“You can’t get rid of me, Aussie,” I tell her as she stands on the back seat, looking out front.

“I try,” she says, “but you always get me back. One day you won’t and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

I had lunch with a student today. Midway through the meal, we heard a loud sound. “Thunder?” he wondered.

I looked out the window and up at a gray and blue sky. “Naah,” I said. “They said nothing about storms today.”

But it was thunder, and I drove in peals of it with showers alternating with downpours. There was no car in the garage, no open door to the back seat for Aussie, her safe spot during storms. I came home, called her name, went upstairs, went outside. She was gone. I drove around and around, and finally called the police. This time she had a collar round her neck with her name and my phone number.

Ironically, as I drove home a dog rushed towards me. But it wasn’t her, only an Irish Setter, wet and frantic. I opened the back door of the car for him to get in and he hesitated, probably smelling Aussie there. A neighbor appeared, the dog ran to him, so he got home.

Eventually, a neighboring couple I happened to know, who lives half a mile away, called. They’d picked up Aussie, wet and shivering, on a far-away road. We met and had our reunion.

But Aussie’s right, one day I won’t get her back. Maybe because she’ll rush around in terror and fear, far from this dog-crazy valley, and not get back. Maybe because she’ll die.

I talk with elderly people. Often, I hear variations on the same refrain: I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying. The process of getting weaker, shifting from independence towards dependence, less access to the outside world (can’t hear, can’t see, no one comes around), loneliness. What can give them confidence?

I sometimes feel that the longer I teach, the more sensitive I become to bullshit, to saying things I’m not sure about.

A friend long ago used to joke that Buddhists value and practice emptiness and not-knowing, but when something bad happens, they pray to God. We dive deeply down into our hearts and make a plea for help that shoots up to the sky.

My job isn’t to give an answer (I tell students that I don’t give advice). Probably the best I can do is take the trip with them, at least as far as I can go. Point out the scenery, maybe, especially what the guidebooks left out.

I learned a lot from Bernie after his stroke. I watched him deal with all these things very suddenly, no warning. He had many times told me he wasn’t afraid of death, but dying in this way, over three years of incessant dependence, unidentifiable pains somewhere in that half-paralyzed body? Watching him, I would ask silently: Who are you now? And he would sign his name as above, Bernie. With squiggles this time, unmanageable, barely legible. Still Bernie, and not.

I’ve seen his signature so often over our years together, but this is the one I treasure.

Thank you very, very much for your donations to the immigrant farmers living here. Jimena and I are talking about how to distribute these funds to people who are not working. Usually, I wait till she sends me an unpaid bill for rent or utilities.

We did manage to send 10 children to 3 weeks of camp and 7 of them to six weeks, which is huge. They’re so proud of their children. The mothers look at them with tenderness, as if saying: We made the dangerous trek north to work on farms and in low-paying restaurants so that you could go to school, maybe even college, get a job, raise a family here, have a life. Nothing makes them happier than when they see this dream begin to come true.

“If only I had your opportunities,” my mother used to say to me.

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