On Sunday mornings, after breakfast, Aussie gets a big marrow bone. She got an especially big one New Year’s Day. Henry, too, though his is quite a bit smaller, to keep things in proportion. That buys us some quiet time before the morning whining to get going, go for walks and car rides, etc.
One of my favorite sounds in the world is the grinding of Aussie’s teeth against the hard bone behind me, with intermittent loud, lushy licks. If I was to turn around and watch, I’d see her start the operation by standing on her legs and sniffing at the bone, biting and pulling at some errant meat, and finally getting down on her belly to really do the job.
It’s a good time on Sunday mornings.
There are other sounds I don’t like so much, especially Aussie’s whining for no apparent reason. I know the Mmmm! sounds when she’s hungry and it’s time to eat, I know those sounds, accompanied by shiny eyes and a tail wagging furiously, telling me that it’s after mid-morning and when are we going out?
My old dog Stanley used to come up to my office at 5:00 sharp and start whining, and in that case, it meant: Okay, who’s cooking this evening? It’s time to make dinner. He’d walk and whine, walk and whine between Bernie’s office and mine; you could have set your watch by it.
And then there are the whines whose reasons I don’t know. Not so with Henry. Every single one of Henry’s whimperings has one message: There’s a toy in the neighborhood, why aren’t you throwing it?
With Aussie it’s different. She stands alongside my chair and goes into a high soprano Mmmm! I look down at her.
“What is it, Auss?”
“We just came back from a walk.”
“We just came back from the bank and they gave you a cookie.”
“Lots of birds and squirrels for you to chase outside in the snow.”
She doesn’t budge. “Mmmmm!”
I watch the frustration begin to rise up inside. She’s not into ball-throwing or frisbee catching. I can’t let her wander on her own. Do you want a job, I ask her silently? Do you want to be a therapy dog? Do you want to have more to do in your life aside from starring in a blog? I can’t give it that much time, Aussie, I continue, it has to work for me, too.
But the frustration inside continues, mostly fueled by a suspicion that she’s not happy, that I’m not making her happy, that she wants and needs more than I can give.
But this isn’t about Aussie and me, it’s about life and me.
In so many ways I feel not up to things, including those I take on myself freely. In writing, I reach for something and instead cliches come up. It’s a big discipline to find new ways to express old things, some narrow arc of light that illuminates a bigger surrounding.
I can’t possibly respond to the different emails and texts for ideas, help, and support. I have a responsibility to my students, but the world is far bigger than that and multitudes raise their arms and call out, and I feel the limits of my own humanness.
It’s winter now and I’m confronted by immigrant families for whom this is the worst time because farms shut down. Whatever I do—$750 in weekly food cards, cash assistance to meet rent and utilities—doesn’t feel enough. I’m more alert than ever to how much suffering the poor and the elderly have had through covid; the rest of us, including me (am I elderly at 71?), make it through. I probably would have gotten more teaching income if not for covid, but I can live with ease with what I have. They can’t. And the wealthy have gotten far wealthier.
Since turning 70 I have felt a distinct change in my energy level. I sleep more than I used to and there’s not much creativity in the evenings. Bernie let go of so many things even before the stroke; the stroke took most of the rest, and death took what was left.
For the new year I wish myself an end to frustration. An end to expectations and the margin between them and my capacity. I wish for myself to get closer to the earth and nourish it, as do the Sawmill River under our house and the creek that meanders in the woods, rather than walking mightily on my two legs, head up in the sky. Dwell peacefully in my true proportions.
I’ll keep on supporting the immigrant families in our community. But the bigger piece is now more indirect, supporting the peacemakers, supporting the people whose turn it is to do the helping, those who often feel alone and despairing when there’s a call they can’t meet, like Mmmmm! I benefitted so much from my own teacher and husband, and even more from the big international sangha around me. They completely changed my life, and the best thing I can do is try to supply this to others.
Work with quiet focus. Give Aussie her walks and car rides, throw Henry’s stuffed monkeys for him to fetch, keep bird feeders full, and the heart open to the multitude of voices I can’t realistically respond to. Feel that gap, feel that space, don’t let frustration rise to take its place.
Enjoy the sound of canine teeth grinding happily against marrow bones.
A new year.
You can also send a check to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. If the check is for immigrant families, please write this on memo line.