Today I’m grateful for the view after a brisk walk to the top of the hill. It’s the first time I’ve had the breath, energy, and sufficient lack of pain to walk that far for a long time. Little Wren was thrilled, dashing up and back, hither and yon, inspiring me with her enthusiasm. I don’t remember the last time I walked the whole length of the driveway, but I think it was more than a year ago. It was a stark contrast to this day last year, and in the way of anniversaries I thought a lot about how that Friday unfolded. I’m grateful for the friends who carried me through that awful morning, that they are still alive and well and that we continue to support each other in the ups and downs of our lives. I’m grateful for Impermanence, for how loss and grief also dissipate over time as surely as any good thing; I’m grateful for the new little dog who’s been here just over six months, and how she continues to heal my heart, gradually stealing into the tender places that closed with Stellar’s death. I’m grateful for the slow, sometimes arduous process of healing my body, too.
Even as the aspens are just past their peak in the high country, canyon cottonwoods are turning golden. I’m grateful for the spectacle of fall colors across the valley and on the mountain slopes, more glorious this year than it’s been for many past. Grateful for a long wet autumn.
I’m grateful on this cold rainy day for the ingredients and ability to make chicken soup; for the stove and fuel to heat the burner and for the pot; for the fragrance wafting through the house; and for a friend to share the soup with.
It was a sleepy, hot day. I’m grateful that it wasn’t as hot here as it was in other places in the west where people I love are suffering from the extreme heat wave; and where people I don’t know are suffering from the extreme heat wave. I’m grateful for the illusion of stability and peace that I dwell in these days, savoring the beauty and ease of this moment, knowing that nothing lasts, everything changes, what I’m grateful for today may not exist tomorrow. Meditating on the certainty of impermanence, reflecting on the precious gifts of this life I fell into and created with every choice I made along the way, takes my breath away sometimes. But mostly, these days, it makes me grateful for every breath I take.
I enjoyed a conversation with a friend this afternoon as I lay back on the chaise on the patio, and this one little cloud caught my attention because it looked like–well, I won’t say so that you can use your own imagination, but it looked like something mythical to me. It had already lost its precision in the few seconds it took me to open the camera app and snap its picture (top). Then, in the span of just a few minutes it shapeshifted into something else, and then it began to dissipate, and then it was gone… I’m grateful for cloud watching, for having the leisure and presence of mind to do it from time to time, and for how it brings me so vividly in touch with impermanence: the changing nature of everything.
I am always grateful for Boyz Lunch. Today, the company of my dear lunch boys assuaged the melancholy left by the ghost of lamented potential; and also just the fleeting visit from an old friend. It was fun to plan the meal, use preserved tomatillo salsa from last summer’s harvest, soak and cook dried black beans from Rancho Gordo instead of opening the usual cans, and make enchiladas with corn tortillas from a regional tortilleria. Yellow rice is so much easier than I knew, just add turmeric. The meal took some thought and preparation but was ultimately so simple, so delicious.
I combined three recipes to make the most of what I had on hand, adding cream cheese and cheddar to the shredded chicken, (cooking rice in the leftover chicken water); mixing cream, sour cream, cumin, and more leftover chicken water in the blender with the salsa verde then pouring that over the filled and rolled tortillas in a 9″x13″ baking dish. I’m grateful, as always, to have a well-stocked spice rack, pantry, and refrigerator. I’m grateful for my ‘personal shoppers’ who continue to coddle me through covid. I’m grateful for every little piece of the puzzle that comes together to create, serve, and enjoy lunch weekly with an intimate club of three that’s been dining here for nearly six years. I’m grateful for the acceptance and gratitude we share for each other and for our precious, impermanent time together.
Life is hard enough (even without the threat of a new World War) that we don’t need to be challenging each other on every opinion. I mentioned inflammatory comments on Facebook in yesterday’s post. They came after I posted this innocuous sentence: “I joined Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and other concerned global citizens in dropping Spotify in protest over Joe Rogan’s misinformation podcast.” My thought was, if the same number of people as have died from Covid in the US were to cancel their Spotify paid subscriptions, maybe Spotify would grow a pair and take a stand for truth. That was three weeks and roughly 100,000 needless deaths ago.
I unfriended the people who jumped all over me for ignorance and cancel culture. Life is too short. It really is, it’s just too short. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t have time for that shit. I do have time to enjoy the creative endeavors of other people of big heart and open mind, like the adorable Australian series “Please Like Me,” created, written by, and starring Josh Thomas (on Hulu). But I missed the easy access to a variety of music on Spotify, especially instrumental jazz, and while I love mountain grown public radio KVNF in Paonia, not all of their music shows are to my taste, and I can’t handle the interruption of unsought headlines these days.
So I have embarked upon an exploration of public radio stations around the world, in search of my kinds of jazz. I have checked out a number of stations I used to enjoy when I lived in their broadcast areas, like WTJU in Charlottesville, VA and WMNF in Tampa; and other stations I’ve enjoyed as I drove through their airwaves like KMUD in Garberville, CA. In my search for jazz I came upon WWOZ in New Orleans, which I’ve been listening to for a few weeks, and today I found Radio Swiss Jazz, which I think I’ll be listening to a lot for a very long time. I figure if I find twelve public radio stations I love around the world, and donate $10 each month to one of them, I’ll have done a lot more good in the world with my $120 than if I had kept on supporting commercial, profit-driven streaming services like Spotify. So that’s my plan!
Thanks for the messages of comfort and encouragement after my gloomy post yesterday. I’m grateful for them. I woke this morning to news of Russia’s malevolent invasion of Ukraine, and set my intention for the day to let–or make–peace begin with me. There is literally nothing I can do about this new war. Other people get paid to take care of these global issues. I call and write my representatives to let them know my preferences. I voted a compassionate president into office. He’s done the best he can with what he has to work with. Not much else I can do there. But I can renew my commitment to practicing kindness, wisdom, and compassion as much as possible every precious remaining day of my short life.
Thanks to mindfulness practice, though I sometimes slide into the shadows, I no longer dwell there consistently as I did for much of my life. And when I do go dark inside, I let it be, resting in that sorrow: my friend Impermanence always comes through. Things always change, inside of me and out, and I’m grateful for the wisdom to know that, allowing myself to feel what I feel without judgement, and resting calmly with what is, until it changes. It does sometimes take an effort to make a healthy choice, like seeking out music and art that uplift me, and opening my heart with gratitude to connection offered by friends old and new. While I know that no one and nothing else can lift my spirits for me, healthy choices can certainly help shift the balance.
Even for someone with almost everything (except true love) life can be hard from time to time. There is so much suffering in the world that I can do nothing about, and then there’s my own personal, ego-centric suffering. This or that didn’t go my way, this or that person doesn’t care about me the way I wish, this or that beloved has just died. Just this evening, I learned that one of my best high school friends died the first summer of Covid, a month after Michael died.
I hadn’t known him well for the past ten years or so. His beloved wife was radically opposed, I think, to our friendship, as she was to virtually every belief I held about reality, except the love of dogs–and Wayne. He was a great guy. We grew apart as our political differences fueled that awful cultural divide that plagues the country now as pestilentially as Covid 19. The last time we connected, jovially, on Facebook, was about a year before Covid arrived. I’d been thinking about him quite a lot this weekend when I cooked a batch of cheese grits, and served myself some leftovers with a lot of bacon. The last time we were really close was not long before the Colonel died, when Wayne and his wife visited at The Home, and we all wallowed in the endless bacon buffet at Sunday brunch. Grits and bacon, a Sunday brunch tradition for us for all the years my parents lived in The Home.
Why they feed old people all this fatty awful food I have never comprehended, but us younger folks sure enjoyed it. I remember that last time we were all together, before they moved to Phoenix and then the Colonel died, they were in the buffet line in front of me, and I heard her make some unkind remarks about the old folks in front of us, and he laughed. He fell a little bit in my estimation then. He never used to be unkind. Anyway, they moved, and we corresponded a few times, but then Trump happened, and they were pretty rabid supporters of his, and so that was essentially that. I went on Facebook this evening to try to promote my upcoming Mindfulness course, but was so distressed by the divisive comments on a post I’d made a couple weeks ago from ‘friends’ I don’t even really know, and from some crassly commercial spam on our high school page, that I decided not to share my course information on that platform.
But I did look up Wayne, having him on my mind from the grits and bacon, and was stunned to see some posts from his wife referring to his death. I followed his timeline back to his obituary in July 2020, to learn that he died after a two-week struggle with Covid. That news has exacerbated my already prevalent sadness as I begin to face the grief of the many other losses sustained in ‘my little life’ during the first two years of the virus. None of them, til now, have been directly related to Covid, but they have all contributed to an uncomfortable sense of aloneness–some might call it loneliness, but I eschew that word and concept–that has only kept growing since Stellar’s departure last November. It is becoming harder and harder to care. I keep checking in to see if I’m experiencing equanimity, or indifference. Peace with impermanence, or simple despair.
Wayne introduced me to my first real high school boyfriend, his best friend Mike, who I think turned out to be gay, but oh well. I spoke some French, and one night Mike played me a song he couldn’t understand in which a phrase sounded to him like Shut the door. It was actually Je t’adore. We had a good long laugh about that. Mike gave me perfume and roses, and played the total romantic, but he couldn’t get into sex with a woman. Or at least with me. Wayne and I stayed friends for decades after Mike had disappeared from both our lives. Every time I flew back east he’d pick me up at the airport, and he was a rock during the time my mother was dying of PSP and I lived in Lorton, VA, for almost a year to help her through that.
There have been a lot of people around here that have died of Covid, but those few I was peripherally acquainted with were much older. Wayne is the first peer I’ve learned of to die from it. I’m not surprised, given their politics, but I was shocked in a different way to lose an old friend, and hold the regret that I hadn’t reached across the divide to him sooner, in time to share some love before he died. I messaged his wife my condolences, of course. And now I sit with this regretful loss, on top of all the other grief I’ve been holding with equanimity until recently.
For the past week, I’ve been exceptionally tired, and my blood oxygen has hovered around 88, going up or down a few points depending on when I measure it. Relevantly or not, a week ago I was standing in line for the pharmacy, when an unmasked man passed a couple of feet in front of me and sneezed a giant, congested, snotty sneeze just two feet in front of me. He did sneeze into his coat sleeve, but still, I could practically feel the blast on my masked face. By Friday I felt hot and had some feverishly delirious all-night dreams. I didn’t have a fever, and I tested negative with one of my free government home tests, but I’ve been sleeping til almost noon the past few days, and going through daylight hours in a bit of a stupor. Who knows, I probably don’t have Covid or I’d have worse symptoms, but I do have some mental anguish.
Grief, for all the beloveds I’ve lost over the past two years, and missing the physical comfort of my precious black cat and my dear old big dog; anger at the stupidity of the human race who is so fucking impatient to be done with Covid that they’ve set it up so we’ll never really be done with it (see BA.2 variant doubling weekly in the US); bristling at the nasty, self-righteous pontification of near-strangers on ‘my’ social media; pure physical weariness and pain from the longterm effects of ancient tick bites and too much current sugar; sorrow at the metamorphoses of some significant relationships into less than my preferences; and overall resignation to the entropy of life on this fragile planet.
However, I’m grateful for the skills and perspective of the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, which enable me to get up out of bed every day no matter how late; to meditate myself into a place of calm abiding; and to be aware of, attentive to, and grateful for the ephemeral beauty, joy, connection, and love that flows along within this precious life. We are all grasping at straws–they can be straws of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, gratitude, and equanimity, or they can be straws of rage, hatred, envy, greed, and aggression: the choice is ours to make.
I’ll choose the path of love and kindness any day, no matter how challenging. “On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.” ― W. S. Merwin
I’m grateful for the awareness I had to be grateful every day for two happy, healthy dogs for most of their lives. Mr. Brick died of cancer when Stellar was nine months old, at the young age of ten. Over the next decade Stellar and Raven brought so much joy. Their sheer physical magnificence would have been ample, but their inseparable and enthusiastic relationship delighted me constantly.
I’m grateful that Stellar had a pretty easy day, therefore so did I. He never got up from his bed, and the last time he really tried was at two a.m., when he woke me with pitiful crying. I spent an hour getting him settled down, and he slept soundly til well after I and the sun were up. Perhaps he’s accepted his immobility, and he seemed comfortable all day, sleeping a lot but otherwise alert and engaged. He’s still a good watchdog, sounding the alarm when various friends stopped by with treats for me and necessities for him. I’m grateful for the TLC of people looking out for me, and grateful that I can also be helpful to others even during this challenging time. I’m grateful to finally begin to understand what it means to live with a joyful ease.