"A grail question is a question whose primary purpose is not to elicit data or information but to open up a situation to a new perspective ... reveal the sacred in a situation or can bring to light creative possibilities that we otherwise might have missed seeing."
~ David Spangler, A Pilgrim in Aquarius ~
The Holy Grail... A Cup, A Chalice,
A Woman's Womb, A Search For
The Divine Within...
"The midlife passage is, at bottom, a quest to find one's soul, and it is not uncommon to find people at this stage of life embarking on all sorts of physical and spiritual pilgrimages in an effort to find an ineffable something, a symbolical Holy Grail.
~ Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing To Avalon:
A Woman's Midlife Journey ~
I don't know when it was that I first read Crossing To Avalon, but it changed my life, and I have read and reread the book countless times, used it in the classes I teach, and find it continually, if at times fleetingly, as a leitmotif in my life. I am 53 years old, a midlife woman, mother and grandmother, peri-menopausal and approaching Cronehood, and at the beginning of last summer I realized that my Grail Quest had begun.
I didn't know exactly what would change, what I would find, what I might become, but I knew all of that would happen, and it truly didn't matter how long. I trusted the process and let life lead me. I remembered, over and over, when the times got rocky, a now unknown author saying, "Trust the Process, it's larger than you."
Three years ago next month my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an uncommon, and terrible form of cancer. It is in the blood and bones and is a long degenerative disease. She was given 6 weeks to 6 months to live, and we all began to grieve as she put her affairs in order. She became a heroine to all of us because despite the painful proddings, medications that made her sick, and a really rough road when you thought she couldn't last a day longer, she would say, "Everyday is a good day." And she has tremendous faith and has said from the start that she is not afraid to die. But three years have gone on, it has all become harder and harder, she is now blind and failing in every way, the Grail is before her. I have begun to believe, living through her prolonged period toward death, that perhaps our whole life is a Grail Quest, and perhaps the beginning of it comes when we realize who we really are, what we are really meant to do here on this earth, and begin to do it. And it will not always be easy, but purpose and meaning will drive us on. Faith will ease the way.
Late last Spring I had a tremendous feeling welling up in my body and my perception of things began to change, my body began to change, times were turbulent and joyful and everything between and beyond and I knew with every fiber of my being that this would be the beginning of great change in my life, and so has it been and is it now and on into the future. I started a blog called "Gathering, Yielding, Opening, Ripening..." and that indeed was the best description of my summer. Gathering to me all that was good, all that I loved, yielding to the sometimes scary but always rewarding challenges, opening my heart to all that was new, to everyone around me, and making compassion and loving-kindness the ground of my work, my writing and my life, as it shall be from here on out, and yes, with middle age I was ripening, like a fine wine, learning who I truly was, what was important, and what I'm meant to do.
Of course my faith in myself has wavered, and at the same time my faith has deepened enormously, by leaps and bounds, in a way that surprises even me. It carries me through each day, each moment, and keeps me afloat. And little did I know that when the darkest times began with my mother, late summer to the present, with what seems finally her decline, as Doris Grumbach once wrote, she is coming into the endzone, and in despair, and frightened, and in a tunnel of darkness, a funny thing happened, or a funny little girl happened to me. Her name is Babs, she is a wee tiny girl, a black pug, 12 years old and deaf, and I fell in love on sight...
Wee little Babs...
One look at that face and I was smitten, and it began a relationship with Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue which has become a big part of my life, and I am dedicated to helping them for the rest of my life. A portion of the proceeds of my fiber work goes to MAPR, and it has deepened both my relationship with my fiber work and the rescue and my work is even more fulfilling. My big darling dog Moe, a lab-doby mix that we adopted as a puppy from the Humane Society, and who is now 13, wondered what in the world this creature was, much like my dear friend Joseph who has had pugs himself. When I said to him, "Now I've got 2 dogs!" he replied, "No, you don't have 2 dogs, you have a dog and a pug." And he was right. These little people are different than anything I've ever known in my life. They are JOY incarnate and they came just in the nick of time, when I needed that burst of joy to help me through a dark autumn. But it didn't stop there. Nosirree, not by a long shot.
In September, one month after Bab's arrival, I was told about a little boy pug, between 7 and 8 that was so afraid to be left, having been passed around and having had a long sad history, even adopted out twice from the rescue and returned, that they asked me if I'd be interested. I said, "Yes," and in came my Velcro Pug. He is under my feet as I type, with all the other dogs as well as Sampson asleep. He slept with me from the first day on the couch when I took a nap, and in the bed at night along with Babs. I was giddy with joy at their antics, I could hardly contain myself, and all the while I faced what fall would bring, these small creatures bounced about the house bringing kisses and love the likes of which I've never seen, and for a woman who lives with 5 parrots, all of whom I hand-raised and who are now a decade or so old, give or take, 2 fish and by September 3 dogs, that's saying a lot. Sampson sticks to me like glue, likes to sit on a pile of pillows which I call (...instead of "The Princess!) "The Pug and the Pea." Everyone else is on their bed, or the couch or a chair, and Sampson is on a pile of pillows if not with me.
If you look closely on his forehead you will see
a heart amongst his many wrinkles. This boy
was made for love...
There we were toddling along the side of the road and all around, big Moe and the 2 pugs whom I called, "The Jolly Black Giant and the Two Little Nibblets," never imagining that in November the 3rd pug would come. Coco, perhaps the softest, prettiest pug in the world, 11 years old and hard of hearing, came to join the crew.
People don't much want the older ones, and they bring me so much joy. They have been through a lot in their little lives and to give them love and affection and a wonderful home became my mission. It has changed my life in untold ways. I have always been involved in animal rescue, even started and ran a non-profit shelter for disabled and unwanted parrots and other domestic birds. But Coco tipped the scales and I ran out of hands. I said I could easily walk three dogs, so 4 would be okay, 2 on each side. Well, we practically stop traffic walking down the road and people I don't even know have been so kind. After living here 5 1/2 years and barely leaving my little cottage, I have begun to get out and meet people. There's nothing like dog people. It doesn't matter what kind of dogs you have, but that you have a dog and are out walking it means you are in a Secret Club and I've made many dog-friends walking my pack. And indeed, by the time you get to 4, you have a pack. Cesar Millan would be so proud of me. We walk very well together (except when Coco pokes and tugs at the leash and sits her little behind down and says, "I'm not through with this spot.").
What the dogs have taught me, that stands me in good stead on my quest, is that all kinds of people, as well as animals, will have their distinct personalities, their oddities and idiosyncracies, and sometimes problematic something-or-other, but so do we. These pugs, as well as Moe, the birds, and all the animals that I have had have taught me patience, tolerance, love in spite of whatever comes our way, as well as being very attentive and in the moment at all times. Animals do not bemoan the past or worry about the future. They are just here now. I have studied Zen Buddhism for 30 years and it wasn't until I got the pugs that I fully realized what that meant. Moe is such a sweetheart, so compliant, and just wants to be loveable and make me happy. He is very gentle and submissive and one can almost take a dog like that for granted, though I love him with all my being. Pugs, on the other hand, come with a handbook. The give it to you when they walk in the door and these are the things they expect for you to learn.
Coco has taught me patience, to relax, take a deep breath, and just wait. I look at the stars more at night, commune with Mama Moon, and now I watch, closely, all four dogs and know their signals, when they are going to go, what their routines are, when they've found their spot, how they will handle their potty situation, and I even watch chuckling as the girls, Coco and Babs, actually do synchronated pottying (sometimes both ways!) by stopping, going round and round in perfect rhythm like the synchronated swimmers you used to see, and at the same moment squat down and do their business. It is downright hilarious. They walk together on the left side. The boys look at them baffled, as if girls are just weird, and I never intended to separate boys from girls but Sampson worships Moe, wants to be near him, and pees on every single spot Moe does. He seems to take great pride in that.
Another funny thing is that with 7, count 'em 7, dog beds in the living room for 4 dogs, 2 of whom are usually on furniture anyway, Coco, the, well, chubbiest little pug, gets in the smallest bed. She loves it, and sometimes is hanging half way out, sound asleep. Today I saw Moe get in that bed and almost fell over laughing. It fits Babs, the tiniest one, just fine, but to see a lab-doby mix curl up in it is hysterical. Moe is usually stretched out on the couch.
Moe on "his" couch...
Coco on her favorite bed (she actually
rotates sleeping on 3 beds!)
What, you may be asking by now, do pugs and all the other animals here have to do with my Grail Quest? They came to teach me many lessons about myself, to correct things that needed to be corrected, to teach me new skills, to show me that despite what was going on there was joy and laughter along the way, and that disabilities are simply other ways to live. Little Babs is deaf as a door but we manage just fine. Coco is a poker and will eat every thing in sight if she can (...which has certainly made me watch my own tendencies!), and little Sampson, who came with (as they told me at pug rescue) "Abandonment Issues," (... to which I replied, "That's okay, I've got them too.) has taught me what pure, unadulterated love and presence can do to heal an aching heart. They even managed to heal a rift between my dying mother and I, and gave me the will to go through some very hard times lasting many months. Moe is quieter. He just loves me. Pugs tug at your pants and say, "Listen here now..." And you learn to pay attention!
And finally what I have come to learn, and love, most, about this quest I'm on, is that I don't have to worry about the outcome. It will be what it will be, my own particular Grail is there waiting for me, already inside of me, and allowing me all the time and space to find what I need to find. And I'm on the path, and it is a cliche but it is true that "it's not the end that matters, but the journey that matters in the end." I am enjoying the journey.
Everything is sacred to me. My precious grandson, the wonderful people my 3 children are becoming, the kind relationship my ex-husband and I have maintained, my dying mother and the peace between us after a lifetime of a very difficult relationship, as well as every little blade of grass which to a dog may be the most fascinating thing in the world.
My grey parrot Henry will sit on my shoulder for many hours a day while I work and take nibbles of what I'm eating, give me many kisses, sit on my arm bobbing up and down as I type, or finally just sit on the back of my chair and go to sleep. You've no idea what an honor this is. Parrots are still very close to their wild nature, having only been domesticated in the last decades, while dogs and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. They startle easily, trust comes slowly if at all, and when he puts his head down, very close to me on my shoulder, so I will rub his head, and he closes his eyes completely relaxed, I am sometimes moved to tears. To gain the trust of a grey parrot, one of the wariest parrots of them all, is a gift greater than diamonds to me.
My quest to find my own true nature has taught me that I, raised a very privileged child, am a middle aged woman living a very simple life. Living with my animals, living in a small space crowded with books, fiber tools and supplies, plants and animals everywhere, and being more interested in learning about the trees, wildflowers, and all the little wildlings that live outside in my own back yard than traveling the world, loving my animals, my family, my friends as I do, having a rich and varied life even though my circumstances mean I seldom leave the house, being always interested in everything, leading a magical existence with dolls and spindles and crochet hooks that look like gnomes, and listening, now, in the dark, with only one small light on, to snoring dogs and the ruffling feathers of sleeping birds, just may be the grandest thing on this earth, I know that my quest is to find and love the sacred, no matter how small. To love, to love fully, completely, openly, and, though it might seem trite to many, I am moved, like Don Quixote, to reach the unreachable star. I have always had a childlike innocence that I felt ashamed of, made to feel it was silly or downright unfathomable for a grown woman. But I have learned that that is perhaps my best and most tender quality, because I do believe so completely in what I believe, what I dream, in whom I love. And so I will end with the lyrics from The Impossible Dream, because I can never hear them without crying, and now I realize that it is because it is so true of me as well, and on my quest I have learned that this is who I am, a woman who will never quit tilting at windmills, and I am proud of that, and it makes me stronger everyday...
"To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause
And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star."
~ Music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darion ~
I wish you all well, wherever you are, on your own Grail Quests. I will be on mine all the days of my life, and I shall cherish every bit of it, even though some of it will only come in retrospect. I suspect the pugs and the others will keep me on track, and I will never stop trying, when my arms are too weary, to reach, the unreachable star.
Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to One and All,
and Follow Your Dreams, always...