“Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic” –Van Morrison
Into The Mystic
“Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic” –Van Morrison
Into The Mystic
Around two thousand four a song by Pat Green “Wave on Wave” was overplayed on the radio and music video channels. I find it to be a nice easy going, feel good kind of song. I noticed that Sarrah also seemed to like this song and one day asked her a line from it “Am I the one you were sent to save?” She gave me a quick wry glance and then that sort of ‘parenting look’, as if to say “You know the answer” (she gave me the same look every time I asked that question). After that day, every time the song played, we made eye contact and smiled. Years later, I downloaded it onto my iphone so we could hear it frequently, whenever the mood struck or the need arose.
Recently I heard Dean Koontz reading his book (on DVD) “A big little life” sharing a similar experience with his dog. He also touched on a belief held by some that dogs contain reincarnated beings, or souls. I, like him am not sure about this, but then I again I do not have ‘the answers’.
A couple of business collaborations ended over a three-year span. One ended well having run its course, just a few months prior to the music stopping. The later fell to the circumstances, making it time to pick up and try again. I had seen glimpses of ‘the writing on the wall’ for quite a while in my handwriting (this is an example of where stubbornness isn’t always a quality) and knew that I needed to cause the latest change and jump into the pile of challenges that it takes, to move on. My human battery would not hold a charge and I sensed that this change should be done while I still had my four-legged assistant, before I would not be able to rise out of bed, let alone to the occasion. It was time to recycle my crippled career, in a new direction, with a new group, one more time. Sarrah was eleven and half years old at this time with most of her life in the past and the dark cloud that all animal people are aware of, but try to ignore, was getting closer.
A working week alone with Sarrah at the Beach House in the late winter of Two Thousand Ten gave me time to do many things, one of which was to finally embrace this conclusion and scrounge up the energy required to get on with it. While there I did some of the things that ease my mind, forms of what I suppose are mediation. We walked many miles on the beach, through the dunes and down the roads. The weather cooperated so I rode my motorcycle daily, around the community and the rural roads. Most importantly, I simply sat in the sunshine with my best friend and watched her nap. At each day’s end, we walked to the beach to watch the sun disappear into the ocean. Every evening I watched my favorite movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian”. This was my first lone stay at the Beach House. The quiet time alone was good for me and I feel fortunate that Sarrah was with me for this experience.
Shortly after returning, I met with another group who had expressed an interest in me, made ‘The Change’ and began the next chapter of my tired, working life story. Around this time a movie titled “The Weary Kind” came out along with a soundtrack of the same name by Ryan Bingham that felt like a fitting battle song for the times (especially the lyrics “Somehow this don’t feel like home, anymore” and “Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try”), Sarrah and I listened to this tune every morning as we rallied to fight on another day.
Like an early morning drunk, after having sat all night at a gaming table in the dark corner of a garish smoke stained casino, it seems that I had played this game too long. Perhaps like most games, if you are distracted in the process of playing them well and lose track of time, you will eventually lose. I guess sooner or later we all lose, Everything.
To borrow yet again from Don Henley, in his song The Heart of the Matter “The more I Know, The less I Understand” rings true for me, again. Our dispiriting American economic meltdown also known as “The Great Recession” started for me and much of the residential real estate construction related world, in the fall of Two Thousand Eight. My customer base was exclusively new construction driven and all caught up in the terminal economic tsunami. I had earned a decent living for years prior to this carelessly fueled real estate lending boom, rode the waves along with the new “gold rush feverists” throwing up not so little boxes on the hill side and now continue to struggle in the rip tide with those who remain. Most people that I know were greatly financially impacted, many were annihilated. All have been battle scarred. And the nightmare is far from over.
“…And I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old…” –Van Morrison
Into The Mystic
I live in a damaged body that cannot, will not, forgive the pain. There is an ancient Asian philosophical analogy pertaining to dealing with chronic pain known as “Chasing the Dragon’s Tail”. Basically, as therapy improves one area of a body, the pain moves on to another area (or becomes more noticeable), and another, and… therefore one is chasing the tail of a dragon. The Dragon that followed me home primarily Lingers low in my back, Crawls… along… my spine and occasionally Jumps up, into my neck. Through a few tough turns and some rough life choices, my body had become older than it appeared. Then in the fall of Two Thousand Five, a few weeks before my fortieth birthday, a Car Crash due to the negligence of another became an exclamation point! at the end of that statement. This vehicular fiasco: damaged my spine, jaded my mind and changed life. Fortunately for All, Sarrah was not along.
My daily window for working out in the morning had been broken by another, becoming a dark cold opening for my painful routine that I have referred to as “Slow Dancing with My Bitch” (Bitch as in Dragon, not Dog), turning my basement home gym into a dungeon where I now commune with my Dragon.
Around four in the morning my day slowly starts. Typically consisting of at least one pot of strong coffee, a coating of my new menthol based “signature scent” from my growing collection of varied pain ointments, balms, gels, creams or crème and stretching in attempts to break ‘the rust’ loose and prepare for yet another day. My stretching is an evolving routine from old wrestling and martial arts prep, physical therapy, yoga and some other assorted contortions as recommended from my various therapists’ (often simply laying in repose with my back flat on the floor listening to the old mechanical clock tick, paying homage to my Dragon, while waiting for the mix to ‘kick in’). On my worst days I’d mostly just lay on the floor, Sarrah would often forego her bed and lay next to me in a quiet kind of solidarity. She would lie still on her side, pressing her back up against me as if to share some energy. Whether or not Sarrah knew this would help or if she was simply bonding with me, I believe that these moments were proof that she knew that I needed her. Then around seven o’clock, my work beckons, whether I feel up for it or not.
Shopping for and finding a replacement vehicle, one that met the needs of an injured driver (with a dragon), was not easy. Financially times were good so affording a new Sport Utility Vehicle with a smoother ride was possible and appeared to be the best choice. I got a better one that exceeded all needs and even came with a few luxuries. One of the best sought out and included options being a rear area climate control feature, for Sarrah and passengers. I could now accommodate the back by heating it without breaking a sweat up front or cool her without getting frostbite. I added a remote start with a built in shutoff timer which allowed for bringing Sarrah on the severe weather trips, the kind that she previously couldn’t safely participate in. These options and along with a significantly larger rear cargo area, were immediately noticed and greatly appreciated by my copilot.
Due to the damage, my new inability to sit semi-comfortably for more than an hour requires frequent stops, along the way. When going to the beach, we utilized all of our frequent places and then some. Sarrah unwittingly delighted in this, so I chose to think of it as making these breaks for her.
Through the first year I had three to five sessions of therapy (physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and a variety of torture treatment done by my neurologist) every week. Each typically one hour long, with an average drive time of another hour. In the second and third years I continued with one to three sessions of therapy per week. From the fourth year on I typically feel best if I have one session of therapy per week. All of this displaced work time, which in turn stole from my free time. Sarrah’s presence and daily needs kept me getting out of bed and walking, despite how I felt, which was undoubtedly the best therapy of all.
Sarrah went to all but a few of the nastiest (where I could not drive myself) therapy sessions with me. She was always up for “a ride in the car”; to her they were all just another potential for adventure. My cohort would patiently wait in our vehicle, bark at those who were deemed a threat and mostly just snooze on her fixture ‘car dog bed’. Before or afterward we always found a park, path or grounds worthy of a dog’s curiosity to check out the local ‘hood and walk off the day.
After acupuncture we would walk around Anderson Park, across the street in Redmond. I had visited this park a few times over thirty years ago, as a kid with my Grandparents who lived in Fall City, the next town down the road. This was a sort of hybrid gift: a stroll back in time, a therapy walk off and simply some good sniffing in return for waiting. Now walking this park has another dimension to my mental time travels.
When Johnny Cash covered the song “Hurt” I had an instant connection with much of it, particularly the line “…I hurt myself, today, to see if I still feel…” and the somber vibe that he delivered it with. Soon after, I started playing it on the return trips after acupuncture and any other form of therapy that hurt.
In the third or fourth year after this crash, I wrote something and kept it in my mostly semi-scientific “pain journal” (a record that I keep to track what works, what does not, et cetera), this entry was on a loose undated page. My brain dropping was “When you’re done wrestling with all of the emotions and embrace the reality that you’ll never feel ‘good’ again, clarity returns”. Apparently frustration from unrealistic positive thinking, gave way to acceptance of realistic thinking. Or perhaps accepting my Dragon, instead of trying to kill it, made it become a better companion.
After almost five years of treatments and the best efforts toward “soft tissue” healing the final “Official Medical Evaluation” of my body after this misadventure was “Thirteen Percent Impairment of a Whole Person.” As much as I wished for this to stop, for my body to bounce back, that some trained professional would have the answer, a magical cure. Or that time would befriend me and just lead my dragon away. This was it, the black and white summation of a chapter in my life, with an affected future shadowed between the lines.
Through the first five plus years of this “slow dancing meditation” Sarrah was always there to give me a daily boost with a cold nose and a gentle forehead nudge to my neck as if to say “Come-on Buddy”, which usually worked and eventually we would go for a walk.
Another theft came in the form of diminished energy and tolerance, for almost anything. It consumes a lot of energy to keep pain in check and function, trying to do what you once took for granted. While digging for something positive in all of this and hopefully gain anything to hold onto. I suppose a small seed might be a touch of understanding and more compassion for those who live with relentless pain, like Leah’s grandmother.
It is my casual understanding that meditation comes in a variety of forms in addition to the traditional seated pose. Walking, even cleaning, yard work and gardening are a few. I believe the basic essential components are peaceful surroundings and a stillness of mind. I would like to add (if it is not commonly believed already) spending mellow time with a special animal to the list of accepted forms of meditation. Now, in Sarrah’s physical absence, I find myself drawn more to the other forms in which I participate. My need for quiet time has significantly grown, despite the frequent hollow ache, I seem to crave silence.
My aging Dragon is heavier and cantankerous! It does not like the cold, loathes an erratic barometer and has become a little unpredictable. It can actually be quiet and leave me alone or more often Grab me by the throat. One thing is certain; she is my mine and will be with me, forever… feeding on my Qi.
As if quietly nudged, the desire came to preserve what I can recall from the life of Sarrah, the cute little spotted dog that invaded, influenced and ultimately improved my life.
A few days ago my work took me out to look at a house in Belfair near the Hood Canal, then to another at the north end of Bainbridge Island. On this long drive I was painfully missing my road trip partner and thinking about how much she would’ve delighted in the adventures of that day. Inevitably she’d have spotted a park, given me “the look” in my rear view mirror, started to use one or more of her many whines, growls, barks or howls from her large vocal repertoire (she reserved snorts for the rare occasion when there wasn’t enough time to stop) and we would have embarked on another new earthen gift, which busy people drive right on by. Around noon I stopped at Fay Bainbridge State Park to enjoy a sun break, walk around the grounds and along the beach with the spirit of my dog. Walking amongst the drift logs on a trail from the grassy area to the beach brought back flashes of choices that Sarrah would’ve made, from youthfully bounding over obstacles to maturely-taken steps of avoidance. Reflections of her dancing with the waterline, inhaling everything and even pawing at decay – played though my mind. But the solitude of this walk on the opposite side of our lobe of the Puget Sound was quieter, colder and lonelier than my memories.
On this day, March Eighth Two Thousand Eleven, while returning on a ferry I decided to write my story about Sarrah recalling and reflecting on our intertwined lives. . I chose a strong craft beer and a hard seat in an empty section. Between sips and glances at passing scenery; words spilled onto my graph paper. Surprisingly, this literary epiphany instantly made me feel a little better. Whether it’s ever finished or shared with anyone remains to be seen and completely irrelevant to me, at least at this time.
Could this form of expression be a sort of therapy?
Or, will it push me over an edge?
I recall hearing a theory that a portion of grief is an unconscious fear or dread of losing one’s memory(s) associated with what was lost. Perhaps grief forces the brain to focus on and emblazon cherished memories in order to strengthen them against the inevitable erosion of time. Wouldn’t it be sweet if the greater purpose of trudging through this dank pile of emotions was actually beneficial?
Like most people in midlife, this is not my first beating from the monster we simply call “Loss”. A couple of years ago I heard the actor Brad Pitt (in an interview pertaining to his efforts in rebuilding New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina) recall an old saying “The Greater the Love, the Greater the Loss.” I don’t recall the specifics of what he was referring to, but I can still hear him saying these words and feel their weight. Our world is full of tragedy and horrific loss, much more than we can imagine, until it pointedly affects us personally. Though my current experience pales to many, to me it serves no purpose to neither compare nor compete (with others or within ourselves) on these differing events. Each of us are affected by many different living beings and in turn, by their matters of mortality.
I think about Sarrah often, throughout each day. And don’t wish to feel worse because of my feelings nor concern others who might fear that “I can’t let go” or “Move on” from my grieving. Some may be worried that I might replace my lost companionship by seeking refuge within the wilder side of life and keeping a bottle nearby as I did in my early twenties while dealing with the young relationship of my daughter, as it withered before it took root. Like plants, some relationships can Miraculously come back to life if one is very lucky and stubborn enough to feed and water occasionally.
Or that I will delve into another endless labyrinth of excessive work to fill my void, as I did in my late twenties after my brief marriage disintegrated. The lyric from my favorite song by The Eagles “Desperado” comes to mind “….Don’tcha draw the Queen of Diamonds boy, she’ll beat you if she’s able…”
A seemingly hidden gift out of this immeasurable loss appears to be the unveiling of a new series of coping tools, unused in this way, by me, prior to now. A yellowed old fat dictionary, relic tape-recorder, worn mechanical pencil, new smooth flowing pens and cool computer keys will be my companions as I wade thru and attempt to let this out. It seems that a special dog can teach an old boy, a new trick.
Like before… I will work hard through the pain and hoist a few glasses to celebrate the survival of yet another day, but plan to lean most heavily on these writing instruments for balance. Hopefully crafting something stronger than time and worthy of pride.
As feelings flow and memories surface I’ll attempt to capture them by starting with “Brain Droppings” on paper. Over time sweep them into piles like bits of sea glass and arrange them into sentences while watching them mosaic…into paragraphs. Eventually shuffling paragraphs into chapters sprinkled with a few treasured pictures, creating a record of Sarrah’s life with me. My main purpose of collecting these moments on paper, is to preserve some of my many fond (and a few less than wonderful) memories of her for solace, as I try to move forward in my life without her, here. Maybe I can repair myself through gradually wrapping the shards of my fractured heart back together, in layers of weathered paper softened by tears and covered with words from reflections of brighter days.
Perhaps I am grappling with a bout of depression, but I have a level of peace with this probability knowing that Sarrah deserved a person who would struggle in a world without her. If nothing else, spending time with this self-imposed writing assignment gives me an excuse to let my mind wander in the past, while trying to stumble along in a fog as I seek a path into my future.
Lately, people often ask “Are you going to get another dog?” and I struggle with this issue each time I hear it. Initially I wanted to strangle people who asked me that, especially while Sarrah was still alive, failing… but alive. Now, each time it’s just another Punch to a wound that won’t seem to heal.
For many reasons I make myself walk on our old usual route, most days. The obvious motivation for me getting outside and walking is a feeble attempt to retain some fitness, mental and physical. After all, if one doesn’t over think it, walking is good.
As the seasons change I encounter more “fair weather” people out walking who’ve noticed that I’m alone and many ask “Where’s your dog?” These questions feel like slow Scratches to my wound, some deep, others faint depending on their chosen words and reaction(s) to how I answer their painful question.
One warm day an elderly lady, who lives about a half-mile to the south, asked the dreaded question.
She replied, “Oh I am so sorry” and then proceeded to tell me how she’d recently lost her poodle.
“He was ready, he just stopped eating.”
As I started walking away after saying, “Sorry.”
She surmised, “Maybe people should learn from their pets.”
I half-smiled and replied, “Perhaps.”
I know that all of these questions come from good people with simple curiosity, but interestingly it also makes me wonder how often a few quick words out of my mouth have inadvertently touched others, with a sore note. Perhaps we’d all benefit from more pause-induced thought and fewer spoken words.
Despite the overwhelming crushing feelings of late, I would never go back and undo having her in my life. So these are logical questions, but logic and feelings…collide. I do not know, can’t even think about, having another dog in my life at this time.
Dean Koontz, in his book “A big little life” wrote that “It took he and his wife eight month’s to ‘have the courage’ to get another dog.” In my case it’s probably strength, or lack of. Another emotion could be fear that a new dog would chase away my fond memories and the spirit of Sarrah. Regardless of whether or not another dog ever enters into what’s left of my life, this story is about the wonderful spirit that lived in a little dog and the gifts of life that she shared with me and others.
On Sarrah’s last morning here, I freed her from the collar that she loathed and placed it on the head of my cement gargoyle that resides on a cedar stump in the backyard. It remains an evolving contrast – a shining chrome chain becoming a halo of rust.