Friday, June 29, 2012

Missing Sadie

I haven’t been on the computer very much this week. My sweet dog Sadie died peacefully in my arms at the vet’s office last Sunday. I miss her. Those of you who have lost dear pets know how it is. Every time I walk into the living room, I expect to see her on the couch. I still hesitate to put the trash can on the floor. I still make sure the gate to the back yard is securely fastened. We build habits around the people and pets we live with. When someone is gone, it takes awhile to fill in that space.

There is a story about a man and his dog that die at the same time. He finds himself standing at the pearly gates looking through to what appears to be paradise, but the gatekeeper won’t let him take his dog in with him. The man chooses not to enter what he believes is heaven. He goes on down the road and comes to a modest farm. The old man sitting at the gate tells him he and his dog are welcome. In response to the man’s questions, the old man says that this is heaven. The first place up the road was hell.

That’s how I look at it, too. If there is life after death, and if we really do get to see our loved ones again, then I hope that Sadie and Sam (the canine love of my life) will be waiting for me. In the meantime, I hope they have met each other and are romping in fields full of angel children to play with and squirrels to chase. Hmm, that might be hell for the squirrels.

[Someone told me that the man and dog story is based on a Twilight Zone episode. No, not the vampire saga. Twilight Zone was a TV series when I was growing up.]

related posts: Dog is God Spelled Backwards; Canine Theology

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Give You My Shoes!

When I was a little girl, I enjoyed reading Reader’s Digest. I liked the stories about real people who did heroic things. (I still like these stories.) One story made such an impression on me that I remember it after all these years. The details are fuzzy, but the impact is fresh.

As I recall, the story took place in a Muslim country, somewhere on a beach. A local woman was walking along the beach in a tourist area with a male companion from America. The account of what happened was written by the man.

As they strolled along an isolated stretch of sand, carrying their shoes in their hands, they were suddenly accosted by a group of robbers brandishing knives. The thieves circled them and demanded their money and valuables, including their shoes. The man described his terror as he imagined his imminent painful, bloody death, and his helpless failure to protect his friend. As he fumbled with trembling hands to get his wallet out and remove his watch, his female companion drew herself up and faced the leader, who towered over her.

Her eyes blazing, she looked him in the eye and said, “You may not steal from me. Allah forbids it. I give you my shoes as a gift to save your soul. May Allah have mercy on you.”

I have no memory of why this big ol’ scary, knife-wielding man would want a pair of women’s shoes, but there they all stood, the robbers momentarily flummoxed by this tiny woman defiantly thrusting her shoes toward the leader.

Her horrified companion held his breath, certain it would be his last. After what seemed like forever, the leader lowered his knife. I don’t remember what he said to the woman, but he called his band of thieves away and left the two of them unharmed and unrobbed.

In a similar scenario, I read about a Tibetan monk who was crying as he was being tortured by Chinese soldiers. When one of his tormentors ridiculed him for his tears, the monk explained that he was crying out of compassion because of all the bad karma his captors were creating for themselves.

In a very different scenario, I walked into my living room one morning years ago and startled a teenaged boy I knew from the neighborhood. He had come in through a door I thought I had locked, and was standing there going through my purse. Fueled by adrenaline, I screamed at him to get out of my house. (I can’t print what I actually said.) He immediately dropped everything and ran out the door and down the street.

Emboldened by his reaction, I shouted at him from the front porch, demanding that he return while I called the police. When he kept running (what a surprise), I grabbed my keys and, clad only in my robe, jumped in the car and gave chase. Thank goodness he veered off the street and ran between two houses before I could run him over. To this day I wonder if I would have.

He was caught soon thereafter and I testified against him at his preliminary hearing. I remember how angry I was, how much I wanted him punished. I’m sorry about that now. I’m not sorry he was caught, or that he brought legal consequences upon himself. I’m sorry about what was in my heart. And what wasn’t in my heart. There was no compassion or forgiveness, only a craving for vengeance.

Anger always masks fear. When I look through my rage, I can see how vulnerable I felt when I came upon him in my home, especially since I had undressed and only had my robe on. I was afraid he might have hurt me. Somehow I felt embarrassed that I had left the door unlocked and “allowed” this to happen. Maybe I even felt ashamed. My anger, on the other hand, gave me a feeling of power and invincibility, long after the threat was over.

Even when we are “righteous” in our anger, what does it serve? The heart of the woman on the beach and the spirit of the Tibetan monk were untouched by the harmful intentions of their attackers. Who, then, was truly invincible?

related posts: Calling for Love; Righteous Unforgiveness

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Choosing to Thrive

Yield and overcome
Bend and be straight

–Tao Te Ching

I spent a lovely weekend at my mountain cabin recently. The cabin sits in dense forest just above a rushing creek. On the far side of the creek is a ridge, which keeps that side of the creek in shade for much of the day.

When I’m at the cabin, I spend a lot of time at the creek. I like to have my morning tea sitting on its bank. On a hot day, I stay close to the creek. The water comes from melting snow further up the mountain. The icy temperature creates natural air conditioning above the dancing race of sparkling froth.

Over a year ago, sudden warm weather after a heavy snow flooded the creek. Boulders and trees swept downstream like thundering herds of buffalo. Afterwards, I saw that a birch tree on the far side of the creek had toppled over. It lay balanced on several rocks just above the water, its base hidden in the underbrush by the creek’s edge. Over the winter, it looked just like the other logs and driftwood scattered along the banks.

But with spring came a surprise...

Please click here to read the rest over at MakeGirlfriends. Even though Nancy's blog is MakeGirlfriends, you "boys" are welcome to come along, too!

related post: Bloom Where You're Planted

Monday, June 18, 2012

Guided Tour

The following is a post from last summer. Since the season of summer travel has begun, I thought it would be fun to revisit the idea of taking someone on a guided tour of our lives. I hope you will share some of your tour highlights in the comments!

This last weekend, I had company from out of town. My visitor was someone who lived across the street from me in Memphis when we were kids. He and his sister were part of a group of kids with whom I played and rode bikes. We had not seen each other since our early teens and had not stayed in touch until last year when our paths crossed in cyberspace.

He now lives in New Orleans, and until this weekend, had never been in the Northwest, which is about as far away from New Orleans in every sense as one can get in the continental US. So for three days, I was his guide, giving him his first impression of the place I have called home for twenty years. I wanted him to see the beautiful scenery of course, but I also wanted him to understand something of the culture here, the inner workings of this city and this region.

Although I never take my life here for granted, being a tour guide for a newcomer gave me the opportunity to look at my home with fresh eyes, to voice what I appreciate about living here, to share my enthusiasm about my life here. As the days went by, I found myself more consciously aware of what was best about the place. Oh, there are faults to be sure, and I didn’t deny them, but I wanted to put my city’s best foot forward, so to speak. And as I did so, I was filled with tenderness and love and gratitude for this community which welcomed me with open arms all those years ago.

It occurred to me that we might awaken this same tenderness and compassion for ourselves by a similar process. If you were going to take someone on a guided tour of your life, what would it look like? If you wanted someone to understand and appreciate who you are, what would you say?

Many guide books include sections on history, culture, places to see, and things to do. A guide book for our lives could include these same sections. What are the significant events in your history? What are your qualities and values that would help someone understand who you are today? Are there any customs or taboos that a visitor should know about? And what are the best things about you, the things you would want someone to be sure to see? Don’t forget that guide books include things to do that are fun! What would someone enjoy most about you?

If you have time and are so inclined, I invite you to be a tour guide for your own life. You could write a guide book or just jot down some notes. Or you could simply think about it. My hope is that a fresh look at our lives in this way will awaken compassion for ourselves. There is a saying that charity begins at home. Compassion does, too. Experiencing compassion and appreciation for ourselves will spill over to others as well.

Enjoy your tour!

Related post: First Date

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quotes of Joy

I’m going to be away from the computer for a few days, so I thought I would invite all of you to share your favorite quotes about happiness and joy in the comments. I will publish the comments just as soon as I get back on Sunday.

I’ll start with a few of my own favorites.

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. –Buddha

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. –Psalm 118:24

Oh, be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. –Henri Frederic Amiel

What about you? What are your favorites?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Problem Solver's Problem

I’m a problem solver. For most of my life, I have viewed this as one of my greatest strengths. And it is. Except when it isn’t.

If my problem is that I’m out of clean socks, then I can solve it by doing the laundry. But if my problem is that my son is autistic, then try as I might, and try as I did for years, I cannot solve it. Years of various therapies improved my son James’s life, but they did not cure what I saw as the problem of his autism.

The problem with my problem solving approach in that situation is that I saw his autism as a problem, a problem with one solution which was to make him not autistic. When I couldn’t solve the problem, I saw myself as a failure. So then I had a son who was not “okay” and I wasn’t okay, either.

I’ve come to understand that there are limits to problem solving as an approach to every challenge. As Pema Chodron says, “Problem solving is based first on thinking there is a problem and second on thinking there is a solution. The concepts of problem and solution can keep us stuck in thinking that there is ... a right way and a wrong way.”

Chodron suggests a different approach, one that focuses on “working with rather than struggling against.”

My epiphany regarding this approach came from none other than James himself, who observed one morning, “It’s great to be James!” Wow. James never saw his autism as a problem. He never saw himself as not okay.

Eschewing a right/wrong, problem solving approach to challenges requires a relinquishment of control, a willingness to keep an open mind, a tolerance for not knowing what will happen. And sometimes a humbling of the ego.

I’m still a problem solver. But I’ve learned that my problem solving skills are useful in some situations and not in others. I’m still learning to tell the difference.

Enlightenment is the ego’s ultimate disappointment. –Chogyam Trungpa

related post: Joy in the Morning

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pinocchio's Wish

A boy went to a restaurant with his parents. When the server asked him what he wanted, he ordered a hot dog and a soda. His mother quickly said, “Oh, no, he’ll have the skinless chicken breast with vegetables.” His dad added, “And milk instead of soda.” The boy looked crestfallen. The server paused, then turned to the boy. “Would you like relish on your hot dog?” she asked. After she left the table, the boy was beaming. “Did you see that?” he exclaimed. “She thinks I’m real!”

When I heard this story, I thought about how often I run roughshod over people’s feelings. Not because I’m mean, but because I’m distracted or in a hurry, or because I think I know better.

The boy’s parents were presumably thinking about their son’s nutritional health when overriding his order. But his response goes beyond physical nutrition to nutrition of the soul. Just like the wooden puppet Pinocchio, who wished to be a real boy, we all want to be recognized as real. We want to be listened to. And valued. And cared about.

That server probably didn’t get a big tip from those parents, but, like the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, she granted the boy’s wish for something more important than a hot dog.

related post: That Man Might Be Jesus

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Take Your Medicine!

A cheerful heart is good medicine. –Proverbs 17:22

One spring years ago, I was talking to the child psychologist who worked with my autistic son. I was going over several therapeutic program options for the summer. One option I dismissed quickly by saying, “This one would just be fun.” The doctor leaned forward until he was sure I was paying attention and said slowly and deliberately, “”

I guess all those years of training paid off for him, because that was one of the smartest things I ever heard.

Click here to read the rest at Growing Old with Grace.

related post: Fun is Good!