Tag Archive | friendship

Adaptability

Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.

I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.

The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.

Joy and Sorrow

I was awakened this morning by a soft kangaroo kick in my face, two little furry-toed feet practically in my mouth as Topaz stretched out on her back alongside me. I’m grateful for the little purrball snuggling in the morning. She’s still not quite right in the head, and we may go get her eyes and ears examined next week in Montrose, as none of those seem to be functioning the way they should. But she’s otherwise almost back to normal, and I’m grateful for that.

So simple, so delicious: a homemade roll toasted, slathered with mayo and Swiss cheese and broiled briefly, then topped with homemade bread&butter pickles. I’m grateful for lunch, and especially for ‘the cheese sandwich.’

I’m grateful for the delightful diversion provided by this charming puzzle full of exquisite detail both in the artwork and in the laser cut. I used to enjoy doing these puzzles with other people sometimes, before the pandemic. It’s an intimate act to sit heads bent close over a puzzle table, singing along to music or chatting amiably, passing each other pieces that fit with the different sections we’re working, cheering each other on. I also used to enjoy doing them alone, so I’m grateful that my pleasure hasn’t been diminished with my cautious solitude.

I learned recently of several more Covid infections in vaccinated friends, so I’m even more grateful for getting the booster. I watched with deep emotion the trailer for the new documentary “The First Wave.” As a culture, perhaps as a species, we are about to drop all precautions and pretend that this ongoing pandemic isn’t happening, despite the evidence of what we see and know. Why? Because we’re tired of it; we want to get back to normal. Like that’s ever gonna happen. This stunning film chronicles four early months in 2020, and filmmaker Matthew Heineman told The Guardian, “One of the greatest tragedies of Covid is that we as a general public were so shielded from the realities of what was happening…. If it was easier for journalists and film-makers to get inside hospitals and to show the public how this was all actually going down, how people were dying and the horror of what was happening, I think it would have changed the narrative…. It saddens me that this issue that could have brought our country together further divided us, that truth and science became politicised.”

And for a refreshing change of pace, because we must also experience joy as well as outrage, check out the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards from NPR, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. My favorite is the “Majestic and Graceful Bald Eagle.” Maybe. I’m grateful for Kathleen for many reasons, including finding this in my inbox this morning.

Sea of Love

Stellar plays a trick on Raven at Hughlett Point. He thinks she can’t see him! She is perplexed! Romp ensues.

Today I am grateful for community, above all. I’m also grateful for flexibility and strength, my own and others’. I didn’t expect to have to euthanize Stellar, and hoped not to; but that was ultimately the right choice. After toodling along at his own pace, with occasional expressions of discomfort and frustration, but plenty of seeming ease and happy interaction, eager to remain engaged with life, there was a sudden change about ten p.m. Thursday night. Thus ensued a night of horrible suffering for him, and utter helplessness for me. There’s a great disparity between what’s available for hospice care for a person v. what’s available for hospice care for a dog. The meds in my arsenal simply couldn’t touch his pain for several hours. My knowledge of what to do was also lacking. By around 4 a.m. I was finally able to get him drugged enough to relax. We drifted in and out of sleep together on the floor.

Stellar begins his last car ride, surrounded by love.

A wee-hour email to a friend resulted in an informal vet consult and kind advice at sunup (thank you, K&D). A text to Dr. Tam at 5 led to a short whispered phone call at six, and by the time offices opened at 8, I was making calls trying to find a vet to come here, without success. Several of Stellar’s and my friends rallied around, and converged here at 9:15. Four of us carried him on his blanket out to the van, and settled him on a soft bed. I crawled in and lay curled around him. He never opened his eyes or raised his head. Garden Buddy and Uncle Bill drove me to Houseweart Vet in magnanimous silence. Deb and Rosie set to deepening and lengthening the grave Stellar had been working on for years, under his favorite tree.

When we crossed the river, Stellar raised his head. He knew exactly where we were. There’s a pullover where we used to park and let him run down along the river any time we drove that way. Even though it’s been a year since we’ve done that, wow, those dogs never forget. From then on, he occasionally raised his head and laid it on the console, as he would for any other car ride, any other journey. It was a beautiful thing to see, his calm, his interest, his acceptance, ok, we’re going for a ride! The rest of the time he laid his sweet head down beside mine, peaceful.

At the vet, it couldn’t have gone better. He lifted his head for one last pet from GB, then turned and pressed his forehead against mine in a profoundly moving gesture of connection. Then he settled back into our spoon where he remained calmly through the procedure. Dr. H said, “He’s going to need a BIG hole!” I said, “There are a couple of girls back home digging one now.” He said, “I mean a backhoe hole!”

I cried all the way home. When I paused from crying over Stellar, I looked into the front seats and wept again at the enormous kindness of my staunch, wise, compassionate friends, who took this time out of their day to help us. And they didn’t say a word all the way home; they simply let me grieve in peace within the comforting support of their noble silence, as if knowing that I couldn’t stand to hear a word of condolence.

Not a backhoe, just the right tools for the job, and the power of love.

I pulled myself together when we got home. My gravediggers suggested I take a look to be sure it was right before we carried him down there. I walked to the favorite tree and was staggered by the size of the hole my two lady friends of a certain age had managed to dig, and the enormous mound of dirt beside it. I burst into tears again. I was not alone in that. Rosie said it best: “He was a very good boy.”

Stellar curled up for the final time under his favorite tree.

There are millions of acts of kindness and compassion every day around the world, which we tend to forget because we never hear about them in the ‘news.’ Yesterday I was overwhelmed with keen awareness of the kindness of others. And the texts, voice messages, emails, and gifts dropped off since yesterday noon have kept my heart buoyed in a sea of love. Stellar loved everyone. He was the epitome of loving-kindness: he brought a sincere intention of friendliness to everyone he met. Many people loved Stellar in their own ways, and his life and death touched them deeply. I’m grateful that I got to be steward of a dog with such a big heart and extensive loving influence.

The Boyz came for lunch today, and to finish filling in the grave. I’m grateful for their comfortable, easy presence in my life, and for the love that they both held for Stellar. And he was devoted to them, could hardly contain his excitement even in his last weeks, when his Boyz came over to be with him.

I’m grateful that a new, unknown friend in Australia shared an excerpt from this poem for me, after I told the story of Stellar’s demise in our monthly zoom meeting; an excerpt in which his mother had switched pronouns and sent him in a card a couple of weeks ago after his own dear dog Oscar had been run over and killed.

Her Grave
by Mary Oliver

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile—–
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
perfect arch of her neck.

It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
slowly.

Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her
wild, slightly mossy tongue.

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky.

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
almost nothing.

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace
of his own making?

She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.

Now she is buried under the pines.

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not to be angry.

Through the trees is the sound of the wind, palavering

The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?

How strong was her dark body!

How apt is her grave place.

How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.

Finally,
the slick mountains of love break
over us.

After a twelve hour sleep last night, I am strong and stable in my grief today. There is emptiness everywhere I turn; and also, there is his presence in the space around me, and in the space within. I woke feeling skinless and raw. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow into a new skin of unknown qualities. I hope to bring Stellar’s boundless heart into the person I become without him.

Flowers from my dear neighbor today on Stellar’s so apt grave place.

Calm Abiding

Stellar enjoys cleaning my latté mug this morning.

Oh Topaz. I know right where she is, or where she was just after dark: east of the fence, lying in wait beside a scrap wood pile for some unsuspecting or terrified rodent. If she’s not in by bedtime, it’s another layer of surrender for me. It’s been one layer of surrender after another for the past few weeks, and less dramatically for months.

The last cat who was allowed to go where and when she pleased day or night was Dia, the Psycho Calico. Her name is short for Aradia, Daughter of the Queen of the Witches, but not many people ever knew that. It was my Wiccan phase. She made life so unbearable if she didn’t get what she wanted, including outside at night, that the house motto became Dia gets what Dia wants. I’m afraid it will end up thus for Topaz, especially if she survives lions, coyotes, owls, etc., tonight and lives to be an only pet.

Just because. Because I and Stellar are not the center of the universe, and life goes on as usual outside our little nest. I’m grateful for another gorgeous fall day full of wild wonder. I heard a large flock of sandhill cranes overhead when I stepped out to make a phone call.

Meanwhile, Stellar had a very exciting day, and I learned how to surrender another layer: of thinking there’s some fateful timeline, of clinging to some shred of a sense of control. I’m grateful today for resilience, Stellar’s too but especially mine. He keeps on surprising. It would be easier if his downward trajectory were more direct, however slow. This repeated rebounding, this resilience, aggravates my second-guessing habit, which is not a habit I wish to cultivate; I’d prefer it to atrophy.

Today was an online meditation retreat with my teachers’ teacher, B. Alan Wallace, “Shamatha in the Dzogchen Tradition.” Shamatha is the meditation style also referred to as Calm Abiding. The first session looked promising. Stellar slept through the night, I was reasonably well-rested, and I’d given him water, pills, and food. He went back to sleep. I listened raptly to the first talk, and settled in for the first 20-minute meditation. Stellar had woken and was alert, panting a little. I realized a few minutes into the meditation that he probably wanted more water. I figured he could wait another 18 minutes. Nope.

My eyes were closed. He stood up and stepped over me, walked a few feet before collapsing on the floor. Ok, I surrender. I slipped the sling under him and hefted his back end as he made his way out the front door, and around the south end of the house to his water bucket, where he drank copiously. What I got for not interrupting the meditation three minutes in for a minute was no meditation at all. Oh well. Nonattachment to outcome. He settled down for the next hour.

At the midday break, Rosie came by with more pain meds from the pharmacy for him–Dr. TLC didn’t anticipate him lasting this long, I think, and had to call in a special request refill. At her arrival he went bonkers barking from his bed, and she came in to visit him. He struggled to get up again, so we took him outside for an assisted wobble. Then again, right after the next session began, he got up on his own and wobbled to the door. By that time already drained for the day, I let him out unattended. He managed about ten minutes in the yarden before collapsing comfortably (appropriately) under the Contemplation Tree, where he rested another ten until I saw him trying to get up. I slung him in, and he’s been in bed since, though wide awake until just recently.

Topaz finally came in, and Stellar is asleep, so I am relaxing at last, after a long, full day. With Alan’s guidance, I sustained a meditative state throughout, and deepened my capacity for letting go, for surrender to the changing conditions of each moment. I’m grateful for calm abiding.

Allowing Joy

I’m grateful today for allowing joy, in the face of sorrow, in the simple things: making a batch of salsa verde with tomatillos and peppers from the garden; eating some on a burrito with fresh chopped tomatoes and sour cream. I’m grateful for having the burrito in the freezer from when I made it a few weeks ago, to pull out for a quick, delicious, healthful meal at a moment’s hunger; grateful for all the implications of that gift.

I’m grateful for finding delight in the creative work of others, being joyful for their success. I’m grateful for camp, for British humour, for the return of the Great British Baking Show, and Season 3 of Drag Race UK; grateful to surrender my grasping mind occasionally to the entertaining delusions of being human. I’m grateful also for an increasingly healthy relationship with death, and all the ramifications that carries for a more meaningful and joyful life; and grateful for my soul sister who sent me this article about precisely that. I’m grateful for my growing capacity for allowing joy in this world of impermanence, of constant, inevitable loss.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Carrot Pancakes

I’ve really missed Zoom cooking with Amy in the six weeks that my tendon has been healing. I’m grateful for the diagnosis and the therapy, and the home exercises prescribed by OT Marla, and that I have had the dedication to be compliant. I can do so much more with my left hand now than I could two months ago, and with much less pain. Amy was up for spontaneous Zoom cooking, and went out to buy carrots to make the recipe I’ve been dreaming about for weeks.

With the second carrot harvest yesterday, and some leftover store-bought carrots, I needed to use up some, and sent Amy this recipe that looked too good to pass up. I didn’t have yogurt, so made a tomato-herb-sour cream sauce; without enough cilantro in the garden, I added parsley to the carrot-egg-garbanzo flour pancakes. They were delicious! I’m grateful for carrots from the garden, for ranch-fresh eggs, for improvisation; for bacon fat and olive oil, and for all the people and processes involved in getting these staples into my kitchen from where they originated; I’m grateful for the internet, and all the hundreds or thousands of people, and the materials, engineering, and ingenuity that cause the internet to come into my house and open the entire world to my curiosity and appreciation. I’m grateful for Zoom cooking with Amy, who’s been my friend for fifty years.

Carrot Pancakes with Salted Yogurt, minus the salted yogurt. So simple, so delicious!
I’m also grateful for the opportunity to help Deb by keeping Rocky for a week while she travels into the maw of Henri; I’m grateful to spend time with this fierce, adorable little terrier that I rescued thirteen years ago from an untenable situation.

Unexpected Gifts

I’m grateful for garden art.

I’m grateful today for unexpected gifts. A formerly Zoom-only friend arrived in person this morning as she kicks off an indefinite walkabout with her two dogs in an RV. I’m grateful for the string of recent conditions that led to our acquaintance, and for heartfelt connection over a walk, meditation, and morning in the garden. As John Bruna says, “You never know who you’re going to meet today.”

Stellar is a very good boy, always open to meeting new friends, he and shared his bed with little Huck.
The latest painting by Auntie’s friend Lynn, who lives at the beach and loves bright colors, and Auntie, as much as I do.

Another unexpected gift, another precious connection, came this afternoon in a delightful phone conversation with one of Auntie’s dearest friends, whom I’ve been thinking of a lot over the past year, knowing she would be missing Rita as much as I do. Another ‘virtual’ friendship turned more real: we’ve corresponded briefly before, mostly over reading recommendations, but never had the chance to just chat. From the moment she answered the phone we were laughing, sharing stories, memories, and opinions, and the spirit of Rita was alive between us. I’m grateful for the unexpected gifts of two bright new friendships.

Auntie Rita

I’m grateful for my Auntie Rita, who died a year ago today. Here, we stopped by her friends’ house at happy hour, but they weren’t home. So we sat on their chairs out by the Rappahannock River on a blustery fall evening, and she pulled out her snakebite kit. I’m grateful for the many zany fun times I got to have with her. I’m grateful that her daughter asked me to write a eulogy to read at the memorial service today, which many of us family members joined by zoom. Here is what I shared with her surviving friends and family.

When Rita was trying to decide where she would move from her last house, and considered leaving Kilmarnock to come up to Knollwood, I said, “But Rita, all your friends are down here!” She wasn’t worried: She told me, “Oh, you make friends wherever you go!” And she was right: She made many new friends here, and she found old friends from as long ago as high school: and here many of you are today.

Rita made friends wherever she went. She kept friends once she made them so that wherever she moved to she carried old friendships into her new ones, building relationships among many people. She was ebullient and generous, funny, playful, and above all, she was authentic. She loved fine things, luxuries, and comforts, yet she adapted with courage and resilience to losses of all kinds, from losing almost everything in a flood, to the death of her son, and so much else in her 93 years. 

She loved sleeping late, rum and cokes, taking naps, reading, doing her nails, Jeopardy, creating art… She didn’t like: pictures of herself, chipped fingernails, swallowing pills, being ‘incarcerated’ during Covid, or meanness in any form… 

Leslie remembers her creativity, generosity, and humor, recalling that when she was young, her mother happily made all her clothes because she was too small to fit in store-bought; and she remembers her putting cotton balls inside homemade fudge drops to give out on April Fool’s Day! She recalls Rita as ready for anything, any time. 

One of our more remarkable cribbage hands…

Robin remembers her aunt as giving the most fun and appropriate presents for every occasion, keeping her company when she was sick in bed, and that she was always up for a game of cribbage, any time, anywhere.

Rita taught me so much about how to be in this life, throughout her life. When I was a child, I learned more during one meal at her dinner table about how to treat animals than I did from anyone else: she treated their dog Duchess, who may have been begging just a little bit, with such tenderness and respect. I watched her through the years turn this utter devotion toward all her dogs and cats, toward her friends and family, and even to her houseplants. 

Many would be reluctant to have dogs on their furniture, but Rita made them welcome on beds, couches, chairs…
Raven and Stellar on her good couch…
Stellar shares his chair at Rita’s house with Amy visiting. Any friend of mine was a friend of hers, and vice versa…
Rita (center) with her old, dear friends Polly and June.

When I was a teenager, she modeled for me as no one else, how to be a strong woman: One of the most magnificent things I ever saw a woman do came after a big family dinner at her brother John’s home. John took all the men upstairs for cigar time, and Rita became impatient, wanting to spend time with her new husband Ford. She changed into her tennis outfit, opened the door to the study, and smacked three balls across the room. “Tennis, anyone?” she asked with a sweet smile. 

As an adult, she was my favorite drinking buddy—she was many people’s favorite drinking buddy, perhaps even some of you here. One time when I had over-partied at their island home, and she found me in bed in the morning still drunk, she didn’t judge: she comforted and revived. She never judged me, or anyone she loved, fully accepting us with unconditional love just as she did her animals. 

Rita (left) and Ali on a double date in their late teens

When I was an older adult, and helping her sister, my mother, through a grueling dying process, Rita was my strength and my sanity: We provided mutual support during this devastating loss for both of us.

Through my whole life until she died last summer, as she did for so many of us, she provided inspiration, refuge, boundless love and countless laughs. It is a source of lasting joy that I got to spend many months over the previous fifteen years visiting her in the Northern Neck. Some of the happiest memories of my life come from these times: simple lunches, jigsaw puzzles, quiet cribbage games, deep talks, spontaneous adventures, sunset cocktails along the bay or the Rivah at the beautiful homes of her many friends, even if her friends weren’t home! She always kept a snakebite kit for emergencies, pulling out a couple of airline hootch bottles as needed. 

With her perfect fingernails, assembling my first Liberty puzzle after she introduced me to them.

Her gifts to me, and to others, were boundless, and live on in the values of compassion, unconditional love, joy, mischief, humor, strength, and acceptance that she modeled for me and for everyone whose life she touched. 

I’m not alone in my adoration of Rita. To know Rita Wherry Cleland Stephens was to love her. I speak for her daughter Leslie, for her sister-in-law Clara, for her nephews and nieces: Leonard, Bruce, Robin, Gary, Jack, Bill, and Amanda, who knew her all or most of their lives. She made each of us feel special with her love and attention, and she will always hold a singular place in all of our hearts.

After struggling for months to recover from a debilitating stroke, she courageously chose to relinquish her attachment to living. She was at peace with her life ending, and made time to say goodbye to as many of her beloved family and friends as she was able. In death as in life, she was a remarkable person, wise, courageous, adventurous, ready for anything.  

She would have hated this picture, but I love it. Always in my heart, favorite auntie…

Michael Soulé

A portrait I made of Michael in 2013.
I’m grateful for my dear friend Michael Soulé, who died a year and a month ago. I took this shot when we traveled to Yellowstone together. We were enjoying a nice picnic in the vast wilderness, not another soul around, endless views… when… absolutely nothing happened. This was my first photoshop ever, in 2003: I used the image of a grizzly from a bookmark I got at the visitor center book store.

Michael and I hung out together for about a decade, between his second and third wife. He was smart, funny, sensitive, deep, spiritual, thoughtful, and many other superlatives, in addition to being globally known as the Father of Conservation Biology. He was naughty and mischievous, also, and great fun to be around. I’m grateful to be able to call him friend. He suffered a massive stroke last summer, leaving his bereaved bride of ten years, a valley full of friends, a beautiful extended family, and a world full of friends and colleagues, all of whom miss his warmth, brilliance, humor, and dynamite smile. Tonight, a few of us, finally able to during this break in the pandemic, gathered at my house to celebrate his life.

I’m grateful for everyone who helped put together the party, and contributed from afar. I’m grateful for all the stories and insights that were shared to celebrate and honor him, helping each of us know him just a little better through the eyes and hearts of others. I have a soul full of history with him, and few words to share it.

Michael and I frequently discussed death in its many incarnations, including ‘the coming plague,’ which he lived to see the beginning of with Covid-19. He practiced Zen Buddhism, and inspired me to deepen my study of the philosophy that became my guiding light. I told him several times that when he died, I would shave my head in his honor. The opportunity arose this evening. I’m grateful for all our friends who took a swipe at my pate with his electric trimmer, and I’m grateful to June for offering it to me afterward. I was honored to accept it.

Much fun was had by all removing my locks.
Much fun was made of my perfect whorl. As The Colonel used to say, “It’s nice to be the object of innocent merriment.”

Support

I am grateful for the first okra harvested this season, and hope my three plants will give me more.
I am grateful for the gifts my father gave me, his interests in gardening and cameras.

Above all, I am grateful today for the support of my friend who came to help me pack my old cameras and accessories, to ship to B&H Photo in New York. They take trade-ins of certain models, it turns out, and not just any old thing. I’m grateful that the sorting queen lives down the road, and she came to help me pack these trade-ins. It was a lengthy and complicated process, during which we enjoyed coffee and conversation, but finally she had the box packed perfectly. Every single camera I owned from the past 80 years or more was securely bubble-wrapped and precisely fitted into a large cardboard box. With the last of the packing tape, we sealed it and she hauled it to my car, for me to drop off at the PackShak in town.

Stellar helped, of course. And then I went online and shopped for the new camera system. I called to talk about my order and the trade-ins, and learned to my dismay that they only take certain models, not any old thing. And so I have to unpack the perfectly packed box, sort again into acceptable and not acceptable trade-ins, then re-pack a smaller box. But that’s OK!

She said when I told her, “It doesn’t diminish my satisfaction at having packed it perfectly at all that you have to unpack it.” And I said, “It doesn’t diminish my gratitude at your packing it, at all, that I have to repack it.” Despite the fact that it needs to be undone, it’s already half done; and I’m grateful for her cheerful, generous, efficient support.

And finally today, I am grateful for a 10th of an inch of rain.