Sunday, January 15, 2012

Watching and Waiting for Winter

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home." (Edith Sitwell)

First things first.  Thanks to all my friends who've sent me kind thoughts and sympathies after reading yesterday's entry about the passing of Buddy.  What you shared with me warmed and comforted me.  I wrote what was in my heart, to both honor Buddy and what he had given me, and also to help me let go of him.  Life, growth, death, happiness, sadness are all just part of the wheel of Life - a cycle we all are a part of.  I also was helped by this excerpt from an article I read this morning from Guy Finley:

Grief has a natural place in our lives. The heart is a beautiful and eternal creature whose wisdom transcends the mind that tries to work its way out of sorrow.  Just as there are seasons on this earth that include the repose and rest of winter, so is there a natural winter of the heart. It is our responsibility to become self-knowing enough -- self aware enough -- not only to recognize the beauty of these seasons of the heart, but to embrace them for the naturally healing, naturally renewing seasons that they are. Sorrow is one of the seasons that we must let run its course.

Just as there are seasons on the Earth, there are seasons in our lives, seasons within our hearts.  There are times when we are green and growing, ripe and fresh; sunny and full of brightness and energy.  And then there are times when we are dry and crisp; dormant and gray; cold and shivering in the dark.  And just as each of the seasons during the year pass, so will these seasons within us, if we work to let them.  To not hold on to the spring of  fresh hopes and plans, or the summer of happy memories - nor to hold on to the autumn of disappointments or unexpected challenges, or the winter of our sorrows and solitude.  It's always good to remember that all of these seasons come and go, inside and outside of ourselves - and if we let them pass, something new can be born.

I loved this little poem.  It summed up beautifully this promise of newness and life within what seems to be cold and dead.

Of winter's lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer's secret
Deep down within its heart.
(Charles G. Stater)

Sorrow has run its course.  Time to move on.

But I'm still waiting on that real winter around here.  Still
waiting for some serious snow around here.  Saw a tiny dusting
of it this morning, but nothing like what we had 5 years ago, as
you can see in the picture.

I want snow.  Serious, heavy, "crunch when you walk in it" snow.
Big, fat, flurries of flakes.  White soft blankets of snow, the kind
that make everything look clean and quiet the world like a
celestial librarian..."Shhhh!"

And what would I do with that snow?

I wouldn't throw it or blow it; shred it or sled it.  I wouldn't feel driven to ski, nor would I leap to luge.

I'd be happy just sitting and watching it.  Watching it paint the world all whispery and white.

I hope it comes soon.  No matter how old you are, there's still something exciting about a "snow day" (that is, if you don't have to go to work!)

Izzy and I will be waiting!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Promise Kept

(Author's note:  I've been carrying these thoughts around inside for a week - just haven't had the time to sit and write them, and perhaps, it was too painful to do so sooner.)

"Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation." (Kahlil Gibran)

Today I said goodbye to a friend.

In many ways, our goodbye was unexpected.  I didn't wake up this morning, knowing it would be the last time I would see you, and I know I wouldn't have ever chosen to be the one to say "It's time we parted".  You were always braver than me.

But you knew it was time.  You had known for a long time.  But you waited:  patiently, courageously, with love, until I also knew, and agreed.

We first met 16 years ago.  You were almost an afterthought at first.  I had my eyes on another, but you had come with them, and we were introduced.  The other asked, "Would you take care of my friend?"  And I promised I would.  I promised to take care of you.  I promised to always give you a home. And I promised that whenever we parted, I would always return - that I would never desert you.   I had never had a friend like you, so I wasn't completely sure what all that meant, but I was willing to learn, and I could sense that there was something special about you.

And though you were young - full of crazy, frenetic energy at times - you also made a promise to me.  Your promise wasn't one of words - since you rarely spoke - but one seen in your eyes, and your actions, day after day, over the next 16 years as we lived together.

You promised to be my friend and faithful companion:  to always be glad to see me when I returned from work, or adventures far away.  You made me laugh when I felt lonely.  You played silly games with me when I was bored.  No matter what I did, you were always interested in it, and willing to "help".  We shared the bohemian life of "bachelors".  We were roommates.  And we became more than friends and companions.

We became "buddies".

And even when, once again, another came into our lives - someone who I gave my heart to completely this time - you didn't complain or mope.  Even when I uprooted both of us and moved us miles away to a new home, and your room and your bed weren't as "luxurious" as before, you didn't complain.  You settled in contentedly - because you had made a promise to me, and I could see in your steady eyes that you meant to keep it.

Because we were "buddies".  And that's what "buddies" do for each other.

The years passed, and as they did, we both began to change.  I lost hair and got skinnier - you seemed to get hairier and "stouter" (we won't use the "F" word!).  I got involved in many new things:  met new people, pursued new interests, traveled to new places, got busy taking care of a new home and a bigger family.  And you seemed to slow down - became less interested in "gallivanting about"; more of a "homebody"; happiest when you could simply sit and watch the world go by.

But you still always got up to greet me when I came home.  You still were always interested to hear what I was up to; always tried to "come along" with me, even when you could only walk a few steps to the end of the driveway to pick up the newspaper with me.  You always let me know that you missed me.

Because we were "buddies" and that was a promise you took seriously.  It was a promise you had made for life.  It was a promise made out of love.  It was a promise, whose value I didn't realize, until it came time for us to say "goodbye".

I woke up today not knowing we would say "goodbye".  We were just going on a short trip, like we had dozens of times before.  We would chat in the car; you would complain a little.  I would try to make you laugh, tell you the trip would do you good, and I'd promise that I wouldn't leave you and that I would return.  But I think, looking back now, that I was deceiving myself.  I did not want to admit that this might be the last time I saw you.  But a part of me knew.  A part of me saw what it didn't want to see - that you were suffering, and that I now had a promise to keep as well.

I had promised to always take care of you - to always give you a home - to always do what was best for you -  and though I had never said it to you directly until today - to always love you.

And I learned something about a promise made - something that you had taught me.

One never realizes that when they make a promise like that - a promise made from love - that if it's genuine, it will require a cost, a sacrifice, a willingness to give of oneself completely to another.  But you knew that.  You taught me that.

So I took you to where I knew we would be parted.  And I sat with you for as long as I could.  I didn't leave, even when my heart was breaking - even when the pain of saying "goodbye" was so bad it left me shaking and crying.  I whispered in your ear, as you gently went to sleep, one last time:  "I'm right here.  I love you.  You have been a good, good friend.  You have been with me through two lifetimes.  I will miss you.  You've been a good boy. I love you, Buddy."

I didn't leave you.  I stayed with you, as you had always stayed with me.  Even though it hurt.  Even though it meant feeling the pain, and the goodness, of letting you go.

And for the last time, you looked at me with your golden eyes and you let me know, that it was OK.  You were ready to go.  You were at peace.  Nothing had changed between us.  We were still "buddies", and we would always be.

Your promise had been kept.  And so had mine.

Buddy when he was about 2 or 3 in our "bachelor pad" (2000)

Buddy doing what he did best - nap (2005)

"King Buddy" surveying his realm (2010)

"Even in your absence, I can feel your presence.  This is how we know true Love." (Guy Finley)

I love you, Buddy.  I will miss you.  But you will always be in my heart.  I promise.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Search Of Joy

"People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy." (Anton Chekhov)

"What Are Five Things in Life that Give You Joy?"

That question stopped me in my tracks.  Left me fidgeting and stuttering like a shy teenage boy, calling a pretty girl to ask her out on a date for the first time (Been there - done that!  I wasn't as "suave and debonair" as I'd hoped I'd be - imagine that!)

The question had popped up on my computer, as I was searching around for an idea to write about.  Seemingly, a simple and pleasant topic to play around with.  "Easy peasy", as a tour guide once said to us.  But as I began to list people, places, things, I began to wonder:  Do these "give me joy"?  Or do they simply "make me happy"?  Or feel "satisfied, content"?  And the more I pondered this, the more I realized that my curiosity in this wasn't just a pedantic pursuit in precision.

What is it that gives me Joy?  "Great pleasure...intense happiness...", as the dictionary defines it.  Shouldn't there be Joy in all of our lives?  Not just " happiness", "contentment", "satisfaction" - though those are all blessings too.  So I wondered what writers in the past had said about the difference between joy and these other sentiments, and here's some of what I found.

"My heart is as full of sunshine as a hay field in July." (Josh Billings, 1818-1885)
"Enjoy life like a young porpoise." (George Santayana, 1863-1952)
"He is as jubilant as a flag unfurled." (Dorothy Parker, 1893-1967)
"His heart...soared like a geyser." (William Peden, 1913-1999)
"My heart lifted like a wave." (Norman Mailer, 1923-2007)

I loved these literary descriptions of joy!  They reminded me of the things in my Life that I truly love, and that reflect that love back to me.

  • My wife:  In just a look from her twinkling eyes, in just the soft, warm touch of her hand; in listening to her read something to me that interests or excites her; whenever I see her enter a room; whenever she tells me how proud she is of me - I feel that geyser, that wave, that warm hay field of joy.  I am that porpoise (or puppy!), "jumping and leaping" in love!
  • Our little dog Izzy:  She so embodies joy, each and every day!  Everything that happens in her day is always new and exciting:  getting up in the morning to "read the paper" with me, snuggled into my lap; she bounces with sheer delight whenever Deborah and I come home; we go for a walk every night, but she acts like we're going on a grand adventure, her tail wagging excitedly as we meander around the block.
And then it came to me.  Where is Joy in my life?  It's present anytime that I'm willing to give myself completely to something:  my wife, a walk with Izzy, a day spent working hard in our yard, writing this entry, running a little bit further at the gym than what my mind tells me I can do; when I'm moved by beautiful music, or a challenging or inspirational talk at class.

Joy is found when I'm willing to "jump in" - when I agree to hold nothing back.

"Joy is not in things; it is in us." (Richard Wagner, 1813-1883)

Remembering that I can find joy in my life anytime I'm willing to do that - "jump into Life" - is a "Pearl" worth putting into my pocket when I return to work tomorrow.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year's Wish

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." (Seneca)

One day a rebellion began to brew in Nature. As is often the case, the rebellion began in something very small, and it began with the word "No".

The tiny tadpole, who in seeing its reflection in the pond, had decided that it had no interest in becoming a frog.  "It's too hard of work to learn how to hop.  Croaking is just silly.  And besides, green is SO not my color!"  And so the tadpole declared it was just going to stay a tadpole, small and shiny.

And soon enough, other creatures, big and small, began to join the tadpole, each uttering a similar complaint.

The leaves announced that they were refusing to fall anymore.  "It's humiliating becoming hummus!", they cried.  "We're staying stuck to our branches from now on!".

And the roses rushed to support the leaves and declared a boycott on blooming.  "We're tired of being picked and plucked and sniffed and snuffed!.  We're just staying tight in our buds until further notice!", they said, making a stink.

The grass also presented its grievance against grazing and demanded that the deer "Leave our leaves alone!"

The filberts told the gray squirrels to go find something else to stash, and the squirrels angrily chattered back, "You're nuts!"

The fish refused to swim upstream anymore.  "Who wants to be batted and bitten by burly brown bears? We'd rather hide than hatch!", the salmon sneered and the guppies griped.

The snow frostily declared a freeze on melting.  The logs snapped, "It's unkind to kindle!" and said they were ignoring ignition until further notice.

Even the seasons joined in.  Winter wouldn't wane.  Autumn announced "It Ought Not".  Spring grumbled about growing one more time.  And Summer said it would rather take a break.

And they all marched off, behind the tadpole, promising to return and change, but only when they were good and ready.

What a crazy, impossible world it would be if this kind of "rebellion" was really possible!  If Life could simply say "I don't like change.  I'm not going to change until I'm good and ready"!

Funny thing is that's what we do in Life so often.  We get stuck in ruts.  And then we find reasons to stay stuck, and explanations why it's too hard to get unstuck.  But in all our stewing and stalling while snared in our "stuck-ness", we forget the greatest power we have.

The power to start over.  Anytime, anywhere that we wish to.

Today in class a student shared the following encouraging reminder from Guy from his book Freedom From the Ties that Bind.

The greatest power you possess for succeeding in life is your understanding that life gives you a fresh start any moment you choose to start fresh. Nothing that stood in your way even a heartbeat before stands there now in the same way. It's all new, even if you can't as yet see it that way. (Guy Finley)

I couldn't think of a better thought, a more precious "Pearl" to begin the New Year with:  the wish to remember this power, born out of a simple choice I can make as often as I wish.  

To start over.

"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth:  not going all the way, and not starting." (Buddha)

Happy New Year in 2012...let the journey begin!