactly what he’d want, I thought to myself. There’s no bucket list, and there’s nothing better than lying in that grass, sniffing the scents that waft through the air, keeping an eye on the neighbors and bunnies. That’s just where he’d be sitting on the hundreds of occasions when I pulled in the driveway after work, waiting for me.

Finally, the hour struck, and it was time for us to leave this place. It’s the strangest feeling to know we’re leaving, and one will never return. I carried Chuy to the van, laid him on his personal car blanket, held his water dish under his snout so he could drink.

We had to stop for gas at the convenience store. Stewart’s is the real name, but for a decade or more we’ve called it The Snack Store. Every Saturday, we’d load the trash up for the transfer station, and Chuy would leap into the back seat. He’d ride to the “dump”, the post office, and finally, The Snack Store. In his younger days he’d have a chili dog. As we aged together, that switched to Slim Jim and Teriyaki Beef Steak jerky. Folks in the store knew him, and knew the snacks were not for me. I couldn’t leave without getting him a jerky snack. To my surprise, he ate the whole thing down in usual fashion, lying on the floor of the mini van.

We arrived at the vet’s office, and I left him in the van, checked in with the receptionist.

“Chuy’s here, but can’t walk. I could carry him in if necessary.”

“We’ll see if the doctor can see him out there.” said the receptionist. “What are we hoping to do?” she asked in a knowing fashion.

“Well, whatever the doctor recommends, I guess.” We both knew, but didn’t want to say it.

It’s so strange, this place in time. Mercy killing. We’re not allowed as humans. Not allowed to stem the suffering of loved ones. We’re not even allowed to choose our own” time of departure”. Suicide they call it. It’s illegal. But somehow when it comes to pets, or dogs or horses, even deer and moose that have been injured gravely, we are expected to be able to “euthanize” them. It’s killing. You’re going to suggest I should agree to let you kill my dog. My precious puppy.

I waited outside with Chuy, in the van. Sat beside him and talked to him. What do you say to one of your dearest friends when you don’t want him to know what comes next? Death in a strange place. At least it was not entirely among strangers, though my wife stayed home, unable to face this. I wished there was a way this could be done at home. Thirteen years is a long time together. He’s helped “raise” five grandchildren.

I remembered an episode of The Incredible Dr.Pol, a series about a veterinarian, where a woman with an ailing horse received the sad news, this was a terminal situation. Dr.Pol administered an anesthetic, saying the horse would go to sleep peacefully, after which another injection would quietly end its days.

The woman to whom the horse belonged said, tearfully, that it is so hard to say goodbye after thirty years together. Thirty years. I’ve never owned a horse, but know they’re highly intelligent, and develop relationships with horse people akin to that of dogs with dog people. Thirteen years is hard enough for me.

It was important to me that I smile and speak in soft tones. Talk about the everyday as I did with my mother on her death-bed. This thing I must do for Chuy, not to him.

This hardest thing at the end of this longest ride.

It is a solemn duty, one from which I wouldn’t shirk.

He would do no less for me.

 

Next time: One step of our journey.

 

Be at peace,

My furry friend,

And all those who give their fragile hearts

to love.

 

Paz

The Call

This is the first of a 3-part journal entry. Read The Longest Ride (November 2014) followed by One Step of Our Journey (December 2014) for the rest of the story. -Paz

My puppy

My puppy

I identify myself as a “dog person”. This must be understood as a preface to this entry. To many folks, a dog is a fine pet. To dog people, they’re barely a notch below children as members of our family, the beings we choose to love. I have had the privilege of having dogs accompany me in my journey throughout my entire life.

This one, Chuy, is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime canine companion. I’ve known many dogs, but none such as he. He’s very loving, smart, well-behaved (mostly), and has become the neighborhood dog. We live in the country, and he has always known total freedom to come and go as he pleased. He heads across the road to Tom & Lynn’s house, where they feed him hot dogs at their cookouts. He meanders up the road a piece to Mike & Michelle’s, and they were delighted when they could finally get him to come into their home.  If you’re a regular reader of ACZ, you know many entries include Chuy, and our lives together.

Last Wednesday I received the call.

“You’d better come home.” my wife said solemnly. “I think Scoob’s had a stroke.” (While my name for him has always been Chuy, others know him by the name my son gave him: Scooby Doo. Scoob for short. Scoober as the neighbors call him.)

At thirteen and-a-half years old, I can’t say I haven’t thought about the end of our trail together. In a way, though on the brink of tears, I was relieved in some sense that this end would come in a natural and peaceful fashion at home.  Not some terrible calamity, such as being hit by a car. (To understand my devotion to Chuy’s right to liberty, including the crossing of the ever-dangerous road, see ACZ archives Reply to a Senior Samurai, October 2013).

When I arrived home, Chuy was in the kitchen, lying beneath the kitchen table, one of his favorite spots. A typical greeting would include his trotting over to me, tail wagging, or perhaps walking slowly if he’d just arisen from an afternoon nap. Dog people know how a dog expresses emotion. Taffy actually smiled, as I’ve seen a few other dogs do. They imitate humans by pulling up their noses to bare their front teeth. It’s fun if you’re lucky enough to experience it. It’s scary to strangers, as they think your dog has rabies.

This evening, Chuy did not give me his happy face. In fact, he didn’t even lift his head as I knelt beside him to kiss the top of his furry head. His left eye twitched, highlighted by the eyebrow mark on his fur. He could not stand.

We’re never ready to say goodbye.

I was glad for Chuy that, in spite of this strange occurrence that must place him somewhere between confused and scared, he was in his own home with his favorite people. I spent a long time lying on the floor beside him, reminding him that he had done a great job, how he was the best puppy ever.

It saddens me that we can’t explain things to our animal friends. This is the Vet, you’ll be okay. You’re recovering from anesthesia, which is why the world is swimming. I’ll help you ambulate, and you’ll be okay. Thunder can’t hurt you, you must know by now, after all these years. I’m here, you’ll be okay.

Tonight I could not tell my fuzzy friend that he would be okay. Well, maybe I could. Maybe I did. Truth is, while dying and leaving and death and illness are scary or even painful sometimes, once we’re past that, everything is okay. At least for the one leaving.

It was with a heavy heart that I kissed the top of Chuy’s head and said “Good night, good puppy.”. We couldn’t know for sure where we were headed tonight, tomorrow, but we expected Chuy would leave us, silently in the night. What more could any of us hope for?

I slept on the couch so I wouldn’t be far away if he sniffed for me or perhaps cried out. I didn’t want to go to a bedroom where he would be unable to do so.

A great calm overtook me. Not that I wasn’t saddened or heartbroken. Anxious about what the morning would bring. But this is what we do. For our animals, for each other. I’ll put on my brave face, I will smile for you. Whatever needs to be navigated now, I will do so with clear and sober devotion.

I could feel a change in my world already, and knew that when we greeted tomorrow’s sunrise, things would be irreversibly different.

It was a quiet and uneventful night. In the morning, light would streak through the windows of a silent home. There would be no jingling tags on a collar. There would be no wet nose waking me.

Next time: The Longest Ride.

 

Be at peace,

All beings with hearts.

Human animals, and otherwise.

 

Paz

 

 

Getting back to my original (unencumbered) condition

This life is vehemently anti-zen when it comes to possessions.

I’ve been working for years to overcome this difficulty. Not until I was over 50 years old did I learn about zen’s approach to “things” and our attachments thereto.

To start out, I never had a chance. I was born free of things.

I had nothing tangible, no possessions, just a naked baby with the only important things in this world: the people who love me.

Then it started, almost immediately. I probably had somewhere between thirty seconds and two minutes.

Someone wrapped me in a blanket, put a knit cap on my head, gave me a wrist band with my mother’s name on it. My freedom from possessions was over before I even knew I was a human.

Then the world taught me that I wanted everything. Toys, games, a puppy, lunch, ice cream.

As I grew, trapped and brainwashed by this world, I continued to covet things. “He who dies with the most toys wins!” exclaimed a bumper sticker, written by adults, stuck by an adult on an adult-owned vehicle.

You need a good job. Gobs of money to get THINGS with. House, baby, car, truck, TV, phone, shag carpet, ceiling fan, garden fences, wind chimes, antiques, collectibles, coats, shoes, more shoes and still more shoes, and maybe some boots.

Now I classify myself as a hoarder. Spent the last five years getting rid of things. Throwing them away, giving them away, using them up without replacements, avoiding their purchase in the first place.

I see my big farmhouse, where we raised a big family. Kids are grown and on their own and the house is still full.

I think of the years in the autumn of my life. I imagine grampa’s little house when grampa is a little older.

I think of the winter of my life. Suppose I end up in one of those tiny nursing home rooms? What space will I have, or possessions to fill it?

How much space and possessions do I really need?

I will leave this world in a similar fashion to my entrance. I will no longer have possessions when I cease to be. Even then, with our human convention to memorialize and inter the body preserved and intact like some Egyptian royalty preparing for the afterlife, I will be encumbered against my will and without my knowledge.

There will be a coffin, a final-rest suit of clothes, perhaps a headstone. A headstone! NO! NO! A possession for near-eternity! (Nothing lasts forever.)

I must act now. Notify my family of my final wishes.

Is there any chance you could just skip the coffin & the suit & the rock?

Any chance you could send my body back to the earth from whence it came in the same state that it arrived?

Just a naked baby, with the only really important things in the universe: the people who love me.

Send me back

Send me back

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Dangling Thread

So, this is the way it will end for us?

Amid anger and resentment, bitterness and judgement?

Not between you and me, but by some imposed and imposing imposition.

Slamming metaphorical doors.

Wielding swords of words, shields of insult, fear and anguish.

Not between you and me. We agreed long ago to forget the past.

Deny the past, shun the past, pretend the past did not exist.

Pretend the past was just a play about someone else’s life.

Someone Else let loose the line that bound us, and sailed off into the sunset.

Someone Else built a life on tangled webs and veils of secrecy, codes and cryptics.

Now we have no more time to survive this. We have no time to let this blow over and add it as another act to the play.

Marvel at the heartbreak, the karma of it all, the two sides to every story, the be-careful-what-you-ask-for.

So this will be the play’s final act, because the clock tolls, time will not wait for us again.

It will be a wild tale that swings from ecstasy to admonition, from heartswell to heartbreak, with adventure and drama and music.

But you are on the stage. You are Someone Else. You are the star, streaking across the atmosphere, bright and recognizable.

These three seconds are all the time we have. We know what happens to shooting stars.

I am in the front row, and behind the proscenium I see stagehands with their hands on the fly, ready to ring down the final curtain.

I am awestruck and dumbstruck. It is a beautiful tragedy.

The hero, or whatever you want to call him, dies.

And I cry.

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

The Storm Strikes

Squall line horizon

Squall line horizon

This is the third of a 3-part journal entry, beginning with Off The Grid, followed by The Storm Approaches.  -Paz

 

For Saturday night’s dinner we motored over to Joe’s camp  a bit before dark. Joe filleted the fish that were not eaten as they sat on the stringer in the water. We decided it must have been a cayman that ate our fish, even though they’re not indigenous to our area.

We gorged on fresh-cooked foods as the light faded into darkness, and upon finishing our meal we felt a couple of raindrops fall. Then pat-pat-pat they picked up their pace. Then, BLAM! It started to pour!

We must preface this with two backstories.

First: While I do my best to shun possessions in a zen way, I am one of  those over-prepared people, and this is especially true when on a sojourn. For camp, not only did I bring three changes of clothes in a barrel bag (and like a hundred pairs of socks because I can’t stand wet socks), but also a dry bag with the “last bastion” set of emergency clothes (head-to-toe including briefs, tee, pants, shirt, sweatshirt and dry shoes). Additionally, of course I brought my slicker, just in case we had to strike camp and pack out in the rain forecast for tomorrow.  I brought none of these things when boating to Joe’s camp for dinner, and was wearing just an overshirt, trotting off into the cool July evening.

Second: Joe & Bowin are “absolute minimalist” campers. They each carry a pack of their own gear, and one pack of camp gear. They sleep in hammock tents, hammocks designed for camping that have a mosquito net and rain fly. So at Joe’s camp, there is no tent. There’s no tarp, no pop-up, no lean-to. Nothing whatsoever for shelter.

BOOM! Goes the thunder, as suddenly, before we could toast an after-dinner marshmallow, a storm rolled over camp like a bulldozer. Rain fell in torrents as Joe & Bowin scrambled to put their blankets in the privy, the only place hereabouts that will remain dry in this next hour. We huddled under a tree, and as the thunder rolled again I doubted the wisdom of doing so.

“We should leave now!” I said to Ryan. “This could keep up for hours. We should get back to camp before it gets any worse.” I’m a bit nervous, frankly, that we’re across the lake, in the dark, in the rain and lightning, without shelter, a change of clothes, a fire or even a jacket. I don my fishing vest as an extra layer, some minute measure of rain shedding and warmth.

“Let’s wait it out. I think it’ll pass.” Ryan replies, as he nurses a beer relaxedly from his 32-year-old, peak-of-fitness, immune-to-rain-and-cold perspective.

The rain continues. It came up so fast Joe didn’t save his clothes, only his blankets. The fire was hissing its way to an early death as the firewood stacked on either side of the stone fireplace soaked up the water. I realize that our camp is not rain-prepared. Our firewood, too, is getting a shower, and even if—I mean when–we get back to camp, there would be no warming flames. I can’t recall what else is on the picnic table; lanterns, the camp stove, and..?

Another roll of thunder and the rain keeps up its steady downpour. Now I’m just starting to work on panic. There’s no trail out of here, so our only exit is via boat across the lake. My light-duty clothes are soaked. I curse myself for not even wearing a sweatshirt, let alone remembering the slicker. For not covering the firewood (even though rain was not expected). For putting myself out here on the edge with a 15-year-old and a couple of thirty-something, husky guys in their prime. Now here am I, at 55 years old, with a bit of a heart condition if you must know, stranded from camp without as much as a trash bag to hold over my head. Honestly, it’s not my head I’m worried about. Too much rain for too long, and a guy like me is going to get a serious chill. This is not good when your blood-pump is half worn out. A little hypothermia could spell trouble. Okay, so maybe I won’t die on the spot, but I have only three nitro pills around my neck, and we’re hours away from any kind of medical facility. In my best zen sense I am at peace with dying, but I don’t want to spoil the camping trip.

Generally, I’m pretty cool in a crisis. I can assume control of a hazardous or emergency situation and think faster than a rabbit in headlights. Problem now was, if I become incapacitated before I can take over, I’ll be useless to the entire party.

“I’m hiding in the privy.” I said, as I made my way to the outhouse, expecting a couple of takers to follow me. We’d figure out how to fit and it would be a great story to tell. No one followed. They waited and stood in their overly-manly, carefree way (even the 15-year-old) under that tree. Talking, soaking up the rain, waiting for lightning to strike the 70-foot poplar that was their shelter.

Joe in camp

Joe in camp

What if I’m stuck here for hours? Well, it really was not uncomfortable in the outhouse, now that I wasn’t getting rained on. I started thinking about how one would sleep in a little outhouse all night, still worried my wet clothes would plunge me into a trembling chill. About then, just as the other guys had suspected, the rain started to let up. I suppose the whole shower couldn’t have lasted longer than half an hour or so.

As the squall line moved off to the southeast, the lake quieted to a calm, and the night air seemed to feel a bit warmer. We made our wet way to our wet boats, pumped the bilge water out of the AquaMarie, tied a line to Sparky’s canoe, and bade farewell to Joe & Bowin. They refused all invitations to come to our camp, sleep in a dry tent, get some dry clothes.

“We’ll be fine.” Joe said, in his usual manner, taking everything in stride and making us believe they would, in fact, be fine.

We towed Sparky’s canoe under the running lights of the AquaMarie and a waxing full moon. The water was smooth as glass as Ryan rode shirtless in the bow seat, embracing the evening air, the spray of the boat, the light of the moon and the adventure of it all.

The little flashing light we posted at our camp, thankfully surviving the storm, appeared in the distance. Home! We docked the boat and tied up Sparky’s canoe for him to retrieve in the daylight. I dug around in the bottom of the wood pile for the driest pieces of wood and found a wax fire starter. In a few minutes, we had a little fire going and were in dry clothes, the storm just a memory. Sparky returned in dry clothes to share some of the warmth and the first retellings of the tale. We wondered about Joe & Bowin. Hoped they, too, had a fire by now.

Moonset

Moonset

 

Tomorrow we would strike camp. Joe & Bowin would roll up their hammocks and be at our camp for coffee in the morning. Sparky would pick up his canoe, way early, as I was just waking in the tent. Ryan would be eager to get home to his wife and my 18-month-old granddaughter Ellie (and her big sister Maddie).

And I would regret leaving this place. Take one last look around, then another. Maybe one more. I would not be in a hurry to escape Forked Lake, the High Peaks, the Adirondack Park, our beloved time in the piney woods. I learned a bit about myself on this trip. I faced my limitations.

And the best memories, the “moments” we are bound to remember and relive, were not of sleeping in a tent or catching fish, nor of boating or cooking on the fire.

This year was a great trip, filled with stories that can be exaggerated and amplified as the years pass.

“Did I ever tell you about the time a cayman ate our entire catch of the day and we almost starved?”

How about the time we weathered a hurricane by mustering in the outhouse? Or the time we crossed the lake at night in a storm? Or the time I flipped the canoe and could have drowned?

Sit down, if you have a few minutes, and I’ll tell you about the most wonderous time I had with just a few of my favorite people, and some amazing adventures.

Oh, and how I almost died. But I didn’t.

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Day 19,724

A day like any other. Oh yeah, my birthday.

This is my last “teen” Birthday day. Next year I’ll break 20,000. Well, if I make it that far.

Had lunch with my Dad. Cool thing to do on your birthday!

Interestingly enough, this year he broke 30,000 days, somewhere around the middle of March, at age 82.13.

This year I’m thinking about mortality.

Not morbid mortality, “Oh, I’m gonna die”-like, but the natural occurrence, e.g. “Nothing lasts forever”.

I’ve been thinking “What if this is your last spring?”

We never know, do we?

What if this is the last time you’ll experience May, smell the lilacs, see the fields growing greener each day?

Suppose this is the last June to see peonies and smell new-mown grass and watch young calves frolic?

How will you feel about the way you used— or ignored— the spring, the summer, each day of your life if you got “the news” tomorrow?

The news that this would indeed be the last year to see the fall foliage, to smell the dry leaves crunching underfoot.

Will you appreciate more your baby granddaughter, just learning to recognize you? (..or rather, sense recognition of her father’s eyes on a..similar face)

Will you drink in every moment with your beautiful children, drown in their laughter, embrace them more heartily?

Must you truly wait for someone to give you a date? A deadline, so-to-speak?

I can tell you now and guarantee it. You will die.

There it is in black and white. Indisputable fact. Go ahead and get a second opinion.

Then open your heart and eyes and try to treat tomorrow and every day thereafter… like your last May.

Be at peace,

Paz

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