I have to admit to you that there are days when I rely on my crazy dogs to remind me what it is to feel alive.

The other day I walked with them along a pond, Harry skipped close to the water and fell in. He clambered up, water dripping from his whiskers, and I laughed. He grinned. No face-saving devices, none of that I’m still tough, don’t make fun of me, routine. He grinned and I laughed. Moments of spontaneous connection.

Other days I feel groundless. In Zen cosmology that’s considered a good thing, seeing that things lack their own permanent identity and substance and instead co-arise and fade with everything else. But this groundless hasn’t felt good.

Left to my own devices at home, I walk from room to room and feel that nothing is really important. I have my discipline, the things I have to do, but there’s little enthusiasm. I feel wide awake and asleep all at the same time.

I know the explanations. It’s not just that Bernie and I were married, it’s that we were in the same world, the same group of people, the same work. At every dinner we talked about Zen Peacemakers or Greyston or people we cared about. I worked hard to have my own life, and to some extent succeeded. But there’s no denying that our lives were enmeshed, that we talked the same language and loved the same things day in day out. After his stroke, when he needed care, our days became even more enmeshed.

So when I walk around the house and wonder who I am now that he’s gone, who and what is this person that’s survived, surrounded by trees and troubled by a malfunctioning car, nothing brings me back to life like the dogs.

I saw Aussie through the office window walking towards the backyard gate. I watched her probe the ladder that I’d laid down horizontally against the gate. She sniffed the rungs—there wasn’t much space between them–and probed through with her nose, finagled her body between the rungs, contorted it up to reach up to the latch with her black nose, applied pressure, it gave, and she was out.

I shook my head, thinking: Aussie, you are something else! How could I not cheer her on inside? Go, Aussie! Figure it out. You can do it!

It was a gorgeous late Sunday afternoon, the sun beginning to come down but still splashing us with plenty of rays. I’d taken them out in the morning for a long jaunt, unleashed, in the Montague preserve but 7 hours later she wanted more.

She came back and I greeted her in the yard: “You are a nu-nu-nu!”

She grinned happily, showing her beautiful white teeth.

“I saw you do it. You are a nu-nu-nu, Aussie Moss! That’s your dharma name from now on—Nu-nu-nu. Breaker of All Rules.”

She positively glittered with joy. She was proud of herself and knew I wasn’t angry this time, that I was even happy for her. It was a burst of joy for both of us. Other days I’ll get angry and yell, but not then. Harry got into the act and started chasing her around, two green hummingbirds flew around the feeders, the wind chimes rang under the tree, and the whole earth was happy.