WHERE YOU SEE A YARD, I SEE A FENCE

There are days when I feel there isn’t much to say. It’s all been said, a voice murmurs inside, why bother? Even the dogs aren’t talking much, except for Aussie, who talks all the time.

“Why am I back in training?”

“Because when I take you off-leash anywhere, Aussie, you run.”

“Of course I run. It’s May! There are new-born animals to chase, fawns and bear cubs—”

“And bear cub mothers!”

“Nature created all these new animals for only one reason—so that I could chase them.”

Yesterday she ran in the Montague Plains, returning after 20 minutes panting happily, dirty and wet from wading in a puddle. She had obviously chased a scent for a long time, loping determinedly after some animal or other. She won’t catch it, but that doesn’t matter; her instinct, her soul, is to hunt.

“And you stop me! You won’t let me be me! You won’t let me follow my path, you won’t let me go on my hero’s journey.”

“Aussie, you have one of the biggest fenced yards in town!”

“Where you see a yard, I see a fence.”

I won’t let her run. I’d flirted with the idea, but got burned out. True, she never got lost, always found her way home, was never hurt. We live off a country road and she sticks to the woods where the animals are, avoiding people, avoiding cars and homes. But she’s young, and in a lifetime of running freely in the woods something will happen.

And yet, deep inside I sympathize with her. After all, she’s a hound and the smartest dog I’ve ever had. She wants to do what she was bred to do, what’s in her very marrow. All the liver/cheese/chicken treats in the world won’t change that.

On Sunday, Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother. Her mind is slowly fading; rare are the phone calls when I’m not told that she’s afraid to go out because someone will try to assassinate her, that my brother is being interrogated by the police, that the violence “out there” is so great that her only safety lies in burrowing in bed and staying put. This at a time when Jerusalem was completely locked down for the coronavirus (it’s opened up a lot since then).

I was her oldest child, an in-your-face rebel, a lover of Ayn Rand who wanted to follow her individual path like Howard Roark, only with a lot less confidence, a lot more insecurity.

My mother, too, wanted to follow her heart, but it was a torn heart. She was raised in an East European orthodox family; she came out of the war with the feeling that nothing was more important than religion and family. God didn’t matter much, she wasn’t sure she believed in Him anymore, but religion and family were everything.

But as the years rolled by she discovered she also wanted things for herself. She wanted to write stories and study. She wanted to be a businesswoman and make money, she wanted respect. But she never learned how to go about these things, how not to be deterred by early failure, how to seek alternatives, how to stay the path even when it goes sideways.

“No one ever encouraged me,” she told me sadly several years ago as I was visiting her, both of us lying in bed together. “Nobody ever encouraged me.” And she had no faith in doing things alone.

Her feelings towards me were mixed. She was angry at the choices I made, the Zen practice, the plunge into a life that seemed unstable and unpromising of middle-class security. Till I was 50, she never gave up hope on reforming me. And yet, even then, I had the sense that secretly she admired me. She knew I’d gone my way, not hers or somebody else’s.

“You were like that from the time you were a little girl,” she used to say.

We find ourselves resting in so many mixed messages from our mothers. Go out and win the world/Be safe. I want you to be happy/I want you to make me happy. I want you to be strong/I want you to be careful.

I could never resolve these dualities, but I did find a way to rest in them, make them one of the puzzles of my life in which pieces didn’t fit. By now that’s fine with me. It’s when all the pieces fit that I start worrying.

So of course, there’s Aussie.

“Here, Aussie, chase the ball!”

“What am I, an outfielder?”

“Don’t you want to run?”

“After deer, not a tennis ball.”

Harry runs after the ball.

“Okay, Aussie, chase Harry!”

“I don’t chase Harrys, I chase wildlife.”

I shake my head, looking at her beautiful, intransigent face.

“I’m trying to keep you engaged, to give you exercise and fun!”

“It don’t work inside a fence.”