Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘Dignity’

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

 

 

On the passing of Andy Griffith

The full tree

I won’t waste anyone’s time trying to describe the career of the man or the way his work and collaboration has touched people.  I’m so fortunate to live in a tiny town which we for years have often referred to as Mayberry, to the extent I even got to say “Good morning, Sheriff.” not long ago in the village. (Yes, it really was the Sheriff, a neighbor whose son dated my daughter in school.)

Just wanted to share an outline of an episode that touched my heart and soul, helped to shape my Armchair Zen, and to this day brings tears to my eyes. Andy Griffith’s career included much more than his character of Sheriff Taylor in two TV series’, but it is this character for which he is best known and loved. He had a lot of influence on the show’s production, including the location of the fictional Mayberry, not far from his home, which I believe was Mount Airy.

In this episode, his young son Opie (Ron Howard, now a Hollywood legend in his own right, who describes working on the show as a wonderful life-building experience, and Mr.Griffith as everything we see in Andy Taylor) has a BB gun, and shoots a songbird in the tree beside his bedroom window. While Andy is a sportsman, he is deeply disappointed and angry with Opie that he would shoot a songbird, an unsportsmanlike act. In addition, the bird has a nest of fledglings, now orphaned. In scolding his son, he opens the bedroom window as Opie is put to bed, and tells the child to listen to those babies calling for their mother who is never coming home, to drive home the impact of Opie’s actions.

Subsequently, Opie decides to redeem himself by taking the birds in, putting them in a cage, feeding and raising them as restitution for his crime against nature. Mr.Taylor is pleased that his son is learning about his impact, and has taken a proactive step to remedy his wrongdoing.

Before long, the little fledglings are grown enough to leave the nest. The child has become attached to the creatures as pets, and the father admonishes him that the right thing to do is set them free to return to the wild. This is a difficult and agonizing thing for a child of perhaps six years of age, but ultimately he follows through with his father’s wishes and advice, and the birds are released to fly off.

In the last scene, Opie is a bit forlorn that the fun and excitement, the gratification of having the birds in his room, is over. Pouting, he looks at the vacant birdcage as his father stands at the bedroom window from which the tale began.

“Gee, pa, that cage sure looks empty.”, the lad says longingly.

“Yes.”, Andy says, as he turns to the window and gazes out with a half-smile and a glad heart.

“But don’t the trees look nice and full.”

Be at peace

Paz

I just don’t want to argue with you any more

Into the fray

Please show me the way to make peace with your heart.

How do I stop this thing? How do I don’t let it start?

How do I know what to say? How do I know what I said?

When do I shut my mouth and keep it all in my head?

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

I just don’t want to quarrel with you any more.

I just don’t want to fight with you any more.

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

Can’t see my light, can’t plot a course.

Can’t navigate through the regret and remorse.

I’m trying to rise to find a better way

but it all gets entangled in all that we say.

What if I don’t argue about it any more?

Chilled to the bone, burned from the heat.

Cold as a stone, I’m dead on my feet.

Do I laugh like a fool? Do I break down and cry?

Do I fall to my knees? Do I lay down and die?

I’m just not going to argue with you any more.

Just not going to quarrel with you any more.

No, I’m not going to fight with you any more.

I’m just not going to argue about it any more.

Just not going to argue with you any more.

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

Choices

Choose to embrace the rain, it is life-giving and cleansing.

Choose to embrace the cold, snowy winter. It is visceral. Without winter, we cannot embrace the spring.

Choose to embrace difficulty. We have no choice when it is thrown in our path, but we can choose to attack it.

Choose to be a giver and not a taker. Give to those you love, give to those in need, give to the earth, give to life, take only what you need.

Choose to be loyal. Keep your promises. Keep confidences. Be prepared to stand silently by under the worst circumstances.

Choose to wear your brave face when I need you to, and I will wear mine when you need me too. When you are scared, I will pretend to be brave. When you are in fear, I will pretend to be fearless. When I want to run away because I am shocked or panicked, I will stand still beside you and pretend to be calm. When you die, I will pretend to be glad for you, that you have laid your burden down. You do the same for me.

Choose to embrace adversity and hardship. We are often powerless when they befall us, but we can choose our response.

Choose to embrace real life. Not television and cars and cell phones and 401k’s and Starbucks and OTB. Choose clouds and children’s laughter and fish moving silently underwater and fledgling robins their first day out of the nest and the smell of lilacs.

Choose to look death in the eye without fear. It is inevitable, and doesn’t hurt once it’s over. Samurai warriors were known to race into battle yelling “This is a good day to die!”.  Choose to believe that you, too, can have a good day to die.

Lena Horne said “It’s not the load that wears you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

President John Kennedy said “Don’t pray for easier lives. Pray to be stronger men.”

Choose to love one another. And that means everyone. If this needs explanation, you have a long way to go, but be reassured,

the path is (if you so choose) Magical.

Be at Peace,

Paz

Tree Attitude

Stand for somethingThe mighty oak from the tiny acorn grows.

This old adage seems to reflect a wonder and reverence for this amazing feat.

I love trees, I really do. I could easily personify them, impune them with human attributes, worship them as spirits. Something about a tree, standing firm and tall in the same place, day in, day out, year ’round…it brings a sense of stability, longevity, solidity, groundedness.

I like to subscribe to what I call Tree Philosophy, or Tree Attitude. So many things in our lives appear to be a conspiracy of circumstances, the times we live in, where we live, the way we live, with whom we live. Choices we made back in…when? Things we shoulda woulda or coulda done.

My grandfather always told me “Take shoulda, woulda and coulda in one hand, and a nickel in the other, and see which one will buy you a donut.”

Trees waste no time on such worries. A little tree seed plants its first tendrils into the soil—and is committed! From day one, that tree is going to live or die, stand or fall, right on that very same spot.

I like to imagine trees thinking about that. “I’m going to be the best tree I can right here, where I am, working with what I have.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  That is, after all, a description of our entire lives, really, isn’t it?  We are where we are, there’s no denying that. We must work with what we have, be it employment, a dwelling, our people, money, transportation, brain power, energy or spirit. And doing the best we can within these parameters is all we can do. 

For philosophers such as President Roosevelt and myself, this means we don’t throw in the towel just because the odds are stacked against us, the task is overwhelming, or we’re short on assets, even if tasked with great challenges or the seemingly impossible. It also means recognizing that there are limits to what we can do, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for being unable to do more.

I imagine a tree’s life is similar, but to the greatest extent. Tree doesn’t agonize over location. Perhaps prospects for success might be better elsewhere. Perhaps the climate is something humans would want to escape. Perhaps the very home of Tree is in a precarious place, on the side of a cliff, at the edge of an eroding riverbank, or at the last edge of the tree line, far up a tall mountain. Tree can’t move, but can only hang on and throw all of its efforts into the present.

Neither can Tree do anything about the changes in its life. Perhaps it’s struck by lightning, maybe loses a limb or suffers damage to its trunk. Perhaps humans come along and saw pieces off. Maybe its roots are immersed “knee-deep” in water during a flood season, or a drought season makes survival difficult. 

If Tree is an evergreen, it will keep it’s needles as it goes into a dormant season. Granted, I have wished more than once that I could have a dormant season for myself, to rest and recuperate from the rigors of my own seasons, storms, lightning, chain saws, floods and blizzards. If Tree is deciduous, it will awaken, depending where Tree lives, sometime between February and May. As it stretches its limbs to the sky, it gets down to the business at hand: budding, developing and flowering. Sounds a bit like our lives again, doesn’t it? For its season, however long it may be (and without groaning that it is either too short or too long) Tree will produce thousands of leaves, each one a near-perfect copy of the others. For pines, tens of thousands, maybe millions of needles. Year one, year 50, year 200, Tree goes right on doing what it is born to do, producing those leaves or needles, growing when the conditions are right, and resting when it is necessary.

Tree will keep up the good fight, no matter what, and will try until defeat and death. As it is with all living things (and, in fact all things in the universe on its grand scale), eventually there is an end. I like to imagine Tree retiring. “I’m going to lay down, right here, next to the rest of you.” At that time, Tree is okay with this end, whether it is after 5 years or 500. Call it destiny, call it nature, call it the randomness of the universe, the circle of all things.

Saplings can be heard all around “Good job, Tree, and thank you for your silent service. You have been a fine example of patience and perseverance. A great neighbor in our community, shading the tender shoots and plants at your base, welcoming, with open limbs, the wildlife; squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, wasps, and anything else that came to you seeking refuge, a home, safety, security, something meaningful and solid that we can know and understand and rely on.”

Even after death, Tree remains an influence. Flora and fauna of certain types will flourish thanks to Tree’s legacy. The many generations growing around Tree will look on, seeking and seeing the testimony to its determination, learning and benefitting from the example, and the knowledge that Tree stood by them, and gave selflessly whenever called upon to do so.

I don’t need riches, recognition or immortality. If my life, and its own end, can be to any degree worthy of Tree’s example, I too will be able to lay down in peace, and return to the earth from which I came.

Be at peace.

Paz

Kind Words versus Critical

I was reading a thing recently about a crew demolishing a building. Someone asks the foreman how long it would take to knock the building down, and what sort of skills were required by the crew. To sum it up, the guy replies that they should be able to knock the whole thing down within a week, and aside from knowing how to work safely, no special skills were required. The observation concludes that it would take many weeks or months, maybe a year or more, to construct the building, and the construction would require many people with well-developed skills. Masons for foundations, welders for steel, electricians & plumbers, painters & roofers, and perhaps consultants for interior design.

In short, it takes longer and requires more skills to build something up than to tear it down.

This is also true of people, and the words we use with one another.

Like the unskilled demolition crew, anyone can speak words of criticism. Complaints, judgement, even derision. These words are pretty easy to come by in the human brain, especially when motivated by aggravation, frustration or anger.

By contrast, it requires greater effort to hold one’s tongue, keep one’s opinions to one’s self, to avoid getting on the band wagon with others complaining or condemning, and especially to keep hurtful things from spitting out of our mouths in the course of an argument, particularly an angry one.

So too, it requires a different and perhaps greater skill to look for the good in situations, to compliment people on the degree to which they got things right, not criticize them for the degree of wrong.

In the heat of battle or when someone is railing or ranting, the conversational side of the brain will feed you many thoughts that it wants you to speak. Maybe it’s the way you feel, or maybe you want to defend a position, or maybe you want to agree with a condemnation being offered.

The sage will understand the old adage “less said the better”. With concentrated effort, one can express that one understands or at least hears the other’s point of view without agreeing or arguing.

In any situation, look for the positive. With any person, look for the chance to share a kind word, and watch for those verbal grenades your automated-language-based brain tries to toss past your teeth.

We went to see an apartment into which someone had recently moved. The street was not well-to-do, or of the newest part of town. The houses were mostly multi-family rentals, and were generally well-worn. One could not describe the sidewalks or alleys as neat or clean. The apartment was at the top of a steep, narrow, windowless staircase. The windows could have used cleaning, and with some effort one could see above the dormers of the house next door, and catch a sliver of the sky and the city beyond. The kitchen floor was from the last century. It looked, in many places, exactly like what is was: a medium-sized second story apartment in an older house, whose tenants probably never stayed more than a year or two.  A few marks showed on the walls and woodwork, where families had probably raised rambunctious children, and the landlord probably repainted only when needed. 

When asked, I described it thusly:

“It’s quite spacious, with good-sized rooms. It has a brand new carpet in the living room, and a brand new space heater, like the ones I have in my house. A Big kitchen! The windows are big. Tall, old-fashioned windows that let in the light. On sort of  a side street, where the traffic seemed pretty light. And cozy! Probably quite efficient to heat!”

Next time you have a chance to describe something or someone, an apartment or even adversary, put your effort into the use of the skills of “craftsmen of the human spirit”, “masters of language”, developed by being practitioners and tradesmen in the arts of compassion and empathy, and build with the materials of positivity, hope, caring and dignity.

Be at peace,

Paz

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