Tag Archive | joy and sorrow

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.

Acceptance

I realized the second I hit “Publish” last night that I had just spouted something old, a view at odds with what I actually currently believe. Yes, intellectually, philosophically, mentally, we are each alone; but, fundamentally, energetically, elementally, spiritually, we are All One. All sentient beings are interconnected in ways Western science has yet to fully comprehend, but at the forefront of consciousness studies is the dawning recognition that we are literally all connected. So, when I remember this, and I think in cosmic terms, and even in the sense of community, networks of friendship and support, I do recognize that I’m not really alone.

Further, I really feel this in my bones, my inherent belonging in this world teeming with life. From the microorganisms living in symbiosis with my body whose cells outnumber my human cells 10:1, to the insects in my summer yard, to the brilliant avifauna of tropical forests represented in today’s completed puzzle, we depend upon each other. We are all animated by the same force. We just don’t really understand what that is yet, or what to call it. Life. But I feel it. I’ve lived close to the earth for most of my life in one way or another. The boundary between inside and outside is quite permeable at my house. Even as a little girl climbing the poplar tree, and hating boys who burned ants with a magnifying glass, I’ve felt my connection with all living things profoundly for as long as I can remember. It’s made for a hard life, among a species who’s so hard on the planet. I’m grateful for acceptance, resilience, and equanimity, all recent acquisitions which contribute to contentment and joy, even in times of loss and grief.

Solitude

Tableau: Resilience

I pay a lot of lip service to solitude. But it hasn’t really been solitude all these years, it’s been the absence of live-in human companionship. There has always been a strong dog presence in my home, for 38 of the past 40 years, and those two dogless years were back in my 20s. Now I am without a dog again, and living alone, truly alone, because you can’t really count an aloof cat and a hibernating tortoise. It is cold comfort that I have no regrets about euthanizing Stellar when I finally chose to: I’m still alone. But, the truth is, I am always alone, no matter what connections I recognize; we are all always, ultimately, alone. So I’m grateful for the capacity for solitude, and for the opportunity to explore it in more depth than I have for the past forty years, with gentle curiosity and self-compassion.

Grateful for whimsy and imagination

Here I am doing a beautiful Liberty Puzzle, and thinking of Auntie, who introduced me to the joy of these remarkable functional artworks; very aware of her absence. Listening to Eva Cassidy crooning Songbird, keenly aware of her premature death. Hearing the absence of Stellar’s every breath. So much loss! It’s only human. And it’s human also to continue to find joy, delight, and contentment in the unutterable beauty of this fragile life, and to feel gratitude for each and every day.

Progress this morning…
…delight in the whimsy pieces…
…and after a full day of connecting with friends and family, working in the yard, tending the house, and self-care, the puzzle at bedtime. Each piece placed a tiny moment of satisfaction, the unfolding process of puzzling a meditation in its own right.

Another Day

I’m grateful for these spectacular flowers whose delivery midday from the Paonia florist startled me. My cousins in Charleston sent them in hopes they “might make you smile and know you are loved,” which they certainly do. I’m grateful for the love that keeps pouring in from friends and relations these past few days, soothing my sorrow, making me smile, reminding me that I am loved. I’m grateful to remember that everything changes, that this loss will soften over time. I’m grateful for ongoing support, and grateful for the opportunity to help a neighbor. I’m grateful for a long, close talk with my dear friend whose dear mother also died last week.

Topaz as a kitten in the bathroom sink.

I’m grateful that little Topaz seems much improved this evening. Her pupils have unfrozen, and she’s moving at a more natural pace, though still seems to be investigating everything as if seeing it for the first time. I’m grateful for rain, and homemade vichyssoise, and roasted root vegetables. I’m grateful for another day of living, feeling a rich range of sensations and emotions, joy and sadness, empathy and wonder. I’m grateful for memories, and for not clinging to them; grateful for letting things arise, and letting things go.

Stellar one year ago, looking kind of silly.

A Joyful Ease

Stellar looks adoringly at his older sister Raven and uncle Mr. Brick. I’m grateful for having had these three amazing catahoulas from Dog World with me for a third of my life. I’m grateful for having known their family for more than thirty years, including Sundog, Feather, Moonshine, Ruckus, Onion, Grits, SamNail, and so on back to Marcus and Rose. Oh, and for their precious pair of people too! I’m grateful that David set out to convert me from a cat person to a dog person all those years ago, and grateful that he only half succeeded. I’m still a cat person, too.
I’m grateful for the miracle of Little Doctor Vincent who showed up crying under a tree three days after Dia the Psycho Calico lay down and died in the sunroom at the age of sixteen. Vincent was unflappable, and turned baby Stellar into a friend pdq.

I’m grateful for the awareness I had to be grateful every day for two happy, healthy dogs for most of their lives. Mr. Brick died of cancer when Stellar was nine months old, at the young age of ten. Over the next decade Stellar and Raven brought so much joy. Their sheer physical magnificence would have been ample, but their inseparable and enthusiastic relationship delighted me constantly.

Their athleticism inspired me and forced me to keep fit enough to keep up with them.
I’m grateful that despite my focus on Stellar, I am still able to turn my attention to important things like a fabulous lunch of a BLT+chicken sandwich, and a homemade pickle; grateful that I’m able to savor the simple pleasures in the midst of this melancholy process.

I’m grateful that Stellar had a pretty easy day, therefore so did I. He never got up from his bed, and the last time he really tried was at two a.m., when he woke me with pitiful crying. I spent an hour getting him settled down, and he slept soundly til well after I and the sun were up. Perhaps he’s accepted his immobility, and he seemed comfortable all day, sleeping a lot but otherwise alert and engaged. He’s still a good watchdog, sounding the alarm when various friends stopped by with treats for me and necessities for him. I’m grateful for the TLC of people looking out for me, and grateful that I can also be helpful to others even during this challenging time. I’m grateful to finally begin to understand what it means to live with a joyful ease.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Moussaka

We’ve been planning it for weeks. I chose traditional Greek moussaka because I wanted something to do with the Navdanya eggplants I grew. I’m not a huge eggplant fan (we had a falling out many years ago), but I want to like them. This Asian variety is hardy in this climate, and gave more fruits than any previous eggplant I’ve grown. This moussaka recipe calls for potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant, all of which I was delighted, and grateful, to provide from my own back yard.

Even the tomato paste came from my garden! It is such a gratifying feeling to reach in the freezer and pull out a cube of homemade tomato paste, all that summer distilled into one little frozen block. The lamb in the meat sauce came from a nice rancher I know in the next valley over. It was a busy day, so I fit in making the first sauce with my morning coffee…

…and I whipped up a quick béchamel on my lunch break. With both sauces in the fridge I went to teach my first mindfulness class, filled with gratitude for all the day had brought so far.

Stellar rallied this morning after a long night’s sleep, eager to take a walk, and excited to see Mr. Wilson when he came to cut up slab wood for the stove. Stellar spent most of the morning here by the gate, one of his all-time favorite locations, keeping watch over his domain as always. I’m grateful for another day with him, and I showered him with attention every chance I got.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

After class, and another short walk with Stellar, wheezing as he went, it was right back to zoom cooking with Amy. Our first task was to slice the eggplants a centimeter thick, salt them, and set in a colander.

Three of the precious few russet potatoes lent their texture and flavor as the bottom layer in this recipe. As the eggplants baked, the potatoes were sliced, fried first, then layered into a buttered pan…

One layer of eggplant covers the potato layer, which in turn gets covered by the meat sauce…

Another eggplant layer, topped with the béchamel sauce, and shredded parmesan…

And baked til golden brown! Amy has the patience of a saint. She’s two hours ahead, so she didn’t even sit down to eat til after nine p.m.

I’m grateful for a full day with lots of meaningful connection, celebrating joy in the face of sorrow, attending to a full range of emotions and letting them flow through. I’m grateful for Stellar’s resilience, rainclouds, mindfulness practice, teaching, a warm evening fire in the woodstove, and zoom cooking with Amy, moussaka edition. I’m sure I’m grateful for way more than that that I can’t remember, and I’m grateful for the warm soft bed I’m heading to now.

This Life

I’m grateful that I made choices along the way that led me to be in this life, right now, right here. I could have done so much worse for myself. I could hardly have done better. I’m grateful for so many things in this life, friends, this community, this place. I’m grateful for all the amenities I’ve mentioned before, for the ancient forest around me, the animals both tame and wild who’ve shared my world. I’m grateful for the teachers, the ancestors, the fruits of their labors and of my practice. I’m grateful for this life in which I can make time to lie in the garden with my old dog for hours as he finds his way out of this life. I’m grateful for this life in which I have come to know patience, acceptance, surrender, and joy in the face of suffering.

I’m grateful we made it through another sweet, tender day together.

Scarlet Runner Beans

I was grateful first thing this morning, and pretty much all the rest of the day. Stellar was excited to walk to the rim, barking his intention as he waited for me outside. Aprés walk, we enjoyed a chocolate croissant.

I’m grateful the scarlet runner bean vine is finally taking off. Hammered hard by deer outside the fence, they struggled to gain many blooms. Once the wild sunflowers grew up they provided a barrier to the voracious does, and the vine was able to blossom. I planted eight seeds: only one of them sprouted. Look at her now!

I planted it for the hummingbirds, and finally was in the right place at the right time today to catch a few enjoying the nectar. The first one checked me out before feeding on the flowers. Thereafter they ignored me. I am grateful for intrepid little hummingbirds.

I’m grateful for scarlet runner beans, and grateful I had some time today to sit with and appreciate them in their flourishing glory. I’m grateful for the gentleness of this day just passed, mild ambient temperature, flowers all around, abundant harvest of tomatoes and tomatillos, joyful energy expended in the kitchen canning and cleaning. I’m grateful for finding support this evening in being with the excruciating awareness of life’s vivid, finite beauty.

Driveway!

I’m grateful for mud, which = water + dirt, which = growing things. And I’m grateful for Tom UPS, who always leaves Stellar a cookie on top of the box.

Of all the many things I feel grateful for today, including a wonderful night’s sleep in my bed on clean cotton sheets, and coffee in the morning, and a meaningful day’s work, and not getting food poisoning from questionable canned tuna fish, and teaching my first mindfulness practicum class to two delightful volunteers… by far the highlight (sorry, ladies), was the thrilling adventure that Stellar had on our last walk of the day. I give you, Driveway: the Trailer.

Click play to watch the stellar trailer for Driveway! A Stellar Adventure film from Mirador Films, never coming to a theater near you.

I mean. He was playing! For the first time in a year! or More! Just to see him frolic, feeble though he is, brought laughter and joy to my heart. Yes, there was a little concern that he’d twist on a foot stuck in the mud or snow and fall to the ground, but really, there was nothing to do but enjoy his joyful encounter with the puppy next door, whom we met for the first time walking up … the Driveway!

“We’ll Always Have Ditchley”

Kilmarnock library maple tree

We passed Ditchley House after an evening drive around the interior of the Northern Neck Peninsula, to entertain the dogs and to enjoy the last of the fall colors. 

“Have you been to the ferry?” Auntie had asked. I hadn’t yet. So the Corotoman River ferry provided our initial destination. The river flows softly flat past the ferry dock at the end of the road. Beside the dock lies a small triangle of river sand, below a bluff with opulent private homes on top. We let the dogs out to run on the sandy beach before continuing our ramble.

We wended our way back east and a little south, in the general direction of home, along small roads getting smaller, crossing the peninsula on Goodluck Road. It was almost my last day there, and I hadn’t yet taken a detour to see the hamlet of Ditchley, on a point flanked by two creeks.

At Hughlett Point, Raven looks across Dividing Creek toward the hamlet of Ditchley.

I saw Ditchley from across the creek on my walks out to Hughlett Point sanctuary along the Chesapeake Bay. The historic Ditchley mansion, up Dividing Creek from the bay, was once the home of Jessie Ball duPont, a teacher and philanthropist who helped create the Hughlett Point Audubon preserve, where I walked as often as possible during my autumn in Virginia.

Boardwalk from the parking lot to Hughlett Point beach

From the sanctuary parking lot in the woods, you walk east through a short strip of lovely swampy forest, cross a grassy strip and a low dune, and arrive at the Chesapeake Bay, a couple of miles north of Hughlett Point. There’s nowhere to go if you turn left, but if you turn right, it is a different walk every day, every tide, every weather. The dogs run, Stellar flies, Raven runs away, and I walk and walk barefoot in wet sand or dry, wade in turnunder waves or tidal pools.

Ditchley lies across the water in the trees.
Stellar mastered flight at Hughlett Point.

Most days I walk all the way to the point, savoring sea and sky and solitude. From the very tip of Hughlett Point I can see Ditchley, so I’d always wanted to drive down Ditchley Road and check out Hughlett Point from there.

It was cocktail hour when we drove past the mansion’s driveway toward the village dock, so we didn’t turn in, though Auntie insisted we should do so on our return. I thought it looked more like a private drive and I said so a couple of times, but she said, “No, this is Ditchley, it is a private home, but they use it for all kinds of public functions. I just want you to see it. We can drive through, there’s a turnaround.”

Then she pulled another friend out of her magic hat and said, “Let’s go have cocktails with Jan.” Jan lives on Dividing Creek, almost to the bay. She wasn’t home, but we walked out on the dock behind her house and watched for a few minutes as the water pinked up, then greyed over, and the sky to the west lit up. The dock had a great view of Hughlett Point, our main objective anyway, so after enjoying that we headed for home. It was dusk, and I was hoping she’d forget about Ditchley House.

A different happy hour, with the same view of Hughlett Point from Jan’s dock. The solitary tree on the far shore marks the turnaround at the southern tip of the beach, where Stellar likes to fly.

As we approached the Ditchley mansion driveway, a sporty red car turned out of it and zipped past us toward the bay. I didn’t like the idea of turning in while they could see us. I was hoping nobody was home. I resisted.

“Turn in, turn in!” Rita insisted, so I made an acute right turn and drove slowly down the colonial-style brick drive through a huge lawn, toward the brick mansion on the right. The driveway narrowed suddenly as it approached the mansion, and passed directly below the foot of the front stairs. I saw with dismay that there was in fact nowhere to turn around but the perfectly smooth green lawn, that the driveway went right up to and around behind the caretaker’s cottage, across a concrete carport, with a grill, bikes, a basketball hoop, and worst of all, a pack of barking dogs. The moment I saw the dogs, I said, “Cover your ears!”

The driveway funneled us through this very private domain: we were bayed up by a large black lab, a midsize gold dog, and a little cocker spaniel. Our dogs were snarling and snapping and barking their heads off trying to get through the car windows. It was a tense cacophony. Our car was so big, and the carport so small and so crowded! I was afraid I would hit one of the dogs snapping at our tires, or knock over a garbage can, or that someone would run yelling out the door. After we slowly, carefully, rounded the back of the house I sped up as fast as I dared and we lost the gold dog, but the big and little dogs pursued us another few hundred feet, Raven and Stellar still snarling and barking.

When they fell off, my dogs settled down. We drove a long silent stretch under arched trees, both of us looking straight ahead, until we turned onto the road. Then Rita turned to me and broke the silence by saying, with a satisfied smile, “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley!”

I laughed so hard I almost lost control of the car. We laughed all the way home. We laughed through our cocktails. Six months later, we are still laughing about Ditchley, when one of us mentions it over the phone.

Auntie turned 85 yesterday. I cherish every laugh with her and every memory of our wonderful autumn together. What I treasure most about that moment, that smile, that “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley,” is that it was utterly unexpected. I should know by now to expect the unexpected from my Aunt Rita, it has always been the way she rolls. But in that moment, after the violence of the barking dogs, the awkwardness of our intrusion through a private home, the tension of our escape from Ditchley, and my anxious sense of guilt, her sweet satisfaction was the last thing I expected.

Eight years have elapsed since I wrote that. I visited Kilmarnock again, but not for the past few years. Occasionally through those years Auntie and I will be chatting, and she will say, “Well… at least we’ll always have Ditchley!”

Auntie died Thursday, after months of suffering. She had a stroke three days after Raven died, the Sunday before her 93rd birthday. After struggling to recover, she courageously chose to relinquish her attachment to living.

There’s been a lot of loss in my world since May. Of them all, I will miss the most my dearest Auntie Rita, my last mother in this world, my friend and role model, my drinking buddy, my favorite person on the planet, whose flair and humor and kindness showed me the way so brilliantly.

Going through photos from our visits through the years, a lot more memories are coming up, bringing laughter, tears, gratitude, joy. She loved to play cribbage, and delighted in a great winning hand…

After cousin Leslie told me that her mother had died, I hung up and walked a few steps farther into the woods, then laughed out loud: in my head I heard so clearly, in that sweet satisfied voice, “We’ll always have Ditchley!”

I’m not claiming that it was she speaking to me; just that I heard her, from within my heart at the very least, though I didn’t realize for two days how much that moment has helped me cope with the loss of her. Having this trove of memories is a gift beyond measure, an enduring connection with her beautiful, mischievous, loving soul.

Rest in Peace, Rita Stephens, May 24, 1927 – August 6, 2010