Finding a way back is difficult.

Leonard is up several times a night now. It’s like having an infant in the house. And I worry almost as much. When he sleeps through the night now, I’m still awake listening for his breathing.

No walk this morning. Just a tour of the bushes in the front yard. The moon looks full, although technically waning. From this past week, I’ve learned to tell the time this time of year by the moon’s journey past the light post, over the shed, and across the street to just touch on the top of the nursing home’s roof. Midnight. Two. Three.

When my alarm went off at 4.15 he sighed but made no move to get up. So much for a tight morning schedule. So much for the springboard into a new (school) year, where I could pull myself together again body & soul as they say.

No morning walk. But a coarse pill shoved in the back of Leonard’s throat while I hold his snout up so he has no choice but to swallow. This is something of the pain we cause while trying to do good. I’m flooded with ambivalence but learning to hold it well. Responsibly.

In the living room, I move through the warrior positions and my shoulder hurts. My achilles bites. I am realising these are sensations that I will have to live with from now on. An infant grows through colic and a teen through “growing pains”. But these new pains will settle into my body and I will live with them. If I am very lucky my years will double over themselves from here, slowing in terms of change, but better-practiced in acceptance. Accommodation.

So I am trying to reframe the pain as tenderness. I’m trying to reframe all of my pain as tenderness.

This past week I have had flashes of anger. I’ve had memories surface. But as soon as I try to hold them, the details dissipate. The words grief and sorrow seem so intellectual. Signifiers with no corporal reference. Words-as-metaphors: vehicles lacking tenors. I think about the single sob my body ejected before my mind understood the situation of my mother’s death. Was that grief? The expelling of a single owl pellet of fur and bones, and the useless, undigestible bits of 55 years.

There is nothing more to be gained from this.

After the pain, after the vomiting, after the open wound has closed, there is tenderness.

And tenderness makes a soft bed for forgiveness to grow. Hope in the shadows of moonlight.

Yeah. That is sappier than I wanted it to sound.

Leonard has been sick for 3 days now. Up and out into the yard three times a night. Not long after we brought him home he got sick while we were at work and he tore down the curtains and blinds in the house trying to get outside – if we’d wondered, it was clear he was desperately housebroken. On Monday we had to replace the blinds again.

He’s five and has had two surgeries for bizarre skin growths, so I often worry about what might growing on the inside. My little collie mix lived to be 18. And it was so hard in the end. I know I won’t have Leonard that long, and it is a thought that I carry around in my gut. Sometimes I listen to him breathe at night as though he were a newborn. If he stays in his bed when I get up in the morning to walk him, I worry.

I imagine.

We had to muzzle him yesterday because he snapped when the vet touched his belly. It took three of us to keep all 47 kilos of him on the x-ray table that made a terrifying noise when it moved into position. The two vets told me that not all dogs are that difficult.

My chill pup was “difficult”. No matmor wants to hear that.

But his blood work was fine and the x-rays showed a clear gut. No masses. No obstructions. I’m pretty sure one of the medications she prescribed is for potential ulcers.

Maybe I’m not the only one who goes through the days imagining the worst and suffering for it?

At any rate, what’s making him ill isn’t visible. Some bug he at? Contaminated water he drank? The newly-empty, end-of-corona-restrictions house from 7 to 3?

His body is holding onto something and it’s keep us up nights.

This is familiar. So familiar that I know it won’t kill either of us, though.

Well. Part of me knows that.

Love is clinging. And I don’t believe there is any way around that.

I have no ambition to deal with this fact of life by detaching from the world around me. I’ll be lagging along the the noble path if that is really necessary.

Voices carry at 4:30 a.m. Two men outside the nursing home making food deliveries. The local man who spends his days walking back and forth from the halfway house to the train station passes. In silhouette, I recognise his movements – the right side of his body moving more fully, more expressively, than the left. He grunts as he turns the corner and slips into the darkness. I relax a little.

Leonard has the scent of a cat and tugs on the leash, burying his head in the neighbor’s hedge. And the morning freight train forces its way through the morning.

No phone, not distractions. Random concerns dissolving in my mind like old newspaper in water. Unresolved, but dissolving nonetheless.

The news is harsh again. Enough to hook you in the gut and force a sob. And there is the callousness of some people who are either made so from xenophobia (which I suppose is a pretty word for cultural supremacy or sometimes for out-and-out racism), or an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It is easier to get on with life if we can rationalize other people’s pain as some kind of cosmic justice. “They must have done something wrong to deserve this,” is nothing more than self-preservation: self-soothing in the face of the unthinkable.

It could have been me.
But it can’t happen to me.

Though I sometimes I wonder if I am capable of holding two thoughts in my head at once, I absolutely can.

It could have been me.
But it can’t happen to me.

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

There are roses in the dining room. And here on my desk. All coming with an apologies for the awkwardness of acknowledging a pain that is all to common but still taboo. I am grateful for the flowers, the expressions of condolence. 33 years of estrangement is in itself a very long grieving process. And I can only speak for myself but I am not feeling celebratory – it is not that kind of relief.

But it is a relief. To be rid of this burden of hope is a relief. Looking through a Buddhist lens I can see how exhausting it is: to use so much energy carrying around the weight of an imaginary future, projecting a narrative onto lives – and every second writing and rewriting to accommodate the disappointment. It is not living in the moment. It is moving through the world hobbled by fiction.

After my second child was born and I once again found myself rewriting a script – trying to embed the hope in some future watershed moment, I asked a priest if it was all right for me to let go of it: let go of the hope of my mother “coming around”, and to move on. He told me to talk to a psychiatrist. Sometimes I believe this conversation was when I gave up any hope or faith in the Church and I moved on from that cornerstone of my childhood. If the church deferred to pschyology for its moral compass, what use was it?

The odd thing was that I had given up on my childhood God long before that. I was clinging to the hope of a community, I think. In a foreign land. In a situation people hush and sweep into the offices of people trained to deal with “problems” like disordered thinking and ineffective emotional management.

In the animal world, being pushed out of the herd means death. Who are we kidding? We humans. There are so many kinds of death. Some good.

Emily Dickinson said that hope is the thing with feathers. But for me, hope is too often the thing that sinks to the muddy bottom, dragging you with it.

Letting go can be good.

Just as I rest my fingers on the keys, a freight train rumbles by. I think of a shower curtain being pulled open – metal rings sliding on a metal rod. Let’s get started with the day.

Leonard comes in to thank me for breakfast. He does that by rubbing his face on my legs (or more likely, I am a human napkin). Then he flops on the small rug next to my desk. He’s spend a good deal of the summer in here in the library. And I have often felt somewhat shamed when I’ve passed by the room without coming in to write. He loves routine, and kept his while I let mine go for a summer. But we are back on the same page now: morning walk, yoga (yes, he lies on the edge of my mat – and there is something about a bridge that still concerns him so he is always up to check my upside-down breathing: snout to nose), then coffee (breakfast) and this little room.

I am thinking that the key to serenity is to divide the day into segments and focus on one thing at a time. One task, one worry, one hope. But most days it feels like I’m trying to herd angry little shrews. I suppose it is progress to be able to stand apart and watch them scrambling, though. Writing is both difficult and not. Morning journaling is difficult, but my mind is sliding effortlessly back towards poetry. At least towards the desire and the atmosphere. It’s like sitting down with an old love and finding – oh, yes, I remember this ease.

Holding two truths at once: not everything is characterised by ease now. I dream I wake often. It has been happening for over a year now. Most often I have symptoms of Covid 19, but lately I have an allergic reaction to an herb and lie waiting for my tongue to swell. I itch. I wonder where/when the line is: time to call an ambulance, or too late. I’m awake now and get up to check my torso for rashes. My lips for swelling.

I am fine this morning. Finishing my coffee and heading out for a run before work. But tonight I know I’ll go through it all again. I will wash my face, brush my teeth, lie on the shakti mat and meditate. But at some point, the shrews will slip beneath door and scramble up onto the bed.

While Leonard sleeps soundly until morning.