Thursday, December 27, 2012

DREAMING IS FREE

Dreaming is free. You will never know what can happen if you do dream! And you certainly won't know, if you don't dream at all.
 
Okay I agree, sometimes dreams don't come true.  Sometimes they just get lost and stuck and unrealized. But then sometimes they do come true and you find out without even realizing it, you have become your dream!
 
What does that mean you might ask.  It means you have a dream, a wish, a goal, a brass ring you are reaching for.  You fuss and fume that nothing ever goes your way, that nothing turns out right and nothing you can do will change that.  But that is where you are wrong.  A negative mind breeds nothing positive.  Except perhaps you are convinced that you are positive that you are negative and life is not going the way you want it to!! You become what you think!!
 
We are all survivors of a sort. We will survive either way.  And yes sometimes our dreams are not all realized.  We don't get the car in the driveway we have always wanted.  The house isn't big enough or fancy enough or expensive enough.  You know the drill.  But think about what really matters.  What really is important.  What really makes a difference in our lives. What really brings our dreams alive.
 
It is my fervent and deepest possible belief that the reason we're on this earth is to help ease the pain of others.  And in so doing, we help ourselves.  Try it.  Really try it.  I guarantee you if you do so with an open heart and a genuine spirit of giving, you will become your own dream. 
 
It isn't easy, if you are stuck in the midst of a negative mindset.  Or if you decide there are hundreds of things more important than helping someone else, least of all someone who is a stranger.  It takes time away from your stuff, your things, your goals. After all your time is valuable. And goodness knows how important you are.
 
I have observed people from various community and church groups who are volunteering at various wounded warrior functions.  They are simply there.  Their mind and heart is elsewhere.  They are doing this to fulfill an obligation or get another notch in their belt, or their girl friend made them go, or they get another line on their resume.  Watching their watches and standing on first one leg and then the other, they can't wait to get out the door. And then out the door they go.  Their heart was definitely not in it. 
 
But what if, what if they took the time to look at these warriors and think about what they endured, suffered and witnessed and sacrificed for their freedom.  What if they took the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of them. What if they really and truly cared. 
 
But there is the rub....they don't really and truly care.  And this is where their dream dies. For if they are not able to care about another human being in need, in pain, in heartbreak, in misery then they themselves are the most miserable of all creatures.
 
This is all too prevalent.  Most people take life for granted. With what I do, I don't have that opportunity or ability.  Life is precious. For my warriors, courage is sometimes holding on a minute longer.
 
One warrior took 16 bullets to save the life of his friend.  The friend escaped uninjured.  But his battle buddy has been hospitalized in horrible pain and multiple surgeries, and more debilitating pain, for months. He has not complained once! And you know what?  He said he would do it all over again. But in the process of his life saving gift, the guy whose life he saved is being transferred to Hawaii and is giving M. his dog and this dog in now in training to become M's TADSAW service dog.
 
Why am I telling you this?  It is by giving to others that you receive. You give because it is the right thing to do.  You give because for you it is the only thing to do.  And then you find that you give because it makes your dreams come true.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A DOG'S NOSE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

 
A dog's nose in the palm of your hand can cure almost anything!
 
 
You can almost feel the peace.  A feeling where you can fix, repair and mend those many things that might need attention.
 
I like to think that our dogs have a license to  'practice medicine.' And as for me, when I need their messages and medicine more than anything else, it is almost as if my dogs are telling me to .' 'get busy living or get busy dying.' And then there are those times when even their silence has a sound.  A simple sound of their presence ~ a sound of grace.
 
"Sometimes we know that without silence, words lose their meaning.  Without listening, speaking no longer heals.  That without distance, closeness cannot cure." ~ Henri Nouwen
 
For our warriors who are processing pain, I find it difficult to explain the plain and simple abilities of a dog to break into that silence, that processing, and offer something almost magical or mystical. Even after witnessing it time and time again, I am unable to string the words together to explain it.
 
From combat to crisis to celebration of life, the power and spirit of a dog is all encompassing. Can it be explained?  Sure, I suppose.  It may depend upon credentials or perhaps just witnessing and becoming aware of the moments where a dog enters an equation and brings solace, truth, reality, comfort and peace.
 
I have been blessed to have witnessed that, without a doubt, life changes often happen with a little thing.  Sitting with a dog on a hillside on a warm summer day or snuggling on the sofa in silence for long enough, we just might find that small whisper of grace that has been there all along.  My dogs have a special intuition as to when a warrior needs them the most.  With me, I can understand how they decipher my moods and attitudes, but how can they do so with a total stranger? 
 
Dogs are without a doubt the most glorious of creatures. 
 
Kelsie, my golden lab, and Matt are best friends.  From the first day they met, just an hour after he entered his room at the VA Polytrauma, she knew it.  She just knew it.  There was no magic or secret button to punch, Kelsie just knew.  She walked up to Matt's wheelchair and didn't even notice that he had no legs.  She sniffed and ever so gently nudged and then laid her head as close as she could to the stump.  He reached down and began stroking the top of her head, then with one finger he traced a line down her muzzle to her nose, then under her jaw, then began scratching.  She gently moved a little closer and simply stared up into his eyes and was encouraged by the slightest smile that came to his face. His mom looked at me with tears beginning to glisten in her eyes, as a slight smile began to brush her lips.  There had been a break through for both of them.
 
Sitting in silence and holding the leash, I backed up as far as I could and watched something most powerful taking place.  Something inexplicable and probably unnoticed by anyone else, but nonetheless amazing.  They were speaking a language known only to them. Afghanistan disappeared.  Pain disappeared. The blast of an IED that took his legs vanished, at least for a while. And in its place a friendship began and trust had opened the door. 
 
Does it matter? Absolutely!  Can we explain it?  Perhaps by attempting to stumble through several sets of words.  But can we understand it?  Most likely not.  Does it matter that we can't? Not to me.  It is enough that it happens.
 
For me and for the wounded and severely injured warriors that I work with, it is easy to surmise that spilled on this earth are all the joys of Heaven.
 
"Teach us to care and to not care - teach us to be still."
~ T.S. Elliott
 
So for today, look for and find the stillness within yourself.  You might just be surprised at what you find.
 
 
 
 


Sunday, December 16, 2012

SOMETIMES THERE ARE NO WORDS...ONLY PRAYERS!

Placing flashlights in places where we can find them. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this that at first glance. 

I like to think that when a warrior meets a therapy dog or is blessed with a service dog he is given a flashlight.  A flashlight that will light the way to a new and better life.  With the severely wounded warriors I see time and time again, something changes when Kelsie is snuggled up closely.  Sometimes they simply sit in silence.  And if this is the case, they may or may no realize it at the time, but there is a small whisper of grace that has been there all along.  It just took a dog who does not judge, does not place expectations or demands on them.

There was a time when I wanted to change the world.  Don't we all at one time or another?  Well we grow up and find that that just isn't possible.  Life doesn't work that way.  But what we can do is provide a light to one person, one patient, one wounded warrior at a time.  And in so doing we change the world one person at a time.  It isn't difficult to find a need and meet it.  What is is the actual doing it.  This takes time and energy and patience.  Something many do not want to expend.

As pain and grief and anxiety is processed, life takes on a new meaning.  For me I am convinced unless one has experienced these things, one cannot possibly understand it.

I AM HER EYES

 
A day or so ago, I wrote about a warrior telling me an angel entered his hospital room when Gracie had walked in. Today I do so again. 

A different warrior, a double amputee, quietly whispered...."Gracie walked in with angel wings." He brushed tears away from his eyes and they snuggled.  They just snuggled.  No words were said.  They were not needed.  A simple connection, a moment of understanding each for the other.  One of those moments where words are not needed, only the peace found in that place and time, as it filled the room.
There is a great deal being asked of our therapy dogs...they must remain comfortable in awkward and uncomfortable situations. Perhaps even more so with a blind therapy dog. Gracie is a gift from above for so many.  I am her eyes. She quite simply trusts me to not lead her into harm's way. But there is something far beyond that. She as a more keen sense of feelings with patients than I have ever witnessed in my 40 + years of being active in Animal Assisted Therapy. She knows when a patient is about to or has given up on themselves. She never gives up on them. Perhaps just another mystery. A mystery of the heart. She quite simply will not allow it.

In unspoken words, messages are conveyed and the tremendous burden carried by a wounded warrior suddenly is lightened.  She puts her coal black nose into their necks and nuzzles and then quietly rests her head on their chest or shoulder.  There is an understanding...a connection...a message transferred each to the other.  Almost as if she is telling them, 'if you choose the negative it will take your life, whether you are breathing or not.' 

Sorrow teaches us to be compassionate. Doubts and fears require we offer hope to  others.  Their courage, inspires us to better handle life's challenges.  Hope is provided by encouragement.  And sometimes, many times, this encouragement carries with it no words, only a very special gift of presence.

In life we have only lessons ~ no mistakes.  As these warriors have passed through my life, they are my teachers, just as my dogs have been. 

So this Christmas season, consider the possibility that the gifts you are stressing about buying in a mall with packed parking lots and unpleasant clerks and the pressure of time and getting it all done...consider that the true gift is a gift from the heart, a gift of love, of compassion, of empathy for each other.  Assist another in healing a broken heart, a broken spirit, a lost soul, hopelessness. What you receive in return is immeasurable. 

Perhaps it is that I hear a different drummer.  But I doubt it.  In the road less traveled M. Scott Peck says, "Pain in inevitable, but suffering optional."  Maybe, just maybe, this could be your gift to someone this year.  A real gift, a gift that doesn't have to be returned and is guaranteed to fit. 

Love someone back to life.  What better gift could be given?

There really is only one question ~ "How can I help?"

For me dogs are the silver lining that everyone looks for.  For me the answer is simple.  Small gestures of kindness add up to big things. In pain there is a sense of grace. 

Holiday magic comes from within....remember your indecision is your decision.  Let you decision this Christmas be one of love.  TS Elliott said, "Teach us to care, to not care.  Teach us to be still."

Spilled on this earth are all the joys of Heaven.  Look for them and offer them as your Christmas gift~


 



Saturday, December 15, 2012

LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR ~ ZEN SAYING

A magnet I have has words that we should all learn to live by. The Zen saying simply says "LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR."

I try to remember this when I am uncertain as to which road to take  Many spend endless hours analyzing, analyzing and then analyzing some more.  As far as I am concerned this constitutes dilemma after dilemma.  A muddle.  And more unanswered questions.  The price is dear.

Yes I am the opposite.  I make quick decisions, except to answer the endless question where do you want to eat. 
 
A friend of mine, Janet Austin, just posted this on facebook...and wow she couldn't have said it better. "Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe."
 
So yes, the answer is take a chance, leap and the net will appear. Believe! We take chances everyday we aren't even aware of ~ getting in the car and driving, taking a walk, and all too recently sending our children to school.  But if we don't take risks what do we lose?
 
We lose the opportunity, the possibility, our destiny, and we lose love.  The path isn't always clear cut, but then what is.  Sometimes we know instantly if something is the right thing to do and then sometimes we struggle.  Pulling, tugging, pushing, dragging!  And the answer still does not come.  Sometimes we have to pull up our britches and say okay let's give it a try.  The worst that can happen is you will have learned a lesson.  But you would have done that either way. The best that can happen is that you will blossom like never before.  The worst...well you try another path. 
 
Feelings of fear all too often get in the way of living our lives.  We become stagnant and stuffy and boring and stuck!  Just plain stuck! Ultimately this is the saddest of all.  Going for the brass ring isn't necessary, but going for life is! 
 
This is the only one we get.  Reach out and grab it.  Pushing opportunities away, losing out on happiness, and sitting in a quagmire isn't going to be much fun.  So face life head on, say 'good morning and let's see where I am being lead today!'



Friday, December 14, 2012

WITHOUT DOGS LIFE WOULD BE A MISTAKE

Friedrich Nietzhe said, "Without music life would be a mistake." I want to expand his wisdom to include, "Without dogs life would be a mistake." This I believe with all of my heart. As far as I am concerned there is no truer truth. I see it daily. I breathe it and sleep it.  I know it in my heart, my soul.

When my warriors reach out to my Gracie and Kelsie in pain, I see the story of how they met and how someday because of this brief acquaintance something inside the warrior will awaken and begin healing with a best friend by his side. And together they will soldier onward to distant horizons more brilliant than they could have ever dreamed. Life will return.  Not the same life, but life will return.

Sometimes a simple lick of a dog on their cheeks or they hands gives them the courage and strength to carry on. And then there are times it tells them to put down the gun they have to their heads. 

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD said, "Much of life can never be explained but only witnessed." Warriors and their dogs, whether in war or peace, have an inexplicable bond which affirms that some of us get by with a little help from our friends, and then some of us are literally saved by them.

Recovery for a warrior with PTSD/TBI just may begin with healing the inner self.  And following his heart just might be the awakening.  Pressing past the pain with a dog by their side they find their fear subsides.  Stories I have been told of going to a movie for the first time in 24 years, going to the supermarket or super store at two in the morning is a thing of the past, days of hiding in the closet barricaded with duffel bags and holding a knife in their apartment are over. 

When I asked a female warrior what words she would share with her fellow wounded warriors she said, "There is a purpose for your being here.  You must hold on." 

For the warriors we have been blessed to reach, we find their most powerful memories are from their senses. The touch and smell of war permeates their lives day and night, but the introduction of a therapy or service dog into their lives brings a very different kind of sensory stimulation.  One that awakens a part of them that they felt they had lost forever. 

Most people awaken each morning and take life for granted.  I am not afforded that luxury because of what I do, hear, see, and absorb. I would never trade my life.

I am reminded of a warrior I visited with my therapy dog Gracie.  We walked into his room where he was recovering from double leg amputations.  We had never met him before but his entire demeanor changed when he saw her.  He told me that to be fully alive is to believe that anything and everything is possible.  Then he looked at me with a sincerity that permeated the room that when walked into his room his saw wings on Gracie.  'An angel had entered his room.'  I believed him.  Little sightless Gracie has been able to open hearts and eyes to life...to a life these warriors felt was lost. She has been a warrior's angel.
 
These are stories of character, patriotism and devoted love of country.  These are stories that you witness and grasp the reality of a relationship that is hard to tell, but it is real and defined by trust.
 
It is by seeing through the lace of these warrior's stories that I have come to know and hold and absorb another's pain and deep sorrow.  Sometimes I can't let it go.  Sometimes I can't forget.  How are they sustained through grief, loss and change? 
 
So for me I go back to my mantra ~ 'Little matters in this world if we have not learned how to touch the heart of another and be touched.'

Thursday, December 13, 2012


 
 
 
 
 
 
To my Wally. You were found close to death in a ditch 11 years ago. You were loved back to life. The grace of hearing in your ears is gone, the vision in your beautiful eyes is failing, but the spring in your step, as you jump into my lap and turn over onto your back, remains a moment I look forward to each day. When you can't see or hear my approach and nip at me, you are forgiven. For I love you! As you have always loved and forgiven me.  I know your time on this earth is limited, but as you curl up in the nest you have made on my sofa and gaze our the window you may not know it but it provides a peace and comfort I have deep inside of me. When I have a panic attack it is you by my side. When I had surgery and you would never leave my side and had to be carried outside to 'potty', you couldn't get back inside fast enough to snuggle up next to me and help me heal. You have been my steadfast love. Your soothing snore and precious breathing and mere presence in my bed brings me a comfort I doubt I shall experience again.

(Wally is on the bottom step.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

LESSONS LEARNED

If you have been holding on to unnecessary people in your life, let them go.
If you have been clinging on to some old memories for too long, let the past go.
If you have been haunted and bound by past mistakes, it's time to let them go.
If you have been afraid and stopping yourself from being who you truly are for too long, let all that self-doubt go.
If you have been insecure of your abilities and afraid to take risks for too long, let go of the loser mentality.

Wise words from a wise woman! I thank her for the inspiration.

I have long subscribed to this philosophy. It has served me well. I choose to look into a kaleidoscope and see an array of beautiful colors, lights and forms than to be stuck in the muddle of chaos and drama. I think often of that kaleidoscope when I am fighting back tears. One of the most difficult moments in my life is giving someone else a hug, when I need it the most. Fighting back the tears in my eyes when I am wiping off someone elses's. Listening to someones grief when I want my own misery to be heard. Being the reason someone smiles when my own smile seems to be lost.

Being the strong one isn't always the easiest job in the world.

But you know what, eventually, you will find that your own problems don't seem quite as big, or insurmountable, or laborious when you give of yourself to someone else. Sitting and thinking endlessly about yourself is a big  waste of time, as far as I am concerned. Analyzing yourself has its place sure. But there comes a time and place where you need to get up off of your tuffet and get going!

I assume most of you have a dog and understand the beauty and joy of that. My dogs over the years have taught me greater lessons than anyone else in my life.

Blackie taught me that if you had a friend nearby to cry with that life would eventually get better. Lady taught me about death and loss and an overwhelming grief that one day lessens. Charlie taught me exuberance and playfulness and how to nag someone endlessly until you get what you want. Lulu taught me that even if you are a very large dog about 100 pounds you can still be afraid and alone, and she taught me that nothing is better than someone who loves you deep down inside. Penny taught me that life isn't all play. Life is about helping others and serving even when your own pain is crushing. Wally has taught me to not walk into a dark room for fear I step on something furry. Annie taught me never to give up even if someone is on the verge of death. Death can be beaten back. Spunky taught me unconditional love and that nothing feels better than a warm little body under the covers, snuggling close on a cold night. Molly taught me that risking crossing a freeway to save a dog you never met ultimately brings you a friendship that is incomparable. Casey taught me that letting go of a friend you have had for 21 years is acutely painful. Kelsie has taught me that if she is close by, I feel safe. Gracie has taught me to be her eyes so she has someone to trust inside her dark world. Colonel has taught me that having three legs isn't so bad. And most importantly, they have all taught me about love.

Sleep well friends. Dream about what your dogs have taught you.



FINDING OURSELVES

 
 
How could we live without beauty?  How could any of us exist without gifts such as  this one?  
 
Last week I was sitting on the balcony of a beach condo at 6:45 am awaiting the sunrise accompanied by a prayer full of gratitude for the beauty I was sharing in an all too rare peaceful moment of solitude.  I clicked the shutter fast and furiously,  hoping that this one bird, a pelican, could be captured just in time, as he entered the sunrise and my life with such dignity and majesty that I could not hold back the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat. 
 
The simplicity of this photo reminded me that the simplification of outward life is not enough.  We must simplify our inner life as well. It is here where we find the well either empty or full or drying up horribly.  It is here that we dwell in peace and harmony with nature, with others, with ourselves.
 
Back at my desk, I sit with a pewter sand dollar, a cedar box with my spirit guide, the white wolf, on it as it shelters my dearest possessions, and a royal blue paperweight of of blue and white dolphins rising in crystal clear bubbles upward toward the surface.  These things center me and more importantly remind me that perhaps in our differences, we are all like this bird, flying alone with our own navigation system in varying directions.  What that direction is, is of vast importance. At least it is to me. It is a choice we all have the  gift and obligation to make. 
 
One pelican flying over the Gulf of Mexico did me in!  This one bird against the backdrop of the beginning of a new day.  This is why I journey to the beach to find myself once again.  To set aside the stress and anxiety and day to day chaos, frustration and angst. 
 
What is it that we are called upon to do, to accomplish, to complete our lives?  Who and what do we allow into our hearts and our inner lives?
 
I am at my most content in the early hours of the day.  When the earth is quiet and I can sit at my desk, surrounded by my most precious possession, my dogs, and write.  Most do not understand that.  I want no disturbances, no interruptions, no phone calls, no appointments.  I just want to write and explode my thoughts and heart onto paper. It is of no great importance that anyone read what I write, but should my words be helpful or constructive to others so much the better. It is here I find my true identity.  So many feel they are defined by what others think of them, their husbands, their wives, their friends.  But when all is said and done, isn't it who we know we are deep inside that really matters.  Whether we are right or wrong in others eyes is up to them.  It does not define us. Knowing ourselves is where we find who we are and what we need. 
 
For me I must indulge in the creative activity of writing. It is here I find who I am, and notice all too frequently the neglected me - my relationship with me. It is only by knowing who we truly are, foibles and all,  that we are able to have meaningful relationships with others. 
 
I would like nothing better than to fill my time with empty hours, where there is nothing on my calendar.  Time when I can write.  Sometimes this is possible.  Sometimes not.  But the times I am allowed the freedom to do this are the times that remind me who I am. 
 
There have been times and places and spaces in my life I am not proud of.  Times where I was definitely in the wrong place, fighting battles that I had no hope of winning.  There are times when I have had no answers to questions and no idea which way to turn.  There have been times when I have been falsely accused of many things...these times were and today remain painful.  Time can never be recovered and our destiny isn't always in our hands.  No more so than my finding the few blessed quiet hours to sit and write. But for today, for now, for these hours I will write.
 
For this one bird, flying into the sunrise, inspired me.  As each day, we are each flying into the sunrise with a mission and a purpose.  Whether or not we pay attention is up to us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

THE SANTA HAT



 

THE SANTA HAT

 

 
Gracie and I decided to accompany Angela and Lottie to the hospital to sit in on a group therapy session with brain injured patients.  I had heard from the neuro psychologist how much Lottie, had helped the patients she was trying to reach.  I had to see for myself.

 

Lottie has a gentle spirit and a sensitive intuitive nature. But what I was about to witness would surprise even me.

 

Being just days before Christmas, the group was unusually small with only four attending. For a while patients were talking about dogs they had once had and about someday getting another dog, ‘when they get better.’ Gracie visited everyone and then figured Lottie ‘had it covered’ so she curled up in the corner of the room and fell asleep.

 

Soon a wounded soldier in rehab was asked by the therapist if he was sleeping any better at night.  He said, ‘No, the nightmares still come.” As he began telling of the horrors of war that returned to him each night, Lottie, off leash, went to him.  It started simply enough, with this special therapy dog placing her front paws on the sofa where both Manny and the therapist sat.  As he talked, his level of stress increased and his leg started slowly bouncing up and down in a nervous rhythmical way.  And as it did, Lottie, or “Loddy Doddy” as Manny calls her, crawled, or as I like to say, oozed, slowly onto Manny’s lap.  Soon, without fanfare or notice, Lottie was sitting in the middle his lap. It was as if she was showing him the way to warmth and safety.  Manny never missed a beat. He accepted and welcomed her with open arms and heart, as he continued talking about the frightening nightly interruptions.

 

Lottie, sitting upright, soon placed her head on his shoulder and snuggled into his neck.  The eyes of the therapist turned to me.  As we locked eyes, we both realized something quite incredible had happened.  Words were not spoken, nor were they even necessary.  Manny, wearing a red and white Santa hat with the pompom off to the side, buried his face into the fur of this big black lab, his leg quieted and he gently stroked Lottie.

 

Manny may have trouble with nightmares, but for that moment he was at peace. 

 

After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

THE SIMPLE ACT OF NOURISHMENT

The simple act of nourishment!
 
Nourishing the body with food and fuel to operate at it finest.  Nourishing those we love through meals and time spent at the family table.  Nourishing friends by being there for them when they need you the most.  Nourishing with great love those who are not receiving any.  Nourishing those who are lost and alone. Nourishing those who are not at peace in this world for lack of someone who understands them and holds their hand so as to not let them disappear from view. Nourishing our children with displine and love. Nourishing ourselves when we are depleted and empty.  Nourishing our wounded warriors who have sacrificed dearly for this country's freedom.
 
As I write this I wonder if it is as simple as it seems.  I wonder how many of us take the time to nourish anything.  Our plants wither for lack of nourishment, our hearts collapse because we are too self absorbed. Our souls cry out for help and we are not certain why.
 
Why is this?  What is so much more important in our lives than being their for others?  To me this is why we are on this earth.
 
Every morning I awaken to the ritual of hungry dogs ready to race outside.  But before my feet touch the ground I say a little prayer..."God help me make a difference today." My mantra.
 
Little has been learned in this world if we have not learned how to touch the heart of another and to be touched in return.  I am reminded this morning on Veteran's Day of a quote by Thomas Edison,  "Rules!  Hell, there are no rules here...we're trying to accomplish something."
 
Today consider putting light in places where people need it the most!!!
 
 

Friday, November 9, 2012

BANDAIDS TO WHAT HURTS

What is it about loving someone you don't know?  Someone you just met?  Someone who lost a limb or two or three for you?  What is it when they want to be hugged and just have someone touch them, and just hold them for a few minutes and tell them that they matter and that what they did for this country made a difference....and that you care and appreciate the sacrifices they made. What is it?

This has been the most emotion packed day I can remember in a very, very long time. In fact so much so that the route I normally take home was lost to me.  I just drove and drove and never had a clue where I was going...only thinking, remembering, digesting, and above all grateful for the opportunity to do what I do!

Far too long I have been doing, and doing and doing and spinning my wheels getting no where.  But now I am where I am supposed to be.




Therapy dogs help heal at VA hospital. If you don't believe it watch this video of two dogs whose mission it is to help our warriors heal!

http://www.ksat.com/news/Therapy-dogs-help-heal-at-VA-hospital/-/478452/17336030/-/amebfiz/-/index.html
 
Everyone has an animal story that brings them to tears.  But this day, and every day with Kelsie, I am brought to tears as she performs miracles with the severely injured warriors. It is here that you see the rough edges of life.  It is here that you witness great pain, great courage, and great suffering, and also great miracles.  Sometimes these warriors open their hearts so wide, I find I just slip inside without knowing my feet had left the earth. 
 
Words are meaningless in moments like these. There are moments that erase everything bad and open a door into a place of hope and healing.
 
As Kelsie and I work with the wounded warriors, I am reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt's quote as she spoke to her husband, "They will never see past your legs until you do." This is what Kelsie and I provide.  We see past their injuries into the real person. We allow them to be real.
 
I recall a warrior with no legs telling me, when I asked how he was doing, he said, "Every morning when I can get up and put my feet on the floor and stand up, anything after that is just gravy."  He waited for my response and then started laughing!  Life is what you make it.  Always has been.  Always will be.

"Perhaps strength doesn't reside in having never been broken, but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places." Unknown
 
So today I follow the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi,
"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

There is so much I want to tell you about my day, but the words are temporarily drowned by tears.  But soon.

So from Tears and Laughter and Gene Hill,
 
"He is loyalty itself.  He has taught me the meaning of devotion.  With him I know a secret comfort and a private peace.  He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.  His head on my knee can heal my human hurts."
 

 

Monday, November 5, 2012

FRACTURED AND PARTLY CLOUDY



~ FRACTURED AND PARTLY CLOUDY~
 
I spent the weekend this way ~ fractured and partly cloudy.  Beautiful weather and blue skies and a November high in the high 70's.  So why was I feeling so low? Or was it depression?  Or was it a change in lifestyle?  Or was it all of the above?
 


After spending hours and hours each day working on a project for years I decided to 'call it quits'. Life changes. Time changes. But somethings stay the same.  Situations can change. But we try to make everything just as it always has been.  Predictable.  Well life isn't predictable no matter how hard we try.  And maybe it is in it not being predictable that it is just that ~ predictable.
 
We can't make things be the way we wish they were.  But what we can do it live the life we have, as though it matters. 
 
I look our 'my' wounded warriors at the VA Polytrauma and thank them for their service and sacrifices, often sacrifices of missing limbs, missing memories, missed youth and growing up way too soon and facing horrible pain every hour of the day.  But without exception they always say one of two things..."No thank you ma'am for what you do!"  Or simply, "No problem."
 
Then this makes me feel more depressed wondering why I am depressed when they struggle on valiantly from day to day.  To this I quite simply have no answer. 
 
A quote from a dear friend today in his blog, "You don't choose a life, you live one." Awakening to say the least.  But isn't it in how one chooses to live the one life we are given?  Isn't this the key?
 
Words from Terry Hershey, "Here's the deal!  Only those of us who choose to learn, to grow, to try, to continue on a journey, to risk and fall down, to get up and try again and to follow their passion willl live wholehearted." 
 
 
Okay I'll buy that!  And I guess the key is that the growing, the trying, the risking and falling down isn't always fun, or pleasant, or wanted.  What if you are just plain tired?
 
I believe it is then that you have to quiet your mind, quiet your days, move past those who have abandoned and hurt you for whatever reason, and find the moments that bring you joy and purpose and dispose of those that are impossible to adjust. Yes there is a great deal we want that we will never have.  Places we want to go and can't.  Days we want the sunshine in our hearts, just not the sky. And days when we want the fractured and partly cloudy skies to clear so that we can live this life, this one life, moment to moment in beauty and peace. 
 
Today I will try.
 
 
 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

LOVING SOMEONE INTO EXISTENCE

A friend, Terry Hershey, wrote these words in one of his newsletters. I wrote the words on a scrap of paper and waited for the right time to discover just why they meant so much to me when I read them.  Before I tell you why, I would like for you to spend a moment or two and try and think to yourself exactly what they mean to you. 


Loving someone into existence
 
So many of the warriors I work with in therapy, with my therapy dog Kelsie, live minute to minute with anger, frustration, and pain. I often wonder what these injuries and tests allow them to learn about themselves and if they come to realize what is truly important and what is not.
 
These warriors are placed in a forced time-out.  A forced place of quiet where you they are unable to go about their lives the way they planned, the way they had dreamed and hoped. Working with double and triple amputees and severely injured warriors has definitely put my life in perspective. I find it impossible to imagine that it wouldn't do that to anyone.  But it does.  Some don't want to see it because it would make it a reality.  It is bad enough to think about it, but to see it would make it impossible to forget. How sad.
 
These long, forced time outs force the warriors to contemplate what is next for them when their whole life lies before them.  They knew going into the military what might and could happen.  That is made very clear.  They risk their lives for their 'battle buddies', their country, they come home with 'survivor's guilt' and can't understand why they were not killed.   It would have been so much easier. 
 
What if this is a time for them to come to the realization that this time of quietude and time of doing nothing, save healing, is actually a time to wonder what is happening now, at this minute, this one breath they are taking.
 
The lesson to be learned here, at least to me, is that every day is a new day to experience.  Sometimes life is deplorable, horrible, painful, and downright wrong.  Sometimes there are no answers and the questions themselves make no sense.  But in times such as these perhaps there is someone, in a very special moment, that can love us back into existence.  Sometimes this can be a friend, a spouse, a parent, a child, or a significant person in our lives.  And sometimes it can be as simple, and yet as complicated, as a very special dog, that comes into our lives as softly as a feather touching a stump, remaining from where a warrior's leg once was, to the nudge of a hand with nerve damange, requiring movement to scratch the back of a dog who somehow, unknown to all of us, knows exactly what they need the most. It is a time to sleep and have your hand reaching out and touching the back of a friend who requires nothing but is simply present for you. 
 
It is at times like this when the warrior is focused solely on the moment.  And on this one living breathing creature who asks nothing, requires nothing, and expect nothing.  Perhaps this is what 'loving us back into existence means.'  Perhaps this is what we all need at one time of another in our lives.  A place of quietude, a place where no one requires anything of us and can love us back into existence from the brink of not knowing what to do, where to go, what is next, or why me.
 
 

 
 

Monday, October 22, 2012

ONLY YOU CAN LIVE YOUR LIFE

 
 
 


A couple of days ago a wounded warrior said these words to me, "Only  you can live your life."  They have impacted me more than I would have ever imagined.  These six little words say it all.  At least to my way of thinking. 

I am starved for serenity, for laughter, joy, and sunshine.  I have become completely exhausted, yet as has been my lifelong trait, I keep on keepin' on until there isn't anything left to give to myself.  For the past 48 hours I have slept 24 much needed hours. 

I need a life of quietude and have found that only I am responsible for removing those things from my life that cause me untold, debilitating stress.  It has become more than obvious to me that I need a place of stillness, centered and quiet. A place of stillness, a place to breathe and a place to release myself from the life that keeps me tied in knots, sick, anxious, stressed, going from doctor to doctor to find the cause.  When in reality the cause is me.

Writing focuses me.  It focuses my attention.  It stills my soul.  It refreshes and cleanses me. I become quiet.

"Time can stand still, I am convinced of it; something snags and stops, turning and turning, like a leaf on a stream." ~ John Banville

And just perhaps, it is in these times of time standing still when we can be assured that something very important is about to happen. For me, it is in those moments when the truth leaps in and my life becomes enriched.

Only I can live my life!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A PLACE OUTSIDE OF GRIEF



Today I need to find a place outside of grief.
 
 In reviewing some of my favorite photographs, I celebrate each moment. Shane and Gracie were bonded at first sight. Shane loved my little girl as much as I do. They would always bow and touch foreheads and speak an unknown, yet intimate language...perhaps the language of love and understanding...as both had lost part of themselves. 
 
Shane had lost both legs in an IED explosion. And Gracie had lost her eyesight. 
 
Shane was then and always will be my greatest inspiration. The smile he would have on his face when little Gracie came near was enough to have made my journey on this earth sufficient! It was a fundamental purpose of being here. I guess the moral is that we need to remember the specialness found in the ordinary days of our lives...hold on to them and treasure them as the gifts they are.
 
 
 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

RIPPLEMAKERS

There is a story told of a young boy who was walking along a beach on the morning following a storm. Here it is:

While walking the beach, a man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the sea.

As he came closer, he saw thousands of sand dollars the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the ocean during low tide, the sand dollars were dying. He observed a young boy picking up the sand dollars one by one and throwing them back into the ocean.

After watching the seemingly futile effort, the observer said, "There must be thousands of sand dollars on this beach. It would be impossible for you to save all of them. There are simply too many. You can't possibly make a difference."

The young boy smiled as he picked up another sand dollar and tossed it back into the ocean. "It made a difference to that one," he replied.


All of us can make a difference to someone by performing small acts of kindness. Often, we never know what an impact we make with just a smile, a touch, or a kind word. That's why I refer to those who make a difference as "Ripplemakers". Pay it forward people, if you will.

But what is the toll taken when attempting to throw all of those sand dollars back into the ocean?  What does it do to us? Does the vastness of it overwhelm us and lead us to believe it is futile?
 
I ask myself this multiple times a day.  And the answer is always the same, yes. It is definitely worth it.  Sometimes you aren't told.  Sometimes you will never know.  And then sometimes you know instantly.  Or you will know several years from now. It doesn't always make us feel good.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes you can't get the visuals out of your mind, the chaos of war, the hatred of one man for another and the damage and wounds inflicted. The pain for the rest of a life.  The anxiety the stress the isolation.  But when I visit one warrior that has only one remaining limb, I find the smile on his face, if only for a few minutes, is definitely worth it.  It made a difference to this one.
 
The moral is to breathe in, breathe out and throw that live sand dollar back into the ocean.  It is why we are on this earth....to make a difference in the lives of others.  If only one at a time!

 

Friday, September 28, 2012

SOMETIMES MAYBE WE ARE THE ANGELS!

Did you ever doubt that maybe sometimes we are the angels?  Sometimes we feel like we are surrounded by angels protecting us.  But did you ever consider the idea that perhaps at just the right time and right place we are the angels?



Wednesday like many other days, I woke up frightened and empty.  But decided I once again would delve into office work to deaden the pain.  I worked all morning, had a ritual peanut butter and jelly sandwich and left to go to a doctor's appointment.

I was called on my way by a nurse from the VA Polytrauma here in San Antonio.  It seems one of the warriors that my therapy dog, Kelsie, and I had visited just the day before had had a huge setback.  A., as I shall call him, had stepped on an IED in Iraq.  He had lost both legs and one arm and a thumb on the remaining limb.  He adored Kelsie's visits and he brushed her and loved her and would just lie and stare into her eyes and she into his. He would contort his body to get closer to her and she would nuzzle his cheeks and hair.  He would laugh and smile and then he kept trying to turn his torso closer and closer to her, until we were afraid he might fall.  He adored her and the feeling was mutual.

But this phone call changed everything.  You see he was in the gym with his physical therapists when suddenly and seemingly out of no where, there was an IED blast on the newscast on the television in the room.  It instantly threw him back into Afghanistan and the IED that blew off his legs and arm.  He remembers in great detail the entire thing (which is unusual).  He was rushed back to his room and the doctors came and the entire staff and his mom worked with him to bring him back to his new reality.  But he simply wanted to stop eating and just die. Anything to stop the pain and the horror of that day that changed his life forever.

This is when I got the phone call. The docs and staff had tried everything. "If you aren't too busy and if you could, would you and Kelsie be able to come help us with A."  My answer ~ "Absolutely!"  "But if you are too busy....."  "I am not too busy.  Was A. too busy when he went to war for this country?"  I went home and got Kelsie.  And we rushed to the hospital.  The nurse told me she had held him and rocked him gently back and forth as he cried and sobbed saying, "This just isn't fair." She had responded, "No it isn't.  It isn't fair at all."

We got to his door and I took a very long slow deep breath, exhaled and said a prayer asking for the right words, the right things to say, to be of some help.  Then the nurse looking hopeful opened the door.

The moment he saw Kelsie a big smile covered his face.  I turned to the audience of hospital staff behind me and gave a thumbs up.  They stood and observed as Kelsie and I went to work.  I had taken a beautiful handmade quilted lap robe that I had been asked to give to a very special warrior.  It had been in my trunk for weeks.  And I had carefully placed it into Kelsie's bag before going into the hospital. 

I placed the chair by the bed as before and covered it with Kelsie's paw print blanket.  I gave her the 'up' command and she popped up on to the chair. I told A. to cover his eyes with his arm and if he peaked "I would never speak to him again."  There was the slightest smile as he did as I asked.  I remember thinking that at that moment he was just like a little kid, being asked to hide his eyes before a big surprise. 

I was winging this entire thing and hadn't a clue what to do next.  So I took the vividly colorful quilt and folded it and placed it over Kelsie's back and tucked it under her chin so that only her face was visible. She looked a bit like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood! Then I told him it was alright to uncover his eyes.

As he looked over at Kelsie he burst out laughing!  I turned and gave the medical staff the thumbs up sign and it was then A. returned to the present moment...Afghanistan was not in the room. Smiles and relief abounded.

I told him Kelsie had brought him a very special gift, because he was a very special man.  He softened, his facial muscles relaxed and his fingers touched the quilt with such tenderness and love that it was almost unbelieveable.  He looked at me, at Kelsie and at the quilt and said the most heartfelt 'thank you' that I had ever heard.  Over and over and over he said it.  I gave him a gigantic hug and whispered in his ear that I loved him and it was going to be alright and that I was so proud of him.

I removed the quilt from Kelsie's back and unfolded it and laid it gently on top of A.  He took one corner and pulled it up under his chin and again softly said, "Thank you."

The staff looked on mesmerized.  What medicine couldn't do, one very beautiful golden lab was able to accomplish. 

We stayed for a while and I told  a couple of funny stories about my dogs. Then seeing him tire and relax, I told him to take a nap before dinner and we packed our bags and quietly leflt. I thanked the nurse for calling us and told her to call anytime anyone needed special animal assisted therapy. I feel quite certain they will.

Then as if this was monumental enough, his mom rode down in the elevator with us and shared with me that just the day before he had asked her if there was any way he could get a quilt to cover up with ~a  brightly colored quilt that could at least temporarily cover and hide his wounds. 

Yes, there were busy angels at work that afternoon.  And the thought briefly returned that maybe there are times when we are the angels.

I knew at this moment that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  I now know which road to travel.







Monday, September 24, 2012

HOW DO YOU REPLENISH YOUR SOUL?

 
 
 
How do you replenish your soul?  How do you celebrate the seasons that come all too quickly each year?  How do you celebrate each day? 

I find that the only way I can replenish my soul is in beauty and solitude. It could be the ocean, a clear blue sky with puffy white clouds, brilliant stars at night, the beauty I devour in well crafted words on the pages of a brand new book, a glorious sunset over a bird refuge on South Padre Island, the sun rising a little piece at a time over the Gulf of Mexico, wildflowers at timberline in the springtime with snow still visible on the higher elevations.  I don't see these things much anymore, except in my imagination.  Tears surface and the yearnings become more intense and I find myself insanely desperate in my longing for them.
 
 
I could not live without quiet.  A quiet found in solitude, in time alone, with no sound except the occasional sound of one of my dogs, contented with all, sighing beside my chair. I tire so of arguing and loud voices that are ravinous in their efforts to consume you and yet never listening. I want to plug my ears and turn down their volume.  I want to bury myself under piles of pillows until the noise disappears and the intrusion is gone. I love the sound of quiet. The feeling of peace.
 
I love those days when I have to go no where and see no one.  Days I can spend in my pajamas with a cup of tea and a croissant and plump ripe blueberries in the garden listening to the birds awaken to a new day.  These are the times that I celebrate.  These are the times that I pray.  These are the times that are all too seldom allowed me.
 
So this morning once again these all too seldom spaces and the accompanying memories and visions of places I so sincerely need to be and see are once again tucked away.  But I can close my eyes and invision them, the feel of the sun on my face and arms sipping coffee on the terrace of an adobe house in Santa Fe, hiking and enjoying a picnic lunch of wine, cheese and bread in the mountains of my home state, Colorado, and revisiting places that remain in my mind and heart, to be taken out when most needed. Most of all today I wonder if I will ever see them again. How sad that would make me. I feel as if these are as important to life as water and air.


Yesterday I spent 5 hours with three triple amputees and two warriors with self inflicted gunshot wounds to the head and sat with them and their mothers/wives.  It exhausted me...depleted me...made me sad...made me mad....made me feel somehow inexpicably empty.  Unable to fix or help or heal or offer much of anything except my presence and the presence of my best friend, my service/therapy dog Kelsie.For some odd reason I felt as if we were imposing on them and imposing on a world that is all out of whack. A world that is all too real and close and frighteningly terrifying.

I sat and observed as my precious Kelsie snuggled and cuddled and brought smiles to faces I fear had not borne one in a very long time.  I wondered what kind of a world this is where people do this to each other and for some to not be able to stand living any longer.  Then I remembered that 18 warriors die each day from suicide. And was informed that the number of triple amputees returning from war is greatly increasing. I felt 'off' all day, as if nothing I could do would even make a dent.  

This same day I had quite unexpectedly been hurt by the one person on earth I thought would never hurt me. It threw me into a tailspin. As I wondered why.  I could barely speak and felt hollow in a way I never want to feel again. I feel much the same today.  When the props are pulled out from under us what is it we should do?  Look at the bright side? Didn't work.  Try and focus on others problems that are far more severe? Maybe.  But grief is grief and pain is pain and the levels don't seem to make a difference. Delve feet first into work?  Write? Cry but find the pain is so bad that tears won't even come. 

Defeating the feeling of numbness...at the world, at the warriors with only one limb left, at hatred, at words that cut like a knife into our hearts and souls, at betrayal.   A book sits on my desk called, DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF."  Well this isn't the small stuff so no help here. 

Then as I so often do, I turn to other books.  I open one favotie book and the pages reveal answers in some myterious, predestined way.  This morning I read from LEAN FORWARD INTO YOUR LIFE by Mary Ann Radmacher.

".....if there is value in the difficult experience...it becomes more than just "loss."  We lift ourselves up on the wings of our own vision and hope. Live boldly, laugh loudly, love truly, play as often as you can, work as smart as you are able. ......answer 'yes', as you walk may angels gather at your shoulders and may you know they stand with you, as you rest may all your endeavors be rooted in contentment and peace." 

I am still left with questions left unanswered.  Maybe there are no answers, maybe I won't see my mountains or adobe houses and the smell of pinon again.  But for today I will just try and take one step after another and see where I end up. I feel quite certain that my Kelsie walks with angels on her shoulders...perhaps today I can borrow but one.

 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

DO YOU HAVE ALL OF YOUR PARTS?

A warrior recently wrote to me, "I have all of my parts, but don't have all of my parts if you know what I mean." Sure I do.  I totally get it!  I understand.
 
This warrior, has no missing limbs, but he is missing that part inside that keeps him upright, that let's him go outside his house without fear, that lets him sleep without night terrors, that keeps him watching the doors, entrances and exits, or from driving over a bridge...the list goes on.  He is missing a really big part that once was his life.
 
He/she endures this day and night.  They have come home from war with a greater battle yet to fight...the battle of Post Traumatic Stress, or a Traumatic Brain Injury, or Military Sexual Trauma.
 

It isn't fair.  It isn't right.  They went to war for us, for this country.  And they come home a completely different person.  A person that has anger issues, isolation issues, alcohol and drug abuse and more.  What happened to my daddy?  Where is my husband I prayed everyday would come home safely to me? Where is my son?  What can I do to help?  The pain continues throughout the family and ultimately the community.

 
 
But them almost out of nowhere comes that miracle.  The miracle that takes a good portion of the pain away.  That put the parts of the puzzle back together, with a nudge of a muzzle, and soon the warrior finds him or herself back in the supermarket, going to a movie, sleeping through the night and going to the ball park with his son.  His or her spouse no longer has another child to contend with.  The warrior has all their parts back.  They are whole again...or darn near close. 
 
It is an amazing thing to observe the sudden transformation.  The instant relief of a great deal of the pain from war. 
 
Life won't ever be the same, but with a dog by their side it is a great deal better and in many ways it is like it once was...before war.
 
 
There is light in the warrior's soul once again.  Days and long sleepless nights are no longer dreaded.  There is that one entity that opens doors that they thought were forever closed.  The missing parts begin to return...slowly in some cases and yet in others, dramatically fast. 
 
Please read and absorb the heartfelt words from a warrior that keep us moving 24/7!!

"It is b/c of TADSAW that I'm here. Both you and Bart thank all of us, but without the two of you I think it is safe to say that most of us wouldn't still be around let alone function."
 
Needless to say it is more than Bart and me that keep this thing going.  But we are desperately seeking funding to meet the HUGE demand of over 1,000 on a waiting list.  If you can help us, in any way at all, please consider the words above.  There are 18 suicides every day from these horrific invisible injuries of Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injuries and Military Sexual Trauma.  We can't do it without you.  Doesn't this nation owe them this much?
 
Please help us save a life! A rescue dog enters the lap, heart and soul of a warrior and quite literally saves them.  One warrior told us he had a gun in his mouth prepared to pull the trigger and looked down at his little dog looking up at him and he couldn't do it.  It is as simple and as complicated as that. 
 
TADSAW ~ TRAIN A DOG~ SAVE A WARRIOR
13423 BLANCO ROAD, # 218
SAN ANTONIO, TX 78248
210 273 6471
 
You may contribute through our website as well ~ www.tadsaw.org with paypal, check, credit card, or money order. 
 
Consider giving a holiday gift of a donation to TADSAW to friends who have everything and would appreciate the depth of your love for our warriors. We will send them a holiday card and an autographed copy of POCKETS OF PEACE ~ A THERAPY FOR PTSD, TBI AND MST. They too can help us help them...to help them have a life...to save dog's life, to save a warrior's life.