Here’s some joy…a wedding proposal pic in the Sierras.

It looks like my niece just got engaged! No, I mean literally…it looks like it. My brother sent us all an email with this subject heading…

get ready to party!!!!

…and this picture…

Betsy proposal

Evidently, she said yes once she got her mouth out of her shirt.

(BTW, I have no idea what the flags mean…something Japan maybe? And I love, love, love the grins on the faces of their friends. Kinda nice to spread the joy, no?)

Congratulations Betsy and fiancee!! (Sorry…I know I met you a couple months ago but I can’t remember your name. No problem…looks like I have a lifetime to learn it now.)

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A helpful greeting for a rough day…

image

The girls next door lose their tennis balls over the fence all the time, which Dane the mangy rescue mutt then chews into uselessness. This cheerful bit of mastication greeted me this morning when I opened the drapes.

His name is Claude and he presents me with a little study on the qualities of absurd happiness. I’m growing attached.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

A Little Post-Olympic Joy From Russia

This fabulous flash mob video from Moscow is a great reminder for me that Putin and the Oligarchy don’t define the true Russian people anymore than Washington and its incredibly malfunctioning Congress define us. I’m pretty sure that on the whole we the people, of any nation, just want to be free and happy…preferably together.

Here’s how some Russian people did just that recently. (Maybe it would help if all our government leaders got together like this? I bet THAT video would go viral.)

Where The Hell Is Matt Is Back Again!

For anyone who loved Matt and his crazy dance around the world the first time, he’s back!  And it’s not just a rehash of the same old dance with more places.  There’s some choreography this time which is really fun, and of course he’s managed to bring this unique dancing joy to a handful of people in very difficult parts of the world.

Particularly poignant for me was the dancing sequence in Syria.  I can only imagine he captured that footage before the country melted down in civil war, and I’m really glad the editor blurred the faces of the women for their protection.  It was also beautiful to see him dancing with a woman in North Korea.  In the last video he only got as far as the demilitarized zone…which, btw, was probably that video’s most poignant footage.

And I was both thrilled and TOTALLY BUMMED to see that he was here in Boise at some point!!  I can’t believe I missed it! Damn.  I would have loved to dance with Matt.  But you can catch him and a whole bunch of other lucky locals dancing on the Boise State University blue football field at around 2:39 if you’re interested.

Thanks again Matt.  You keep pulling us back together again in spite of all the things trying to drive us apart.

P.S.  If you’ve never seen the first video from 2008, here it is.  Prepare to be delighted.

Agoraphobia, Sea Legs, and Life with the Red Pill

Taken by the hubster on the Maine coast

Intense cold is scary to me, but then so many things are.  Over the last couple of decades, one of agoraphobia’s many little gifts has been to heighten my awareness of much of the danger out there that I never would have noticed before.

It’s made me conscious (sometimes paralyzingly so) of how unbelievably fragile all this is.

Before the fear came I used to live in a luxurious world where I could still take what I have and love for granted by just assuming that everything would last.  But that sense of safety is long gone.  In it’s place came the (existential and largely useless) knowledge that every breath, every desire, every heartbeat, every moment of touch or warmth or joy is actually teetering on a razor’s edge above a chasm of eventual loss, and the sheer size of the realization started causing a kind of perpetual, emotional vertigo.

On the inside I started dropping to the ground, squeezing my eyes shut, and white-knuckling onto anything that felt even remotely stable.  On the outside it became increasingly difficult to leave the house.  Needless to say, the change wreaked some widespread havoc on my daily routines and commitments, but life has a way of incorporating even the more difficult things and, with enough time and practice, I eventually began to get the hang of the swings.

On our recent trip up to the cabin during a winter storm and cold snap, as usual, I was obsessively clear on how vulnerable we were.  There the hubster and I were, driving along through the mountains, nothing but the thin walls of the car and a working engine standing between us and exposure, hypothermia, or worse.  I was acutely aware of what a flimsy, fragile bubble it was, carrying us along through a hundred miles of frigid landscape, and in all honesty even once we got up to the cabin I didn’t feel that much more secure.

All the necessities were laid in of course (because being afraid all the time makes one a stellar planner.)  We had water, food, firewood, tools and supplies, warm clothing, everything we needed to secure our survival.  But even so I knew that if something went wrong, something as simple as a power outage coupled with a broken window during a storm, a whoops! moment with the axe, a snowshoeing misstep, or some bad food, things could get complicated in a hurry.

Ordinarily, there’s a fantastic and really helpful illusion that says, given enough effort and planning and control, life can somehow be made secure.  Unfortunately, I can’t access that illusion any more. 

(Why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?)


While even I know that some activities are less dangerous than others, still, I can’t shake the reality that there will never be such a thing as completely harm-proof or hurt-proof or loss-proof or safe.

Knowing this mostly scares the bejeezus out of me and make me want to withdraw.  But then I remember this quote from Helen Keller:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.  I love that.  I love that Helen Keller said it, this other woman who also lived with a challenge that made it harder to navigate life.  It’s like a mantra that helps me find a way out of the holes I fall into, a rope tied around my waist so I can never completely disappear.  Living with the perennial tug of agoraphobia as I do, it’s so easy to get sucked down into the creeping paralysis of chronic fear again, to wind up curled in a ball back in the bedroom, or frozen for hours at the front door just staring at the handle.

It just seems so weird sometimes, how somebody as naturally adventurous as I am could wind up grappling with such an odd and opposite kind of illness.

For me, learning how to live with chronic fear has felt like learning how to live on a schooner.  It’s different from living on land.  The surface beneath my feet heaves and plunges and rolls now in a way it never did before, and I’ve had to develop my sea legs in order to keep from being tossed off and battered and drowned.  But over time I’ve gotten better at the shifting balance, learned how to read a horizon that’s constantly rising and falling, rhythmic and grinding, as the level of my daily fear ebbs and flows.  Gotten better at reminding myself every day, every hour…every minute sometimes…to try to relax and just roll with it.  To take a deep breath, then stand up next to my fear and hang onto it’s hand for dear life, rather than letting it run around crazy consuming everything I love.

I’ve gotten better (while I’m oh-so busily preparing for the the end of the world) at remembering, oh yeah!  Of course it’s terrifying.  Life is a daring adventure or nothing.

Which makes it a little easier, each time, to face forward, lean into the wind, and let myself either fall or fly.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Battery Killer Cold

We’ve escaped.

We had an early pre-Thanksgiving dinner for family on Sunday and then the hubster and I loaded up the backpacks, threw the snowshoes in the car, and drove threw a winter storm up to the family cabin in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.  (I’d post a link to a website with photos here but it’s a miracle we’ve got even patchy internet access.  I don’t want to push my luck.)

We literally drove up to the cabin, something unheard of this time of year, particularly during a snowstorm.  It’s on a dirt road that’s accessible during the summer but buried in winter and usually we park down on the highway when the snow hits and backpack from there.  But we’re both growing sadly fat and the idea of carrying fully loaded backpacks for two miles, uphill, made us both feel wheezy, desperate, and, perhaps, a little stupid.  We gambled and, this year at least, won.  We were able to rev the engine, spin the wheels, and fishtail all the way up to the door, unload everything, then slip and slide all the way back down (laughing insanely) to leave the car on the highway where it belongs.  Coming back up again on foot was easy after that.

And now the adventure begins.  This last snowstorm lasted for two days and next, within hours, we’re supposed to catch the leading edge of a front with a blast of arctic air behind it.  Temps, you ask?  Well, funny you should ask, I reply.  Tonight and tomorrow it’s supposed to get somewhere down around 25-35 degrees below zero and the high tomorrow will be -3.  It will be utterly fantastic (albeit very brief) star gazing conditions if the skies are clear.  You’ve never seen the Milky Way like how it looks on snowshoes at high altitude with frigid temps…like it’s close enough to pull down and wrap up in. It’s breathtaking and so totally worth frostbite.

(Kidding.)

Then it’s supposed to warm back up as another winter storm blows into the region with eight more inches or so of snow.

Now.  The big question I know all of you are just dying to ask is, After that kind of cold will the car actually start when you come back down on Saturday? Good question! Very astute.  This cold is so cold, it’s the kind where even jumper cables may not be enough.  These are electrical charge sucking temperatures. It’s Battery Killer cold.  The answer is of course, we don’t know.  Personally, I doubt it, but the hubster refuses to speculate because he knows I’ll freak out if he confirms my dark suspicions.

So…oh well.  I guess we’ll just find out on Saturday…something fun and surprising to look forward to all week.  In the meantime, we’ve got four solid days of spectacular, wild, isolated, snow covered, mountain-peak rimmed beauty to keep us occupied.  If internet access continues and I can do it, I’ll try and post some pictures.

The winter wildness of it all is really, really, something to behold.

Update:  I just remembered I have a picture of the mountains outside the front window that I used in a post a couple weeks ago.  I’ll re-post it here.  This is what the mountains would look like from where I’m sitting right now if I could actually see them through the storm:

copyright Dia Osborn 2010

Alf and the Fly, Part II

When we left Alf last week he was lying in state at the front of the room while the rest of us sat politely listening to the pastor (who clearly never met his subject) reiterate the sterilized summary of his life as laid out in the obituary.  I was doing my level best to stay awake and fend off the head-bob when the Fly first started buzzing around me.

This was just one of a number of remarkable photographs published in The Daily Mail. It was taken by physiotherapist Miroslaw Swietek at around 3am in the forest next to his home.

I was surprised.  For one thing, it was hard to believe that something as wildish and chaotic as Musca domestica could survive in a place like that.  The room felt as sterile and life-sucking as the sermon currently bouncing off its stark, white walls.   Call me wrong but I’d have bet good money that anything smaller than, say, a finch or a bat would have died and dropped to the floor the instant it hit the atmosphere.  Equally amazing was the fact that the Fly (fat, hairy, and droning) had to negotiate five doors and a security force of germ-phobic staff to penetrate that far in.  Truly, this was one determined fly.

However, my wonder was soon replaced by consternation.  The Fly, after buzzing in circles above my head a few times, commenced a series of land-and-crawl maneuvers targeting places like the top of my head and the side of my face.  At first I just brushed it away while still maintaining my focus on the pastor, but after the third or fourth time The Fly finally had my undivided attention.  I studied the situation.  When I glanced at our Social Worker and Nurse on either side of me it was plain they were outside the fly zone.  Neither displayed the harassed look I was rapidly adopting.  And when I looked around at everyone else in the immediate vicinity I realized they weren’t being bothered either.

Naturally, this annoyed me.   So the next couple of times I swatted the creature towards the Nurse, to see if it would switch victims and crawl on her instead.  But it didn’t.  It not only came right back at me each time, it seemed to redouble its efforts.  That was when it struck me that, for some odd reason, the Fly seemed intent on making my life, and my life alone, miserable.

It got worse.  After a few swipes the thing started dodging my hand, feinting to one side in the air before diving back in to skip across my forehead, my cheek, my nose.  Or, if I swung after it had already landed and was doing the Tinkerbell dance across the back of my neck, it would leap into the air just long enough for me to slap myself before gracefully alighting again in a swift succession of tiny steps.

The Fly was really starting to get to me.

Yet it wasn’t until it began lifting my collar to crawl under my shirt and down my back that I truly began to panic.  What the hell was this thing?  It was like no other bug I’d encountered, intelligent, crafty, and motivated.  Like something out of a Jeff Goldblum movie.   I was right on the verge of making a full-blown scene, shrieking and jumping to my feet, writhing madly while trying to slap my back and tear off my shirt, when something stopped me.  I had the strangest thought.

Alf?

The Fly stopped in its tracks.  It stayed still for a moment, huddled there under the fabric between my shoulder blades, then turned around and crawled back up out of my shirt, lifted into the air, and began to fly around in front of my face in a figure eight pattern.  I couldn’t believe it.  My mind was spinning.  Just how is that kind of thing supposed to work?  My imagination took off and I wondered wildly whether Alf had temporarily turned into the Fly itself, or if he had just rigged a tiny, leather bridle and bit and was now sitting astride its back, grinning and waving at me with a cowboy hat.

It was at that point that the Alf Cloud descended.  I felt it wrap around me like something warm and soft, and then an image of him…smiling, standing with nary a wheelchair, walker, or cane in sight…exploded in my mind.  It felt like he was right there in the room.  I could almost smell the clean soap coming off him, feel something warm like body heat.  He was chuckling and I almost laughed out loud, too, but then remembered where I was.

It was odd and wonderful and such a relief.  He still felt exactly like Alf only without any of the weakness and strain.  No frustration, irritation, or pain.  He felt strong and easy and laughing, not at me but with me, like he knew that I of all people would appreciate this new-found freedom he’d found.  And I did.  I really did.  The last tattered remnants of sadness and guilt washed away and there was nothing left inside but happiness for him.

I grinned.  You rascal. And as soon as I said it, the Alf Cloud was gone.  The Fly stopped its circling and meandered away, bumping into people and chair backs and walls as it went.

I told our Social Worker about the experience on the way home and we shook our heads, wondered what it all meant, then chatted for a while about what we thought might happen when we died ourselves.  I told him I was hoping for a lot of love.  He said he’d be happy if he could still experience anything that felt like sex.

The next day when I arrived at the office our Social Worker had already been there for some time and was sitting at his desk when I walked in, studying a small fly crawling around near his coffee mug.  He glanced up at me and smiled.

I was just wondering, he said, then looked back down at the fly.

Mom?


copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Searching for a Positive Thought

Question:  Do I have a positive thought in my head today?

Hmmmmm…..

Mmmmmmm…….

Ummmmmm……

Nope.

Something is munching on my just-emerged seedlings in the new garden plot.  All of them.  Anything young, tender, and vulnerable is getting eaten alive and the pace is accelerating.  Two nights ago it was a nibble on a single cucumber shoot.  Last night they took out two chards, half the marigolds, and they seem to be eating the black bean shoots before they can get their little, green heads above ground.  At this rate I might lose everything tonight.

Of course, I could always go out there and do something about it.  I could cut more plastic rings to keep the freaking, tiny terrorists away from my plants.  Or break out the diatomaceous earth and sprinkle it around the stalks to slice the bodies of whoever’s-doing-this to pieces as they crawl toward my babies.  But that would be intelligent and productive.

No, no.  Better to just sit here paralyzed in front of the computer instead, wasting time and life surfing all the bad, bad news and worrying, worrying, worrying.

It appears that, just like the pace of seedling munching in my garden, the pace of bad news out there is accelerating.  Sovereign debt crises.  Persistent unemployment.  Gargantuan budget deficits.  Deepening recession.  Floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, geopolitical conflicts, domestic discontent, drag-on wars.   Gulf oil spill.  Gulf oil spill getting worse.  Gulf oil spill getting catastrophic.

I mean, really, I want to stay abreast of the news.  I do.  I aspire to be an informed citizen.  But where-oh-where is the balance between staying informed and protecting one’s mental health?  The other day when I told our neighbor about a funnel cloud that blew through the valley the previous afternoon, she said she didn’t know anything about it.  My jaw dropped.

“Didn’t you see it on the news?” I asked her.

“Oh, we don’t watch the news anymore,” she answered and smiled.  She looked serene.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since, wondering when the last time was that I smiled like that.  When did I last feel that kind of simple peace?

Oh yeah.  It was when I was working out in the garden, that magical place where troubles tend to first crumple, then disappear altogether.  It’s like getting a lobotomy, only reversible.   I can temporarily forget everything by sticking my hands in the dirt, pulling weeds, building compost, or just kneeling there in the grass lulled by the bees buzzing.

It’s a perfect place where birds sing, rain falls, and flowers bloom.  A place where new life is always beginning, over and over again.

Like Disneyland, where the horses only poop in the service area and all the ducks are male so they never mate in front of small children…

Okay.  Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s more real than that.  In fact, when I think about it, there are terrorists in my garden world, too.  Little No-See-Ums who try to stop all that new life by devouring anything and everything young and tender.  But in all fairness I can’t really fault them for it.  They’re just hungry and trying to live, too.

However, I can try and stop them.  I can give my beautiful, beloved little seedlings some protection and the opportunity to grow…

…and mature…

…so that I can eventually eat them instead.  (Who’s the terrorist now, eh?)

Silly, silly humans with our trans ocean oil rigs that are too deep to fix, our financial engineering that is too complicated to understand, our banks that are too big to fail, and all our other magnificent, wondrous innovations that may well be too brilliant to work.  We can be so absurd!

Which is perhaps not the most positive thought in the world but it does make me laugh.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Observing the One Year Anniversary

Tomorrow will be one year to the day since we lost her.  June 10, 2009.  Karling Evelyn Shaver Wheelock Kolter died peacefully, surrounded by family that all loved her.

Now they all miss her, too.

As I sit here and hail back to the events of that day, I thought I’d post the notification letter I sent out a week later so you could hail back as well.

This is in memory of Mom.

June 17, 2009

To all those who’ve been holding my mother and all of us in your loving attention:

Our entire family was deeply touched at the outpouring of love and support that came in response to my last email…I can’t tell you how much it’s helped.  The stories so many of you shared about the way in which Karling touched your lives were profoundly moving.  We knew, of course, how much she had influenced our own lives.  We suspected she had influenced a great many more but we honestly didn’t realize just how many or how much.  Thank you for the education.

For those of you who have not yet heard, Karling died a week ago yesterday of colon cancer.  It seemed sudden to us all, primarily because her symptoms didn’t seem severe enough to indicate an illness that serious until a few weeks before the end.  She actually died a serene, peaceful death in a beautiful hospice facility in Las Vegas surrounded by gardens and fountains, a central courtyard garden and an aviary full of the birds she so dearly loved.  It was soothing to be in a place of peace and calm, surrounded by people who view dying as a profoundly valuable time of life.  The entire family made it to her bedside in the end—her husband Jim of course, all ten kids with their various spouses, her brother, sister, and a dear nephew, a smattering of grandchildren and great grandchildren and a few close friends.  We were a boisterous, emotional bunch but the hospice staff welcomed that, too.

She was largely unconscious for the last four days, resting for the most part in a state of deepening silence–we think she was probably just waiting for the last of us to arrive from the far flung parts of the world where some of us reside.  There was a strange thing happening to her body, too, as she lay there.  At first we thought that perhaps it was just our imagination but every day she began to look younger and younger–her wrinkles and age spots simply disappearing.  Her skin grew increasingly soft, supple, and clear, taking on a translucent quality that appeared almost radiant, and at the very last her face looked more like that of a young girl in her twenties than the seventy two year old woman she actually was.  It was really quite extraordinary and made us sometimes laugh out loud and wonder.  During this time she also seemed to be making the rounds.  It’s amazing how many of us either felt her around us, dreamed about her talking to us, or actually heard her laughter or voice at different times.  (These kinds of experiences continued to a lesser degree in the days immediately following her death, which has really helped as we try to navigate the transition into a world without her arms, her voice, her smile, and all the other myriad, everyday gifts of physical presence.)

India 1969

Through an extraordinary set of seemingly random and disconnected events, most of us wound up assembling in her room minutes before she was to take her last breath.  Various family members read scripture passages or said prayers from a variety of spiritual traditions, which seemed absolutely perfect.  She had helped to foster a deep love of spiritual life in each one of us, always embracing Grace in whatever form it happened to present itself—it seemed right that it presented itself in multiple forms at the end.  For myself, I had a kind of vision as she seemed to be leaving her body that both surprised and comforted me.  It was as though I could see her–feel her–filling up the room, filling up the facility, getting bigger and bigger as she spread out over the city, over the country, finally blanketing the entire world like a gauzy layer of blue and rose tinged atmosphere.  The expansion made me think of descriptions I’d read of supernovas and I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that her physical body had managed to last as long as it did–trying to contain something that huge for all these years.

She died a good death–just as she lived a good life–and I’m deeply grateful for the final lessons and insights she gave us even in her passing.  She was always, always a great teacher.

UC Santa Cruz, 1989, Bachelor of Arts

…with grandchild

And now, for some of us, the winding journey of bereavement and adjustment begins.  For myself I find that it’s constantly changing.  Sometimes I remember and ache, sometimes I remember and laugh, and sometimes I forget for a little while and enjoy a brief respite, dreaming that the world is still the way it always was.  I realize this passage is going to take time and some parts will just hurt, but it feels like it will all still be okay. This is my first time with a significant loss and I still have much to learn.  But I suspect that as pain goes, the kind that comes from loving without limit through the wounding of great loss is probably about as good as it gets.  Certainly, my mother is the one who taught me the courage and wisdom of loving that much.  Strangely enough, I wouldn’t trade this sweet, sweet ache of loving her for all the gaiety and happiness in the world.

Lastly, I’d like to thank you all for loving her, holding her in your hearts, and valuing her through her final passage.  And thank you, too for surrounding us all with your kind thoughts and gentle concern.  I can’t begin to describe how the waves of prayer and support and beautiful, loving attention coming from all over the world really, physically helped and sustained us in our final efforts to care for her during her transition.  We all felt it.  It was like being spun in a cocoon of light and grace and strength with her at its core.

Jai Guru Dev

Dia

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho, 2006

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Predators, Bagels, and Rodents, Oh My!

My wife-in-law, who co-writes non-fiction books on subjects like happiness and love, once observed that writing about a topic for any length of time usually translates into having to live it, too.  She first mentioned this to me while working on her book about love, when issues surrounding both love (wonderful! fantastic! fabulous!) and not-so-love (bummer…sadness…lowly low) had ballooned in her life, forcing her to grapple with the subject matter in a way that an intellectual treatise alone didn’t require.

I’ve noticed a similar dynamic while working on a book about dying I started after nearly six years with a local hospice.  Only instead of the love/not-so-love polarity mentioned above, I’ve been wrestling with a fear-of-dying (worrying…fretting…clinging) versus a really-truly-living (grateful! wonder! wowie kazowie!) one.  I’m trying to figure out just how exactly this whole thing is supposed to look.  How does one live a no holds barred, balls to the wall, drink it all in and keep on dancing kind of life in the inevitable face of dying?

And am I?

Yesterday afternoon I took our hundred pound, five-year old, rescue mutt up in the hills for our daily romp.  As usual, as soon as I gave him the all clear, Dane ranged far and wide off the trail, scouting out the endless smorgasbord of mangy and malodorous things he always finds to eat up there.  (He was abandoned young and lived on the streets for a while, nearly starving to death before animal control finally caught him.  The experience left scars.  I imagine if he could write a book, it would be all about food.)

He’s an avid scavenger, which is often disgusting, but something I can live with.  The challenge is that he also has the strongest predatory instinct of any dog I’ve ever had and he’s got a knack for hunting.

The first sign we saw of this instinct was innocuous and involved a dozen onion bagels I left on the kitchen counter the week we first brought him home.  The whole incident was my bad.  First off, he’s a really big dog and kitchen counters clearly offered no meaningful deterrent.  And second, he’d surreptitiously eaten two loaves of bread (and the bags) while I was showering on previous days so I should have known better than to leave the bagels out like that.

At first I thought he’d eaten them all.  But a half hour later I noticed him trotting towards the dog door with something in his mouth and, yes, it was a bagel.  Turns out he’d only eaten six and cached the rest.  During the ensuing treasure hunt we unearthed the others under pillows, inside shoes, behind drapes, and one that he’d carefully placed inside a box which he then closed.

Did I mention he’s smart?  He’s smart.

The bagel incident was annoying but pretty cute.  The one involving the warm and flopsy, back half of a wild rabbit we confiscated a couple of months  later wasn’t.  (He caught a wild rabbit!? you exclaim.  Only half?! I reply.)  There have been a few other victims.  Mainly rodents  and an occasional bird.  The number has fallen over the years as he’s gotten older but it’s still nothing I ever get used to.

And then yesterday he caught and killed a young ground squirrel.  A baby.  It was awful.  When I first spotted it outside its hole, I hung onto his collar until we’d scared it back inside.  I thought it was safe to let him go after that but the damn thing suddenly popped back up out of the hole and skittered away across open ground.  Dane was after it in a flash.  (It kind of takes my breath away how fast he moves when hunting.)  He scooped it up, chomped it three times like it was a squeak toy, and then just dropped it and walked off.

Now it’s not that I would have let him eat it had he tried, but he didn’t, and that kind of horrified me and ticked me off both.  I mean, what did he even kill it for if he didn’t want to eat it?  It’s so hard sometimes, trying not to put all my moral judgments onto a dog.  I realize it’s not that complicated for him.  Hey…it runs, I chase it lady. But I still struggle.

Then I realized the little ground squirrel wasn’t dead yet and I crouched down next to it uneasily while it twitched and spasmed there on the ground.  My father’s voice in my head told me I should put it out of its misery but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I just couldn’t.  I once drowned a litter of mice and (even though it’s probably not true) swore afterwards I’d never do anything like that again. Killing is a tough job, and it doesn’t get any easier just because it’s the compassionate thing to do.

Then I noticed the ground squirrel was heading into shock.  It’s eyes glazed over and the spasms slowed, so instead of having to search for a rock with which to crush it I thankfully knelt down in the dirt and started to sing.  Soft.  Crooning.  I told it sorry and thank you.  That it was beautiful to me and the hard part would soon be over.  I murmured words of encouragement, strength, and caring, and as its little body relaxed and grew more peaceful, I relaxed and grew more peaceful, too.  And it ended like that, a minute later.  The sunshine was warm and the breeze lifted fine dust all around us, gently.  Dane was snuffling around in the sagebrush a little ways off and everything felt quiet.  So very, very quiet.

It was a good ending.  Peaceful.  Sad.  Bittersweet.  Loving and tender and still.   It was a useless death but then, really, most of dying is.  I’m not sure, in the grand scheme, there’s anything wrong with that.  What was most important to me was that the baby didn’t suffer long and it didn’t die abandoned and alone.  (Of course again, in the grand scheme, I’m not sure any of us ever dies abandoned and alone but still, I think it makes a big difference, us being there for one another.)

So back to my original question, when it comes to life, am I or am I not balls to the wall, drinking-it-in-and-still-dancing?  Well, yesterday it wasn’t exactly dancing but it sure felt balls to the wall.  It’s never been that hard for me to live with gusto when the living is good.  I’ve always felt like the true testing comes when life turns to the darker side like it did yesterday.  And when it suddenly mushroomed up bloody and appalling I didn’t run, I didn’t rationalize, and I didn’t beat my dog.  I just gathered up a broken, little body and did my level best to keep on loving through the whole mess.  And for those few moments it felt like I’d unclenched my fists, dropped my arms, and let the whole twisted, shining shebang wash in and fill me.

No holds barred.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

More Role Models and Superheroes

Cerebral Palsy Man was not the only role model that helped me see how happiness can prevail in spite of having every reason in the world not to.  There were two others who illustrated the mechanics of this for me–Maggie Full of Grace and David the Scaredy Cat.

Maggie, a victim of one of the final polio epidemics to sweep across the U.S., lived out the following fifty some-odd years from a wheelchair as a near quadriplegic.  Shortly before she died, she shared one of her keys to maintaining freedom in a low-functioning body with me, which I’ll cover in a following post.   But for now I’d like to talk about David.

David was a cat, literally, and an important part of the apartment package I agreed to house-sit for, one summer during college.  I’m not generally a  cat person–god help me I’ve tried but I just don’t understand a creature that blows hot and cold like that.  However, David was one of those strange cats that behave a lot like a dog and was therefore, to me, one of the more engaging members of the species.  He was both affectionate and hugely fat and loved nothing better than curling up in a nice, warm lap to sleep, thereby numbing the attached legs into a kind of appendage coma.

He was also agoraphobic.   I never heard the details of how or when it all began, but evidently once David developed a terror of leaving the apartment he never did so again except for a yearly trip to the vet during which he was heavily sedated.  Years had passed since he’d experienced the outdoors in a conscious state.

I had no problem with this.  David was content to live inside and seemed no worse the wear for his annual drug-induced stupor, so far be it from me to pressure him to change.  But as the summer progressed he and I developed a little game around his condition.  He would accompany me to the door whenever I left to go anywhere.  I would then open the door, pause for a moment and invite him to step outside with me.  He would then carefully consider the invitation, stick his nose over the threshold and take a few sniffs.  But then he’d always pull his head in, step back, and look up at me as if to say, Y’know?  Thanks awfully, but I think I’m gonna pass today.  You go ahead.  Knock your socks off.  Have a great time out there.

We did this every day, every time I left, for two months.  It became our little joke.  He never intended to go and I never expected him to, but we’d pretend like it was a possibility anyway because we both got such a kick out of it.  But then one day, out of the blue, David changed his mind and with no warning at all, stepped through the door and down onto the sidewalk.

I was floored and just stood there staring at him, slack jawed and goggling.  I had no idea what was going on and wasn’t at all sure how to proceed.  But he looked so confident there at my feet, jaunty and gazing around him, surveying his new domain,  that I quelled the scream of excitement rising inside me and tried to assume an equally casual attitude.  I walked forward slowly, testing him, and he kept pace with me step for step, calm and curious.  There wasn’t a trace of fear in him so eventually we strolled off down the street together, nonchalant, as though we did this all the time.  As though we were heading to the club for martinis, arm in arm, top hats tilted at rakish angles.

Eventually, David grew so bold that he even stepped off the street to explore some of the low brush growing alongside.  The road bordered a large pond full of cattails and nesting, red-winged blackbirds who instantly and strenuously objected to his presence.  He ignored their dive bombing (you vulgar birds…we do not notice you) and proceeded to thread his way through the vegetation like a pro.  He looked like such a cat all of a sudden.  Stealthy and smooth, feline and graceful, all signs of the fat and dumpy slug he was at home gone.  I was proud of him.  Happy for him.  Intoxicated with his success.

And then came the wild cat.

It showed up out of nowhere.  No.  Out of  nightmare.  It was tiny in size but mighty in ferocity and it hurtled straight at David, spitting and hissing like some writhing, poisonous, pit creature.  It scared the living shit out of both of us and David immediately panicked, bolting for a telephone pole sticking up out of the brush about fifteen feet away.  The other cat took off after him and  I started chasing them both, waving my arms (threateningly I thought) in the air over my head and shrieking unintelligibly.

There was a brief moment, as David scaled twenty feet of pole in an adrenaline fueled blaze of lightning speed, that the wild cat and I both paused in surprise and grudging respect.  But then he scooched over and hung himself by the armpits from a crossbar, dangling there like some weirdly displaced flour sack, and chaos erupted again.   The wild cat pursued him about halfway up the pole then stopped, clinging and spitting curses there like the demon spawn of hell it was, threatening him with god-only-knows-what kind of cat horrors while sticking all its fur straight out as if it was being electrocuted.  I, in the meantime, was on the ground spitting curses of my own and clumsily throwing rocks, broken glass, and any other debris I could pry out of the dirt at the impossibly small target hanging off the side of the pole.

And here I apologize but I’m going to have to leave you hanging for a while longer with David.  This post has totally gotten away from me and I’ll have to finish it next week.  Stay tuned.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

Irrationally Happy

Until I met Cerebral Palsy Man I secretly believed that my happiness was determined by circumstance.  I’d never admit that of course, because I know I’m supposed to believe that I determine my own happiness.   But I didn’t believe that.  Not really.  How could I?  I’d never seen it before.  I had no role models.

That was before I met Cerebral Palsy Man.

I discovered him while doing my clinical hours in a local nursing home which…may I be frank here?…repelled me.  It’s not that it was filthy or filled with evil staff or anything.  It wasn’t.  While there was a faint aroma of urine that pervaded the place, and the quality of work smelled of a corresponding by-the-hour ethic, no one I met there seemed to harbor any ill intent towards the residents.  The place itself just seemed to drain them.  Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It was like a black hole for positive energy–no matter how much you started out with when you first arrived, by the end of the day the run down furnishings and endless, linoleum hallways littered with sagging people in wheelchairs sucked it right out of you.

I’m not alone in thinking that institutionalizing illness and aging isn’t working.  Pretty much everyone dreads these places.  I’ve never met a single human being that’s told me Boy howdy! I just can’t wait to get old so I can go live in a nursing home. While there’s an excellent movement afoot to try and change this sorry state of affairs, to date (as we all know but still deny whenever we have to we drop off one of our own elders) nursing homes are by and large depressing places.

Yet strangely enough it was here, in this horrible environment, that I discovered the surprising existence of Cerebral Palsy Man.  He was a gentleman in his seventies who’d been living with the disease all his life–had in fact resided in a string of nursing home-type environments since he’d first been institutionalized in his twenties.  To my mind, after what must have been a long and miserable existence (right?) he should have been reduced to little more than a lump–a morose, dejected huddle of a human being just waiting and wishing to die.

But au contraire!

How wrong and riddled with stereotypical thinking I was.  Instead of some sad and depressing lump of a man I found a total radical.  In spite of the fact that he couldn’t bathe, dress, toilet, shave, transfer, turn, or feed himself, he was outrageously happy.  Contagiously so.  Everyone loved him.  The only time I didn’t see him smiling was when he had to stop and open his mouth for a spoonful of the pureed, mystery meat they served for lunch that day.  Otherwise, he sailed up and down the hallways in his electric wheelchair, singing out a warm and (to my inexperienced ear) totally unintelligible greeting to everyone he passed including his new roommate and blushing bride–a plump and cheerful, equally helpless woman who shared his name, bathroom, and cerebral palsy diagnosis.

So what was wrong with this man you ask?  Why didn’t he just knuckle under and curl up in defeat as required?  Everyone else living in that awful place seemed to get it.  The majority of them were actually far more independent than he was but still obediently complaining and morose.  Why didn’t he conform?  What made him think he could be different?

Aha!  But our Cerebral Palsy Man was no novice.  He had a gift that few of the others there shared–an entire lifetime of dependency and debilitation.  He’d had over seventy years to adjust and adapt to not only the strict boundaries his body dictated, but the grim institutional settings they’d landed him in.  And–here’s the real kicker–he’d used that time to nose around and discover a secret that most of us never do:

Limits don’t in any way restrict our ability to make miracles. Because they can’t.  How could they?  Limits and miracles don’t even exist in the same dimension.

It’s like the difference between the world of time and space that exists within the speed of light and then the mystery that exists out beyond it.  His body (and the dreary hallways and overworked staff and pee odor and bad food) all belonged to the slower, visible, measurable world.  But Cerebral Palsy Man had managed to launch out somewhere beyond into a radiant realm brimming with unreasonable joy and enthusiasm.  Trapped for life in a nursing home for godsakes, and this man (my role model, my idol, my superhero) was totally and irrationally happy anyway.  That was his miracle.

Well, let me tell you it didn’t take much time spent in his company for the sleeping radical in me to sit up and take note, too.  She studied him for a little while, then looked back at the gray people, then looked back at him again, and finally whistled low and long.  Whewee, she said.  Fuck following the herd then.  I want whatever he’s having.

And really I ask you–if he can do it, then why can’t I?  So what if I’m a depressive?  So what if I’m a multi-phobic person with a dissociative disorder?  So what if I spend more time curled up in the fetal position than your average Joe?  Evidently, if I want to go ahead and be irrationally happy anyway, I can.  All I need is a cape, a grin, and somebody to show me the way.

Bingo!  And now I want to be just like Cerebral Palsy Man.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn