I might as easily have chosen to highlight my gratitude for the Bibiliofillies, but I am grateful today for letting go. I’m grateful for the capacity to quit reading a book, or watching a show, or otherwise removing my attention from one thing and turning it to another. This is the very essence of mindfulness, the ability and willingness to choose where we place our attention.
Tonight, the Bibliofillies met on zoom to discuss our month’s selection, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, which we read awhile ago. The latter was a work of fiction; tonight’s subject, an academic analysis of numerous classic Russian short stories, and the arts of writing, and of reading. (I can’t tell you how many stories, because I didn’t get past the first chapter.) A few fillies loved it; some were almost neutral; the rest of us, well, to say we despised it would be an exaggeration, but needless to say the various opinions made for lively discussion. This is why I’m grateful, at least once a month, for the Bibiliofillies.
I bristled at the author’s (a middle-aged white man) initial assumption that he knew what I was thinking. From there it went downhill. Though I did find some redeeming features in what I read, I did not want to keep reading, one of Saunders’ essential criteria for a successful short story. My perspective aside, (for what does it matter anyway?), having this safe place to express it, laugh about it, adapt it, is… priceless.
It’s essential to adapting to be able to let go. There is so much to let go of every single day. I’m grateful that I can let go of attachment to ‘my’ point of view more and more often these days.
Life is so much easier now that I’m simply letting things be as they are, instead of trying to control them. I also used to bristle when people told me, “You think too much!” Turns out they were right, but for the wrong reasons. And if I didn’t hang onto an emotion, I couldn’t consider that it mattered. Letting go was never easy for me. So I clung to, among other things, my own judgements, expectations, mistakes; I harbored grudges, fed them with repetition. Michael was right: I did have a ‘victim mentality.’
Death is certain, time of death uncertain.
I’m so grateful that I’m learning to let go, of everything. Emotions can actually flow through, and that doesn’t make them less real or less valid. The faster I let go, the faster I learn the lesson. The lesson I learned this month was that I don’t have to finish reading every book, or watching every episode of every season of a show, or a movie to the end. I don’t always need to know what happens next: as in a bad dream, I can take my attention by the hand and walk away. I can choose where to spend my precious attention. I don’t know how much I have left. I’m grateful for letting go of things that don’t nurture me.
I’m grateful today for the satisfaction of doing what I had to do, for work, for dogs, for the house and yarden. Grateful for curiosity which has allowed me to slow down and observe without attachment. Grateful for the satisfaction delivered by a BLT with leftover chicken. Grateful to go to bed after a long day, without being too hard on myself or anyone else, and with only some minor regrets. Grateful for mindfulness practice.
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.
Tonight, as I reflect on them, I’m grateful for all the dogs who’ve died on my watch. There was Sam, the pregnant stray I picked up in college; Knobby, who picked me up at a campground; Mocha, renowned for her sweetness; serious Mr. Brick, the golden bobtail, my first puppy; mischievous Raven, who died in my arms. Each of them died a different way.
I see growth over the course of this progression in my understandings of life and death. Karmically speaking, I can only hope that by the time dear Stellar dies, I’ve been able to purify the negative karma I incurred when I had Sam put down. The memories still traumatize: She won’t feel a thing, they assured me. She bucked and fought on the table, the whole time glaring at me in wide-eyed terror. It was the most horrible thing I’d experienced thus far in my young life. And the reason I did it? I’m ashamed to admit it, because now, knowing about no-kill shelters like Best Friends, I would never have even considered it. I rationalized it as the most compassionate thing to do, and it was the most compassionate way I knew at the time.
The object of my thoughts for days has been whether or not I could ever euthanize Stellar. During his seizure Sunday night, I was perhaps too willing to let him go, prematurely welcoming relief of my own suffering (and inconvenience, I have to admit). All this morning I perused online Buddhist perspectives on euthanasia. I spoke to his vet around noon, and she thinks he may have a bladder infection that’s exacerbating ‘everything else.’ So I drove to town this afternoon to pick up antibiotics.
I’ve had a couple of dreams in the past six weeks after which I vowed I would not have him put down. It’s never gone really well. The best deaths have been those rare affairs when a beloved dies on their own. A local vet came out after staving off Knobbydog’s time for a week; I ended up sleeping outside on the patio with him his last two nights before she came with the shots. A friend had helped me dig a grave down near the canyon rim: I’d never have had the courage to buy this land without the security of Knobbydog. He had a fast-growing cancer in his mouth, and was half dead by the time we took that last walk. As the vet strode briskly ahead down the trail, chatting, Knobby stopped to sniff the base of a juniper. After what seemed to me sufficient time (for his last long sniff, really?), I hurried him along. To his death.
We stood on the lookout rock together, the three of us, the vet chatting, Knobby sniffing the breeze and looking his last look into the canyon, I so sad. She gave him a sedative. After a few minutes she suggested we should walk to the graveside before he fell asleep. There under the Ancient One, I sat on the ground and held his knobby head in my lap, my arms around him, while she gave the lethal injection, chatting all the while about people I neither knew nor cared about. ‘Just shut UP!’ I kept screaming in my head. I have always regretted that I let myself feel rushed, and rushed him along. Also, I vowed to never have that vet come kill another pet for me.
So I had Doc Vincent come put down Mocha, when she could no longer rise for walk or food due to kidney failure. He was the exact opposite. He strode through the gate while I explained to Brick and Raven, and by the time I got inside he’d already wrapped the rubber around her leg. She, objecting, had crab-walked across the living room to get away from him. I gathered her into my lap on the couch and held her, cooing, while he finished the process. We had a communal funeral for her and Michael’s cat Luna, burying them both in the hole I’d dug to plant a peach tree the following spring. While that death went more smoothly, it still unsettled me. I happened too fast, and she was frightened. She didn’t understand.
Mr. Brick… I tried to let him die on his own. It was in the low twenties night after night, and he wouldn’t come inside. Paradoxically I both feared and hoped he would freeze to death, but he just hung on day after day. After days of pacing, he chose a favorite spot down by the pond and didn’t get up. But he didn’t die. Raven required a midnight run to the ER vet in Grand Junction. Stellar was a puppy and needed a lot of attention. I was exhausted. By then I’d come to believe that if I was going to do it, I should do it myself. So I consulted with another vet, gathered up my mom’s leftover morphine, some sleeping pills a friend kicked in, and my own Lorazepam prescription, and mixed up a brew, which I fed him with a syringe. But still I was impatient. It felt like hours and still he didn’t die. I feared then that he might wake up and keep living like a vegetable. I can’t write what I did next, but again, my intention was pure. Though again, tinged with concerns about convenience. Anyway, it worked, and I felt like he never woke up, though his head thrashed. Ack.
How much negative karmic imprint have I incurred so far? This is why Raven’sdeath was such a gift.
Some of the things I read this morning suggested that we listen to our pet; some argued that euthanasia is the compassionate option, others that it is the easy way out. Some raised the question of whose suffering are we trying to relieve? Many referred to the Buddhist precept of ‘no killing, not ever,’ and also used karma as a basis for ruling out euthanasia, both the pet’s karma and the person’s. Karma aside, since I’m still not clear in my understanding of nor faith in it, there was one argument that has stuck with me all day: The sense of betrayal and confusion a pet might feel when the loving hands that cuddled become the hands that kill. I thought of Sam, of course.
As I lay beside Stellar tonight, my forehead against his, stroking his soft ears, his thick ruff, his thin legs, it came clear to me. Just thinking about euthanasia had thrown a wall between us, was robbing my attention from whatever life remains to him. I chose to reaffirm my dream-inspired vow not to kill. There was an immediate sense of relief, a letting go, a flood of love released. We both relaxed. I reassured him as I did during the seizure that I will do whatever it takes to make sure he’s comfortable, and be fully present with him until his journey’s natural end. I committed to attend him with boundless patience. I felt deeply the true value of his precious life; understood viscerally for a moment the meaning of sentient being.
Maybe the antibiotics will slow down his inevitable demise, give him a few more walks in the woods, slow down the flow of pee and make him more comfortable; maybe not. He’s in doggie hospice now either way. Between the seizures and his deteriorating hind end it’s clear his neural pathways are failing. My mission is simply to ease his transition. I’m grateful for all the dead dogs that led me to this realization, and for the mindfulness practice that enables me to receive it with equanimity.
The Moon. This was two years ago in spring, March 20, 2019. A year before the world changed with the Covid-19 pandemic. People think it’s over, but it’s not. It’s a new normal, because we as a species have chosen not to change our behaviors. We are attached to having what we want, when we want it, and we’re not going to let go of that no matter what incentives get thrown in our way. Climate chaos? Let’s get what we can from the planet and the future be damned. Pandemic? Fuck limits, I’ll keep living my life the way I want to. Individual responsibility, right? I’m grateful for the steady rhythm of the moon.
I’m grateful to have woken up alive this morning, and gotten outside with Stellar before the sun was up, before even the moon went down, the Harvest Moon. It’s ‘the solstice,’ as the radio said this evening, though they meant the autumnal equinox. It was a spectacular day here in western Colorado. Bluebird sky, few clouds, very little climate crisis haze, bright sun, cool breeze, the perfect fall day. I heard the first sandhill cranes this evening, heading south along the east flank of Mendicant Ridge, where the highest aspen groves are just now turning golden.
My goal today was to get through it with no regrets. Not sure I managed that, due to my choices, but no lasting harm done I’m sure. It’s such a dance: just navigating a day can be exhausting. I took pretty good care of myself and my dependents, and sometimes that’s the best I can do. The low was 36℉ near the house; half the cantaloupe leaves died back, and a few other tenders took a hit in the garden, but it wasn’t a hard frost and we’ve got another few weeks of mild growing weather. Pesto was on the agenda but won’t happen until tomorrow–that’s a regret but I’m too tired to worry about it now. I’m grateful for authentic connection and shared joy, for friends who know me, for a genuine sense of belonging.
I am SO grateful today that I found something important which I thought I had lost. It was inconceivable to me that I’d have thrown it out, but… anything can happen. I had done some work for a friend who moved away rather hastily, and I was left with a precious family heirloom and a stack of scanned images, foreign currency, and historical documents. I kept thinking I’d hear from her when she got settled, but that didn’t happen. Time marched on, the precious packet got moved from one place to another and another, I tried to track her down a couple of times, I let it go (the dark side of letting go: its illusory facsimile ‘letting slip’)…. When she finally surfaced six years later (my, how time flies!) looking for these things, I was horrified that I couldn’t find them.
My friend is descended from Ukrainian nobility. One of the worst things I’ve ever had to do, right up there near telling a friend his mother had been killed in a car wreck, was to tell this dear woman that I had lost her treasures.
So imagine the thrill that coursed through me today when I was looking for something else, and stumbled upon this large envelope–I knew instantly by the feel of it what I had found. I called and left her a message right away, and await receipt of her mailing address to get them home to her asap. Whew! A psychic load off, a good deed done, a loose end tied up. I am beyond grateful for finding what I lost.
Impermanence. My brand new martini glass. How the happiness of things never lasts. Less than two weeks old, a careless moment in the kitchen… Oh well! Though I’m grateful for shiny things, I’m more grateful for my growing capacity to let go. Anyway, there were two in the set. I’ll be more mindful with the last one. And when one day that glass also breaks, that will be ok too. I’m grateful for letting go.
I’m grateful I celebrated these tulips yesterday, before one of them got eaten. A couple of others that hadn’t bloomed yet also got – nipped in the bud! And, I’m grateful I heard the first hummingbird today! I rushed inside and boiled some nectar, set it in the mudroom to cool for a few hours, and put the first feeder up. I wish I’d thought to make nectar ahead of time like Deb did, so when I heard that first unmistakable zzzzip! through the air I could have put the feeder out right away. Oh well! It’s out now, that’s all that matters.
Letting Go. This is who I am. This is what I do. I let go. I’ve spent a lifetime resisting, yet learning to let go, and it is time now to put to the test the letting go lessons. I’m grateful for letting go of so many things, tangible and intangible, in the past year; my letting go accelerates this year.
I let go of any expectation or even hope for perfection in material things a long time ago, while I was building this house. With an emotional punch as from a sudden death, I let go of perfect walls one morning after I worked in Grand Junction overnight, and returned to find that an unexpected rainstorm had washed away parts of several walls under a fresh bond beam. I’ll fix it later, I told myself, some day. Imperfections piled on after that, and I had to let go: Nothing in this house is plum, level, or square.
A professional finish? Forget it. The caulk around the window frames, among other things, reflects my letting go of that ideal. This was the best fix for the conditions at the time, when we discovered that blowing perlite insulation into the 4” space between the double walls was a bad idea. Before we got close to filling it up, perlite aspirated out of every minute gap between blocks and window bucks, into the house. We bought the closest caulk to adobe color; but I had to let go of noticing the difference, and call it close enough.
I’m grateful for letting go on days like this, when the internet I pay too much for is down most of the day, the new computer I paid too much for is in the shop for repair after only three weeks, four years of photo libraries are lost from a backup disc that the new computer fried, along with who knows what else. I’m grateful for letting go on other days, too; letting go of little things all along helps cultivate equanimity for when I have to let go of big things.