I just love reading. I’m grateful that I learned to read when I was three, and that I have loved to read ever since I could. I’m grateful for the SRA reading program I still remember from grade school; though I don’t remember much about it except that it was color-coded and I sped through it faster than any other kid in class. Remarkably, after fifty-five years I still remember its initials, though I probably never knew what they stood for until I just looked it up to fact-check myself. I’m grateful for the Bobbsey Twins and The Borrowers, for L. Frank Baum and all the Oz books, for Narnia; for Charles Dickens and The Three Musketeers and Anna Karenina, and for goddammit Thomas Hardy: I threw The Mayor of Casterbridge across the living room one time when I was home from college. I’m grateful for One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’m grateful for Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich and Chinua Achebe and hundreds of other great novelists. I’m grateful for stories and the ability to read them.
“I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word.”
An Unnecessary Woman ~ Rabih Alameddine
I haven’t been reading as much the past couple of years as I used to all my life, but have found myself in recent months falling back in love with reading and devouring one story after another. I’m grateful for used book stores, library book sales, regular book stores, school book stores, Amazon, paperbacks, hardbacks, holiday book exchanges, mailing books we’ve read back and forth with Chris and sometimes other friends, and for my Kindle paperwhite. I’m grateful that I can check out tangible books from a library ten minutes away, or check out a library e-book online. What a world!
I love reading, especially fiction: I love stories. Loving stories is also why I’m grateful for streaming services and the gazillion options for visual fiction. If I could, I’d do nothing all day but immerse myself in stories. But I can’t so I won’t, and I’ll just be grateful all day every day that I know how to read, and have access to way more stories today than the most obsessed bibliophile could ever read in a dozen lifetimes. So many books, so little time.
Topaz is much happier this evening than she’s been in a month. At five a.m. I startled awake to her hissing and growling at the kittens in their crate downstairs. I tossed and turned for awhile, and tried to call her upstairs. Eventually she came, and let me rub her belly (and finger comb an awful amount of weeds from her fur). It soothed both of us back to sleep. Later in the morning, I delivered the kittens and all their belongings to a shelter staff member who met me in Hotchkiss. I hope Topaz doesn’t think she accomplished this by hissing at them this morning. It was in the works for days.
I’m grateful that mindfulness kept me from locking into a judgmental, agitated assessment of the shelter. Last week I was finally able to speak with the director, who was appalled and apologetic to hear of my unfortunate experience with the foster coordinator, and let me know I wasn’t the only one with complaints. We were able to have a clear, open conversation about all that went awry, and appreciate each other’s honesty and grace. Once the director reassured me that my experience with FC wasn’t characteristic of the shelter as a whole, I was able to examine my motivations and assess more accurately the reality of keeping either or both kittens.
I reflected that when FC had said I should bring them back when they’re two months, because “people are always coming in wanting a kitten,” I had a knee-jerk reaction to the way he had just manhandled them, and thought No way am I bringing them back here. So part of my motivation to keep them was to protect them from him, or from any abuse. Part of my initial motivation for fostering them had been to maybe end up with a kitten, but that was purely a selfish longing. I was able to admit that the one I fell in love with, and would have kept, was the one who died, and I realized as I continued to care for the others, and cuddle them, that–cute as they were–I wasn’t feeling the same connection to them. Also, to think that I was the only person who could give them a good home was just ego.
At the same time, I considered carefully my attention budget and my energy level, and realized I didn’t have enough of either to take on longterm responsibility for another little life. There were numerous pragmatic reasons–including Topaz–to let them go now that they were weaned and active enough to need, and deserve, a lot more space and interaction. Finally, I thought about attachment. It came clear to me that spiritual growth is my highest priority; simplifying my life and letting go, my path.
Buddha advises us to relinquish attachments, knowing that all things are impermanent and that clinging brings suffering; and knowing that at the end, whenever that comes, we all have to release our attachment to our own life. So by practicing letting go of attachments as we age, especially to things we care about, we can practice for the ultimate letting go, and die with grace and ease rather than fear and suffering. With this in mind, I’ve already begun giving away some valued heirlooms to younger family members, and being more generous with other things as well. So I looked hard at my attachment to having a kitten (or two), and it vaporized. I looked at my attachment to outcome, also, and understood that even if I kept I could not prevent them from coming to a sad end (like Ojo). Understanding the shelter conditions and policies–they would be housed together and given daily affection and enrichment activities (like training to high-five), and there is a comprehensive vetting process for adopters–I was able to release my fears for their future.
And so it came to pass that this morning, on my way to get my second Covid booster, I handed off the precious little beings with sincere gratitude for all that I learned from the experience, from how to bottle-feed kittens (which might come in handy some other time) to the importance of understanding, patience, and letting go, and lots of insights in between. I am at peace having made a wise choice, Wren misses them, and Topaz is delighted. I hope she doesn’t think she can get rid of Wren the same way!
I’ve been fascinated by the art of Bonsai since I was a child. I’m grateful that my mother brought awareness of this art, as she did many other arts, into my life. Most of my adult life I’ve kept a variety of trees and shrubs, mostly jades, in miniature, but never really learned the skills of Bonsai. The attraction has intensified in the past few years, and I’ve started several bonsais in training, including a couple of French lilacs, a pink honeysuckle, lemon geranium, culinary sage, and my pride and joy, a redwood. After hearing a friend in Australia wax eloquent about the fragrance of the jasmine hedge outside her house, I ordered a jasmine bonsai which arrived yesterday. I’ve always loved the scent of jasmine, too, and long intended to have one potted in the house. It’s not blooming at the moment, of course, and arrived dry but not desperate. It seemed like the perfect splurge.
I’m grateful to know about Bonsai, to have seen several astounding Bonsai shows and collections through the years, to have the facility and leisure to pursue this interest; grateful for the whisper of mortality to motivate me to get on with it already, and ramp up my focus on this pastime. Pastime. Pass time. Past time. No time like the present. Passing time, not killing, wasting, or spending it. Choosing to pass my time among yet more living beings, with the art of miniature trees. Why not? I’m grateful for choice, internet ordering, transport services, and other people with similar interests; grateful to live in a world where, all other things being as they are, I’m able to derive some small pleasure and satisfaction from a few little potted trees that conditions have allowed to take root in my house. I think Jasmine will be very happy here. I look forward to potting down some of the trainees this fall, and setting up a dedicated bonsai table in the sunroom for winter.
This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.
I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.
I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.
I haven’t gotten one yet – I’m too young! – but I know a lot of people who have. I hang out with older friends, alway have. I’m an old soul. Hee! Well, whatever the reason, a lot of my friends are over 65, over 70, over 75, and a lot of them have gotten their shot or shots. I signed up on the county waiting list yesterday. The group I’m assigned by age is supposed to start getting shots in the next week or two. I’m not chomping at the bit for it, but I’ll be glad to get it. It will be the first adult vaccination I remember taking. I’m not anti-vax, I got them all when I was young, and I turned out okay. Despite having the measles, Rubella, scarlet fever, and some other stuff. I was exposed to TB quite young, resulting in a permanent positive test and more chest x-rays than were good for me, until I put my foot down and said, No more!It’s just the way it is!
That might have been an early case of my accepting things the way they are: While I still fought most things I couldn’t control, I did accept that I would always test positive for TB, that I couldn’t donate blood because of that, that I couldn’t pursue a Hospice career, that my lungs would always be a little bit more vulnerable than most. Anyway, I’ve gotten my fair share of vaccinations: I remember eating sugar cubes for polio, and how we used to compare smallpox scars on our upper arms, for years, decades, after we got our smallpox inoculations, so much more than a simple stick in the arm! I don’t think I can see mine anymore, can you? But I have never gotten a flu shot, or yet a shingles vaccine. However, I’m getting in line for a Covid vaccination.
It won’t ameliorate my vigilance overnight, or likely ever, but it will give me a sense of some shielding when I have to go out in public. Hopefully I won’t get so stressed about going to the Crawford post office, or the idea of setting foot in Hotchkiss City Market, both notorious for maskless customers. Having the vaccine in me will allow me to relax more when someone comes over for some reason, and maybe let me host a cookout or two this summer, or even some retreats. A majority where I live don’t take it seriously. I do. And I’m grateful that most of my friends have gotten one or both of their shots and are safer, and that I’m next in line, and that science prevailed in last year’s battle of world views, so that finally vaccines are pouring into circulation, and most people I care about have the good sense to get them. I can only pray that our good choices on our own behalf are sufficient to stem the spread of Covid19 and save at least ourselves.