Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Keeping up with even one blog has been a challenge lately, let alone two because we have a new member of the household.  I got a puppy for Christmas.  Actually, I got her a little before Christmas, but she was the big holiday gift.  It's been more than a decade since I've had a puppy in the house, and I haven't cared for one this young since 1995.  One forgets how time intensive they are.  Like mobile infants with sharp teeth and no diapers.  It's exhausting.  Worth it, but exhausting.

She fulfills an almost half century desire to own a true, purebred rough collie.  I've been hooked on the breed ever since I first saw Lassie Come Home, followed by being a faithful Sunday afternoon viewer of Lassie and then reading all the Albert Payson Terhune books about his collies, primarily Lad.  I loved the look of them with their delicate long faces, bent over ears and sleek coats, their native intelligence, and the nobility with which they carry themselves. And, truthfully, I fell in love with Terhune's depiction of his country estate, and I associate collies with a lifestyle I find attractive.  Ironically, for all the dogs I have had, except for a brief period back in the 80's, I've never actually owned a collie.  I've come sort of close.  We had Lando, a border collie, for many years, and Luke is part collie, but since I couldn't resist rescuing anything and everything, there was never a chance to pick and choose a purebred dog.  We shouldn't have done it now.  Four large dogs in a suburban yard is enough, but Luke is 15 and Ashley is in poor health, and I've steeled myself for a while that they are both close to the end of their days.

But it's more than that, it's the realization that Cheyenne is now 11.  She is my bedrock.  Without her, I could not have made it through the last decade.  She came into our lives before we really understood that we were all beginning a slide down a very long rabbit hole, but she's been by my side through it all.  She loves me completely.  I feel the same about her.  She's been supportive in ways humans really can't because she has no other interest.  To say she lives for me might be laying it on a little thick, but I am her main vocation.  She's by my side when I'm sad or sick.  She's shared the happy times and accepted the bad ones.  The only thing she can't handle is when I cry.  It upsets her too much, and she'll  leave the room briefly.  She was a good companion to my mother as well.  She was tirelessly patient whenever I took her to the nursing home during Mother's last months and we would be stopped multiple times as we made our way down the hall to her room so that other patients could pet her and talk to her.  She looks and acts young to me, and I plan on her living a very long time, but others have commented on her age - they can see the years on her.  She can no longer jump on the bed.  There are other signs that she's past her prime.  There are so many wonderful things about dogs, but there is the hard truth that they shine brightly but briefly.  I've been accepting about that with the other dogs:  I've recognized that it's just the way it is, and to enjoy their company while I've had it.  I've mourned the pets I've lost, but I've moved along.  But when I would contemplate losing Cheyenne, I just couldn't imagine it.  So, after I first got to Pittsburgh, I registered with a pet search engine that looked for listings at shelters within a 100 miles for collies available for adoption.  I thought maybe if I got the dog of my dreams and had him or her together with Cheyenne for a few years it would blunt the pain I would eventually have to feel.

Greg has put his foot down all along, insisting that there would be no more dogs for now, but for some reason he decided to try and get one for me this year, so he secretly began trolling local shelters looking for collies.  In the meantime, I would get alerts whenever any dog with "collie" as part of their make-up would be available nearby.  The planets seemed to have aligned earlier in the month when a trio of purebred collie puppies were available through a small rescue group in Ohio.  And so enter Ripley (name for Ellen Ripley of the Alien movies).  Cheyenne is not her biggest fan.  None of the older dogs are really happy about it, although they accept it.  After all, at one point all of them were the newbie, and they all know this is a multiple dog household.  Ripley however, is fascinated with Cheyenne.  I think she senses this is the Alpha dog, and wants to be around her.  Cheyenne is not particularly patient with her, but accepts her begrudgingly, I think, as long as she's secure in her knowledge that we are still tightly bonded.

The moral to this story is that no one loves you like your dog.  No one understands you like your dog does either.  They don't nag, they don't talk back (usually), and they love you no matter what you look like.  They don't care what your politics are or whether you're a genius or not, or if you're wealthy or not.  They don't judge you.   I have great friends, but none are greater than my dogs.  And now I've got the dog of my dreams and Cheyenne's by my side.  Pretty sweet.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Contemplating the End of the World

Haven't seen you in quite a while

I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world

- Until  the End of  the World, U2

The end of the world is supposed to happen today.  The weather certainly is acting like it's trying to blow us all away.  The gusts whipping through the trees and pulling at my little Rudolph out in the yard are stronger than anything we saw here when Sandy brushed up against us.  But, as of right now, the human race is holding steady.  Meaning that there are people who, as I write this, are dying or being born, loving one another or hating one another, going to work or avoiding going to work (I would be among the latter).  It's just a Friday.  Yet, can any of us really say it hasn't crossed our minds:  what if the Mayans were right?  I can just picture all those Survivalists bracing for it.  Of course, I guess they are kind of constantly bracing for it, so today isn't all that new.  The rest of us probably don't spend a whole of lot time thinking about the End of Days, but can you honestly say it didn't at least cross your mind as this date approached?  I used to wonder what I would do if I survived a catastrophic event, usually as I was curled up comfortably reading The Stand, my favorite book.  I figured I would head for Montana, high up into the mountains, try to find a cozy little cabin with my dogs, learn to hunt and fish, and get along just fine - like there was nothing to it, of course.  But, what crossed my mind recently when Sandy took large parts of the northeast briefly backwards 100 years, is that we're pretty soft as a society.  Even those of us who have hard lives where we struggle to make ends meet.  We're not really the kind of people who could easily survive if all the modern conveniences were taken away from us.  When I first started watching Revolution, I thought that the view of the world fifteen years on was pretty bleak, but the more I think about it - particularly as my own power flickered on and off as Sandy introduced itself - the more I realized that's probably exactly right and the only problem I have with the show, which I am completely addicted to, is that the people look awfully pretty for living for fifteen years without washing machines, hair stylists, teeth whiteners and even decent razors.  But, the fact that they still look pretty isn't really the point, the point is that life would be extraordinarily hard.  Disease, famine, large scale violence, all of those things probably would happen.  So, I have to confess that my chances of surviving to make it to Montana are pretty slim, so I spent more brain cells wondering how I would spend my last day on earth.  As it turns out, had yesterday been truly the last day of civilization, I spent it working and cleaning up puppy pee and poop.  Not exactly epic, so I guess I'm glad we've all got another shot at it.  But, what would you do, who would you spend it with and what would you say to them?  There are likely a contingent who would march into their boss, spouse, or someone else and tell them off, but probably most of us - the vast, vast majority of us - would draw our loved ones close to us and tell them how much we love them and why.  We probably ought to live every day like it was the end of the world.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Moment of Silence

The post I had planned dealt with a bouncy puppy and a poor, injured mother-in-law who unfortunately  probably wished she bounced a little more.  I was hoping to pull of a piece that told the "tale with a tail" with a little bit of humor because, after all, who can fail to smile when dealing with stories of puppies - particularly when you're not the one cleaning up the accidents or trying to hide your shoes.  However, all of that will wait because, for once maybe, words just fail me.

I don't know to this second much about the Connecticut elementary school shooting except that 26 are dead, 20 of them children.  But I know that yesterday morning, there were 20 kids anxiously awaiting their holiday break, wondering what Santa would bring them that will never find out the answer to that question.  There are countless other lives now hopelessly shattered as a result.  So, I am not sure this is the time for stories about puppies.  That will wait for another day.  Today it's time to remember in silence that innocence lost.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012


Circa 2010
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, as I walked Chappy and Cheyenne around the block in the predawn cold, I could hear a car driving up behind us.  Chappy, for some inexplicable reason, loves to pull out as far as the leash will let him to the center of the road.  Hence, I've gotten attuned to listening for engine noises and judging distance, car size and speed of travel so I can pull us all toward the side of the road, particularly now that it's pitch black still in the six o'clock hour.  But this one was traveling the wrong direction - toward the interior of the neighborhood, not toward the main road where the daily commuters are beginning to go - and at a pretty good clip.  I pulled us over to the side as best I could and watched as a Toyota Four Runner sped up the road past us and pulled into the driveway of a home where I happened to know an elderly couple lives.  I know it because I've seen them a few times out on their screened in porch during more temperate days - he relying heavily on a walker and she, able to walk on her own, but not quite doing it in an upright position.  But, I would have surmised it just by looking at their house, which looks like about a half dozen other houses in the neighborhood.  Like it's always been well tended until the last few years, but is beginning to look threadbare now.  The yard is still mowed, but the beds aren't weeded, the paint is beginning to peel, and there are not any holiday decorations constantly rotating on the stoop like there is for all their neighbors.  They all tell the tale that someone is lending a hand to keep things going, but can't do it with the love and detail that the rest of us care for our homes.  The house across from it is so well lit, I'm pretty sure you can see it from space, so I could see the driver clearly as she got out of the car.  She looked to be within shouting distance of my age, popping out of the vehicle as soon as it was in park to begin walking up to the front door with a stride that I know well.  The one where the walker leans far forward of his or her feet with a stern, determined stare toward the eventual destination, as though one's body is trying to will the feet to go faster, yet they do not break out into a run because that would imply panic, and staying calm is paramount.  Or maybe calm isn't the right word:  in control would be the greater goal.  She walked that way up to the front door and let herself in without knocking.  As Chappy stopped to do his business, I thought to myself that I knew with a high degree of certainty the scenario that was playing out inside.  One or the other of the couple had in all likelihood fallen and there would be no way the other one could lift their fallen mate, so they made an early morning call for help to the nearest offspring.  She had to drop whatever she was doing - getting kids ready for school, dressing for work, probably both - and come over to help.  I felt for her:  a sense of deja vu coming over me.  How many times had I made that exact same walk in the exact same posture to my mother's?  How many dinners had I left in the middle of?  It's all just part of the gig.  They took care of you, now you take care of them.  But, it doesn't make it easy.

But, as I watched the little early morning drama from my vantage point across the street, I thought of the daughter and her role, not really what it must be like to be the parents, even though on some level I know I'm speeding toward that same point on the horizon like a bullet.  Even when I was caring for my mother that final year, while I tried to consider her dignity along with her health when making decisions, I'm not sure I had the level of empathy that really allowed me to put myself in her place and wonder what it must be like to be that person who can't care for their beloved home like they want to, or to be able to pick themselves up off the floor if they trip.  What must it be like to know that the ever-creeping fragility that steals over your body is taking the very life away from you bit by bit, day by day?  That soon you'll have to test the faith you've always lived your life by in a very real way.  Is there really an afterlife?  You've always thought so, but when staring it square in the face, can you be so sure?  Did you live a good enough life to go toward the light?  All the things someone like that older couple must think about, in addition to the normal worries of living on a fixed income, trying to sustain some sense of independence and wondering when the next episode of NCIS is on.  No, really, I think I was too focused on just trying to do the "job" of caring for my mother to really be able to see her fully and consistently as a human being.  I did - in flashes.  But, consistently?  I'm not sure I can lay claim to that.  So, enter my mother-in-law.  She came for a two week visit over three weeks ago now.  She's still here with us because she took a nasty fall the night before she was due to fly back home.  In the immediate days that followed, she was in no shape to travel.  She's getting there, but it's slow going.  Now in her upper 70's, the body doesn't heal in the same way it would at my age even.  So, as we care for her as she recuperates, I've been re-thinking about that early morning scenario and trying to imagine it from another perspective.   I've had some mixed success.  It is hard to step outside one's own worldview and remember to be wholly sensitive to someone who is at a stage in life you can only imagine, having not yet experienced it personally.

Selfless is hard.  Selfish is easy.  Most of us totter in between.  More on this next time...