~ Abraham Joshua Heschel ~
Quote found in Natalie Goldberg's
Long Quiet Highway, 1993
"Every single thing, every possible thing, is holy."
~ Annie Dillard ~
Living the contemplative life takes many forms, and not all of them consist of staring up at the moon, or meditating, or falling on one's knees in prayer. I believe the contemplative life, truly and deeply lived, is in having the realization that every moment is holy, and a blessing. The most mundane ordinary things are radiant with grace. Though I rarely leave my cottage, and do indeed lead, for the most part, a cloistered life, it is, more often than not, the very dailyness of life that one revels in, if one has eyes to see. I give you my day today, which is much like every other day...
I was awakened this morning, as I am every morning, very early, by a tiny, 13 year old deaf, and nearly blind, pug. Babs' bounces with excitement as she barks continuously and she will not stop until I am up. She also awakens the three other dogs who think it is a swell idea to get up as well, even though I went to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and it is now somewhere between 6 and 7. Too, there are the six parrots, one a very vocal African Grey Parrot, and one a cockatoo whose screams could deafen everyone on the block if she put her mind to it, but she is covered and amazingly quiet in the morning.
I creep about, wordlessly, getting the dogs out and in, and they know my signals very well. If, by chance, it is later and I am going to stay up, they wait, staring at me, for their morning treat before breakfast. If, in fact, I am going to lie back down for awhile to sleep, the girls (Coco, and Babs, the 2 female pugs), and Moe (Big Black Dog) shrug, go back to their beds, and flop down. Sampson, my velcro pug who always sleeps with me, stares at me wide-eyed for a split second to figure out what I'm thinking, and then jumps back up in his spot, waiting for me to sink back down under the covers and snuggle into the pillows, at which point he snuggles into me, sighs a sigh of relief, and plops his head down and is snoring in under a minute.
Alas, Henry, the grey, is nobody's fool, and he knows that there has been some activity and that I have gotten up. He starts whispering, and then talking, although much quieter than usual. He runs through his litany of everything he can think of to say but his "Come hither..." speech gets him nowhere, and he becomes very quiet and goes back to sleep. I might sleep 2 or 3 more hours and there is not a sound in the cottage until I am ready to get up, and once I sit up, my feet not yet having touched the floor, the cottage creatures spring into action.
The dogs are ready to go out again, the parrots get uncovered, Blossom, the cockatoo, and Henry get out and start talking up a storm, and everyone is waiting to be fed. It takes a full hour to take care of all of the animals, and truth be told, many's the day I wouldn't even get up if it wasn't for them.
Every moment of the above ministrations to those feathered and furred are true blessings, as is the company I keep in the kitchen once they are all up and at 'em. Henry rides about on my shoulder while I make coffee and get the day started, and I try not to trip over 3 pugs while I am frothing milk for my latte in my kitchen the size of a shoebox. Moe, whom I have come to call Big Black Dog, is not about to come into the kitchen and try to eat until the others have finished and, for the most part, cleared out. When I sit down Henry gets a few nips of my protein shake, sneaks some foam off the top of my latte, and then proceeds to try to destroy any pen or small article on my desk. I lift my finger, which he is perched on, and say, "FLY," and off to his cage he goes, though he will fly back and forth a few times. By this point Sampson has settled on my feet, furry warm teddy bear of a pug, and I am sorting through a multitude of e-mails and books and making notes and staring at the blank screen, ready to write. Then comes the time that I sip my coffee and contemplate my navel.
Every writer has their own method. Mine begins with the comfort of knowing that all of my animals are cared for, and have now gone back to sleep or on to quiet pursuits, satisfied that I am within sight and exactly where I'm supposed to be, and I sit quietly and smile watching them all. There is nothing like watching a dog, eyes closed, side rising and falling with the slow breaths of peaceful sleep, or a parrot, basking in the sun, eyes closed, taking a mid-morning nap. And though I am thought strange for living this unusual life of mine, there is not a day that I do not feel filled with gratitude. I live with my finger on the pulse of life, from this one little place, unnoticeable to most of the world, and I am at peace. Every single thing, every possible thing, is, indeed, holy. And I am blessed in every moment of every day by this life I have been given.
I look over at the pile of fibers on the table next to me. I am at work on what will end up, I believe, a very large freeform crochet piece. I say "piece" because I have no idea what it will become and I am not in the least concerned. There are piles of dyed wool, colorful, silky, curly wool locks, as well as silky dyed llama. Handspun yarns in many colors. I crochet, adding bits of everything in here and there, and this marvelous colorful 7' long and 3" wide, at this point, something-or-other could just as easily turn into a king sized blanket as one of my Rainbow Serpents of the Dreamtime. I am allowing it to find it's own form and the act of crochet is, truly, for me, a meditation, every stitch all the more sacred for working with fiber from live sheep, goats, and llamas who are loved like family pets, retired and rescued creatures, living out their lives cared for by my dear friend Sandy of Homestead Wool and Gift Farm. Even if you are not into fibers or fiber work, I encourage you to take a trip to her site and see her wonderful animals, lovingly cared for -- there are many photos of the animals themselves -- and read about the magical life (and one made up of very hard work, and very much love) on the farm. I feel truly blessed when I am working with the fibers, whether raw fibers that I will clean and dye, or beautifully dyed sacks of fiber that Sandy has dyed, or bags full of curly locks. To knit, crochet, or spin natural fibers that still bounce with the energy and liveliness of the animals they came from is a gift in each and every moment I am working with them.
My days also consist of very glamorous things like plunging the ever and always clogged up toilet, not to mention the right side of the kitchen sink where once a garbage disposal lived, but died long ago, and any water that leaks or splashes over to that side finally fills the disposal and sink and becomes, well, rather nasty. The only thing that works is a toilet plunger that I have just for that use and keep under the kitchen sink. Holy? Yes, these are the moments of my life, and a clogged toilet and sink are part of it.
Another part of my day is cleaning up after Sampson, my "stealth pooper." I have tried anything and everything that anyone has even remotely suggested. I have read books and consulted experts, including my vet. He will pee on everything in sight outside while the other dogs do their business in both directions, and then, when I am not looking, I realize that he is not here, and I will hear him trotting down the stairs. He has taken a liking to the upstairs landing for his, well, #2's. Sometimes he is brazen enough to walk right in the door and while I am unleashing the other dogs and perhaps heading in to do my own business, he will have pooped just inside the door. There is no polite way to put any of this but it is a fact of my life. All of my dogs are rescues and this little fella was really abused and neglected.
At the Humane Society, where he was before thankfully being sent to the rescue, he was so thin and weak he couldn't even lift his face from the water bowl. I have no idea why he goes inside, but I keep white vinegar, paper towels, and a baking soda solution at hand upstairs and down. I simply clean it up, flush it down the toilet, and don't make a big deal about it. This little dog has suffered terribly in his life, and he will not be punished here, nor will any of my animals, for their oddities and idiosyncracies. I do my best to correct problematic behaviors, but as I adopt older dogs who were likely abused, some things are just going to happen, and after I clean up there is this little teddy bear of a pug with huge eyes staring at me with so much love and a kind of gratitude I can't help but to go soft inside just looking at him. He lies back down on my feet and I go back to writing. He sticks to me like glue. He is indeed a blessing in my life and if I have to clean up the poop every single day for the rest of his life, so be it. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy, even if you are a stealth pooper.
I chuckle, amused, at the people who think it must be lonely eating meals alone. I haven't eaten a meal alone in thirty four years. First I raised three children and now I live with a bevy of animals and a new rescue to come next month after he has surgery on Monday and heals. Another little pug, this little fella in the worst shape of any pug I've yet taken in. His name is Harvey and you can read his story on the stories page of the newest blog I've created, The Puggery Snuggery, later this weekend, written by the marvelous rescue worker and his current foster mother, Tina. There will be pictures of when he first came to the rescue and how he has progressed. That I have been blessed by the presence of animals that others consider throwaways and worse has been one of the great joys of my life. When little Harvey comes next month it will be a very sweet thing indeed. Any little one needing a safe haven has a home with me.
The cottage, on it's best day, will never be photographed for Better Homes and Gardens or any other magazine. My daughter may have put it best when she came in one day and said, "Mom, it looks like you live in a pet shop." We will all be quite happy to move into larger quarters with a fenced yard and big kitchen. Until then I travel narrow paths, strewn with stuffed toys, the floor covered with birdseed that the parrots just will sling everywhere (the shop vac near the cages isn't exactly the norm in decorative items, but I use it daily), and a kitchen never quite at its best. I try, I really do, but I tend to wander through the days like the Absent Minded Professor, writing in my head, tripping over this, that, and godonlyknows what other thing might be in my path, and I always mean to get the dishes done but, well, there is the writing to do and fiber work and dogs to get in and out and bird cages to clean and the garden to tend to, not to mention the orphaned African Violets to repot (I buy the ones shoved to the side in a grocery cart that have bloomed out, look pitiful, and are marked down to fifty cents, bring them home, repot and feed them, and tenderly care for them. Currently there are African violets blooming all over the cottage, some quite large, and most living happily now in vintage teapots. If it's a living thing, orphaned or cast aside, it's almost a sure bet that I will adopt it, animal, vegetable or mineral, and if this isn't true grace I don't know what is.
It is not true that I created a peculiar life just to have something to write about, I am an odd person and I know that, but it certainly gives me plenty of material, and as a metaphorist allows me to jump from a pug to God to weeds in the garden. Birth and death, wonder and awe over the tiny lizards and ladybugs outside, as well as a deep appreciation for a fine cup of tea on a rainy afternoon, or a glass of merlot with a fine meal. And I'll tell you one thing for sure, living "alone," if I can even use that phrase here, is fraught with blessings in the clothing department.
I live in inexpensive cotton caftans from around the world and I have plenty of them. I get pooped on by the parrots sitting on my shoulder on a regular basis which requires frequent changes, morning and night, (all of a sudden I realize that poop seems to be a leitmotif in the story of my life...), I am, for the most part, walking about barefoot, and I always wear clunky odd shoes, whether Birkenstocks or Crocs. I have a collection of shawls that I am seldom without though many have seen better days, and my short blond hair is more often than not askew. It just springs up and has a mind of it's own.
And then there are my meals. I am actually a very good cook, but, well, it is dispiriting, to say the least, to cook for one. So I cook or prepare good food in odd combinations. Tonight I had to eat, but didn't feel like cooking and was very busy writing. I sliced up 2 very ripe avocados that needed to eaten, plopped a big stem full of big deep purple, very sweet, seedless grapes, and had with it the leftover protein shake from this morning. It's not exactly what I'd serve company but it works for me. There are more peculiar combinations as well as things that I "hide and sneak," but I'm not about to mention them here.
All in all it is a grand life and if it is pieced together with mismatched old furniture, vintage quilts that have seen better days, and books and fiberwork everywhere, the dogs and the birds don't seem to mind, and Vincent, the beta fish, never complains about one single solitary thing. There is love here. There is color and life and joy. And I am more than aware that I am blessed and that my life is made of many holy hours and days.
Just to live is a blessing. Just to be is holy. There is not a single moment that I forget that. Love your life, celebrate it, it is passing more quickly than you know.
Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings To All,