Thursday, January 15, 2015

ACCEPTANCE


ACCEPTANCE

Entering the rehabilitation gym full of people I hear someone, referring to a patient, say, “Just shoot me if I get that way.” 

Where does that mentality come from?  Is it fear, impatience, selfishness, or apathy?  I’m just not sure. The one thing I do know is that it is not from a place of love, reality, compassion or respect.  It is not all about us.  It is about the patient, the person, this real person struggling to heal, to take another breath, to look forward to seeing his grandbaby again, or to return to his or her spouse, struggling to walk or talk.  It is about many things.  These patients didn’t ask to be in this position or even this place. 

It is also about our parents or family members who sacrificed and raised us, as best they could.  It isn’t about our inconvenience; it is about what is right, honorable, and the proper thing to do.  Has caring for a family member or friend become so obtrusive to our lifestyle and precious time that we have lost something vital to our very existence? 

How terribly sad!  I think of Gracie, my therapy dog, by my side that isn’t able to see, and yet in her darkness she quite simply loves and accepts people, people she has never met before, just as they are, with all their foibles, deformities, idiosyncrasies, and tribulations. 


Why can’t we be the same?  Why is there is so little tolerance for imperfection in our society? Why is it we have been conditioned to seek only perfection? 

We are all who and what we are intended to be.

A pearl begins as a defect.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GRACIE'S MAIDEN VOYAGE


GRACIE’S MAIDEN VOYAGE

I had intended on taking Gracie to the rehab hospital on a beautiful October Sunday morning for her first therapy dog in training adventure. She was only twelve weeks old, and I didn’t expect much. In fact, I didn't know what to expect.  But we had to start sometime and this seemed as good a time as any.  I had intentionally selected Sunday, because it would be less crowded and distractions and stimuli for her would be less. I wanted her to just walk the halls and visit with staff and perhaps family members of patients. Many of the patients had day or weekend passes, so it seemed a perfect time. 

I prayed all the way there that she wouldn’t be stressed by being sightless in a new environment with all the strange sounds and smells. Little did we know what lay ahead.

Dressed in her pumpkin bandana, Gracie entered the recreation gym and was instantly requested by a physical therapist to come into the center of a circle of twelve patients, all in wheelchairs, doing stretching exercises. They seemed bored, uninterested, and simply doing what they were told. No one smiled or spoke.  As we walked into the circle of wheelchairs, Gracie showed no fear, no trepidation, nothing but enthusiasm, as she charmed each patient one by one.  As she went from wheelchair to wheelchair, placing her front paws on the padded arm of each chair, she got pats and snuggles and stories of their dogs at home. Smiles came to faces and conversations were started. It was clear a career had begun, a career that would end in hundreds of lives being significantly changed for the better.
Next assignment on day one, Gracie was requested to visit with a patient to assist him with focusing on manual dexterity.  She was placed, at the therapists request, on a bed with a wounded warrior with a traumatic brain injury just flown in from Iraq days before.  She loved it when he laughed at her antics.  The  staff told me it was the first time he had shown any emotion at all. She snuggled into his neck, lay quite still and in her own way told him everything was going to be okay. It was then that he moved his arm to put around her and pet her. Again a huge accomplishment, as therapists looked at each other in amazement.  He whispered and asked if she could walk beside his wheelchair to the front door of the hospital, because he wanted her to meet his wife and surprise her with Gracie and the news that he moved his arm. His only arm. He asked when she would return and kissed her nose goodbye 'until next time' !

We went back into the hospital with the intention of packing up her thing and getting ready to leave.  It was then that word had spread and Gracie had a request by a nurse to visit with a despondent cancer patient. They sat together for what seemed a very long time.  Words were not exchanged, but Gracie snuggled and snuggled into this young woman's side and silent messages were sent, each to the other.  Tears ran down the face of this patient and Gracie seemed to sense it and snuggled in even closer.  This little one who normally was vivacious and more than energetic quite simply sensed what was needed and provided it.

No one could tell that she was unable to see.  On leash, she stayed right by my side and danced and twirled on her back legs, causing everyone to laugh.  This was the best medicine possible. I kept telling her what a good girl she was and how proud I was of her.  I could tell she was getting tired, and as we were leaving a patient with Parkinson’s wanted ‘kisses.’  Gracie was more than willing to oblige.  He told us all about his puppies waiting for him at home and how anxious he was to see them again, but in the meantime asked for Gracie to return to see him. 
It was as we were leaving that the young cancer patient, who was despondent just minutes before, called us to her side and whispered softly, “I have fallen in love. I love her. I love Gracie.”
Not bad for day one of a journey of a lifetime!

*****
“It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special.” ~ Thessalonians 1:4

 

 

 

Monday, January 12, 2015

PUTTY IN HER PAWS


PUTTY IN HER PAWS

It isn’t always easy living with a PBGV.  Nor did it take long to realize it is impossible not to fall in love with one.  Their delight in the smallest detail of life can turn a bad situation into a tender moment.

Gracie can demolish five rolls of toilet tissue, retrieve the Kleenex off of the night stand, and drag the sofa pillows to the yard before you know it.  But when she puts one paw on my knee, slides up beside me on the sofa and then turns over onto her back, I became putty in her paws.  She has been a treasure, a delight, a blessing, a trouble maker and a clown all in one. But most of all she has been an inspiration to hundreds of others.

She has made me smile when I don’t feel like it.  And she manages to chase the blues right out of the door.  Her sheer delight in watching me open the back door, just for her, is such a joy.  Bouncing up and down, ears flying, feet elevated from the floor by at least five inches, she tears out the door on some clandestine mission of grandiose importance known only to her. 

It became abundantly clear from the time she was 10 weeks old that she was to become an angel, as she worked with stroke survivors, cancer patients, seriously ill children, and America’s wounded warriors returning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries and Military Sexual Trauma. 

Mark Twain wrote that “Every great poem begins with a lump in your throat.” This is how it began with Gracie.

Gracie has taught me repeatedly that life is a spiritual journey, and sometimes all you have to do is show up and have a little faith that something completely amazing is possible that day.  Then when it does,  you are no more in control than a feather in the wind.  Gracie’s journey began with a single step to a place where she has the power to change a life.  To give a moment that will be cherished and remembered forever.  The simple and honest act of taking Gracie to work with our wounded warriors brought meaning, depth and poetry to hundreds who needed it more than they ever realized.

Gracie’s story spread to the wife of a warrior.  She shared Gracie’s work with a friend whose husband had just been killed in Iraq.  She was severely depressed and had spoken of suicide.  The more she learned about Gracie and ultimately met her, her life turned around.  She rescued a yellow lab and now takes him to visit the wounded warriors. A single huge step had been taken.

A friend of mine had asked to see photos of Gracie with the warriors.  I sent her an assortment.  She wrote back thanking me and the next day wrote back again to tell me how they had touched her deeply and that she couldn’t get them out of her mind.

I understand this!  To be witness to Gracie’s intentional motivation of loving and being loved, it isn’t difficult to understand why people respond to her as they do.  The responses of the courageous young men and women to Gracie are overpowering.  These are young men and women who laid their lives on the line, took the bullets and fought the fight and paid the price.  Yet in the presence of this twenty eight pound dog, they turn into children with their first puppy.  They hold her head gently in both of their hands and look into her sightless eyes with love, a deep and special love.  They may never see her again, but for that moment they connected to something greater than themselves.  For that single moment, that cannot be explained, they felt loved back, totally and completely. They may have lost limbs, vision, eyes, and more but at that time and place they feel love.

Gracie, as should we all, sees past the outward appearances of people. She touches hearts in a way that defies all logical explanation.  And yet somehow it is explained clearly.  This intense and unconditional love is what we should all strive for but seldom do.

Tom Davis in “Why Dogs Do That’, says, “There are no strings attached, no riders, or special stipulations; there’s no fine print, no expiration date, no statute of limitations. They (dogs) love to a depth and degree that few of us, I fear, reciprocate.”
I find myself remembering Gracie’s and my time with the soldiers in snapshot like moments.  Struggles, tears, fears, courage, and smiles are often too powerful to fully comprehend.  But they come back to me, much like the photographs did to my friend.  They are forceful, strong, intense, turbulent and ardent.  Never to be forgotten or taken for granted.
 

None of us remember days.  What we do remember are those moments, those snapshots that cause that lump in our throats to surface and the tears to come.  The gasping moments, when we unexpectedly see the face, or hear the voice of a loved one or see a flower blooming on the side of a cliff that literally takes our breath away.  A wise and cherished friend once told me that every one of us has that sad place deep inside of us.  It is from that place that hope and peace and grace surface.  And for me it is compassion.  For, as my friend told me, out of compassion passion emerges.

*****

“Let’s not make such a habit of hurry and work that when we leave this world, we will feel impelled to hurry through the spaces of the universe using our wings for feather dusters to clean away the star dust.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, January 10, 2015

WAITING TO BE FOUND

I remember one day quite clearly when my precious little Gracie, was not responding to my calling and calling her to come inside.  I must have had somewhere most important to be, or that was my perception.  I kept getting more angry and more agitated that she wouldn't come in.  I gave up and started searching the yard.  Finally, I found her with her collar stuck in the wire handle of a heavy hanging basket that had rooted her to the ground. I felt so badly for yelling and getting mad, when she couldn't do a thing to help herself but sit and wait to be found.

 
At one time or another we are all unable to respond because we find we too are rooted to the ground, immobile, stuck, unable to go in any direction. We are all waiting to be found, waiting to be rescued.
 
Sometimes I feel that way when I sit down to the computer to write and enter a new dimension with words.  Most likely I have to find the lump in my throat and then the words pour out of me, unfurling like a flower. I refuse to be distracted.  There is always something that needs tending, something else to do, but for me there is never going to be another moment that inspires and excites me like right now. Watching Gracie stretch out on the rug in my office, sigh and take a deep breath, I search for words to string together like pearls, words that say what I feel and see. She has found her safe place and is content just to be close to me. For me Gracie provides a state of calm, stillness, and a place that grounds me to the present moment and feeds my soul. She reminds me to be grateful for what I have. And it is at this place, I begin to write.

 
Getting to this place isn't always easy.  There are what I call crazymakers who do not understand my passion for creative writing and my need for space and peace.  As Julia Cameron says, "Crazymakers expect special treatment and discount your reality.  Crazymakers pretend you're crazy."  When I finally grew to understand this, I realized that who I am around effects who I become.  I have learned the most from my soul mates and kindred spirits who keep me being the best that I can be so that my soul can do the most for this world. Just a few carefully chosen words in a text or email from a dear friend saying, "What you do makes a difference" are all I need to hear to feed my soul.  I am inspired by inspiring people.
 
This is when I try to create beauty in a place where there isn't any, a place where there is only sickness, pain and fear.  When I get grounded or stuck and feel like I need to be found, I realize we all need to push past the pain and understand that our lives are not dependent upon one moment of happiness after another.   For it is through moments of being stuck and suffering that we develop a kind of grace and our own pain opens us to a place of peace and love for others that might never have been there otherwise. For me personally, I know this to be true.
 
So I write and put meaning into whatever it is I might be doing.  This quite simply requires that I set myself aside and make someone else happy. I disregard and step over those who try to fill me up with a story they can control. I have found that I must get swept away, trust the mystery, trust the journey and have faith. 

Yes, I have suffered.  Yes, I have endured pain and through it all I have come to understand that at the end of the tunnel serenity holds out her hand and leads me to a new and better place.  It is at this junction that I, just like Gracie, have been found and I am no longer stuck or immobile. I have been given the mind set and the gift to touch lives.  Maybe that is the work of my angels.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, January 9, 2015

JUMPING FOR JOY ~ A LITTLE BLIND DOG

It is the little things that really are the big things!  The smell of freshly mowed grass, fields of lavender, warm clean blankets, a baby's breath, a puppy dog, the touch of warm gentle hands, soft tender words. 
 
From Gracie, my eyes and soul and heart have found a place I didn't know existed.  A place where  unconditional love and trust lives, and a place where life is embraced with something inexplicable, bountiful, and beautiful. A place where you can jump for joy! 

 
Seeing life through Gracie's sightless eyes has awakened me to that which is most important of all.  Her little soul has taught me to watch, listen, feel, and learn at a deeper level.  She does not feel sorry for herself and doesn't  know she is different. She teaches lessons that can be found in those who embrace all life. See clearly, listen closely, and love with your whole heart, no matter what.  If you can do this, you have been truly blessed.
 
There are times when my shoulders are like marshmallows. I do what I have to do.  Being selfless and giving sometimes takes its toll.  The trick is picking ourselves up and making it up two flights of stairs in the dark with trust, faith, and hope. You can tell observing Gracie, that each step is a step of faith.  But eventually you, as does Gracie, make it to the top, and it is there and then, that you celebrate life and your ability to have accomplished something huge and significant no matter how small it might appear. 
 
With Gracie, it is not about  facing a problem or dilemma, but in the solution and the destination.  She has no capacity to ask 'why me'. Nor does she waste time feeling sorry for herself.  She simply moves forward and reaches her goal, searching for that one ray of sunshine that can only be found in a special place, like most of us at one time or another.  
 
Comfort and encouragement are there for Gracie, skirting on the edge. And when the goal is reached there are hugs and love for my girl who is instilled in a world of darkness.  But through it all there is a window of light that she sees and opens for all of us to cherish and learn from.  I put frames around these moments and treasure them in my heart. For with each triumph, Gracie has taught me to how to watch, listen, learn, and live at a far deeper level than I ever could have imagined. 
 
I hug her and inhale her. I am one with her for a while.  And it is in these times that I can feel sadness leaving my body, as I peacefully breathe in and out into her fur. It is not a wonder that so many, many warriors have told me they felt like an 'angel had entered their rooms' in the hospital.
 
 

 
Gracie may not see, but she sees with her heart. I have been at the starting gate with her since she was seven weeks old and now she is eleven years old. I know that because of her I am a better person.  I have learned to accept challenges differently.  I have learned to love deeper and expect that same love in return. I have learned that no matter what there is a way, and no matter how many obstacles are put in my path, I take the knock and the bump, and find a way around it to reach my goal. I no longer waste time feeling sorry for myself.  I celebrate the moment.  I take more delight in the little things, the small steps and in many insignificant details to most.  I feel often that I am on a different plain.  And I suppose to some degree I am. But I am content, and I am blessed to have had the greatest teacher ever, a Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen named Gracie, that has opened my eyes to the beauty around me and taught me that there is a spark inside of her that is like no other.  A spark that shimmers and radiates hope, love, and courage.  Gracie is a true inspiration, offering warmth and love to anyone who takes the time to watch her, as her little light shines so brightly.
 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE


When my daughter was about two, I remember so vividly handing her a dandelion that had gone to seed. She held it and looked at it with amazement and such tenderness, as only a child could.  She turned it around and around and then took a deep breath, puckered, and blew the whisper white seeds into the air. I took a photo just as they were vanishing into the breeze, as her little pink lips still puckered, as softly as a kiss.  It was a glorious photo that captured a most special moment.  I sent  it to a contest and won first prize. It wasn't the prize that was important.  What was important was the moment.
 
I remember it as if it were yesterday.  The sun, the soft warm breeze and a little girl, so full of wonderment and promise,  enchanted by a dandelion.
 
Most of us are surrounded by these moments that are far from ordinary, yet we completely miss them.  I am an observer of people and things.  To me what I observe today is quite sad.  People pass right by a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, with never a thought of that flower that is growing so heroically and bravely.


Nothing says 'hope' quite so eloquently as a flower such as this, thriving in a place where you might least expect it.  Benjamin Franklin said it perfectly, "Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight."  Just as this little flower does!  No matter how many times it has been walked on or stepped on, it just keeps right on growing.  But how many people even notice?  How many care?  How many miss this amazing moment? How many live in the sunlight?

I can only feel a sadness for them for missing such moments...the beautiful moments that hold so much meaning, if only we take the time to notice them. Perhaps I am out of touch, out of fashion, out of this world.  But as William Sherman said, "To be yourself, simple, honest and unpretending, you will enjoy through life the respect and love of friends."

So just as my precious little blind dog Gracie does, I too will let my little light shine!  For it does and will make a difference.  And, I will, as Homer said, "Go on with a spirit that fears nothing." I will applaud the flowers growing in the cracks and the people and lives they represent.  For there are many of us who thrive in the cracks and crannies of life. And for them I am grateful.

Gracie practices and exhibits courage every single day, with every step she takes.  She is my little brave flower, a flower of hope.  She has a love of life that few humans possess.  She will stand in a crowd or an elevator full of people and roll over onto her back to be petted.  She will coo and give them a gentle kiss with her little pink tongue.  They say, "Oh poor thing she is missing an eye. She is blind."  Oh no quite the contrary, she isn't missing anything.  She lives for the moment, the special, the ordinary, the mundane, the glorious moments that this life offers to all of us, if only we pay attention.  Gracie lets her little light shine, as would all of us, if we would only dream, wish, believe, and live in the moments we are blessed with!

"Grace comes into the soul as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning; then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness."
Thomas Adams


 
 
 
 



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

WHAT COMPASSION ASKS

What is this thing called compassion?    Where does it take us?  Where does it come from? What does it ask of us?
 
I had a childhood totally lacking love, compassion and passion.  I never felt loved, not once.  I never remember any tender arms around me mothering me, consoling me, relieving my pain, holding onto me so I didn't feel like I was going to fly off into space. What I do remember was physical and mental abuse.  My father, a prominent oil and gas attorney, was never there and my mother never touched me, except to hit me or yell at me. And I never remembered anyone ever telling me they loved me.

I do however remember my grandmother, Nanny, the first woman pharmacist in Oklahoma, holding me as I fell asleep in her small  iron bed, covered with her down-filled pale blue handmade quilt.  She would wrap her arms around me, and we snuggled as she taught me what love felt like, as I fell asleep peacefully in her arms.  I have rarely felt it since. Today I have my own white iron bed with a pale blue bedspread.  Nanny is still with me in so many ways.
 

Growing up I recall all too well reaching out to those classmates who were not the 'pretty ones' or the 'popular ones'.  I could see pain,loneliness and something missing in their eyes and their souls.  And it was to them I gravitated.  I felt their pain.  Just like me, they felt that they weren't good enough.  This I knew and understood all too well.
 
At the time, for me, this emotion or this feeling didn't have a name.  Later I realized it was called compassion. Since those early days, for me compassion wakes me up and reaches out of me with tender arms to those around me who cry and suffer and long for something of an unknown origin. I have done this for as long as I can remember, back to grade school, then high school,  college, and now with my wounded warriors or with anyone, stranger or friend, that I see struggling or suffering. 
 
I quite simply want to relieve their pain as much as possible,  perhaps because compassion asks this of me.  I don't knowingly do this because there is something in it for me.  I do it simply because it was born in me.  Show me the excluded, the ill, the dying, the sad, the lonely.  Show me those who fight daily with demons that can't be tamed. I will appear with the bandages to help sooth their wounds, whether physical or mental.  The bandages I arrive with, more than likely, are rescued four footed angels that happened into my life, as a salve themselves for the pain I have been afforded in my life. They provide a place of nourishment for me, and for those patients I have worked with for decades.
 
It has become quite clear that when I was struggling alone for a great portion of my early life with my own loneliness and pain, sharing my suffering with others has become a holy act of compassion.  This quite simply, I truly believe, is why I am on this earth.
 
Every tear I have shed, every betrayal I have been afforded, every moment of grace, every hour of hope, every sunrise and sunset over an ocean or  thunderstorm in the mountains, every moment however small has suddenly been a wonder, a surprise, a knowingness, a gift of huge proportions toward fully  understanding there was a hope rising in me, to help all of us to understand that each of us fight our own battles, inwardly and/or outwardly.  And that from that promise emerges the fact that we can all exist with our own scars and a knowingness that  kind words, an outstretched hand or a simple smile can quite literally save another person.  A sincerity that they can see in your face and feel deep down inside, as I pull them back into life, if even just for a moment, as I live my religion.
 
From my scars, hope has arisen in others, smiles appear on vacant faces, arms stretch out wide open to encompass a complete stranger, who for whatever reason loves them with all her heart. Through me, my dogs are an offering of unconditional love to others.

So out of my scars great lessons have been learned. And for them I am a better person. I am compelled to struggle and suffer with those around me and to help relieve their pain, as much as possible. For this I suppose I should be grateful for the neglect and abuse I endured at a way too early age. For now I get it.  Now I understand.  We must all stand as a community rather than alone and reach out to those who need us the most.

I remember the little girl in me who had been wounded by life at a tender young age. A little girl who went on to adapt to others expectations by trying to please everyone, no matter the repercussions, because she was so fearful of disapproval and drawing outside of the lines. In finding compassion for others, she has become able to cradle a ragged old stuffed rabbit, that has no nose, every night and release that injured part of herself, as she soon realized this rabbit was indeed herself.

Now I get it. Now I know I am enough.  Now this little girl feels and listens deeply to the silent and sometimes not so silent cries of others, and with everything in her, she tries to help them in whatever way she can, for in so doing she find she is healing herself.