Tag Archives: love

loyalty and love

I just watched the movie “Hatchi.” I cried, felt both touched and anguished. The movie is a remake of the Japanese film “Hachikō Monogatari.” (literally “The Tale of Hachiko”) In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During their time together, Hachikō greeted the professor at the end of each day at Shibuya Station. This was their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage during a lecture. He never returned to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachiko_Monogatari)

In the remake with Richard Gere, he is a music professor in the US. The story is the same, however, and that’s the point. This man’s dog loved him so much he never gave up waiting for him. He could not even be persuaded to stay in another home, though the home was warm, the owners loving and patient. Hatch’s heart stayed with his master. He waited for the rest of his life.

The stories I have read about this incredible dog, and many more, have made me wonder about the use of the word “loyalty” that appears over and over in the telling of these wrenching stories. These animals (and they aren’t always dogs) stayed true to the memories and bonds of the people they loved. Some were Beloved pets, thought lost forever, who made their way home, often over unbelievable distances. Silverton Bobby, or Bobby the Wonder Dog, is one of the most famous. He traveled 2,551 miles after being lost on vacation. The family searched desperately but finally had to give up. It took him 6 months, but he made it. There are also several books and movies about Bobby and his journey.

Again, I read the word “loyal” over and over. Loyal, yes, but more than that. These animals had the most profound love for their humans. Love we must not be able to understand because we can’t even name it. Do we realize their love is something far deeper, fiercer than what we experience with other humans? Maybe that’s why we give it another name, a word all of us understands as a measure of character.
The actual definition: Loyal: faithful to one’s sovereign, government, or state: a loyal subject.
2. Faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations: to be loyal to a vow.
3. Faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity: a loyal friend.
4. Characterized by or showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiance, obligations, etc.: loyal conduct.
( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/loyal)

In doing my research on the loyalty of animals I realized that secretly I had hoped for a loyal husband and partner on so many occasions. What I believed was a loss of love for me was also a lack of loyalty.

My cat, Max, waited 7 months for me to return from my Appalachian adventure. I had tried to get him to stay with friends while I was gone but he hid when I tried to find him. I had the friend with me, and Max had no use for anyone else. My landlord kept an eye out for him, hoping to feed him and be able to send me reports when I checked in. He reported only one possible “Max sighting” while I was gone. I carried a heavy burden of guilt along with my backpack. The day after I returned home Max appeared at the door, during a rainstorm, crying to be let in. It was a tearful reunion and I will never be able to explain the relief, amazement and wonder I felt, still feel, when I realize Max had waited for me all that time. I have tried to imagine what his life was like through that fall, winter and spring. I have never felt so loved in my life. Ever. No one has ever made me feel that I was that important to them.

And it’s because of Max that I get up every day, that I have continued to struggle to make my own life. I can’t let him down.

Say what you want. He’s just a cat. Hatchi was just a dog. They are just animals. But they are creatures capable of love and loyalty almost beyond our comprehension, capable of stunning depths of emotion.

I saw this movie right after one of my Mercy For Animals newsletters. NatGeo has aired a documentary about the desperate levels of cruelty in the corporate farming industry. I watch these videos just often enough to remind me why I am vegan.They sicken me, and I am ashamed to be part of the human race after I see them. I don’t support the industry, I donate what I can, when I can, and I tell people about what I’ve seen when I can.

I read about animals’ love and loyalty, how they are capable of infinite forgiveness and compassion toward us and each other. Then I think about the levels of cruelty we often subject them to, saying “they’re just animals.” I wish we were able to learn from them. I wish we were able to love with their purity. I feel little hope for the human race but I believe animals will be here long after we are gone. At least, I hope they will be here after we’re gone. They deserve this wonderful, beautiful place. I’m not sure we, as a species, really do.

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Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day…

To all of you who have birthed and raised a child whether alone or with a partner, to those of you with stretch marks and bellies that will never be as firm no matter what exercises you do, whose sleep patterns and priorities are forever changed; thank you.

Every year, I think of my mother, who had no true memory of her own mother. She told me once that she tried all her young life to remember her. Robocop, the movie, has a scene when the cop-made-Robocop- returns to his former family’s home. He says “I don’t remember them, but I feel them.” When I told my mother about that scene she waited a moment, her eyes filling with tears and she said, “Yes, it was like that.”

In my fifties I began to know her as a person. She wasn’t a good mother. Not by today’s standards, not by anyone’s standards. She did nothing (I thought) to protect us from my father, the kind of predator we read about every day but knew nothing about 50 years ago. She didn’t encourage us to go to college; she clung tenaciously and foolishly to religion as the answer to all life’s problems.

As an adult, I realized life threw more at us than we could usually process at once. Think about it. Most of us figure things out after the fact. Some of us are lucky, and can use what we learn to make progress in our lives. Some of us aren’t so lucky and we learn far too late to avoid the pain.

My mother was a gentle soul. She was not prepared for my father, or the twenty years of pregnancies. She was timid, and she feared my father and society in general. She feared being laughed at, being ostracized, being left out. She grew up a tenant farmer’s daughter who never had the stability and security most of us take for granted. She lost her siblings and her mother before she was old enough to understand what she was losing. In school, she was bright, but it wasn’t enough. Being smart is never enough for truly poor people. Maybe you get lucky and some rich person takes you on as their project, but it didn’t happen for my mother. It didn’t happen for me or my siblings.

We grew up with a mother who loved us, but when my father’s figure darkened the doorway, she was reduced to a fearful child herself. We did the best we could and some of us grew into pretty responsible adults. Some didn’t. Most didn’t, actually.

For me, my mother became a human being to me in the last few years of her life. I forgave her all the failings she had accumulated in my list of “what I didn’t get.” In the end, she also forgave me for the snotty way I treated her on so many occasions. I loved her more, before she died, than I ever did growing up. I was in my fifties then and had learned none of us makes all the right decisions. None of us is the perfect mother, wife, partner, employee, or person. I’m still trying to forgive myself.

Every year, on Mother’s Day, I think about my mother’s soft voice, about the hundreds of things she did right, about all the wonderful gifts she gave me. Instead of all the ways she failed me-and there are many-I remind myself that she did the best she could with the few, and limited, tools she had. I remind myself that no one does it all right. She gave me a few gifts-my love of reading, writing, gardening, animals and life in general-that make my life joyful and rich.

Her smile warmed us when we bounced in from school. She laughed at our silly childhood jokes, hugged us at night and I never once felt my mother didn’t love me. Even when my father was making my life miserable, he was making hers miserable, too. I saw her as trapped when I should have seen her as a savior, yes, but never did I see her as loveless.

I wish, with all my heart, I could have helped her before she died. I wish, with all my heart, I could have made her understand that I loved her, that we all loved her, no matter what. I think she carried the guilt of our childhood with her right up to the minute she died, in pain, from a perforated intestine.

I know my mother is dead. I don’t think she’s “up there” watching down on us…or any of that stuff. I think she’s dead, so there will never be a chance for me to thank her for anything, ever again. There won’t be a chance for me to say anything to her, ever again.

What I can do is what people always do on holidays like this. Tell people who do have mothers to appreciate them, whatever their faults. Oh yes, whatever their faults. This is a huge thing I’m saying here. It took me most of my life to appreciate my mother. She allowed my father to abuse his children. And he abused us in every possible situation. You’ve heard of it, he did it.

And I hated her for years. Yes, I did. My quiet, timid mother. And she knew it. She took my sarcastic remarks, my snotty comments, like the beatings she once took from my father. I was in my fifties-did I mention that?-before I even began to understand her life.

So if you’re having a tough time with your Mom, acknowledge it. Own it. Then get over it. Look at your responsibility for yourself. She didn’t love you enough? Maybe she didn’t. So love yourself enough. She made you pull tricks for her boyfriends? OK, then don’t keep her in your life. Get counseling. Stay away from men-for as long as it takes to build your own self respect. Thank your mother for giving you life, for a chance to live, but don’t expect her to become someone she isn’t. She won’t. Breathe in the air around you, experience life and keep moving forward.

Every year on Mother’s Day I think about Mama, and the hard, mostly sad life she led. I think of her trying to find joy in the birth of her children in spite of the fact that she wasn’t sure how she would feed them. I remember her showing me how to make biscuits and meat loaf and tea. I remember her making me let the turtle go, “He lives in the woods, Kathy, he won’t be happy in a box.” I remember her words, profound even now, that taught me empathy: “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

After everything is totaled up, she gave me more than she deprived me of, and I am grateful. If she were here now, I would drive the five hours to the shitty little town where I grew up and I’d hug her and tell her I love her. I’d sit with her and we’d talk about whatever she wanted to talk about. Or not. I’d see her graying, thinning, hair and the lines beginning to deepen along her face. I’d look at the skin on her hands and remember how they stroked my face when I was sick and smacked my butt when I sassed her.
None of us is perfect, mothers included. We’re human and we need to remember that, while we can. Forgive while you can, love while you can.

Happy Mother’s Day.

His wife died

She died yesterday. His wife has been sick for a while, and we all knew it would be soon. Friends offer comfort, using the same phrases we have all used “I’m so sorry” “She’s not suffering now” “You’re in our prayers.”

Everyone means well and what else can they say? I wonder, as he nods and shakes hands, or accepts the endless casserole dishes, if he wishes they would all leave him alone?

I watch the delicate ballet of people moving slowly, the way people do when they get up at night, trying not to wake rest of the household. They are being considerate and kind, and he knows it. It’s all they can do, really, and he knows that, too.

I’m grateful that the usual things are happening for him. Things he can count on, tradition, ritual, expected words and gestures. I know that soon he will be catching himself walking oddly, alone instead of in tandem with her. He’ll throw away countless pots of coffee before he remembers he only needs to make enough for one. How many browning bananas will he throw into the compost pile before he changes the grocery list he’s been using for years?

How long before his friends begin urging him to “get out,” a euphemism for “find someone new.” Will he decide to keep learning the rules of solitaire- living alone?

I, too, am glad she is no longer suffering, but I feel the usual disconnect. This is another experience I won’t have.

My break-ups were devastating. But they were the result of betrayal, abandonment, not the natural progression of life, which is death. After the last, I made a conscious decision to stop trying to do something at which I obviously sucked. I chose to be alone. Now, after several years, I’m poor but man, I could teach a class in Living Alone and Loving It.

I’m not glad that this is something I’ll never know, like childbirth or having health insurance. This is just an observation.

And I’m really looking forward to getting on the Trail.

LOVE ME LIKE A CAT

Annie, my rescue cat, is one of a long line of beloved pets that I’ve been appreciating more and more lately. April 1, I’ll take off for the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong dream that I’ve decided can no longer be ignored. In the meantime, I’m trading cooking and cleaning with a friend in exchange for rent so I can save money for my trip. Annie had no say so in that decision. When I decided to go, I started worrying about her. If I waited until she died, that might be another 15 years or more. Should I put off an opportunity that might never come again? It hurt, and I went through days of feeling guilty as I packed my belongings and gave them away.

A good friend, the one who offered to let me live rent-free in exchange for cooking and cleaning, was happy to take in Annie-and keep her when I leave.

The move has been hard. I’m used to being alone, doing things my way and having complete privacy when I get home from work. My niece called to see how I was doing and I ranted for several minutes about my sudden lack of privacy, wondering if the decision I’d made was going to backfire. Finally I apologized and she said, “Hey, it’s a big adjustment, you need to vent. So how’s Annie handling it?”

“Oh, she hid the first day but she’s been exploring the new territory, claiming the little deck in front, and last night she slept with my roommate!”

It dawned on me that Annie was handling things a lot better than I was. Everything in her world changed overnight. She just coped. Instead of whining about the way things used to be, or the way she thought things were going to be, she coped. She looks at every day as a new experience. Like other pets, she lives in the present. She shrugs her shoulders, holds up her little paws and says “hey, it is what it is. We got any more fish?”

Shamed, I started asking my friends about their own pet lessons and have been pleasantly surprised that they all have a story. My friend, Jill, works for Animal Control and volunteers for an animal rescue group. Her own home is filled with purring, barking and parakeet whistles most of the time.

“No matter how cruelly they’ve been treated, most of the time they forgive as soon as you offer them a kind word and a comforting touch. We had a case recently where two little puppies were abandoned. They were tied to a tree in 100 degree heat with no food or water. The owners tied them up while they moved out. Left them. A neighbor saw them, heard them whimpering, and called us. They just huddled together, scared to death, after they’d been fed and watered. All day we petted those little guys, scratched their ears, and by the next day they had the whole staff crooning over them. We didn’t even keep them in the cage; they were running around the offices, playing and tussling like nothing had happened. If that had been me, or you, we’d have hated all people. We’d have to be in therapy. They forgive, they don’t hold grudges. All they really want is love. And kibble.”

Lesson one, I thought. Be present. This is the best day. This is the best meal. This is the best activity. I made myself pay attention to every minute of laundry that day. I noticed every towel, every sock. I appreciated how clean they were. I folded them carefully as I took them out of the dryer, inhaling their fresh scent. Put away gently in their proper place, I realized how little time it actually took and how different the experience was when I wasn’t checking my watch and wishing I were doing something else. Annie, helped, of course. She pounced on wayward socks and took a short nap on the folded towels.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, writes that our pets can teach us more about how to live our lives than we can ever teach them. His book “A Member of the Family” emphasizes how much our pets can teach us about living our lives with joy and purpose. By living in the present, not holding grudges, celebrating each day, giving and receiving love.

We need a purpose, a reason to get up and feel like we’ve accomplished something with each day. Like dogs want to work for their food, so do we. Making art, writing, working at whatever job will pay satisfies me, defines my purpose. I make sure Annie gets to go outside and explore, hunt, do things cats want to do. She needs that. And it’s not so much.

Animals don’t live for revenge or regret, they don’t hold grudges. They deal with an issue when it comes up and then move on. Show your pet kindness and compassion, affection and yes, food, and they will love you with complete abandon. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you open your front door after a discouraging day at work and someone jumps off the couch, purring and rubbing your legs, obviously happy that you exist. Annie and her predecessors always wanted to be petted before I fed them. Always.

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to, in all my research and reading. Love. Annie doesn’t care if my neck sags. She doesn’t care that I don’t make a lot of money, or that my car broke down again or that I’m not the prettiest, smartest, or richest. She loves me exactly the way I am. When I’ve been irritated or tired or depressed she has settled in my lap, purring and kneading. Sometimes she sits up and gently pats my face before she settles down. I love you, she’s saying. No matter what.

I’ve been in therapy-who hasn’t anymore? And it’s because I’ve held grudges, fretted that the past will strangle the future, felt frustrated because I wasn’t this or that. Annie says, you are who you are and that’s great with me. She thinks I’m swell, so maybe I should, too.

My neighbor, a vet, smiled when I asked him about his own menagerie, an assortment of animals left at his clinic.

“The only agenda our pets have is loving us,” he said. “Oh, sure, they want to be fed but even that’s greeted with cheerful enthusiasm.” He laughed and said, “Well, with the exception of some picky cats!”

Now, when I find myself irritated with someone’s careless behavior, or when I’m feeling sorry for myself because my life hasn’t been as successful as I wish it had been, I think of Annie. I think of the pets that loved me before her, of all the animals that share our lives without complaint. And I remind myself to be grateful.

I try to savor every bite of everything I eat. I lift my head during my daily walk and look closely at the colors of the leaves, of the patterns in the clouds. I work through my daily chores and appreciate that I can do them, that I have what I need to live, to work toward my goal of hiking the AT in the spring. Annie has given me unconditional love and that, somehow, frees me to love myself the same way.

It’s empowering, this love. It allows you to love others in a richer, more profound way. Try it. Love yourself the way your pets love you, and watch it keep flowing from your pets to you to those around you.

References:

http://www.cesarsway.com/shop/a-member-of-the-family-hardcover

http://www.helium.com/items/1746480-lessons-from-pets

http://www.helpguide.org/life/pets.htm

FOR HOLBROOK

My friend, David Holbrook, died yesterday of lung cancer. I don’t think he had celebrated his 70th birthday yet.

We’ve been friends since 1992. I met him shortly after I moved into Hamilton House, in Charlotte, NC. One of the residents, Maude, was trying to coax her cat out of the tree next to her garden apartment. She lived right in front of the pool and since I’d started swimming after work every day we’d become friends as well. I offered to climb up after the cat simply because Maude was so upset about him.

“He doesn’t know how to get down, Kathy. He’s done this before. He gets confused and can’t back down.”

I had a cat and I knew it usually made more sense to let them figure things out on their own. Maude stood under the tree, wringing her hands and shifting her feet. She was 78 years old and well known to everyone in the complex, I knew she wasn’t  neurotic. Obviously her cat had a problem.

“I’ll climb up and get him, Maude, it’s OK.” I smiled and grabbed onto the lower branches of the Maple. The branches were sturdy enough to hold me, and I was wearing overalls and tennis shoes, perfect climbing gear. Tomas, her cat, mewed mournfully as I came closer. He was crouched on a branch further out than I could comfortably reach.

“Come on, Tomas, don’t you want to come down and get some nice supper?” I crooned and inched my way out onto the branch, which sagged under my 93 pounds.

“Hell, I’ll get him down,” a laughing voice boomed underneath me. I looked down and there was a mature man holding a plastic glass filled with ice and amber liquid.

“Kathy, David’s trying to piss me off. Don’t listen to him,” Maude snapped, her hands clenched in front of her.

Holbrook reached down and picked up some pebbles.

“Here, just let me toss some of these…” he pulled his hand back, grinning.

“You better knock that shit off!” I barked, outraged that someone would throw rocks at a cat already in distress.

I reached out, slid my hand around Tomas, and gently tugged him away from the branch. Once he was close enough, I lay on the branch for balance and gathered him into my arms. I stroked him for moment, crooning to help him calm down. I managed to back down the branches, one arm curled around Tomas, the other hand holding on as I made my way down. I handed Tomas off to Maude and dropped the last couple of feet. Maude took him and kissed him, then snapped, “Tomas, you’re not worth this much trouble!”

“Never met a cat that was, “Holbrook said gaily, taking a sip of his drink.

“Nobody asked you, did they?” I said nastily. He looked at me steadily then and said quietly, “I’m David Holbrook, and you sure are a cute little thing. Is rescuing cats your specialty?” He held out the hand not holding the drink and I shook it, “Kathy Troutman. I just moved in. Would you really have thrown rocks at that cat?”

“Hell no, Maude would cut my balls off!” We all laughed and I immediately liked him. We spent the evening sitting out at the pool, eventually being joined by a dozen or so other residents. David and Maude entertained everyone with hilarious stories of Hamilton House over the 20 or so years they bad lived there. Maude and David were both retired, but there was nothing retiring in the way they laughed and told stories.

After that, anytime I was down at the pool, David, or Holbrook as I learned to call him, would keep me company. He knew everyone, as did Maude, and before long I did too. I felt comfortable for the first time in a long time and Holbrook became my friend. He complimented me all the time, but never in a way that made me uncomfortable. He was honest, honest in a way that I could never find fault with, and I think that’s why his compliments were something I valued. When Holbrook said, “Troutman, you are the cutest thing!” I felt pretty, simple as that. He never made advances, never said anything inappropriate, never said, or did, anything to make me distrust him. I felt competely at ease with him.

Once, a friend and I came back from shopping one Saturday afternoon. She lived by the pool, on the other side from Maude. We were walking with shopping bags-most of which were hers-when Holbrook, along with several other guys called out loudly, holding up plastic cups and beer cans.

“Hey, Troutman, where you been? Come keep us company!”
My friend and I walked into the pool area and chatted for a minute before one of the men with Holbrook, a golfing buddy who usually showed up on Saturday, asked ,”So what’s in the bag?”

My friend said coolly, “New underwear. We spent the morning at Victoria’s Secret.” They all gasped and elbowed each other, one asking,”So, do we get to see?” She opened the bag and pulled out a scrap of red silk before dropping it quickly back in the bag, grinning. Most of the guys were groaning, grabbing their chests, pretending to have heart attacks. I brushed her arm and said, “Let’s go, I’m ready to change and hit the pool. See you guys in a bit.” I smiled and turned away. Holbrook called, “Hey, Troutman, you got new underwear in your bag?”

I turned and said quietly, “I don’t wear any.”

We walked away to complete silence. Just as we walked in her door, I heard a soft “Goddamn.”

My friend shut the door and burst out laughing. After that, they watched me a lot, but none of them ever brought that up again- except Holbrook, who liked to say, “Troutman has got a way of shutting down guys who get too nosy.”

Over the years, we talked about everything. Holbrook told me stories about his inglorious past-his words-and more than once I said: You’re kidding! Weren’t you scared of being caught?” I’m not going to give out details, just know that Holbrook lived his life the way he wanted and never apologized. He also never intentionally hurt anyone; never lied, never manipulated…he told me he was the best boyfriend a girl could have, and the worst husband. He married, had two beautiful children. When his marriage ended-and he took complete blame for it-he swore he’d never marry again. He didn’t. His children, on the other hand, he never tired of talking about.

“I don’t know how I did it, Troutman,” he told me more than once, “I have two of the best children a man could ask for. They love me. I don’t know why, I can’t have been the best father, but they do and I think my life has been changed. I am a better man than I would have been without them.”

Then we’d go off on his conviction that marriage was not something he could ever do again.I’d shake my head and laugh “Holbrook, you’ve lived with several women. That’s the same thing, just without paperwork!”
“ You can say that if you want. I know it was different for me. I didn’t cheat on them because I loved them, not because I had a piece of paper that said I couldn’t.”

I realized then that was the big thing for Holbrook; his freedom. He did the things he did because he wanted to, not because he felt he had no choice. If he loved someone, and Holbrook had loved many women, then he wasn’t interested in anyone else. He knew when the relationship had run its course, and he thought to himself every time, “Thank goodness we’re not married.”

You can argue the marriage question all day long and it doesn’t matter whom, if anyone, is right. Holbrook felt as strongly about never getting married again as some people feel about marriage being the only moral lifestyle. To me, it didn’t matter. I did not intend to ever remarry, but I didn’t realize that I still had the ability to love the wrong person.

And I did. Love the wrong person, anyway. Holbrook stayed my friend through a 7-year relationship that ended in me being completely  insane. He listened to my late night calls, crying over what I thought I’d had, what I knew would never be. He listened and he said the man in question was an idiot. It was the balm I needed. It only helped a little, but it helped. We even tried to be couple for a while, but I realized that I was still too damaged. I told him our friendship meant more to me than anything. We went back to being best friends. He is the only man I have ever been able to remain friends with after we stepped over the intimacy line. And that’s because Holbrook was Holbrook. He was honest, as I’ve said. His honesty made it possible for both of us to talk about everything and anything, without fear of reprisal. He didn’t hold grudges, he didn’t add up slights, expecting to be repaid later. He took life day to day and expected what I could give, no more. The only real regret I have is that I couldn’t have been sane, couldn’t have appreciated what he offered. I did appreciate the friendship, which I had little enough of in my life. And I knew even if he pissed me off about something, he’d be OK the next time I called.

We spoke every week. Sometimes, he fussed when I hadn’t called him. He worried that living in the mountains had resulted in me becoming bear food. I loved to hike in the woods and he always told me to take care, carry a gun, when I went into the woods. He enjoyed my stories about my art, my hikes, but he always reminded that I was alone and should take extra care. I didn’t, of course, and he’d shake his head, expecting nothing less from me. He worried about me, and accepted that I, like he, would do what I wanted. We accepted that about each other.

When he told me about the cancer, I knew there was little time. I rode the bus from Asheville because my car was still in the shop. It made for an interesting trip, actually, and gave me lots of time to think. He cried when he saw me, the only time I’ve ever seen my friend Holbrook cry. He didn’t want me to see him that way, he said. I’ve heard that from patients who realize their time is near. They are afraid their family and friends will remember them as helpless and sick. I assured Holbrook that I would always remember him as a pistol, sitting by the pool with a drink in his hand and a smile on his face. He told me I was his best friend. I told him he was mine. He said he was afraid he’d never see me again.

I held him and thought of the very, very few people who could have said that to me. In the years I’ve known him, we’ve shared every thought, evey fear, every frustration and every hope. My only regret is that I couldn’t love him the way he deserved. And he told me that, in fact, I had. My friendship had been important to him and it had been something he could always count on.

The last time I visited him, I bathed his feet, cut his toenails, and massaged warm baby oil into his skin. He laughed with his son about how good it felt. I massaged his feet until he asked for his medication and was dropping off to sleep. I didn’t want him to be awake when I left, and I wanted his last memory of me to be something filled with pleasure. He died two days later.

I loved him in a way I find difficult to describe. His girlfriend had nothing to fear; I wasn’t interested in taking him from her. I realized our friendship meant more to me than having the security of a boyfriend, someone to take me places and buy me dinner. Holbrook reminded me that I was a woman, that I had been special once, that I was smart, and that he valued everything about me. He gave me something none of the men in my life ever had. Honesty and acceptance. He accepted me the way I was and thought more of me for insisting on remaining who I was. I accepted him the same way. I don’t know any other way to put it. I loved him, and he loved me. I will miss him terribly.

Long, long thoughts

William Wordsworth ended one of his most famous poems with the phrase “…and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts”

I remember wondering about the meaning of life and what the years ahead held for me. I pondered deep subjects when I was 16, 20, 25. Mainly I wondered if HE would ever love me, if anyone would notice that my clothes were old and poorly fitted, if anyone would remember me, if I would be invited, accepted. Those aren’t such “long, long thoughts.” Maybe Wordsworth wasn’t referring to teenagers and early 20’s Youth. Maybe, by youth he meant people who still had 50 years to live and that when we get about halfway we start wondering what the hell we’re doing here-who we are  in general. I don’t mean religion. That’s a club set up to make sure no one has to question too deeply, that no question goes unanswered, nothing remains unexplained-even if the only explanation requires “blind faith.”

The pieces that follow are bits that came up in some of my “long, long thoughts” but I think they apply to everyone sooner or later. Comments welcome.

The Woman I Could Have Become

That could have been me. That woman there, walking by dressed in Ann Taylor. Her smile is warm and shows off perfect white teeth. She’s reaching up just slightly, her firm tan arms reach for the shoulders of a tall well-made man. He’s smiling down at her. His teeth are white and perfect too. Look, they’re walking slowly now, his arm at her back, Now, his hand is moves lightly to rest on her trim hips. Their heads are leaning toward each other as they walk in perfect time. Look now, they’ve arrived at a car, something red and new. He’s holding the door for her. Such a gentleman, he is. She’s turning her face to him flashing that perfect, white smile! How lightly he steps after he closes the door. So happy, satisfied. She looks so happy, satisfied. They’re driving away, smiling, happy and satisfied.

I could have been that woman; who’s to say I couldn’t?

Early Morning Hike

Clear notes of a Cardinal slice through the air.

Rustling fallen leaves mark the path of a black snake.

Painted lady shivers on a daisy petal.

My shoes beat rhythmically against gravel and sand.

 

GETTING OLD

Aging should be a good thing. I might as well think of it that way since I can’t stop it. Even if I had the money for cosmetic surgery, I could only make it a little nicer, take away some of the tracks of pain. How could I cut away the roots of it? Wouldn’t the bloom of it still show in my face, given time? Better to step out of my own cage, focus on the outside – other people, children, animals, making and creating. This incessant introspection has left me exasperated and tired. Tired of myself and my ceaseless need.

PREY

Unbidden memories slice my senses – a lion on unwary antelope

ripping away the fragile flesh of years exposing the still pulsing heart.

Bleeding, draining into the everlasting earth.

Questions

How did I love you? With my heart, my mind, my body. Not until you left did I love you with my past, my present, my future.

Why did I love you? Because you asked me to; oh you did. With your eyes, your smile, your arms. Only after you left did the question become the answer.

Sighting

I saw you in Belk’s- I knew it was you before I sighted the familiar beard. Your salty clean scent pressed against my senses in Kitchenware . Whirling around my arm shot out to steady a display of crockery shaped like cabbages. My eyes locked onto your familiar gait -broad shoulders above the shoppers between us. When you turned your head to follow a pretty teenager  I saw your profile for the first time clearly, at a distance. I watched you watching her, following her until she was out of sight. You bumped into an older woman and never even apologized.

Johnny

Remember when I said we should take the time to make our real heroes famous? People who live their life in such a way that they will be remembered when they’re gone-and not just for being really, really pretty, or handsome.

This is for my brother, Johnny. He served in Vietnam and that alone makes him a hero in my eyes. Since he retired from the military he has been at loose ends, I think. He has been spending a lot of time inspecting the world under the twin microscopes of politics and religion. Sigh. We who love him get exasperated because he wants to fix the world and we know it can’t be done-not by one man and not in one lifetime. However, we love him and remind ourselves that, like most of us, he is complicated.

He is also generous to a fault. I’ve been cornered by poor choices, despaired of ever finding my way out, and wondered if there was really a reason to even try. Johnny talked me down off the ledge. He has seen people murdered and mutilated and knew there was no sane reason for it. He carries horrific scenes in his head that flash at inopportune moments; he doesn’t sleep well. But when his daughter calls and needs to talk about her son, her job or her own fears and frustrations, he’s there for her, as he has been her entire life. Never, she once told me, did she fear telling her Dad anything. She knew that no matter what happened in her life, her Dad would be there for her, without judgment. Oh she knew, she laughingly told me once, when she’d done something stupid that he would acknowledge the choice had been poor, but his main concern was-what would she do about it? And whatever she decided, with his help in identifying the choices, she knew he would help her. And now, with her own child, she continues to share with her Dad, my brother, the events of her life. I think that’s a good statement about a man who makes us crazy when he wants to argue about the Religious Right.

I could tell you a lot of stuff about Johnny’s life that has added to his anger at the injustice and cruelty in the world but I’m not going to open up his heart for public view. It isn’t necessary. If people look closely at the things he gets angry about, it says a lot about the man. He hates it when corporations make decisions that add to their bottom line but heap extra work without extra pay on people who are already doing the best they can. He hates it when people look past problems they could fix and wait for a Holy Spirit to fix it for them. He believes fiercely in independence and self-actualization and gets angry when he realizes some people are afraid of all that responsibility.

My brother, Johnny, has helped family members not only by loaning them money (for which he is almost never repaid) but also by offering suggestions when they ask for them. He helped me find a car when I lost my third job in three years, my car breaking down on the same day. I had lost my roommate, the air conditioner in my house broke during a heat wave (I slept in the yard for 2 weeks), and when we were told the company was going into Chapter 11 they also didn’t have our paychecks. I felt my back breaking under the strain of unpaid bills; uncertainty in the future and how the hell was I going to look for another job without a car? Johnny helped me. It wasn’t just the money. He stayed calm about the situation (which was a pretty good trick; Johnny’s famous for getting really worked up about stuff!) he told me I could get through it. His certainty helped me find my own strength. It didn’t happen in  a day-I still lost my house, my furniture, my pets…but I managed to keep a tiny bit of sanity and determination and he helped me feed them and make them grow. He helped me help myself.

One of my nieces was sick-really sick-and he planted a garden for her. He went over and worked it regularly even though she had two children and a husband who could have, and should have, helped.

He visited our mother regularly and took her fresh fruit. He fixed things at her house and kept up the yard. There were other children who lived nearby but Johnny was the one my mother counted on to get things done.

He has taken in stray cats and their kittens, taken them to the vet, and found them homes. He has made friends in almost every part of the country and they will all tell you Johnny is exasperating about politics and religion but you will never meet anyone more generous, or kinder. My brother also believes in love. Romantic, flowers and everything love. He is almost naive in his attitude toward it and his heart has been broken more than I believe has been fair. Still, unlike many of us (including me) he believes in love and its power.

We shake our heads because we want Johnny to stop arguing about things we think don’t really matter in the long run. People will always pray for guidance but then won’t take it if it seems like too much trouble. People will always let someone else make their decisions for them and then complain about the results. It seems to be something in human nature. We, as a species, are very sheep like and are easily led. That mindset doesn’t encourage independence. It’s good to have a community attitude but we still need to see our own choices for what they are. Johnny clenches his fists when he realizes most of us aren’t that mature.

We love Johnny and wish he wouldn’t argue so much. Then, when I think about it long enough, I realize we want him to stop making us all so uncomfortable. Be the kind, generous person we know he is – all the time. We want to make him less complicated. But then he wouldn’t be Johnny, would he? And what would that make us? We have a tough time accepting everything about a person and in the end, if you really love someone; you love the whole person, warts and all. No one is one way all the time. That’s TV. Characters on TV always react the way the character is written, we know what they’re going to do or say, and that makes them attractive to us. They’re easy to understand, easy to accept. Maybe that’s one reason people spend so much time in front of that damn box. It’s a whole lot easier than interacting with real people.

And Johnny is a real person. A real, breathing, watching. listening, moving, laughing, talking, yelling, crying, loving person.

I am so lucky to have him in my life. I’m offering this inadequate portrait of my brother because I want the world to know he is out there, and that he has been a part of more than his own life, he has been an active, productive part of the human community.

Thank you, Johnny.