When Dogs Go To Heaven

When dogs go to Heaven, they don’t need wings because God knows that dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields.                                                                                               from Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

IMG_1340On April 5th I said goodbye to my beloved dog, Chuckles. He left this world peacefully, bouyed up by all the love I could possibly give and carried as far as death allowed into that deep water of the unknown. I mourn his loss like that of a partner for he was my constant companion. 

Chuckles cheated death four times in his short life. The first time being when he was pulled from a county shelter by those human angels in animal rescue who work tirelessly to save homeless dogs from an untimely death. Great dogs who make great pets- their only “crime,” their abandonment by a human.

The dogs in Dog Heaven who had no real homes on Earth are given one in Heaven. The homes have yards and porches and there are couches to lie on and tables to sit under while angels eat their dinners. There are special bowls with the dogs’ names on them.       Dog Heaven  

When I adopted Chuckles in 2010 he was approximately three years old and healthy. Neither of us could have suspected the three life-threatening illnesses that lay ahead for him, including a brain hemorrhage and tumor in 2016. But he was one tough dog with an incredible will to live.

More remarkable even than his physical resilience was his loving and gentle spirit that endeared him to all he met. As one friend aptly said, he was “The Ambassador of Goodwill.” Chuckles was fearless. By that I mean he approached everyone, dogs and people alike, with a simplistic trust, believing that they intended only good toward him in the same way that he intended only good toward them. Imagine a world in which people approached one another without fear and with that kind of trust

 

 

If I ever had a complaint about Chuckles, it was that he really could have become anyone else’s dog at a moment’s notice, he was that agreeable. But the truth is, I felt privileged to have a dog with such a great capacity to love and to spread joy wherever he went. In his honor, I share again a video that we made together that tells the story of how he came to be mine and to promote shelter pet adoption.

 

Dogs in Dog Heaven have almost always belonged to somebody on Earth and, of course, the dogs remember this. Heaven is full of memories. So sometimes an angel will walk a dog back to Earth for a little visit… When he is satisfied that all is well, the dog will return to Heaven with the angel… They will be there when old friends show up. They will be there at the door. Angel Dogs.

 Dog Heaven

Goodbye for now my sweet Chuckles. Wait for me.

A Grief Observed

Soundlessly the door opened as a father and his two young sons emerged from a small side room, and into the vacuous lobby of the Animal Emergency and Trauma Center. The boys’ red blotchy cheeks, downcast eyes, and slumped shoulders telegraphed the sad story that had unfolded on the other side of that door. Their father led them over to one of the hard wooden benches that lined the walls of the waiting area where I too was sitting, and waiting. Two days earlier, my dog, Chuckles, had been admitted for a life-threatening liver infection and I was hoping to bring him home after meeting with the doctor.cristina-lavaggi-21229

The room was quiet at 7:00 o’clock in the evening, except for the television that ran incessantly like a kind of “white noise” in the background. I imagined it as a ridiculous soundtrack to all the traumas and dramas that flowed in and out of that space, like the one I was witnessing now, like my own, too. I couldn’t help but watch and listen as this father offered comfort to his sons, each in their own turn. Gently, he cradled the first boy’s face with his hands, and spoke words so softly that I could not catch them, but the sentiment could not have been more clear. With tenderness he kissed the boy on his forehead. Then to his other son he did the same.christopher-harris-57366

I sensed that he wanted to capture the significance of the moment for them, and to honor its solemnity. He did everything with such intention, as though to say, “yes, this is what grief feels like. This is how badly it hurts to lose someone you love. I cannot shield you from the pain but I can reassure you of my love. Today we are bonded by our grief, but also by our love for each other.”

roman-kraft-421410As witness to such compassion, I felt the tears welling up in my own eyes. It didn’t take much, with my own recent fear of loss so fresh and close to the surface. How tender our own grief makes us! How universal the bond! Sitting there in that waiting room, in that time, I felt a part of their story and they of mine. Just then, an attendant came around the corner and called out “Chuckles!” I jumped up to see what awaited me behind another closed-door.

Why Women March

By now we all know that history was made on January 21, 2017. What an awe-inspiring sight to see millions of women in this country and around the world, marching in unity. Epic in Proportion. Powerful.

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Wilmington’s Women’s March        Photos courtesy of Sandra C.

To my amazement, I read comments on-line and on social media from people who could not understand what the Women’s March on Washington was about. One guy on my Facebook page  pejoratively referred to it as “your so-called” march. When I read that I thought, “there, that is it exactly. That is why women march.” “So-called” is such a put down, such an attempt to belittle and invalidate. Women are sick and tired of having their accomplishments demeaned. Too often our voices, concerns, and issues are ignored or bullied into silence.

To not understand why women marched in solidarity on January 21st is to not understand why Alcoholics Anonymous exists, or other support groups like cancer survivors, veterans, or MADD. There is hope and healing when you discover that you are not alone. Now imagine how it feels when you discover that millions of people around the world feel the same way. The Women’s March on Washington, in all its forms and in all its places, was the tangible reality of that fact. It’s like never having seen the ocean but being told how expansive, powerful, and majestic it is. And then one day you see the ocean for yourself, you witness its grandeur with your own eyes.

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Wilmington March

To be sure, women marched with many agendas and for a wide range of issues that day. Each woman came with a personal life experience or story that motivated them. You cannot have a gathering of that magnitude and not expect that to be the case. After all, each woman is still an individual! The point is that in our current political environment, and around the world, groups of every kind, under the larger umbrella of women’s rights, are being marginalized, ignored, abused, and discriminated against. Thus the mantra, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and “Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” 

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Great Question!

Finally, we acknowledge all of the men and boys; fathers, partners, brothers, sons and male friends, who marched alongside the women.

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Not just about women

Their presence affirmed that the march was in fact bigger than just about a bunch of bitchy women with an axe to grind. The multitude of voices who used the March for their platform were speaking for the (here-to-fore) silent majority of humanity, not the minority as detractors would like us to believe. It is imperative that we keep raising our voices and remembering that while there are those with money to buy political power, there is another form of political power, Power in Numbers.

Dear Readers, did any of you participate in a March on January 21st, or have a story about someone who did?

 

 

Chasing Love Groundhog Day Style

There is something unnerving about recognizing an aspect of yourself portrayed in a movie character. But it can be very enlightening too. I know because this happened to me recently while watching “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

In the film, Murray plays Phil, a love lorn weatherman who is reliving the same day, February 2nd, over and over while in Punxsutawney reporting on their annual Groundhog Day festival. Rita, played by McDowell, is Phil’s t.v. producer, working with him on location, and the object of his affection. With the repetition of days, Phil experiences the passage of time and he falls desperately in love with Rita. She however, lives in the “real time” of a 24 hour February 2nd. Phil realizes that he has only that one day in which to win her affection.photo-1449495169669-7b118f960251

With repeated chances to get it right, Phil becomes more adept at courting Rita and he has some success. Unfortunately, his success spurs his enthusiasm resulting in an over-eagerness that is a turn off to Rita. His actions create the exact opposite of his intentions. It is not until he stops trying so hard to win Rita, and focuses instead on becoming a better person, that he achieves the desired result. She falls for him.

Before the end of the movie, I had my “Aha” moment. I saw a reflection of my own behavior in Phil’s zealous determination. Since being single for more years than I’d care to admit, I have had ample time and an ample number of relationships to know exactly who I’m looking for and what I want. Recently I met That Someone. Like Phil, I rushed in full tilt never asking if my enthusiasm might be sabotaging my success.

If you are a resourceful person like me, it may seem counter-intuitive to not go after what you want with everything you’ve got. But in one of those ironic truisms of life, that is precisely what is called for.

In the 1992 preface to his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl, shares what is his repeated admonishment to his students:

“Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

It has been my experience that the same principle applies to love, as so clearly demonstrated in the movie. The more you want it, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you, as poor Phil discovered. When he dedicated himself to the greater good of being a better human being, the love he sought ensued as a by-product. Of course, Groundhog Day has a happy ending, it is a movie after all!photo-1451444635319-e5e247fbb88d

As for me, the object of my affection left saying he couldn’t state exactly why he knew it wouldn’t work out, just that it wouldn’t. I did not get multiple chances to get it right. And I am left to wonder if my behavior drove him away, at least in part. Relationships are complicated, I know nothing is that simple. But as to Frankl’s advice to let go and not care about it, focus on it, and yes obsess about it- well, I’m sorry to say I haven’t figured out how to do any of that.

Dear Reader, have you ever chased something only to have it elude you?