"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life."
~ Robert Louis Stevenson ~
Sundays always seem the perfect day for contemplation, for catching up with oneself, thinking about what has been accomplished the week before and how we might better arrange the week ahead. Ahhh, but for me a week is far too long to comprehend. I live day by day, moment by moment, and yes, there are dates on my calendar for appointments that will be met, but barring that each day unfolds as a Mystery, and no two are remotely similar, nor offer the same gifts.
Just now I have my Moleskine notebook spread out before me, just like the one above, 2 fountain pens, ten Indian ink pens with all different size tips, even brush tips, black permanent ink that speaks of other climes and times and history long gone, and I have my elderly pug Sampson snuggled tight in the chair with me (He only seems comfortable if he's wedged in so tight you don't know how he can move or breathe, and he likes it that way, he feels safe.) and I sense the oddest smell which is the lingering aroma from where Sam was shaved, right side and belly, to remove several mast cell tumors, and they painted his shaved skin with some yellow medication to disinfect it. It left a dark yellow stain and a peculiar odor. Not bad, but certainly, well, distinctive. He smells like he needs a bath but when you have a Frankenpug who still has stitches all over you forgo the bath and get used to the smell. And right now he clings to me in a way that is so endearing I nearly get tears in my eyes when I think of it.
Sam came to me from Pug Rescue having been abused badly and even, when healed and well and given a lot of love by the foster parents was adopted out twice and twice returned. He is not a bad dog, he is a frightened one. He is terrified to be left alone. When they called me and asked if I'd be interested in taking him they said, ahem, clearing their throats, "He has abandonment issues." I said, "Oh that's fine, so do I, we'll get on just great." And so we have these past three blessed years. I call him my velcro pug. Where I am, he is. He comes in the bathroom with me alarmed no end about what in the world that thing is that I am sitting on and when I flush he has a look that says, "Praise the Good Lord God, she just barely made it out ALIVE. That thing could have swallowed her WHOLE!" He sits on the bathroom rug simply a wreck when I'm in the shower and I have to keep peeking out to tell him that I'm okay and will be out soon but by now he has been joined by Harvey and Coco and all three of the pugs are staring at the shower curtain waiting for news of my certain death behind the heinous curtain. By the time I am getting out and wrapping up in a towel the three of them are practically in a heap on the floor, collapsed with relief.
I used to laugh, when my three children were small, about how I'd forgotten what it was like to go to the bathroom alone. There you are on the throne trying to do some of your best business while a 2 or 3 year old asks existential questions like "What is God?" and "When will dinner be ready?" Your children finally grow up and then there are three pugs staring at you. Clearly I wasn't sent here to go to the bathroom alone.
At night Sam is the only one who sleeps with me on the bed. I have a huge quilt I use to cover the whole bed with and he is sleeping on the quilt but snuggled up to me, and he inches up and up through the night until he head is on his pillow and sometimes mine. For those of you who are not dog people I know that you are, at this very moment, thinking how gross and unsanitary this is. For those of you who know better I know you have a smile of soft comfort and happiness on yours. And so it is.
Last night I had fallen asleep in my big chair (actually Sam's and mine) watching a movie. To say that my back was out of whack doesn't half explain it. It was the kind of thing where you have this excruciating ache in the high middle of your back between your shoulder blades and no amount of stretching, groaning, or getting in weird positions and kind of banging yourself about will get rid of it. I took ibuprofen and got in bed. Sam was already up on his quilt waiting.
If I am upset or sad or hurt he will be snuggled up to me like a limpet on a rock. If not he lays next to me very close but in a very different way. I think dogs are utterly unbelievably not just smart but psychically gifted. And of course we've read or heard this time and again in the news, but these simple mundane acts of knowing are humbling, to say the least.
As we go to sleep little Harvey and Coco are in their beds just next to me on the floor (I have to be careful not to step on them if I get up in the night...) and Big Dog Moe is in his big bed just the other side of the bed. One way or another I sleep surrounded by 4 dogs and Big Dog Moe is always in a guarding position, faced out to the door with his back to us. He is a lab-doby mix, near 17 years old, has been with our family since he was 3 months old when we adopted him for our son from the Humane Society, but somehow Moe always stuck to me and I adore him. I really do wonder how people go to sleep at night without dogs. I don't think I could.
In the morning we are all up about 6ish for the first potty time out, I give them a little treat and we go back to bed until 7:30 or 8 when we get up, and out they go, back in and all the dogs are fed, given numerous meds, and the 4 parrots laugh and talk and sing while I clean them up, get fresh food and water, and beakery kisses all around. They get their lights on, National Public Radio on to listen to, and we all sit with rapt attention while Garrison Keillor does his little morning literary bit of the day. Sam would just have soon stayed in bed, but with all these feathered and furred brothers and sisters around their is no hope. Still, getting him up seems cruel and he acts like he's being tortured...
"Get up? You're kidding, right?"
My kitchen table has rows of medications on them, by the dog. Nose, ears, antibiotics, medication for the arthritic ones and more. I truly am running an old folks home here. And people ask me why, truly baffled, that I would want a house full of senior dogs whom I will come to love dearly and lose too soon and in the meantime incur sometimes frightening vet bills and constant rounds of nursing. You see, that's just a hard thing to answer, because if they don't get it they never will, and if they get it you don't need to say a word.
There's a special section on the Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue website for those who love and care for seniors. We are perhaps a "special breed" although there are a lot of us out here. Of course my heart goes pitter patter at the darling puppies, but when you look in the big, often sad, weary eyes of those older folks, many have been terribly abused, a sad number of them have been with a beloved owner who died, and more heart-wrenching stories, well, I can tell you that to a dog, no matter how different they look or how different their personalities, you always feel a deep -- and I mean this really, it's tangible, you can feel it -- sense of relief and gratitude that even at their advanced age, and many not in good health, somebody wanted them. Somebody took them into their heart and home dedicating their life to the little one's care. Someone has given them a safe haven and safe space to spend their remaining years, no matter how long that may be, in a home where they will be snuggled and loved and kissed and cherished and fed well and get good vet care and, well, most important of all, be a part of a family. These little ones are my family, they are my companions in life.
There is something else that people don't understand. The cost. And yes, I'm here to tell you that it can get very expensive, the upkeep, medications, checkups and even surgeries when you care for seniors, but I have a rather unusual, perhaps, take on this.
I chose to live alone at this point in my life. I am an interfaith minister and lifelong animal lover. I do not practice outside the home. My congregation lives with me. The expenses for seeing that they have the best of everything, not to mention all the love in my heart and everything I can give them, is my version of "tithing." I know Jesus would approve. As He said in the Bible, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me!" I hardly think Jesus would consider a tiny little elderly pug "least" but I know that He would approve of me giving my life over to them, to their care, to give and receive love, to use my earthly resources to care for them and to fully realize that they, these tiny elderly little ones, are present as angels in my life who look diligently after me. When my first pug, wee little 15 1/2 year old Babs, blind and deaf and in the end very ill, was put to sleep in my arms on June 22, and I felt her leave her body, and I held her, rocking her and kissing her and telling her how much I loved her as she left this world for the next, I was given a deeper understanding about life and death and in losing her, my heart was torn asunder and a new, stronger heart began to grow in it's place. With Sampson's recent surgery I could have lost him and now know that his time will be limited but I should probably have a few years. How deeply blessed I am to have him, to have had her, to have all of my babies here with me.
There is one last thought I would like to share about caring for elderly animals. I have heard horror stories about people literally throwing away animals who are old, infirm, need special care, and perhaps expensive vet care and yes I can tell you this can be frightening and daunting indeed, but I have developed a philosophy about this, and in sharing this I speak only for myself. Every person comes to this kind of thing on their own terms for their own reasons.
We speak about "discretionary income." For some it's a dinner out on the weekend that might be $50. For others it might be saving money for a trip around the world, or an ongoing lifestyle that uses their resources to the limits. I make no judgment about that, truly, I do not. It is not mine to make. But for me, I have chosen to live a life alone in prayer and meditation, writing and doing my art that is therapeutic and even now I have stopped selling my work, save the books I am working on that will help support us here, because for me what I have chosen, as we all have the right to choose for ourselves, is that my discretionary income, what little there might be that is, is used for the privilege of sharing my life with these animals who need me, and whom I need. We bless and love each other. And for me I cannot imagine any better use of my funds. Upon my knees I feel the enormous blessing and gift that I have been given in having these small funny little people to share my life with. I am deeply humbled and filled with gratitude...
Next, on this Sunday, I am thinking about tea. Thinking about tea quite a lot. You see, in late 2005 I started a book called "Tea Mind, Be Kind." It is close to being finished and already registered with a publisher and copyrighted but not really quite finished. Through two years of research with teas literally sent to me from around the world, piles of folders of notes, bags, boxes, pouches of teas, a team of tea tasters, and more, each day I would sample a new tea as if a glass of fine wine, and these tastings led to endless cups of tea and ruminations of the Japanese Art of Tea and the state that it evokes, "TeaMind," and how the practice of slowing down for a cup of tea can become a meditation and open our hearts to the world, humbly opening more and more, loving more and more, giving more and more. Tea, the magic potion. Much about the history of tea and the Tea Ceremony but also tea in homes in humble ways. I loved that book, and came so close to finishing it, but the world came crashing down around me at that time, and the book was laid aside. I didn't know if I would ever be able to finish it.
In 2005 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She suffered unbelievably though stoically and filled with faith and grace and she was an inspiration to all who knew her. She passed in December, just 2 months before the 5 year mark when she was diagnosed.
Too, a particularly wonderful tea company was sponsoring me, sending me a lot of tea each month so that I could sample and write about teas. Much of the book is stamped with experiences around their special hand-blended amazing teas. In 2007 just as I was in the home stretch that company was sold and my sponsor disappeared. I had neither the resources on my own to buy teas from all over the world and frankly, because of the close relationship that I had with the tea company's owner, my heart just broke. I packed up tea and tea books and put it all away. I had no idea what would happen.
A few weeks ago the book began tickling the edges of my brain, then God starting hurling "wake up stones" from the heavens that were clonking me on the head left and right. Teas starting unexpectedly entering my life in all manner of odd ways, and -- and this may be one of the greatest miracles of all -- I had no idea what to do because while I had saved the book to an external hard drive at that time, and had it all printed out in a big 3 ring binder, I had no clue in the world if it still existed as, having made a major move in February, there are things I fear were lost or I will never find again.
There is one room in my house filled with boxes of things that still need to be unpacked. One day I went in there to look for something or other and my hand rested on a box that held I knew not what. I gently opened it because it felt light and full, perhaps, of fragile things. The whole box was filled with the vintage teaware I had long collected! I unwrapped my favorite old art deco teapot and clutched it to my breast like a baby and wept. I was filled with the longing to move back into the realm of tea, but I couldn't start this book over from scratch. And then.... and this is positively astonishing... in a room full of boxes nearly ceiling high, almost all completely closed, there was one box partially open and I could see the spine of a very large, green, three ring binder. I gasped. I knew exactly what it was. With my teapot in my arm I went over and pulled with all my might to get this huge binder out. I opened it and looked at the first page... TEA MIND, BE KIND. I nearly dropped the teapot. That was it, and I knew, and I have been drinking tea every day and working on the book since that moment. I have contacted the publishing company I was going to use and this book should be out by January 1, sooner if possible.
Finally, perhaps the biggest surprise and gift of all is the return of my writer self. I have written and taught writing and journal writing classes for over 30 years, but something happened to me when I left my marriage in 1999. The shock of 3 decades of living a certain way in a certain setting, the end of a marriage, of helping young adult children through it all, and figuring out who in the world I was and what could I possibly do, how would I survive, well, it took the serious writer right out of me. I mean, it gave me such a kick in the creative gut that I could not breathe. It was then, in 1999, that I started my first website community that lasted for many years. I wrote for newspapers and magazines and then entered the world of blogging and I have had at least 15 blogs. A good way to keep your hand in and your pen (or keyboard as it may be) moving, but I was a write-by-hand first sort of writer, and I always used fountain pens or dip pens, and I was connected to an old way of writing, one that felt more hand to heart, more personal. I think I was so devastated and my fragile personal self so torn asunder that I couldn't even hold a pen in my hand. I wrote blogs, did websites, and truly, the internet saved my life. I have made wonderful friends here, have felt less alone, have done work that I am proud of, but I am a writer at my core. I have to write. Not blogs, or websites, although I will do both, but I had to find my way back to my real writer self. I don't know how it happened but about the time I found the tea book I started finding my fountain pens, my piles of unused Moleskine notebooks (they are so sublime ... you can click on the link to read about these incredible, historical notebooks...), so many things started falling into place, even to the point that while my fiber art and other art has always been done for pure JOY and supported me, soul-wise, while I did my other work I had tried to make it THE work and had very nearly killed my love for it completely. Now I will probably do fiberwork, draw and paint and more just for the pure pleasure it brings, and if I sell something here or there that's just dandy, but it's place is to shore ME up while I do my real work, my writing.
So you see when I wrote the entry a couple of entries back about leaving the internet, this is what was at the heart of it and I didn't even realize it. I will always have my hand in here with this one blog, and there is a website for my work in the works, but it will be built slowly, over time. I am writing another book, more slowly, at the same time I am working on the tea book. I will bring it out next year after the tea book and there are three others in the works that are just dancing around at the edge of my subconscious and in my Moleskine notebooks where daily I journal and draw and map out my future with my fountain pen.
It took me 11 1/2 years to find my way home to my true self, but here I am. Now, I think it's time to make a cup of tea.
I bow in deep gratitude for your presence in my life.