Tag Archive | suffering

Two Down


Ojo cuddling in simpler times, before he started using up his nine lives.

Seven to go. That I know of. But who can know what life-threatening predicaments they get into when they’re out of sight in the wild world? Near-misses with fox, coyote, owl; nasty things they eat and throw up that you don’t see; how many of their nine lives they may have lost that you never knew about.

Election day was stressful enough, but add to that that Ojo cat was fine one hour and the next curled up tight and trembling in pain. As I watched with growing dismay the turning of the planetary tide, I also worried for my little cat’s life.

That crisis was diagnosed as constipation. The vet felt hard feces. Maybe there was another lump even then that she couldn’t feel for the fecal mass. Two days of extra powdered psyllium husk and double doses of laxatone and he was pooping like a champ again and back to running up trees at full speed. Whew! Something went right that week.


You try your best to protect them. You get all their shots on time, you feed them well and monitor the output, you bring them in before dark so they stand a better chance of surviving wild predators. I didn’t let these kittens outside for their first eight months: first one thing and then another made it seem prudent.

Then you go and accidentally leave out an innocuous-seeming pill, and his life is at stake. Last Friday in an awful deja vu Ojo seemed fine first thing in the morning, then became listless, wouldn’t eat, didn’t follow me around talking as usual. I’d better make sure it’s just constipation again, I thought, and took him to Doc that afternoon.

Doc palpated his belly and looked at me gravely. The buzzing started in my head when he said “…Leiomyosarcoma…could have been aggravated by that Advil.” He felt a golfball-size tumor in Ojo’s intestine. The next thing I heard was “blah blah blah exploratory surgery.” He stood there waiting for me to say something. “Now?” I choked out. “Tonight. A week can make a big difference. This is an aggressive cancer, it likes to move around. We’ve got to try to stop it from spreading.”

And so I left my little black cat in a steel cage that afternoon. I drove home without him, thinking A cat is a hole in your heart where you pour money. Also, I kept this in perspective. He is just a kitty; all over the world at this same moment, there are families hearing similar news or worse about their mother or their child. All over the world there are millions of other sentient being suffering atrocities at the hands of humans in their insatiable greed: orangutans slaughtered in the wake of expanding palm oil plantations, human refugees fleeing despots and civil wars, and hate crimes on the rise in our own great country.

So I held my own sadness together until I got home, and then I cried about as hard for an hour as I did the whole day long a week earlier. I find I can have hope in small things, though, and settled myself down more quickly than after my dark day of despair when the election numbness wore off. Doc called later that evening to tell me the tumor was out, he’d resected a small section of bowel, and Ojo was doing well.

My friends held me in their own ways during a nerve-wracking weekend. Diane offered me tickets to the classical concert at the Blue Sage that night for a brilliant performance of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, which I shared with Cynthia, who drove there and back with her heated seats on high, a ridiculously sublime comfort to my fretting soul.



And lest she get jealous of all the attention I’m paying her brother, here is a token photo of Topaz on a typical perch, like any good female cat, looking down on the rest of us.

Doc let me visit Ojo Saturday morning before starting his day full of surgeries and was optimistic, though the cat, to be frank, looked pathetic. Michael picked me up in town and let me play with his kitty while my car was in the shop. Cyn gave up her ticket that night for Brahms and Chopin, and Ellie offered me a seat in the second row (how the fingers flew over the keyboard! how the music moved me). Philip loaned me his car when the key finally refused to turn in my ignition. So much to be grateful for.

I missed him so much the past two nights. He puts me to sleep and wakes me up nuzzling his wet little nose and kneading his velvet paws into the arm I drape around him. When I went to visit Ojo this morning, Doc let me bring him home.

“I think he’ll do better there,” he said. “He just sits here looking around like What’s the plan?

A week ago on FaceTime, I showed Amy Ojo through the window, pawing to get inside. I told her how much it had cost to get him through his Advil-induced kidney failure. “I’d keep that cat inside the house and locked in a box,” she laughed. Well, Amy, this one’s for you:


He only needs to stay in Badger’s crate for a couple of days, I hope, before he can have the run of the house again. He needs to eat incremental small amounts to keep his digestive system moving, but not too much to stress the stitched up bowel. 

“Time will give me answers that nothing else can,” said Doc, when I asked him how we’d know if the cancer has spread. Yes, it always does. Time will give us answers to this, and to the many and much bigger questions that loom over us now. In the meantime, all we can do is love who we love, be grateful for the good in our lives, let the joy and the sorrow rise in and move through us, and offer compassion to those we meet of any species who are suffering.



The Best of Us, the Worst

In which we enjoy a Baked Alaska (which rather resembles some sort of sea creature or astral event) 626 style during a singular lunch.

In which we enjoy a Baked Alaska (which rather resembles some sort of sea creature or astral event) 626-style during a singular lunch.

I drove some friends ninety miles to the big city today, to catch a train. They are on their way to pick up another friend in Denver, who’s just gotten off a ten-day kayak trip down the Gulf of Mexico. When we left, and when we were eating lunch, we hadn’t heard from her; her trip with three others occurred during the windy season, creating five to eight foot waves in the Gulf. We were all a little edgy underneath (and two of us more overtly) because she was supposed to be off the water two days ago. But we anyway enjoyed our lunch out at a fancy locovore restaurant, and I even ate a burger because I was assured it was locally and (essentially) organically-grown beef.

We talked with glee about the gravitational wave news proving something about Einstein and two black holes colliding a billion years ago, and I crowed about my old friend who’d had a hand in it, and then we branched out to apocalyptic meteor and supernova scenarios. We talked a lot, indirectly and directly, about death, with great good humor. We talked about the worst aspects of human nature, and our better animal and spiritual aspects. In the back of our minds was What if she didn’t make it?

She did. She had a fabulous time, I found out later. In the meantime, we parted ways after lunch, and I began a long list of errands. When any of us go to Grand Junction, there is usually a long list of errands: the Liquor Barn which always has the best price on Bombay Sapphire, PetSmart for our dog and cat needs, Vitamin Cottage for the most economical organic groceries, Office Depot… things you can’t get out here in the rural West. I was obligated to attend a Board meeting this evening in another town, and I was trying to hurry through my errands to make it home in time to turn around and head out again.

Leaving PetSmart, at the traffic light by the Mall, I watched a motorcycle police officer pull into the intersection and stop his bike. He dismounted, and his bike tipped over almost knocking him down. He recovered and awkwardly struggled to right the bike, succeeding just as three more motorcycle cops drove past him, followed by a funeral procession. In that way that knowledge dawns on you, not like a bolt of lightning but with a steady sureness that only takes a few more seconds, I recognized what it was, and I began to cry.

Last week a 17-year-old boy, masked and lingering near two schools, shot Mesa County Deputy Derek Greer. The suspect was apprehended; the deputy didn’t die right away, and local news reported that he was being kept on life support in order to complete organ donations. That was the last I’d heard of it a few days ago. When I saw the hearse, the dozens of flashing-light vehicles, black buses, and vans following it, sorrow washed over me. Just so sad. Senseless. I sat there and cried and cried, and thought of that man’s family, and of the kid who’d killed him, and all the suffering rippling out from that singular moment when their lives collided.

I thought of my grandmother’s funeral in Tennessee many years ago. I’d never before seen this: As the small procession we rode in moved through the small town where she had lived for so many years, people stopped on the sidewalks and held their hats over their hearts; they pulled their cars over, got out, took off their hats. They had no idea who this funeral was for; my granny hadn’t lived there for over a decade. They were simply showing their respect for whomever it was, showing their shared comprehension of our mutual mortality.

Then I looked out my right side window, and an older man in the truck next to me was watching me. “It’s that officer,” I said. “I know,” he said. “So sad,” I said. “Yes,” he said. The patrol cars continued to emerge from the curve about half a mile away. The man asked me if I’d heard about the man who was struck by a car last fall, and told me all about it; it was his 58-year-old son, who is still recovering but might lose his leg. So sad. I wished fleetingly that I hadn’t opened myself to this conversation. I’d been immersed in the endless funeral procession, noting the counties heard from, meditating on the range of grief: first dozens of cars from Mesa County, then squad cars from all over the state, Ft. Collins, Parachute, Cedaredge, Adams, Garfield, Rifle, and more, even Moab, Utah.

The procession went on and on. Five minutes, ten, more. Fifty vehicles, seventy, more. A Delta County car (my deputy) pulled up to the motorcycle cop, who mounted and joined the procession. But still more cars came, now interspersed with regular drivers. Our light turned green. People behind us honked and yelled. But the couple of cars ahead of me and my neighbor stayed still and let the rest of the mourners pass before us. I cried again, at the grace these drivers showed. We were all anxious to get somewhere. We were all touched by what we were witnessing, and were in no hurry to interrupt this impressive, heartbreaking display of respect for a fallen officer.

Eventually the procession ended, the green arrow directed us to proceed, and we did. Not a quarter mile on at the next intersection I was startled by the broken siren of an emergency vehicle announcing itself, and to my left, coming down the road that leads from the interstate, was another procession of flashing-light vehicles as far back as I could see, another quarter mile at least. I drove home calmly in crazy traffic. In this vast and incomprehensible universe, I was moved to a sad and tranquil peace by what I had observed, the best of human nature that I’d become a tiny part of in a tiny way.

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

This weekend I camped with a couple of friends, three dogs, and a cat. In some alternate universe it might have been ordinary. Deb and I set off on a long and rich two day adventure three hours away, with my two dogs and diabetic cat and her little dog in the Mothership. We took the turnoff for Cisco, a ghost town in far eastern Utah where river runners take out from Westwater Canyon, the first whitewater stretch on the Colorado River in Utah.

We drove down my favorite highway in the country, Utah 128 along the Colorado River, red rocks, peach rocks, desert varnish, glowing in the rich afternoon light below gathering storm clouds. The muddy river flowed beside us as we drove, and collared lizards basked on boulders beside screaming orange globemallow and yellow prince’s plume, their turquoise scales gleaming in the desert sun.

We met and set up camp with another friend who chanced to be there too, on her way for a rendezvous with her oldest dearest friends. We laughed and talked and caught up, drank wine, laughed some more. Our first morning I drove ahead to secure a campsite in town, and they decided to hike Fisher Towers, a stunning landmark across the road from where we spent the night at Hittle Bottom, a BLM campground on the river.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Several worries had nagged at me. The few days before I set off on any trip unsettle me. I get keyed up. The diabetic cat, the little dog, would that work out in the same small van? The temperature, the weather, would they cooperate with our plan? Would some random tragedy (and here I thought of several specific potential disasters that could) unravel our vacation? No nameless faceless fears for me, mine are all too graphic. Though some underlying anxiety pervades me these days, and I wonder, is it actually increasing or is it simply that my awareness of it grows? Who knows, but I have my suspicions.

And so I found myself driving alone down Utah 128; the red rocks, the river, the winding road itself never fail to soothe me. If it weren’t so bloody hot in summer I would live here. I hummed along the river’s edge through redrock canyons, desert varnish streaking cliffs with iron and manganese oxide, clouds building into tiny thunderstorms on far horizons, walking rains stalking cliffs and canyons, shifting light casting shadows in layers, highlighting first one stunning rock formation then another, quenching rains drenching, cleansing my worries away.

By the time I reached Moab and cellphone reception resumed, I found no loathsome emergency messages, I found the perfect campsite (given the parameters of a commercial RV park), I could breathe. I exhaled, I breathed in, exhaled again. It always takes me a day or two of camping to relax (to let go of the quotidian stressors of my complicated life, to accept the uncertainties of the unpredictable world at large, to forget my seemingly endless responsibilities of managing a household, a livelihood, securing a future) to settle into the immediate impermanence that is the adventure of a road trip.

RV parks are dicey at best when what you prefer is wilderness, solitude, above all space. Or maybe above all shade. I saw one with lots of trees and turned in. The cashier was friendly, spending time with each patron, smiling talking laughing, a beautiful girl of twenty or so and so full of light. I happily waited my turn as she helped Gerhard from Germany check in before me. She said she loved my hat, I said I stole it from a friend, we laughed. She sent me to the perfect spot, large enough for our van and two tents, plenty of shade.

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade...

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade…

...and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

…and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

The Mothership parked with awning extended, the friends arrived and pitched their tents. We ended up with two free spots before us and one behind, lots of space under the circumstances, and a view of the cliffs north of Moab, two shade trees, a fire circle, a picnic table. A fuse was blown in the camper. A minor wrench, I maintained my equilibrium. I walked back to the office for pliers, woefully absent from my toolbox.

Young Katie was walking towards me, clearly shaken. “Are you OK?” I asked. She looked at me, speechless, broken. “What’s the matter?” I reached for her. “I just learned,” she said, “that one of my older brothers hung himself.”

Well. What do you say? What do you do? I held her, she wept, she laid her head against my shoulder. She just found out, a sudden unexpected random life-changing tragedy had befallen her family. None of them will ever be the same. I gave her what comfort I could. She found me some pliers. Once my friend Tom said, “All you can do is practice compassion in the moment, wherever you are, whoever you’re with.”

I felt so keenly for her. How could she know how completely her life had changed? I hope I helped her in that moment. Back at the campsite I told my friends the story. Something dreadful had indeed happened, just not to me and mine. The girls and dogs were safe and well, the cat was fine. I pulled the fuse and found it fried.

In town we found a replacement, and then we drove up into Arches for the afternoon. Two of us had been there before and love it, for one of us it was a complete unknown. I couldn’t shake my sense of Katie’s loss and grief. She had been just minutes before a carefree girl happily doing her job on a beautiful day, and now her life was changed irrevocably. “I didn’t even know there was anything wrong,” she said, wiping her tears. So often we never do.

I have a real issue with suicide. On the one hand, I get it, on the other I can find no excuse. I gave her something to do, finding the pliers, and that maybe helped to ground her. She was self-contained and stoic, and returned to work in the office. Touched by her grief, not my own, I struggled to come back to our day.

As I drove, I had to breathe in that young woman’s suffering and breathe it out, let it go. I had done what I could for her. She needed to get home, be with friends and family. I breathed it in and breathed it out as we drove through the park. My friends’ enthusiasm for the scenery, the drive, the good time we were sharing, and the timeless spectacular landscape all drew me slowly back into our moment, so different now from hers.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

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That night at the picnic table our talk turned to some of the sadder stories in our own lives, suicides of friends and family, abusers we had known and loved and left. We all turned in early to our respective beds, to read and ponder. In the morning overcast and rainy, we drank coffee around the small table in the Mothership, three dogs curled around us and the cat below the bed. Our friend, now dearer, went on her way, and Deb and I packed up the Mothership and came home. It was another good day. Il pleure dans mon coeur, Comme il pleut sur la ville. I know of no one who doesn’t suffer. Sharing our sorrows we sow the seeds of love.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.