I’ve now returned to Boulder after 2.5 weeks of taking care of my buddy Fergus back in Norfolk, Connecticut.
Such a distinguished gentlepup.
There’s a lot I could say about the trip, but for right now, I’m not yet ready to share because I’m just starting to process some “life just sucks sometimes” events that have evolved these past few days.
In the meantime, I am overwhelmed with the amount of love and friendship I developed in Norfolk since September 2016. The support these past few days has been comforting and uplifting. From dogs, yes, but also the people. I got to visit with so many friends and friends who are like family. I love you all so, so much.
Some highlights from the week include:
a tea party worthy of Downton Abbey with some friends who are the epitome of aging well (can you guess who in the group is 100?)
walking with Dodger, Fergus, Dodger’s other dog walker, and his adopted mom in the Barbour Woods,
many walks with Annie in the woods, which also means I got to see Annie’s mom a lot (she is also very near and dear to my heart),
a walk up Haystack mountain with two friends, but because I’ve been trying to distance myself from my phone, I didn’t take any pictures,
and discovering that the groomers missed one hair on Fergus’s head.
I hope by the time I post again I’ll have some happy updates to share. If not, well … I’m sure I’ll have some more dog photos.
This past Sunday, Heath and I celebrated our 7-year wedding anniversary.
Some days I wake up and still can’t believe I’m married! The moment Heath and I met was such a surprise; the very essence of the word serendipity. I wouldn’t change anything about our love story and I’m so grateful to live it every day.
As I reflect on our seventh year, I can’t help but think of lucky number seven. I don’t know what that means exactly for a marriage, but I do know that with a lot of changes coming with this new chapter in our life as our Norfolk housesit ends after 6.5 years, I’ll take any and all luck given to us.
Happy Anniversary, Heath! In the spirit of our anniversary, here are seven specific things you do that I love:
1. Let Fergus sleep on your head.
2. Say “pay the toll,” as you pat Annie on the head while stepping over her.
I couldn’t find any pictures with Annie sitting on the steps; this is the closest one I have where she’s at least near the steps.
3. Sing silly songs you make up when playing around on the guitar.
4. Stop by the library while I’m working just to say hello.
5. Spritz and water your plants with the utmost care and concern for their growth.
6. Sit with me at the table even when you’re not eating.
7. Laugh at my daily doodles on the dry erase board.
Heath locked himself out of the house a few weeks ago. I drew this doodle that morning.
Heath does so many daily, little things to let me know how much he loves me. He also says thank you often and accepts my apologies graciously. I am grateful to know him and love him and to be loved in return.
My world became darker this week with the loss of my friend, Cecily.
I met Cecily in November 2017, when we both attended a book discussion for The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. At the end of discussion, Cecily asked if I’d like to walk her dog Dodger a few times a week. She’d heard I was a dog person.
My life has never been the same since.
I’ve written about Cecily and Dodger multiple times on this blog. My relationship deepened with Cecily when Heath became one of her home companions in 2018. I often spent hours there on Sundays, chatting with Cecily and Heath, accompanying them on outings, and playing with Dodger.
Cecily had tears in her eyes the first time I preached at the Congregational Church in Norfolk. She stood in the pews and beamed at me when it was over. Cecily also accompanied me to my first Psychology of Stuff presentation I ever gave. She sat in the audience next to Heath at the Scoville Memorial Library and listened as I talked about why we have so much stuff and what we can do about it. The crowd numbered close to 100 and it was standing room only. Afterwards to celebrate, Cecily took us to the White Hart Inn for dinner.
More than anything, Cecily believed in me as a writer. She didn’t know me in my other life as a college professor with a long list of professional accomplishments including tenure and multiple peer-reviewed publications. So it was easy for Cecily not to judge that I left all that behind because I felt unhappy and wanted more out of my life. She asked me often about the stories I was writing and suggested just as often that Dodger would make an excellent character for one of them.
Of course, he would! Anyone who has ever met Dodger knows this guy has charisma and charm. That’s why he serves as the inspiration for the dog in my young adult novel called The Happiest Dog on the Internet. I never got the chance to tell Cecily that last month the manuscript was named a finalist in the Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children’s Literature.
Mostly because I forgot.
When I last saw Cecily on Tuesday night, I reminded her of some of our favorite times together, like decorating her Christmas tree or dressing Dodger as a “chili” dog for Halloween. I spoke of the Norfolk Library’s pet parade last year and how poor Dodger had been shaved at the groomers because of a miscommunication. I told one of Cecily’s favorite stories about the time a cousin stopped her when she was out and about the town with Heath. “What’s with the guy?” the cousin wanted to know. Cecily loved to tell that story with a gleam in her eye because she loved to be on the arm of such a tall, handsome, and younger man.
I sat reminiscing with Cecily while she slept. I wracked my brain for more things to tell her. I knew that once I left my chair that would be my last goodbye. I wanted to prolong the moment. How silly of me not to think of this one thing that I know would have made her happy.
I suppose it doesn’t matter. Death goes on and the love I have for Cecily will stay with me in my heart until it’s my turn. Which, for the record, I hope is at least five decades away. There are many stories I have yet to write and many memories Heath and I have yet to make together. I hope we get the time.
Goodbye Cecily. I’m so glad you heard I was a dog person.
A few weeks ago, I led a TED Talks discussion group using Candy Chang’s talk, Before I die, I want to…. You can watch the TED Talk here.
Two of my discussion questions were:
How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
How would your answer change if you knew you only had one year left to live? What about one week? One day?
A lively discussion ensued. One gem of wisdom shared by a participant was that a year was a luxurious amount of time. How grand to know you have a full year ahead of you!
Juxtapose that idea with the basic premise of Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, whereby the average human lifespan is only four thousand weeks. Four thousand does not seem nearly enough.
Since the reality is we really don’t know how much time we have left, I take time every year to reflect on my own death. This practice helps me ensure that no matter what happens, I know what’s important to me, which in turn, helps me make decisions in both the short- and long-term for living my best life. Previous death meditations inspired me to quit my tenured position as an associate professor of psychology, to volunteer for seven weeks at a science center in sub-Arctic Canada so I could see polar bears in the wild, and to recognize that my perfect day includes time for rest, self-care, being with loved ones (and a dog), some play, and some productivity.
This year, I reflected on my death while at a winter solstice sunset meditation program at Naumkeag. Naumkeag is a beautiful house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, set on a rolling hill with the Berkshire Mountains as its backdrop.
Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.
Having been there before, I knew Naumkeag is a magical place. What made the night even more magical is the house and grounds glowed with thousands of colorful lights as part of their winter lights festival. I could not have asked for a more perfect place to reflect on my past year and find inspiration for living my best life in 2022.
2021 was a hard year for me. The grief of losing family, friends, and dogs in 2020 carried over, as did the uncertainty of the pandemic. Add to that a terrorist attack on the US capital in January, a constantly mutating virus because not enough people are vaccinated, and a debilitating sleep disorder that has been getting progressively worse for years, which, in my opinion was so stressful it reactivated a shingles infection in my body in August, and I’ve got a year that really sucked at times.
And yet, because I’ve taken time in the past to consider my time and mortality, I also experienced a pretty wonderful 2021. I have never been more in love with Heath than I am today.
He is an amazing teammate, best friend, and husband. A lot of times when I panic that I’m 44 and if I live to the same age as my dad then I only have 30 years left, the panic is because I feel like that is not enough time to love Heath. Since there is literally NOTHING I can do about my eventual death, my way forward is clear: just love Heath to the best of my ability each and every day.
Last year, I also had a dog fall asleep on my head! Best. Day. Ever.
In those moments, as Fergus snoozed away, I thought I might explode with joy. I also thought I might never be able to move again, because I couldn’t bear to wake the little guy up.
Knowing how dogs have a special place in my heart, I mostly kept up with my twice weekly walks with Annie. Even in my darkest days of sleep and health challenges, being with Annie in the woods was a wonderful tonic which helped me keep going.
2021 is also the year that I learned how to write a novel on my phone. In my work at the Norfolk Library, I led a program on habit formation using James Clear’s Atomic Habits book. From his insights and practices, I finally let go of wanting to be a person with a habit of jumping out of the bed first thing in the morning. That kind of habit is impossible for me when I feel severely sleep deprived and depressed due to narcolepsy. Instead I used the techniques and information to develop a habit of writing on my phone, which makes a lot of sense considering how often I use my phone and how my phone is almost always within arm’s reach. Six months and over 37,000 words later, I now have the first draft of a middle grade novel that is just waiting for revision.
I also spent a lot of time querying agents in 2021. I received several requests for full manuscripts or more work. Although I was not offered representation, I did receive personalized rejections, some with encouragement to keep going. It’s not what I hoped for, but I’m certainly not giving up now.
In reflecting on 2021, one area of my life other than sleep also seemed out of balance: my work life. When I quit teaching in 2016, I never wanted to work full-time again. The hours and stress of working full-time did not seem possible while also trying to prioritize my sleep health.
In the beginning of 2020, I worked 12 hours at the Norfolk library and 10 hours for the Congregational Church. That combination seemed perfect for my personal and professional goals. By the end of 2020, I was working 35 hours a week — 25 for the library and 10 for the church. I needed to work 25 hours at the library so that after 1 year at those hours, I would be eligible for health insurance. During 2020, our market place health insurance monthly premium went from $60 a month with state assistance to $1,069 a month with no assistance.
Perhaps if I didn’t experience downward-spiraling narcolepsy symptoms in 2021, I may have been able to sustain a 35 hour a week work schedule. Unfortunately, my sleep health was so poor in 2021 that I knew I couldn’t continue working this way. I made the difficult decision to resign from my position at the church. I will still volunteer for various church initiatives, since they have such a wonderful presence in Norfolk and beyond. But I now have the discretion to say no when I am simply too tired.
Which brings me to 2022 — How do I want to live differently, if I knew 2022 would be my last year?
The answer to that question came almost immediately while I was at Naumkeag. On that cold dark Night, we were led through a rainbow tunnel of lights.
During that walk the words colorful creativity popped into my head. I knew the instant I heard myself say those words that my creativity is missing an important component. So much of my creativity goes to writing: I write for my job at the library; I write for the Norfolk Now monthly newspaper; I wrote for the church. I also write in my free time in hopes of being a traditionally published author someday.
What I don’t do is use my creativity simply for fun. I don’t create for play. I don’t create simply to create. There is always a purpose. That stops in 2022.
This year, my year of colorful creativity, I will prioritize using color in creative ways. I never have considered myself a visually artistic person. I think that’s an important point. I am choosing to spend some of my time on artistic endeavors that have no higher goal, other than to simply create something colorful.
I find this idea both exciting and terrifying. I feel excited because it’s something new and different. It’s terrifying for a few reasons. One, I still think of myself as a minimalist and I’ve already bought some art supplies which creates cognitive dissonance with my minimalistic values. So that’s something I’m reconciling as I go down my colorful creativity path. Two, I know how precious time is. It’s terrifying to give up some of my writing time or otherwise free time to play. I don’t have to worry about giving up time with Heath because we know have art dates every Monday.
We’ll see how it goes. I decided to get a head start on my year of colorful creativity and made before the official start of 2022.
I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!
I’ve never met a dog who’s not also an excellent heart surgeon. That’s right – heart surgeon.
Every time I meet a new dog, they manage to slice and dice my heart until there’s room for them, too. Having never taken an anatomy class, I have no idea how these dogs keep doing it. Maybe they keep adding additions?
Yet somehow there is always room for another dog in my heart, and the dogs I’m already hopelessly and completely in love with (here’s looking at you Annie, Dodger, and Fergus) wag their tails and high five each other to welcome that new dog to the pack.
Everyone, have you met Hailey?
Hailey is the sweetie pie rescue dog who lives below our Norfolk apartment. I’ve known her for well over a year now. She can be shy at first, and I never thought I would truly make inroads with her. But then her human mom had to unexpectedly leave town for a few days. I AM IN LOVE!
I think it’s obvious why:
What a goober!
Hailey entered into a deep depression when her mom left. This separation was the first time they had been apart like this, ever. It took several days for her to warm up to me. After those few days, when Hailey began to trust me and liked all the treats I’d been giving her, she started running to the door when I unlocked it. She wiggled her butt and wagged her tail and a few times even jumped up at the door before I opened it.
I visited Hailey for eight days before her mom came back. Even though I’ve been having a lot of narcolepsy troubles lately, those were eight days with moments of doggone good love and joy. Those moments matter a lot to me when I’m struggling with sleep.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment of my time with Hailey, but if I had to, I would pick the times when I’m getting ready to leave their house and I hide a handful of small biscuits in Hailey’s toy box. As you can imagine, Hailey is absolutely adorable rooting around in a wicker box filled with stuffed ducks, bears, and cats.
I am so grateful that people trust me with their dogs. I can’t imagine my life without them.
Also, just for fun, here are two other dogs I met recently.
Maggie is a poodle and cavalier king Charles spaniel mix. I met her in downtown Hartford when I was supporting my author friend Lynn Katz at Books on Pratt. If you’re interested in a psychological thriller with some dark and twisty turns, check out her book The Surrogate. I’ll also be chatting with Lynn on October 7 when the Norfolk Library hosts a virtual author talk with her. If interested, you can register here: http://www.norfolklibrary.org/events/virtual-author-talk-with-lynn-katz/
Then there’s Wilson. Wilson is a basset hound! I never knew a basset hound could be a solid color. I thought he was a basset mixed with a dachshund. Also, yesterday was his birthday! He’s a jolly eight years old.
I wonder how many dogs I’m going to meet this week? I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m confident they’ll figure out what to do with my heart when the time comes.
Now that it’s 2021, it’s time for my annual death meditation. This is my fifth year in a row of imagining how I would live if I knew 2021 would be my last year on Earth, and thanks to the gut-punch-then-kick-me-while-I’m-down year that was 2020, thinking about my death this year has been quite different from past death meditations.
I experienced a staggering amount of loss and grief in the last year. It started early on with learning about Faith’s liver tumor in January, followed by the loss of Oscar Meyer Weiner Dog a few weeks later.
In February, we lost the incomparable Eve Thew, one of my first (and dearest) friends in Norfolk.
In March, the whole world changed as COVID-19 spread and we, humans, made it significantly and substantially worse than it had to be. Heath and I had to temporarily leave our Norfolk housesitting job, which meant I had to say goodbye to living with my beloved Smudge and Faith for the foreseeable future.
In June, my father went into the hospital after an acute attack of his nervous system by his own immune system. The doctors diagnosed him with Guillain-Barrè syndrome. While in the hospital, he also suffered a heart attack and contracted pneumonia. When he was released a month later, it was to come home to die.
My father died in the early morning hours of July 19th. Eight people attended his funeral, and nine people attended his burial three months later on a freezing cold and wet day in late October.
Four days after my dad died, Smudge unexpectedly collapsed. The vet recommended immediate euthanasia. I said goodbye through video messenger because that was the only option I had.
Then, on November 14th, I said a final goodbye to Faith. I had moved back into our Norfolk housesitting home on November 12th. All through the summer when I visited Faith, I asked her to please hang on until I moved back. With all the loss this year, I didn’t think I could handle losing her, too, and not being there.
On November 12th, I brought an overnight bag to get me through until the weekend. That Saturday, the 14th, Faith and I woke up together. We sang our going down the stairs song, which I created one morning while walking down the stairs back when we took care of four dogs – Tobey, Smudge, Faith, and Moon – and their tippy tappy paws provided a nice accompaniment. It goes a little something like this,
We’re going down the stairs
Without any cares
Not wearing underwears
It’s time to eat some food
We hope that it is good
If not, then we’ll be rude
Faith and I had a nice morning together. I snuck her lots of extra turkey slices every time I went into the fridge, because I thought she was looking a little thin. We went for a walk about around the pond and up and down the driveway. I even snapped a picture to send to her human mom and described Faith as being “very frisky on this chilly day!”
I then went over to our apartment to pack up the rest of my belongings since I had only brought that overnight bag for the first few days.
When I got back to the house, Faith watched me make five trips back and forth from the car. I set my belongings on and around the dining room table. That’s our staging area for whenever we leave or come back to this house. Faith has watched me do this unpacking at least a dozen times in the past.
She died less than three hours later. It was like she knew I had *finally* moved back to the house and she had fulfilled my request to please hang on until I got back.
As Faith lay dying, I lay next to her. Heath sat by her head. We both put our hands on her, giving her all the love we could. I stroked her little ears, scratched her head, and petted her back. I told her my favorite stories of our time together. I told her that she would be with Tobey, Smudge, and Moon again very soon.
I thanked her for the chance to love her and to live with her these last four years. That she brought so much joy and happiness to my life. And that it was her little face, more than Tobey’s or Smudge’s or Moon’s that I fell in love with at first sight on the TrustedHousesitters.com website that made me say to Heath, “Look at how cute this dog is! Let’s apply for this job.”
Losing Faith after losing so many other people and dogs this year was right in line with how awful 2020 was. At the same time, my love for and loss of Faith has instilled in me the mantra I want to take forward into 2021. We spent a perfect last day together. We filled it with love and fun and some of our favorite activities.
I didn’t know when I woke up on Saturday morning, November 14th, that it would be the last time I woke up with little Faith asleep next to me on her dog bed.
I didn’t know it would be our last time singing down the stairs.
That it would be our last parade up and down the driveway.
That it would be the last time I said, “let’s go to bed,” and then wait for her to walk up the stairs with me.
I didn’t know that my life would change (again) forever that day.
And it didn’t matter that I didn’t know because I enjoyed every single moment of that day with her. I loved her. I appreciated her. I thanked God for letting us be together again.
So, as I think about my own death and what, if anything, I would do differently if I knew 2021 was my last year on Earth, I think about that last day with Faith. I take that day with me going forward. That day with Faith will serve as my guideposts for how I want to live in 2021 – quality time with those I love, enjoying the quiet moments of our lives, and knowing and expressing just how grateful I am to be there.
Last week was an emotional week for me, as it was for many Americans. I had already cried many tears in the last several weeks leading up to the election. I had hope that the current president would be defeated. But I also felt terrified he would not. I didn’t know how I could stand another four years of the heartache.
Someone once asked me why I care so much. I’m not always good at thinking of a quick response and I couldn’t come up with a coherent answer that summed up everything I was feeling about the election. I mean, I was sobbing at the time, so I’m not sure what kind of answer I could come up with in that kind of moment.
I’ve taken the time to reflect on that moment these last few weeks. Here’s what I’ve come up with about why I care so much.
In the past, I’ve served as a math and literacy volunteer at the local elementary school. Children are adorable! They’re clever and witty and they’re imaginations are delightful.
From one of the students I worked with at Botelle Elementary.
Knowing that our country purposefully chose to separate children from their parents at the border and put them in cages has destroyed pieces of my heart. I don’t understand why everyone also isn’t destroyed by this cruelty. Sometimes, I wonder if people just lack empathy that they could never imagine a situation in which they could be separated from their children in such an awful and scary way. And, perhaps, even if they couldn’t, surely they have heard the words of Jesus at some point in their lives – that which you did for the least of my brothers, you did unto me. I suppose those words don’t really mean that much to people anymore.
Or, what about knowing that these children are watching and hearing “the most powerful man in the world” berate, condemn, criticize, name call, insult, and admit to sexually assaulting women and not be held accountable? He is not a role model for children in any way, shape, or form. Yes, I cry over the idea that some children will lose their innocence because somehow this level of rudeness, incivility, and criminality is acceptable to many people. It will never be acceptable to me.
There is only one person that I stay in touch with from my grade school and high school years. She is a Black person and I love her dearly. When Heath and I eloped, I carried pictures in my pocket of all the people I would have had as a bridesmaid in my wedding party if we had married in a traditional ceremony.
How can I love her and value our friendship and not get emotional when I see people in this country targeted for something as stupid as skin color? What if she were next?
Some of my favorite students from my time as a college professor are Muslims. These students are some of my best and brightest memories from an often-depressing time in my life when I wasn’t brave enough to say I had chosen the wrong career path.
We share the same God! How is it fair that their particular beliefs are not just considered less sacred than mine, but also considered radicalized and extremist? Christianity has also had its fair share of radicalization and extremism throughout history, yet somehow, we’re better than others? How does that make sense?
One of my favorite people at the church I attend is a 90-something year old woman named Dottie. I love her! She has such a mischievous twinkle in her eyes and she is always happy to see me. Getting a hug from Dottie is one of my favorite parts about going to church on Sundays. I haven’t hugged Dottie since March due to the pandemic. It is almost painful to see her and not be able to hug her. So, yes, I cry over this loss. How many more people are out there who can’t hug each other? Who miss their family members? And for some people, there will never again be the chance to hug them. Over 238,000 people in our country died in part because of the ineptitude of our leaders. It is so bad that one of the most esteemed medical journals in the country took a stance on the election for the first time in their 200+ year history. My dad was a doctor. I took it very personally when the president claimed that doctors get more money when they put “covid” on a death certificate. Yes, of course, I am emotional!
But that’s not the case everywhere. Millions of acres of protected lands have now been opened for industrialization. God is the breath of life! When there are no more trees, how are we going to breathe?
Seeing polar bears lose their habitat and the rippling effects that loss of arctic ice has on the rest of the world devastates me. I can’t imagine a world without these bumbling, lovable, playful, and yes, powerful creatures, and I can’t imagine a world where we can survive the coming climate catastrophe from climate change. Why wouldn’t I cry over more loss of life?
As I think over this list, frankly, it is amazing that I wasn’t crying nonstop these last four years! But you grieve when you need to and then you live the best you can other times. Hopefully, there’s a good balance between the two. For the last month or so, I have been so out of balance I cried many, many days.
This morning as I stood by our sliding glass door and stared out the window, I realized a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Everything that broke my heart these last four years, those problems are still there. Yet, I now have hope.
In fact, today when I walked Dodger in the woods, I sang to God about my blessings. I do not have a singing voice. And then, I cried. But this time, they were tears of joy.
This past week, I had to cover the Circulation Desk for the afternoon hours at the library. So, I didn’t get my usual dog/nature fix with Annie on our bi-weekly afternoon romps in the woods.
Thank Dogness, I also have this guy in my life:
Just like Annie, Dodger is a spirited dog with lots of heart and personality. His sassiness level is several notches above Annie, whom I’m convinced is an actual angel in a dog costume. As such, instead of nicknames like Annie Banannie, Dodger gets nicknames like Bossy Britches and Sassafrass.
Nevertheless, I LOVE him. I’m also grateful I had an excuse to be out in the woods this last week as fall lives up to its name and our trees are starting to get a little bare.
That’s not the case everywhere here, as evidenced by this glorious tree I came upon on Saturday while driving back from Oblong Books in Millerton, New York.
When I see this kind of overwhelming beauty these days, a sense of sadness wells up in my heart and spills out as tears. It’s the same sadness that takes over me when I watch leaves swirl through the air, then tumble to the ground for their final resting place.
I can’t help but think about how last fall, my dad didn’t know that would be the last time in his life that he would get to see the leaves change to their ultimate glory. He didn’t know it would be his last Halloween. No more eating the stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups my mom started buying in September, just to make sure she had enough. He would never again get to wish my niece or mom a happy birthday.
He didn’t know.
Most of us don’t.
So on this cold and chilly fall day in Norfolk, I take a few moments to Thank God that I’m still here. I Thank God that I get to watch the leaves light up my drive to and from work and brighten my already delightful time in the woods with Annie and Dodger. I Thank God for my loving and supportive husband and my family and friends.
In some ways, losing Smudge is more difficult than losing my dad. With my dad, I had a few weeks to prepare. I saw him suffer – first in the hospital and then at home in hospice care. Even with the hourly morphine he lived in pain. Nobody should have to live or die like that. I’m grateful he’s now at peace.
With Smudge, I had no preparation. I received a message on my phone that Smudge had been taken to the vet that morning. The vet recommended he be put down as soon as possible because tumors had infiltrated several organs.
I remember sobbing words like, NO, and it’s too much. I remember the weight of the news literally knocking me to the floor. I pushed a button on my phone and talked to Smudge’s human brother. He held his phone out so I could see Smudge at the vet. It was through video messenger that I said goodbye to him. I told him he was so handsome. That he was the best good dog ever. That I loved him. Then I hung up because I was afraid my sobbing through the video was causing more stress to Smudge than he needed.
I will never be able to thank Smudge’s human brother enough for calling me. For giving me a chance to say goodbye.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t see Smudge before I left for Pennsylvania when my dad took a turn for the worse. I stopped to see my friends Cecily and Dodger on my way out of town. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone, and I thought if I didn’t see them, I would regret it.
Dodger of Cecily & Dodger
The world can be cruel that way.
It didn’t occur to me to stop and see Smudge and Faith. I knew Faith might not be here when I got back. The vet found a tumor on her liver in January. Every extra moment I’ve had with her has been a gift. I already said goodbye to her, just in case, when our housesitting gig with them ended in June. I whispered in her ear all the things I love about her. I told her how much I loved taking care of her.
But Smudge … the last time I saw him he danced around the yard, splashing in the pond, and wagging his tail at the speed of light. I thought Smudge might actually live forever. Or at least to 16 or 18 years old.
The last time I said goodbye to Smudge it was more of a see you later. I fully expected to have more time with him. I would sit on the rock in the pond and we would be together. I would nuzzle his head and rub his ears. Then, I would kiss his forehead and say see you later. We would then repeat this togetherness for months or years to come.
I could not have been more wrong.
This pain and regret will be with me for months, if not years, to come. Much like the time I thought I had with Smudge.
The thing is, it’s totally worth it. Because I got to love Smudge for almost four years. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for anything.
There’s been a lot of talk in our country as of late about personal freedom. This conversation is especially relevant as tomorrow marks the 152nd Memorial Day celebration in the United States. So I have a recommendation for how to celebrate memorial day 2020 given our current situation — Wear a mask!
Memorial Day began as a way to honor the 620,000 soldiers killed during the Civil War. When the United States entered World War I, Memorial Day expanded to include those killed in all wars. It was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1971, while the United States fought during the Vietnam War.
To the men, women, and animals who have died serving the United States– thank you. The freedom I enjoy every day comes from your sacrifices.
Since I will never serve in the military, I will never know this level of sacrifice. That does not mean I will not protect my country to the best of my ability.
It is for this reason, that I continue to wear a mask as the death toll from COVID-19 approaches the 100,000 mark.
It’s such a simple thing to do. At no time wearing a mask do I feel like my personal liberties or freedom are being impinged upon. On the contrary, I think about the people I am protecting and how their lives can remain free from the burden, suffering, and even death from a preventable disease.
It is not much, but it is something I can do. And I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve in this way.
I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to offer my life for this country. But ask me to wear a mask to protect it?
Yeah, I can do that.
Wearing a mask even sounds kind of trivial when I think about the sacrifices of our soldiers. These women and men who put their lives on the line for me and for my freedom and all I’m being asked to do is strap some material across my face when I go out in public?
Of course I can do that!
So when we discuss how to honor those who died and how to celebrate memorial day 2020, sign me up for wearing a mask.
I’ll gladly wear a mask for the people I love. I’ll wear a mask for my friends and neighbors. I’ll wear a mask for the people living in nursing homes. I’ll wear a mask for our healthcare workers. And I’ll wear a mask to protect those veterans who survived war. Because they deserve the very best I can offer.
A good friend of mine shared with me this YouTube video her son created for the #NewYorkTough Wear A Mask PSA Contest. It makes my point far more beautifully than I ever could. You can watch the video here.
Image from Mike Schneberg #NewYorkTough PSA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3UURdY6FQY
Here are two of the people I wear a mask for:
This is Cecily. She’s Dodger’s mom. Obviously, I love her on that fact alone. But Cecily is a hilarious, witty, talented, kind, and generous woman who has opened her heart and home to Heath and me when we needed a place to stay.
Of course, I will wear a mask to keep Cecily safe. It’s the least I can do!
This is Barbara.
Barbara and I met during my first month in Norfolk during the creative writing group at the Congregational Church. When Barbara’s husband of 60+ years died in October 2017, I imagined what it would be like if something happened to Heath and how lonely that would feel. Coming over for tea and company is what I would want someone to do for me, so I started going over to Barbara’s house for (mostly) weekly tea dates. We have such a nice time together, and Barbara has two excellent recliner chairs where we drink our tea, listen to classical music, and sometimes nap because the music is so relaxing.
I wear my mask for Barbara, too. She deserves not to have her health put at risk for circumstances she can’t control.
So on this Memorial Day, let us continue honoring those who died. We choose how to celebrate Memorial Day and the lives lost by being good citizens.
Let our soldiers’ sacrifices not be in vain.
Let us make sure that in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, we start with life.