\ Day by day – Page 2 – Re-Entry

a blog by Margaret Bendet

Category: Day by day (Page 2 of 3)

In a Liminal Space


 Marilyn Webberley's painting of Chou Chou and me at home

Marilyn Webberley’s painting of Chou Chou and me at home

A few winters back, when it was icy, I complained to a grocery cashier about being tailgated on the way to the store. “I don’t want to drive that fast,” I said. “It’s dangerous on these roads.”

“I’m with you,” she said. “I have to be careful. I have responsibilities—I’m a dog owner.” Her words warmed my heart. She described my situation exactly.

There is one being on this planet who depends on me, and he is a toy poodle. I won’t say he’s my toy poodle; we share our lives, Chou Chou and I.

It’s a special relationship. Around the house, we have distinct responsibilities. I take care of our food, pay our rent and utilities—the ordinary things. Chou Chou offers protection. He sits at the bathroom door while I shower in the morning. He barks whenever our next-door neighbor gets in or out of his car. He welcomes anyone who comes the door—and continues welcoming them, with enthusiasm, until they have said hello to him. He takes me out for walks every day, which, on my own, I would never do. He retrieves balls that I throw. And most importantly, he greets me, literally jumping up and down, every time I come home—no matter how unhappy he was when I left without him. Chou Chou never holds a grudge.

He and I go way back. In 2003, Chou Chou was my mother’s dog, the last of a long line of Mom’s toy poodles. Mom had a real thing about toy poodles. My father once said that if he had to be reincarnated, he wanted to come back as my mother’s dog. He was only half kidding. After he died, of course, Mom’s dogs were even more important to her. When the toy poodle that Dad had given her died, my brother bought her Chou Chou. I was coming visit quite a lot then, and the dog and I got along famously.

One day on a walk, and we ended up at a golf course. Fortunately, no one was around because Chou Chou went berserk on the green. He put the side of his face down on the grass and ran as fast as his four legs would go—first one side of his face, then the other, and then he flipped over and rolled in the grass. Also, I think I petted him more, or better, than Mom did because when I was there, he was my dog.

Mom died less than a year later, and I wasn’t living in a place where I could have a dog, so Chou Chou went to my brother. Geoff did teach Chou Chou one trick—an unusual martial-art style rear kick—but after six years my brother died, and I was then able to take Chou Chou. Gladly.

The first time we went for a walk at South Whidbey Community Park, when we got to the soccer field by the forest, Chou Chou saw that stretch of bright green and went berserk. He was running and rolling like a puppy, so excited to be back in the grass again.

And at Whidbey Farmers’ Market, he found a use for that kick he’d learned. We were standing at one of the stalls one sunny Saturday morning, and a man behind me said, “Your dog just kicked dirt into my dog’s face.”

“He can’t help it,” I said. “He’s French.” The truth is that Chou Chou does not like to be smelled.

Deon Matson's painting of Chou Chou

Deon Matzen’s painting

I work as an editor and writing coach, and two of the people I’ve assisted in the last five years were talented artists who paid me “in kind”—both of them with paintings of my beloved dog. I like to point out that not many people have their likeness in an oil painting, and I live with a dog who has not one portrait but two!

Chou Chou has been wonderful company, but this may not be for much longer.

Last spring as I was meditating I heard an inner voice say, This is my last summer. It was an intuitive leap, but I figured this message came from Chou Chou, who was lying beside me in that moment.

The summer is over now, and he has a cough. It’s a typical ailment for toy poodles, who were over-designed and have the problem of a collapsing trachea, which becomes more pronounced as they age. At one point a few weeks ago, the cough was so bad that I thought, Oh no. Is it time?

I heard, After Christmas.

So, we’re in a liminal space, this toy poodle and I. Of course, none of this may be real. Chou Chou has never before spoken to me. I don’t know if this was truly him, and if it was, I don’t know that he knows for sure the timing of his departure. But I do feel taken care of in this. I’m treasuring the time we have together now. If Chou Chou does go in a month, I will feel I was warned.

And if he doesn’t, I’ll be very happy to continue being with him for whatever finite time remains to us.

An Ounce of Prevention

IMG_0497I was on my way to pick strawberries, driving down a country road when it happened. About a quarter of a mile ahead, I saw a fawn step onto the blacktop. I slowed down. The fawn saw the car, turned, and began running straight toward us. I stopped, but the truck behind me didn’t—or, anyway, not as soon as I stopped.

The impact was a jolt. It didn’t trigger the air bags or injure my two passengers, but it was enough to accordion-pleat the trunk of my little Nissan Versa. The truck’s license plate was imprinted on my car’s never-to-latch-again trunk; one of the license plate screws was embedded in it. Other than that, the truck, a Ford F-350, was unblemished. When metal meets plastic, metal scores every time.

The driver, age twenty, was on the phone to his mother right away. “The truck is fine,” he said. “Maybe we don’t need to tell Dad…” This was, it turns out, Dad’s truck.

The next day, when the claims adjustor from Dad’s insurance company called, he said, “I’m sorry this ruined your weekend.”

That surprised me. “It didn’t ruin my weekend,” I told him. “Far from it.”

The young man who ran into me had been contrite; personnel from the three emergency vehicles that showed up were exemplary—it was the medic who figured out how to close my trunk with a borrowed bungee cord—and, as I said, no one had been injured, not even the fawn. My car would have to fixed, but someone else would be doing that and paying for it and also paying for a loaner car for me to drive in the meantime. At the worst, this accident was an inconvenience.

I had to wonder, how many people let an inconvenience ruin their weekend? The thought of that made me grateful for the benefits of a daily meditation practice—of consciously quieting my mind, of keeping wild thoughts in check so they don’t get the chance to “ruin” a weekend.

That was the day after the accident. Now, two weeks later, I’m more inclined to see the collision as a gift.

First, there is my contemplation that I got off lightly. This message came from a couple of directions, beginning with my own insurance agent who, when she heard that it was an F350 that had run into us, said, “This could have been so much worse. You were lucky. Your little Nissan served you well.”

Two days later, on a bus to pick up the loaner car, I spoke with a woman who turned out to be homeless—living in a tent on the local fairgrounds. Since this woman is attractive, well groomed, well spoken, I asked about the last job she’d had. She hasn’t worked, she told me, since being in an accident. I hadn’t told her about my accident, but hers sounded a lot like it—except that she’s had spells of dizziness ever since her accident. “I wasn’t able to work after that,” she said. “I can’t focus now.”

After that conversation, I was feeling quite a bit of gratitude for the way this accident happened.

Then this morning, I told the story to an old friend—one of several old friends who have been in car accidents that were not their fault yet left them with serious, debilitating injuries to overcome. For a few moments, I had the uncomfortable feeling of being happy about something good that had happened to me but not to a friend.

But Shyamala had a message for me: “What I want you to know is that about fifteen years before my big accident happened, I was in an accident just like yours. I was driving on a country road . . .” Coming into a town, Shyamala slowed down, and the truck behind her didn’t. “And just like your accident,” she said, “there were no injuries. I thought it was nothing. It seemed like nothing—and maybe it was nothing . . .” Perhaps there was no connection at all between that one tiny collision and the accident that came years later whose physical impact was monumental for her.

Who knows! It’s not as if a person can always be safe. But the conversation set me to thinking: what could I have done differently on the day I set out to pick strawberries?

Something occurred to me. A few miles before I saw the fawn, I noticed that a truck was following too close behind me. I looked for a convenient place to pull off and let him pass, but I didn’t see one.

The next time a truck is worrying my fender, I’ll pull off at an inconvenient place. I’ll be an old woman about it.

This accident could have been serious—perhaps the financial consequences are serious in that young man’s family—and I could have prevented it.


No False Spring

IMG_0362Spring snuck up on me. It was beautiful for a week in early February, and then I looked around and the whole world was in bloom. At first, I didn’t trust it. Twenty years on the East Coast taught me not to have confidence in an early spring. There, the weather would warm for a few beautiful days, maybe a week, in March, and my body, which had become acclimatized to the inhuman cold of Northeast winters, would begin to relax. My shoulders would widen and lower, my chest would expand. Breathing would become easier; walking less tentative.

And just when I felt safe, winter would blast back—and then it seemed worse, much worse, than it had before that sweet respite of the false spring.

But in this time and in this place, it was not a false spring. There was no killing frost to confuse the daffodils, no final blanket of snow. A month on, it’s still beautiful on Whidbey Island. Last week I planted lettuce. Without thinking, I told a friend in New York that, and she almost wept.

Spring means lighter clothes, lighter colors, more light altogether; it means being outside more; it means longer walks; it means planting—and because my birthday is in the spring, for me it is also a time of personal rebirth.

It’s fortuitous that spring started earlier this year, because when my birthday comes next month, I will be heading into a new decade, the big seven-oh—an age that I have never thought of in any regard except as the beginning of “the final years.” Actually, I’d thought that about fifty and sixty as well, but these milestones I managed to go through with no sense of true change. This time, I know there should be changes, there must be changes—there are changes. Any point in life can be our final year, final moment, but if death hasn’t come by the time you’re seventy, at least by then you know it’s fairly close. And if not death, then serious aging—the deterioration of body and mind—and these are certainties that, if you’re prudent, you acknowledge and anticipate.

A few weeks ago a friend suggested I dye my white hair, and I had to laugh. What would be the point of it? Do I want to fool people? To kid myself?

And perhaps that is the change I’m undergoing. I have no energy left for making a show. If something isn’t either fun or nourishing, if it doesn’t contribute to my well-being or to someone else’s, why bother with it? At this point, dying my hair would be like setting up a false spring in my own life.

Of course, the winter of our years has its own compensations, and the meaning of any milestone is what we ourselves give to it. Someone has just reminded me of what George Bernard Shaw, then ninety, said to a friend at his seventieth birthday celebration—“Oh, to be seventy again!”


Stepping Out

In the first week of the year, I understood that it was time to let go of my part-time job at the library—a fifteen-hour-a-week ballast, working with friends and surrounded by wonderful books and movies. What could be more pleasant! Then I wondered, If given the chance, what else would I fill this time with?

And I was being given the chance. I saw that I could, indeed, support myself with work that I find more than just pleasant, work for which I feel passion. I could focus on telling my stories—and on helping others tell theirs!

The day after this contemplation, I gave notice at the library, and two weeks later I dispersed chocolates, hugged my colleagues, and left. It isn’t exactly like retiring, but there is a wonderful unanchored feeling to time right now.

This weekend I went to the opening of a pop art exhibit at the Museo Gallery in Langley—and loved looking at all of the creative things that local artists are doing in the name of tin cans and soup labels. They’re having fun with their art! That was inspiring, and so was talking with a friend about her accomplished high school–age daughter.

This teenager was the down the street that evening, singing at another gallery—and planning a juried performance on the saxophone in a few weeks’ time and an exhibit of paintings this spring. Four years ago this same girl was a concert-ready violinist and two years ago she won an island-wide writing competition. What will this astonishing young virtuoso do next! “I have no idea,” her mother said. “Katyrose is always a surprise.”

The most dramatic symbol for creative potential was what I saw in the street when I left the gallery—a bearded man in a ponytail, wearing pink and twirling fire in the air around him. “How long have you been doing that?” I asked him afterward. “A couple of weeks,” he said. “I saw it on YouTube and picked it up.” My jaw dropped, and he laughed. “I’m kidding you.” He handed me his card: he was Matt “Madhat” Hoar. “I’ve been doing this for fourteen years,” he said, “but if you wanted to, you could learn it in no time. I’ve had people do professional shows after two or three days of lessons.”

Who knows; perhaps I will. (The video is courtesy of a gracious bystander, Jenna Ashley.)

At the new year I always feel the potential for change, but with 2015 the possibility seems momentous. This is a year in which I’ll turn seventy, a year in which a memoir I’ve been working on for more than a decade will be published.

My meditation teacher once spoke of the new year as a gift we’re given, in the way a sculptor might be given a huge block of some precious substance—marble or gold—to work with. This gift of time is our raw material, and we’re asked to create a masterpiece with it. What will this year become in our hands? What will we make of this gift of time?

Now, more than ever, I see that it’s up to me.

The Crash

It’s been many weeks since I’ve posted, but I do have an excuse. Over the holidays I was traumatized by my Mac Mini. First, it was processing at a glacial speed, which was bad, and when I took it in to be checked (at an Apple Store, in a packed mall, a week before Christmas), I was told that my hard drive had crashed. “That’s good,” the young man in the bright red T-shirt told me, and in a way it was. The hard drive is major, but it isn’t an outrageously expensive fix.

So, I left the computer in the shop for organ replacement, along with the nifty little external backup drive, which I had remembered to bring with me. After the new hard drive was in, the folks at Apple would reinstall the software and files from the backup, and I would be up and running again. They said they’d call within forty-eight hours.

After about sixty hours, I called them. “I was going to call you,” the guy said. “There was nothing on your backup device.” I hadn’t hooked it up correctly to the computer; it turned out there was much more involved than just plugging it in.

So,  went back to this bustling mall on the Sunday before Christmas to pick up a repaired computer with nothing on it.

I did have a plan B. Carbonite was one of the first in-the-clouds backup systems, and I had been subscribing, by auto-renewal so I didn’t forget. Only two months earlier, my credit card had expired and Carbonite had called for the new numbers. I paused for a moment then. Did I need this second backup? Yes, yes, yes, I did, and fortunately I knew it at the time.

The day after I got the computer home, the stored files began streaming… trickling… drib-drip-dripping into my computer.

I spent a lot of time talking with Carbonite’s friendly technical support crew, and twice I got to speak to people in the second echelon. The first time I did, we scrapped the first day and a half of downloads and restarted the process, routing the files into one discrete directory on my desktop. They were streaming again.

By the next morning, they were back to a drip. I saw how many files were left, how it was taking three minutes per file… and I called technical support. “At this rate,” I said, “it’s going to take another twenty-three days to download my files.”

That was the second time they sent me to the upper echelon. This young man told me that my Internet connection was slow.

I asked him, “What does that mean, ‘slow’?”

“Here, where I am, and even at home on my own computer, I can download ninety-four megabytes a second,” he told me. “You’re downloading two.”

He, of course, lives in a city and has huge cables, while I, a country girl, was downloading my entire computer through a telephone line.

Whidbey Telecom is a divine company. They fixed it so that I could increase my Internet access package for the time it took me to download my computer, and they also delivered the improved equipment on that very afternoon—Christmas Eve!—and let me keep it after I lowered my access.

They’re all great, actually—the brilliant techies at Apple and Carbonite and Whidbey Tel.

I got it all back on Christmas morning, and I knew it was a gift. But I haven’t felt the same about my computer since. The magic is gone.

What was horrifying about the experience—and it was horrifying—was seeing how much I depend on this technology for support in my work, information about my world, connection to my friends, entertainment…and how little I understand about how it all functions and how to use it intelligently.

Nutritional Overhaul

I’ve long been wary of diets that forbid that trinity of culinary pleasure—dairy, wheat, sugar. Physical pain is a powerful incentive for change, but can changing your diet truly provide a cure? Then a friend with arthritis gave a glowing account of her own nutritional overhaul, an approach called The Abascal Way.

I remembered that a book by that very name had been sitting in the library, on a shelf in my line of vision for at least a month. The next time I was in the library, I found this book, took it home, and put it on my dining room table, where it sat for another week and a half, unopened. Having such a book is one thing; reading it is what threatens the status quo.

Then I spent an entire day in a meditation workshop, and when I got home, I picked up The Abascal Way and began to go through it. The next morning I started the diet.

I wasn’t committed to actually doing the diet, you understand. I was just going to put a couple of the principles into practice: a breakfast with no grains; a breakfast that’s half protein and half fruit or vegetables. It stretched my ingenuity to come up with such a breakfast, but I did. That first morning I ate fried eggs and kale.

Later in the day two friends from Seattle dropped in. I mentioned this impossible new eating plan—No grains, indeed! What other breakfasts are there?—and it turned out Alice and Jane had been following this diet for a year, they’d taken Abascal workshops online, they knew the founder’s story.

Kathy Abascal lives on nearby Vashon Island, a lawyer who also studied neurobiology and botanical medicine. To deal with her own health issues, she developed a nutritional program she describes in her books and now teaches in that online class called TQI—To Quiet Inflammation.

I got more serious about my new diet. It was now my new diet. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I’d stopped eating chocolate and almost immediately started having less arthritic pain in my right foot. But less pain is not the same as painless, and this is what I’m shooting for. I’ve been on the Abascal diet—and truly on it since that first day—for three weeks now. My newly un-inflamed foot is a joy to walk on.

What is most interesting to me is why it took me so long to let go of culinary crutches that I knew, intuitively, weren’t good for my body.

Chai, for instance, is an Indian-style tea I was drinking in quantity every day. I’ve loved this sweet, strong, milky, spiced concoction since the first time I tasted it, forty years ago. And I’d been telling myself, “This isn’t so bad.” The spices—ginger, cardamom, fennel, clove, cinnamon—are medicinal, and I was replacing the milk with soy creamer and the sugar with stevia. In her book, Abascal points out that packaged foods have additives. The third ingredient listed for that creamer is, I found, cane syrup—no wonder it tastes so yummy! As for stevia, Abascal writes that, from the body’s standpoint, sweet is sweet.

I let go of chai that first morning—you can do anything for one day—and found I could finally taste the black tea, which has quite an interesting flavor all its own. Now I look forward to a cup of tea in the morning, and because it’s not sweet, I don’t keep drinking it all morning long.

While I’ve overcome a few hurdles, I know there are more a ahead. I’m now facing my three favorite culinary holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween!

I just have to find a way to remind myself that inflammation is a pain.


Life Spans

A few years back a beautiful and charismatic woman who was my next-door neighbor told me, repeatedly, that she was not going to die. I suggested that perhaps she’d experienced the part of her being that’s eternal, but she said, no, this was not it; her body was not going to die. I might die myself, if I chose to, but she wasn’t going to. She spoke in a tone of certainty, but her truth, however she had found it, was not what happened. About six months ago, this woman succumbed to her human destiny. She died.

As we all will.

My friend Donna Hood and I teach a course on some of the things we can do in light of the fact that we are going to die—record our favorite personal stories, write our own obituary. Who else is going to remember what matters most to us! Donna asked her elder daughter to write her (Donna’s) obituary, and she (the daughter) remembered an ancient and minor beauty crown but forgot to mention the existence of her own father.

We used to call the class “Preparing for the Inevitable,” but a few weeks ago Donna convinced me to change the name. “It scares people,” she said. “They don’t want to think about death.” Now we’re calling it “Legacy”—and it turns out Donna was right. Next week’s class has only one space left.

That’s fine, but death is inevitable. I do like to think about it. This is an ongoing contemplation for me, and it comes up in various forms:

What should I do with the time that’s left?

When I die, is there anything I’ll regret not having done?

How can I organize my life to make my death easier for people around me?

Yesterday morning I got an email from a man whose wife—healthy, vital, in her mid seventies—took our class about six months ago. In writing her own obituary, she had placed her death in 2028, far enough in the future that it didn’t impinge on today. This woman has now lost her mental faculties and is, in many ways, dead to life as she knew it. Last week, and her husband wrote to thank us for the fact that his late wife had written her obituary and a brief account of her life story. He said, “It was very important for the family to see this.”

So, our preparation to depart from this life can make a difference to the people who love us.

And once we acknowledge that our life will end, we might also be willing to look more closely at what supports us in living—what human beings actually need in order to live. Air. Water. Earth. Light. The list is short but pithy. If you have time for a two-minute video clip, this Conservation International link (sent by a friend this morning) is worth seeing.

In terms of life spans, what humanity does on this planet isn’t going to kill Mother Earth, but we could do in our own species. For sure, we’re wiping out others. That too is worth thinking about.

Looking at Light

"Together and Apart" is Asian ink, gouache, and Japanese watercolor. For more, here is a link to Angie Dixon's website.

“Together and Apart” is Sumi (Asian ink), gouache, and Japanese watercolor. To see more, visit Angie Dixon’s website

I work part-time at the Whidbey Island library that’s in a double-wide, a cozy space where we have interesting conversations. One day  we convinced a library patron to bring in her art portfolio from her  car. This artist, Angie Dixon, showed us glorious pictures—horses, a friendly orangutan, and one I’ll never forget: a window with rays of light coming through it. Nothing else, just the light.photo-4

As a child, Angie said, she’d read a read a book whose story entered and took up residence in her, even though the book itself disappeared from her life and its title and author’s name were forgotten. Here is my telling of the story she outlined:

A child enters a light-filled room that has two floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto a lovely sunlit garden. A large gilt-framed mirror hangs between the windows, and it is this mirror that interests the girl. She walks up to the mirror and looks into it. It’s herself she sees, of course, and what she notices first is that she is becoming quite a big girl—a fine girl!

Of course, there’s that funny thing about the way her hair curls in the very back. She turns around, with her back almost to the mirror, and peers over her shoulder, looking critically at her reflection. Perhaps the hair will change in time. Her mother had suggested that once, and the girl had only dared to hope that it might, because her mother obviously didn’t like this tendency toward unruly curls.

The girl turns to face the mirror head-on. This is better. She looks much better this way. But she’s having trouble making out her reflection now. Why?

There is no light. The windows are like slits on the wall. They’re tiny! These windows were huge when she came into the room. How long ago was that? The girl isn’t sure.

She looks back at the mirror, and the minute she does that, the windows become still smaller. Horrified, she realizes she’s in almost total darkness. She walks over to the window then—if you could still call it a window—and reaches her hand toward the tiny ray of light that remains. Her finger won’t fit in the crevice. No, you wouldn’t call this a window at all. But it had once been a window.

Is there something she can do to make it a window again?

Angie doesn’t remember what happened at this point in the story. The girl had to do something to get back the light. “It was one of those fairy tales,” she said, “you know, where the heroine undertakes a mission or passes a test. The girl gets the light back, but I don’t remember how.”

If it were my story—and for this moment, why don’t we call it my story!—I would have the heroine pay attention to the light.

The girl looks intently at the window, willing it to expand. There is just a sliver of light now—and the light is extraordinary, the girl realizes; it’s beautiful, that light.

 Once she notices its beauty, there is more light. The girl laughs then. It’s the first time she’s laughed since she walked into the room, and with her laughter, the slits in the wall become windows once again.

 But they’re are more than just windows. These are doorways. The girl realizes she can do more than just stand in this room and look at the light. She can walk through the doorway. She can go outside, into the beautiful garden. She can be in the light.

 So that’s what the girl does: she steps into the light.

Giving something our attention for the sake of delight—that is the magic key that expands anything in our lives. So, if it works for the rest of us, surely it would work for this girl in a fairy tale.


As Life Unravels

Whidbey artist Pam Winstanley does amazing work with silk.

Whidbey artist Pam Winstanley does amazing work with silk.

Prayer flags, made by a friend, have been fluttering their good will and compassion in my backyard for a month now. I love the idea that these silk flags, vibrant but fragile, are doing their best for the universe in the short time they’ll be here. They’re a daily reminder that my life, too, is impermanent.

Earlier today at a happy hour celebration, I watched a woman in her early sixties sit before the candle on her birthday crème brulee and wonder aloud what to wish for. “There’s nothing more that I want,” she said. “I have so much joy in my life. I just want it all to remain as it is.” This is, of course, a wish we’ve all had at times, one that is never granted.

Life moves on, and it’s for the best. Frayed silk, sun-bleached color—dissolution has its own stark beauty and a reason for being.

This week, I learned a valuable lesson from a physical infirmity that is practically synonymous with aging. There had been intermittent pain in my right foot. I thought perhaps I’d strained it in the warrior pose, but the pain reoccurred over the course of weeks, was worse in the mornings, and was sometimes acute. I went to a doctor and told him, “I think I may have arthritis.”

“At your age?” he said. “Of course, you have arthritis. Sooner or later everyone has arthritis.” He told me to continue the exercise, especially in the morning, and to ice the foot afterward—excellent suggestions—and then he offered me a prescription for a pain medication.

I didn’t want a drug—the pain wasn’t that bad!—but then he gave me some sample pain pills, which were free and an insurance I could carry in my back pocket.

This was all good, but there was little change in the state of my foot.

A couple of weeks later, I received some clues about dealing with osteoarthritis that I wouldn’t hear from a doctor, and which now seem to be working.

The first was from a friend who asked how much I weigh, divided it by two, and told me that was the number of ounces of water I need to be drinking every day. “Clean water,” she said. “No chlorine. Filter it if you have to. Go to a health store and get the drops you put into water to make it alkaline.”

This woman, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, was in my face about water. “You take a vow,” she said. “You promise me—and I want you to call me in two weeks and let me know you’re doing it.”

So, I retrieved my plastic water filter from the back of a cupboard, bought the drops, increased my daily intake of water by about three hundred percent—and within a week of my drinking seventy ounces of water a day, my right foot became noticeably better. There was less pain.

The second clue came while I was on an outing to the Seattle Art Museum with a couple of colleagues from work. I’d brought along a bar of premium European dark chocolate, in case we needed a snack. Then I remembered that one of the women no longer eats chocolate. “It’s her right toe,” the other woman said. “She gets pain in her right toe whenever she eats chocolate.”

Her toe? Why would chocolate have anything to do with her toe? But the toe is so close to the foot, and then the woman herself explained that it was her arthritis that was being inflamed by the chocolate. Arthritis… foot…

I said, “I’m going to try it!” I fished that candy bar out of my purse and handed it to the only person present who still ate chocolate.

That was a week ago. I let go of chocolate and, within a couple of days, my foot felt almost normal. Most of the pain is gone, most of the time.

Many people will tell you that dark chocolate is good for you, and indeed it may be, if what you eat in a day is no bigger than the size of a Hershey’s kiss. I was doing one or two lines of chocolate from those three-and-half-ounce bars, both after lunch and after dinner. I ate lots of fresh, green, organic vegies, but I also ate lots of chocolate—not such a healthy diet.

Of course, I don’t know that stopping chocolate and increasing water is what’s healing my foot, but I’ll keep up this new regime for the time being. Right now, I’m not even tempted to do otherwise.

And I’m actually grateful for the arthritis. I’m taking much better care of myself than I was only a couple of weeks ago.

My point is that the unraveling that happens in our lives may not come in a way we would have chosen. No sane person making a birthday wish says, “What I really want is pain.” But when pain comes, it brings us gifts—that we receive, I think, as long as we keep flying our colors as best we can.

A Visitor

It was a Sunday morning. I’d slept in, meditated, and gone into the kitchen to make chai—when I had the feeling I was being watched. At the sliding screen door stood a large grey tomcat. I walked over and he sat, looking up at me. I sat. I opened the door a crack, put my hand out, and he arched his head under my fingers, encouraging me to pet him, which I did.

I have adopted a number of cats in my life, and this cat was lovely; this cat had a presence. I, however, currently have a commitment to a toy poodle, and Chou Chou is no friend to cats. So, even while I stroked this feline visitor, I was thinking, I can’t take you in!

Fortunately, the cat wore a collar and a tag with a phone number on each side—not a local number, I noticed. I called one and got an office answering machine; I called the other and got voicemail.

A minute later, the dog came tearing out of the bedroom, barking in fury at this invasion, and the cat fled. Then my phone rang.

“Did you just call my cell phone?” a woman asked. I told her about the cat.

“Oh my God!” she said. “Where do you live?” It turned out that this woman, Janice Martinez, and her partner, Michael Greenfield, had been docked at the Langley marina the week before. Kitty had jumped off their sailboat the previous Sunday. “He’d never done that before,” she said.

They spent days looking for the cat—met the local vet, who tried to help; met the owner of Music for the Eyes, who said that if Kitty showed up, he would fly him home to British Columbia. Because, in time, Kitty’s owners had to move on.

“We’re on Orcas Island now,” Janice said, “but we’ll come back for him.”

I was explaining that the cat had run off again, when I spotted him sitting under the front of my neighbor’s car.

“Put him in your bathroom,” Janice told me. “It’s just for today. We’ll be there.” But it took me a few minutes to get together clothes and a piece of smoked salmon, and by that time Kitty had disappeared again.

When you’re looking for a grey cat, the world is vast and dangerous place, full of hidden nooks and deadly predators.

I had to leave a cat behind once myself. Turning a beloved pet into a stray because you cannot find him and you cannot spend more time looking for him and you don’t know what else to do but go on—it’s an agony.

I felt the pain all over again that day: searching my neighbors’ yards for that grey cat; calling his owners; leaving the message that I hadn’t been able to catch Kitty; that he was, once again, MIA.

I was going to the Langley Shakespeare Festival that afternoon and was due at a friend’s house at 4:15. Just before 4:00, Chou Chou and I, coming back from a walk, saw a large grey cat on the driveway. The dog started barking again, tearing up the drive—and, of course, chasing the cat away. I could hardly blame Chou Chou. He hadn’t been looking for Kitty; he hadn’t missed that cat at all!

But it gave me hope… and five minutes later, I got call on my cell phone. It was Janice. “We’re here,” she said. “We’re in Langley. Where do you live?”

Even knowing I didn’t have their cat, these amazing people had spent the entire day to come back for him! From Orcas, they’d sailed their boat to Anacortes, rented a car, and driven down the length of Whidbey Island in the hopes of finding Kitty—a North American shorthair they had adopted as a rescue cat and loved. A cat they loved.

Kitty back on his sailboat

Kitty, back on his sailboat

I still had to go out, but I left Janice and Michael in my apartment—I would trust my life to people who went to these lengths for their cat! I told them I’d just seen Kitty; he couldn’t be far away.

And he wasn’t. This story has a happy ending. After an hour, they found Kitty, sitting in Island Church’s children’s play area, just over my back fence.

When I got home that night, I found a note that began, “We Found Him!” Janice went on to say that she thought Kitty had sensed “the energy” of my home. A meditator herself, she recognized certain signs of meditation in my apartment.

Later, when she sent the photo, she wrote that it was nice to read about Kitty’s adventure from my perspective, but what she and Michael most want to know is the cat’s story. What did he do in his week “living on the lam”? Because now that they’re home, it’s clear that Kitty has developed a bit of an attitude and a new taste for romping in the garden and woods. It’s probably the liberating effect of life on Whidbey Island but, whatever the cause, it’s brought permanent improvement to the cat’s life. Janice said, “I can’t imagine restricting him to a boat again.”


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