GONE, DOG, GONE!

“Don’t you dare get a puppy!”

“Stanley, you’re dead and gone, don’t tell me what to get or not get.”

“You’re too old for a puppy.”

“I am not! Get away from me, Stan, you’re gone, dog, gone.”

“You’ll have to train them from scratch—“

“What do you think I did with you?—“

“And they’ll chew on everything and destroy the house.”

“I need new beginnings, Stan.”

“You’re going to be 69 and you still need new beginnings? You need to grow up. Speaking of which, have you gotten around to beautifying my grave yet?”

“Why do you care about that? You’re dead, Stanley! Gone gone! I don’t even know why I’m talking to you. Since you asked, we received bulbs for lilies and tulips and other seeds from your many fans. Rae has already planted grass. We’ll plant the flowers soon.”

“Don’t hurry, all the time in the world.”

“You sure are talky for someone that’s dead, Stanley. Or as my friend Barbara said, ‘You died and forgot to lie down.’”

“What about the Main Man?”

“Bernie?”

“No, Buddha. Doesn’t he say somewhere that when people call to him he is always there, preaching the law on Vulture Peak?”

“He says that in the Lotus Sutra, which was actually put together long after he died, Stanley.”

“And I’m talky for someone that’s dead? I’m the one who died and forgot to lie down?”

“You’re not the Buddha, Stanley.”

“What’s true for him is true for me. Stanley has died, but when you call out to him, him being the sweetest, most generous, responsive, loving dog that ever lived, what does he do?”

“He talks and talks and talks.”

“The woods are my Vulture Peak!”

“I hear you talking everywhere, Stan.”

“My supernatural powers. How could I not respond to you, suffering human that you are?”

“You’re gone, Stanley. Gone, gone. This morning I sat and watched the flame from the candle get thinner and thinner, till it was extinguished and all that remained was a little smoke rising into the air, till that, too, disappeared into thin air. Gone, gone.”

“Tell me, when you had steak the other night, didn’t you think of me?”

“I did, Stanley. I remembered how you used to run around the table like a windstorm in anticipation. You lost all your training in old age.”

“I was in hospice! You don’t train dogs when they’re in hospice. And tell me this, when you leave the lamp on downstairs overnight, aren’t you doing it for me?”

“I do, Stan.”

“And when you do the service in front of Kwan Yin in the mornings, don’t you look past her to my grave, the same grave you have left bare of decoration?”

“I do, Stan.”

“So what’s this gone gone business?”

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

THERE’S NO ONE LIKE YOU ANYWHERE

Last weekend I took myself back to the woods and retraced Stanley and my 14-year old walks there, ending at the pools. The weather got cool. There was also lots of shooting at a neighbor’s shooting range, a harbinger not just of fall but also of deer-shooting season that begins right after Thanksgiving.

A large grove of very tall pines, just above the path going down to the pools, lord it over the smaller trees. They swooshed in the wind and their needle leaves muttered: “Aren’t you missing somebody? Where’s your companion?”

“He’s dead.”

“What does that mean?” they demanded.

“You know, dead, in the ground.”

They consulted, then got back to me. “Our life is in the ground, in our roots. Our life comes up from deep in the earth.”

“Well, that’s where he is.”

“Too bad,” they said. “He had a big shadow. And he was interested. Sniffed, scratched, chased out the chipmunks that hollow out our trunks, loved to sniff at the tops of our roots.”

“He also peed on them. Not much nourishment there,” I said.

The treetops swooshed and the leaves whirled: “We’re big, we could handle it. You, on the other hand, don’t look like much. You don’t sniff, you don’t dig, you’re not dazzled by the sounds and smells around us. You walk between us like a shadow.”

“Hey, I’m not a dog.”

“You miss the point, human.”

“What’s the point?”

“You humans are not interested. You don’t see us.”

“Of course I see you. You’re the tallest thing in the woods, how can I miss you?”

They couldn’t be bothered to reply, so I went home and thought about it.

Tell me, who among us humans doesn’t want to be seen? Who among us doesn’t want everyone to look deeply into them, see what made them how they are today, read the story, witness the questions, the endless quest and struggles, even the failures?

There are those who hide from the world, hermits and recluses who stay in huts in the pine groves. And there are those who always try to put their best exteriors forward, afraid to reveal anything that smacks of frailty or indecision, afraid to show their real selves. But even they still have a desire to be seen, not to be isolated or alone.

Milan Kundera wrote: “What is unique about the ‘I’ hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person. All we are able to imagine is what makes everyone like everyone else, what people have in common. The individual ‘I’ is what differs from the common stock, that is, what cannot be guessed at or calculated, what must be unveiled, uncovered.”

I go to bed with someone in order to be uncovered. My fantasy candlelight dinner is to sit across the table from someone, have him look into my eyes, and hear him say: “This is the woman I see. I see this about you, and this, and this. I see what has brought you to this moment. You are not perfect; at the same time, there’s no one like you anywhere.”

Am trying to emerge from stinginess. How? By doing my version of sniffing at the roots of something. Reflecting back to someone what he or she is doing, how unique it is, how it captures who they are for me. Being specific, and giving praise. Giving devotion not just to the formless, but also to the formed. Reminding him, her,, and me that if and when they die, that mold will be broken, that life form lost forever, no replica to ever return.

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

WHAT’S THE REAL DEAL?

“What is that thing doing near my grave?”

“Don’t get so excited, Stan. It’s a crow dying on the grass. I called the wildlife rehabilitators and they say that lots of crows are dying from West Nile Virus.”

“Oh, how I wish I was alive again so that I could chew it up!”

“Stanley, you want to come back to life to kill something?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“I remember how you used to get a gleam in your eye and a sneaky grin on your face, Stan. That’s how I knew you were up to no good.”

“Remember that squirrel that got stuck in the bird feeder and the feeder came crashing down? I rolled that sucker up and down the lawn, practically gave it a heart attack. One of the greatest days of my life, only you had to come running outside yelling like a banshee and picking up the whole thing, squirrel dangling right in the air like that. Dumbest squirrel I ever saw.”

“You practically chewed its tail off, Stanley!”

“I would have chewed everything off if not for you.”

“I had to unscrew the entire feeder to get it out, and it ran off. You know, Stan, you have fans out there who think you were terrific, but I know the nasty bully you were. I know the real you.”

“How could you know the real me?”

“I spent the most time of anyone with you, Stanley. I walked with you, I trained you, I sat down by you, we had lots of conversations.”

“You’re a human. What could you possibly know about being a dog?”

“What could you possibly know about being a human being, Stan?”

“Not much, only that you’re olfactory retards. I don’t even think you know the real Man. And he probably doesn’t know the real you.”

“No doubt about that one. But Stanley, I watched you for almost 14 years. I looked, I studied, I listened, I noticed.”

“You know what I’m doing now? I’m rotting away. Getting thinner by the moment. Remember all the worms I loved to trample on the ground? They’re getting their revenge as we speak.”

“That’s not the real you, Stan. You’re still around, somewhere. Sometimes I could hear the plastic dog door billowing, as if something hopped through it.”

“The wind.”

“The guest room door opens, Stanley. Remember how you loved to open that door? Or I go out at night and there’s something dark there in the shadows by Kwan-Yin.”

“A bear. Or another crow. And as for the old lady, she’s rotting away, too. More chipmunk condos inside her than in any tree. Sorry, I know you don’t like saying good-byes, but me and the old lady are fading as we speak. That crow, too. And do everyone a favor, when it’s dead don’t leave it there, otherwise whatever bites it will get sick too and spread the virus. Put it in a trash bag and into the garbage.”

“Oh Stan, this can’t be the real you talking.”

“Who said anything about the real me? It’s just a new disguise.”

“Really, Stan?”

“You’re a disguise, too. We’re all disguises.”

“I am? We are?”

“Sure. When you put down one disguise, another disguise pops up. Like that sick crow over there. One disguise after another.”

“So if we’re all disguises, Stanley, what’s the real deal?”

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

SHTUYOT

I talked with someone in New York the other day who asked, “So how’s Bernie?”

“Bernie continues to amaze me, “I told her.

Yes, after all these years—and I’ve known him since 1985, though not as his wife—he continues to amaze me, perhaps most of all after his stroke. This incredibly active and imaginative man had thought nonstop of new ways of doing things, making creative connections, and living—positively living—for new projects and programs. When we’d go anywhere and he’d be driving, it was common for him to start talking about something till I’d interrupt to point out that he’d slowed down to 10 mph and there was a convoy of cars behind us. After a while, we both agreed it was better for me to take the wheel.

Then he had a stroke, and he stopped. He was paralyzed in the right side of his body and couldn’t talk. But almost immediately, the man who hated and avoided exercise at all cost began to exercise every day. Once fully paralyzed, he now walks sturdily inside the house with his cane and a little slower in the back yard (there’s always someone at his side outside). He speaks clearer and stronger than he has in two years.

He continues to plunge. Not into massacres or concentration camps, not into the streets, but into illness and age, into slowness. Into needing help. The man walks his talk—literally.

His memory is something else.

“I can’t remember what it was I was trying to forget,” he says over lunch.

No answer. I don’t know what to say and Stanley, who could be depended upon for comments about everything, is no longer around.

A friend visited here for several days and told us that pure cocoa powder is the best thing he’s discovered to help his memory. “I can tell the difference if I don’t take it even for one day,” he said. He mixed it up with coconut oil and put it into Bernie’s coffee, then showed Rae exactly how to do the same, so that Bernie could remember better.

As soon as he left B instructed Rae not to do that, ever. “I just have one cup of coffee in the morning and I don’t want to ruin it,” he told her.

“What about remembering things, Bernie?” say I.

“I don’t mind forgetting. You know what I always say, the reason Zen masters are always in the moment is that that’s all they remember. Beside, the trouble with the cocoa thing is that if it brings back memory, you don’t have a choice of what to remember and what to forget.”

“Don’t you?” I say. “There are things people choose to remember and things they choose to forget.”

“That’s true,” he concedes. “But that’s no reason to drink something that’s going to make you remember everything.”

“For example,” I think out loud, “you don’t want to remember shtuyot.”

Shtuyot,” Bernie explains to Rae, “is the Hebrew word for nonsense. I learned it from Eve’s mother.”

“On the other hand,” I say, “you of all people may want to remember nonsense.”

He nods. “Nonsense is very important,” he says.

“Why, Bernie?”

“I forget.”

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

SITTING WITH REMBRANDT

I went down to New York City to see my brother, and after breakfast we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He went off to one of their new exhibits. What do I do at the Met? I go straight to Room 630, the Rembrandt Room, and sit with Rembrandt.

Behind us are paintings by Vermeer, not to mention two clusters of viewers, each led by excited, madly-gesticulating guides, one speaking in Russian and one in Japanese. I sit on a comfortable bench and look at Aristotle Gazing At a Bust of Homer (I do my Eve Gazing At a Painting by Rembrandt), and at the Woman With Pink.

With Pink refers to a pink carnation that’s in her hand. So many people say that men shouldn’t write about women since they can’t possibly understand them, that whites shouldn’t write about people of color, that no one should write about Native Americans except Native Americans. I still remember the hoopla when William Styron wrote Sophie’s Choice and many Jews, led by Eli Wiesel, reprimanded him, a Southern Christian, for writing about the Jewish Holocaust.

But here’s Rembrandt painting in billowy detail a woman with long, precious earrings, bracelets around her wrists, the many beads around her head with the exquisite, tiny locket over her forehead, the gorgeous folds of her incarnadine dress, obviously from a rich family—and what is she thinking? What is she feeling? What’s in her eyes? Is she sad, a girl weighed down by dress and jewelry?

He sees everything, paints Aristotle looking at the humble bust of Homer. The philosopher, too, wears sumptuous black clothes with a special belt of gorgeous stones given him by a statesman or king, but what does his face say to the small, white head of stone? You said it all, didn’t you? I may be famous, I’m feted and honored, admired the world over, but you, teller of tales, said it all. You were blind, wandered from place to place, and earned a meal and occasional shelter by telling stories of a man who left his wife and family for glorious war and then couldn’t find his way home. All my philosophy is as nothing to your tales.

He catches them all—and especially himself in those great self-portraits—at a time of apprehension and frailty, of seeing their true proportions in the turning wheel. Those moments don’t just belong to them, they belong to me, too; it’s not in silk and diamonds that I find my kinship with others but in doubt, and the step that wavers before going on.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

WHO IS MISS EGO?

“So, do you miss me already?”

“Of course, I do, Stan. But not just you.”

“What do you mean, not just me?”

“Of course I miss how you cuddled—“

“Good.”

“—and how you smelled, Stanley—”

“Wasn’t that wonderful?”

“—and how you ran up the stairs after coming from your outings with Leeann with such happy, excited eyes.”

“Those were the days!”

“But Stanley, where’s my alter ego?”

“Who’s Alter Ego? I don’t remember anybody like that coming to the house.”

“You know, Stanley, my alter ego, my other voice, the other Eve, I miss her too.”

“Who the hell misses her?”

“I miss her, Stan. I need her. Who is going to be that other voice?”

“Who cares?”

“I do, Stanley. You see, I have this one voice that comes out most often, but there are all these other voices, too, that don’t always get expressed. That was you, Stan.”

“It was?”

“It turned out to be you, Stanley. The dog who laughed at me, mocked my pretensions, made fun of Zen shmen, stole food from the Man, peed on everything in creation.”

“And here I thought I was such a good dog.”

“You were a dog with attitude, Stanley. You were cheeky and full of chutzpah.”

“I told you I was a good dog. But I still don’t get it. Don’t you miss how we put our heads together and nuzzled?”

“I do, Stanley.”

“Who taught you how to stop using those superfluous hands and use your head for nuzzling?”

“You did, Stanley.”

“Who tried to teach you how to sniff deer turds only you failed miserably?”

“You did, Stanley.”

“Don’t you miss seeing me sprawled on the sofa in the mornings when you come downstairs?”

“I do, Stanley. In fact, I still leave a light on for you even though no one’s there anymore.”

“Don’t you miss how I looked out the window of the car? I knew you were admiring me in the sideview mirror.”

“I do, Stan.”

“How about how I emptied all your trashcans in the bathrooms when you weren’t around? Don’t you miss finding the toilet rolls and used Q-tips all over the floor?”

“Actually, no, Stanley.”

“So who is Miss Ego?”

“Alter ego, Stanley. You were the voice of wicked fun and irreverence, you scoffed and capered and wisecracked, you didn’t care for not-knowing but you loved not-seeing, you made fun of my sitting—“

“Who sits and stares at nothing? Sitting and looking at the door to remind you it’s time for our walks, that I get. Staring at the car to remind you it’s time for a car ride, that I get. Sitting and looking at treats, ditto. Sitting and staring at the wall? Nah.”

“The point is, Stan, you died and took my alter ego with you.”

“Where could I have put it? I don’t think anybody’s lying here with me.”

“An alter ego is another personality that’s often hidden away, Stanley, and I miss it.”

“I thought you miss me.”

“I miss you, too. But Stanley, it’s nice to get to know all our alter egos, all these personalities we have that we don’t usually meet up with.”

“You mean there are more Alter Egos? How many more are there?”

“I don’t know, Stan. Probably lots.”

“Just how many dogs do you plan to get?”

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

ICONS AND CONNECTION

Bernie continues to walk without feeling the ground under his feet.

When we were last at the Taub Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, in March 2017, I asked Edward Taub, known for his work in neuroplasticity, if Bernie will ever be able to feel the hard surface under his feet. Taub said he didn’t know, but Bernie would be able to walk even without feeling it.

I think about that as I do my fast morning walk, apples in hand for the horses. I, after all, do feel the road under my feet. Some people call it resistance, others something to rely on. My yoga teacher says that the floor is the best yoga prop of all.

For me, it’s the most basic connection. When I trust the earth. I trust myself. Feel the ground under your feet, I’ve said to countless meditators.

But Bernie can’t, at least not on his right side. Connection on the left, lack of sensation on the right.

What makes for connection? Many men fixate on women and think that’s what it is. The scary ones stalk us, talk us up on buses or in restaurants, even while standing in a bank line. But even the non-scary ones look at us hungrily, asking, demanding, needing. We become icons in their eyes, icons of giving/withholding, loving/withdrawing. It makes us feel powerful, doesn’t it? But what does it have to do with real connection?

For all the passion one might find there, what you won’t find is connection. You can’t connect with an icon. You can worship it, admire it, write sonnets for it, but you won’t connect. For real connection you need a human being, not an abstract symbol.

To people who loathe him, Donald Trump has become an icon of greed, narcissism, mendacity, and thievery. Very often, those same people love and admire Barack Obama; they miss him, cite him as a great historical figure, the soul of an open, embracing culture.

Trump and Obama have become icons; in neither case is any real connection being made.

 

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

PRIVATE NOTCHES IN THE HEART

I opened the front door yesterday afternoon, saw an Amazon package on the front steps, looked up, and saw a black bear contemplating the garden. In the past I’d have instantly gone back in to bar the dog doors to keep the dogs inside, but I don’t have to do that anymore, could just contemplate the bear right back. It grunted a few times, displeased to see me on its way from drinking in the river. It made its way to the side of the house and slowly continued its climb up the slope and back into the forest.

Meantime, on Saturday morning, right after Stanley died and was buried, I went out and through a large web that practically covered the back door. I looked over my shoulder right at the large spider mourning the destruction of its handiwork. “Sorry, not here,” I told it. “Corners, eaves, hollows under rooftops, even beneath the picnic table and chairs, all fine. Live and let live. Not the back door.”

It did it right over again at least half a dozen times since then, and we’ve declared war. I’ve positioned a broom conveniently close. Down goes one web, and a new one rises in its place. No question of getting the perpetrator, it clambers up to its safe, distant hideaway as soon as I approach.

If you’re cheering for the spider, be warned: I do not give up easily.

August 31 will mark 14 years since Bernie and I have lived in this house; almost from the beginning, with dogs. More than 2-1/2 years ago Bernie had a stroke; now the dogs are gone.

So a kind of battle goes on inside. One voice says: LIFE! LIFE! LIFE! More dogs, more walks in the woods, even more bears. LIFE! LIFE!

But another voice whispers: An era is ending, time has passed. Mark all this, make a notch. Don’t rush headlong, look around you, read the stars at night. What do you see?

Nothing, I tell the voice. A dot here, a dot there, but I can’t see any picture, can’t read any story.

Voice 1: Don’t get entangled in all that depressing stuff, move forward, always forward. LIFE! LIFE!

Voice 2: Slowly, slowly. Find a way to mark things, make private notches in the heart, listen carefully.

The bear tells me of the wild woods up the slope, waiting for a return, while a small spider furls and unfurls its web, barring my way outdoors.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

IN MEMORIAM

Photo by Leeann Warner

Yesterday we did two things. Rae took the chairs out of the back office, brought back a large, soft rug, and padded every desk edge and corner.

“What’s this safe room for? Are we expecting terrorists?”

“No, Stanley, it’s in case you have seizures and I’m not around.”

“When I have seizures I’m not around, either, I’m unconscious.”

“It’s the aftermath I’m concerned about. You become blind and run around like crazy, hyperventilating, crashing into sharp edges. So Rae made a safe room for you out of the office, don’t you love it?”

“No. I like running around.”

In the afternoon, Tim Raines and I dug a grave for Stanley in the back. I wasn’t sure when we’d need it, but Tim was free to do it that day. Stanley walked around, happily supervising, and almost fell in twice. “So let me get this straight. You built me a safe room indoors and you’re digging me a hole in the ground outdoors. What kind of mishigas is that?”

“Please watch where you walk, Stan, you don’t want to fall in. Before I went down to the basement, you weren’t looking, and you almost fell down the stairs.”

“Do you think it’s big enough?”

“Yeah, but you might consider curving your body like you do when you go to sleep.”

“Is it deep enough? I don’t want anything to eat me.”

“Why, Stanley? You’ve been eating everything in creation for almost 15 years.”

“You should let me dig. Do you know how many holes I’ve dug looking for moles?”

“At last count, 3,245. And don’t worry, Stan, I’ll add lots of flowers when the time comes. What flowers do you want?”

“I don’t want flowers, I want a marrow bone.”

“You’ll be dead, Stan, what’ll you do with a marrow bone? Beside, we’ll probably run into a few dozen old ones as we dig.”

“You can throw in a hosta plant or two. I love peeing on those big leaves, feels just like toilet paper. And what are the window panes doing there?”

“I brought them up from the basement to cover the hole after we finish digging, Stanley, so you don’t fall in prematurely.”

“Don’t forget to remove them. I don’t want you to look down at my dead body day after day. Are you going to wave?”

 

Stanley died this afternoon in the safe room in the house. He was getting sicker, couldn’t stay upright, and wouldn’t eat. He lay in his blanket and we sat with his body. I removed the windowpanes and Rae and I put him in his grave. The Man and I sat with him some more. There were flowers there, a marrow bone, and his collar. When Bernie slowly returned to the house I filled in the soil.

He was such a simple soul. He loved to eat and to walk. As I wrote earlier, he hadn’t heard a word I said for at least two years and always responded perfectly. His needs were few. At 58 pounds, he wasn’t big, he was small, like you and me. The miracle doesn’t lie in our bigness, it lies in how small we are and can still touch other beings so deeply.

Some 10 days earlier we had gone into the woods and walked all the way to the pools, as we had done for almost 14 years. He waded in like he always did. By then I knew this was it, we wouldn’t come back because he couldn’t see and was losing his balance. He took his time, looking from side to side, taking the whole gorgeous world in. He came out of the pool, shook the water off, grazed for a moment on the wet grass on the bank, then scampered up the slope and looked at me, as if to say: You coming?

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD

Stanley probably has cancer.

His liver is affected and I took him for an ultrasound to the hospital, but in the end, after two consultations, decided not to do more tests. The doctor said the liver was functioning pretty well, affected secondarily by cancer elsewhere in the body. At this late age and given the seizures he’s had, it’s probably in the brain. We could do a whole lot of tests to find where it is. The first batch alone would cost us some $750, and they would not be conclusive.

“I just want to get enough diagnostic information to enable me to take good care of him,” I told the doctor.

“We could do the ultrasound of his abdomen and an x-ray of his lungs just for your peace of mind,” said the technician. “People like to know.”

“I have peace of mind,” I told her, and I meant every word. “I just want enough knowledge to help me take care of him.”

The doctor agreed, and I drove back home with anti-seizure and anti-twitching medicine. “At some point the seizures will start again,” the doctor warned me, “and even though you could increase the dosage of the medication, they’ll be harder and harder to control.”

On the way back Stanley was as happy and healthy-looking as could be, as usual looking out the window.

“You don’t have to let the White Plum Asanga of teachers know about this, one thing less for you to do,” he said kindly. “I’m a humble pooch, after all.”

“Ha!” Then I added, “I wonder what the Man will say when he hears this.”

Stanley couldn’t care less. Too busy looking out the window, too busy loving life. He’d fought me all the way to the hospital, refusing to leave the house, refusing to get into the car, refusing to get out of the car, and I dragged him all the way in the hard rain. But now he happily contemplated trees.

“You know, Stanley, you are one sick dog,” I told him in the rearview mirror. “The doctor even mentioned euthanasia.”

He wasn’t listening. In the last 2 years he hasn’t heard a word I said and has always managed to give the perfect response.

It’s not just seizures. He totters most of the time, stumbling over his back legs like someone drunk, going off into corners, bumping into chair legs, losing his balance. And then looks out the window in love with the world.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families