Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seasons come and seasons go, but love never dies.

Max and I are trying to adjust to a new season in our lives, one without Mom.

Gwendolyn Edith Minor passed away on August 3, 2011 in her home, surrounded by her loving family. Even now, it's hard to write those words. Mom, dead; really? She's not there anymore and we're trying to figure out life without her.

For me, it is a huge void. Mom moved in to the house next door in 2004. So long ago, yet it seems like just yesterday. Her first few years were filled with getting her settled in to a new home, after more than 50 years in our birth home in Shreveport, La. She fell in love with her new Atlanta life; her new home, new neighbors, new church, new experiences. While she held on to the memories of a life well-lived in another place and time, she embraced the new one with enthusiasm.

She also fell in love with her grand-dog.

Never one for dogs in the house, my Mom grew to love Max. She said so, just weeks before she lost the ability to speak. She said, "I love that dog almost as much as you do." If by chance I came over without him, the first thing out of her mouth, "Where is Max? I've got something for him."

He loved her, too. She was the person who fed him chicken every night under the table. She was the reliable presence, always there, even when his mommy was away. He would keep her company when I went out, or traveled out of town. Upon walking through the door, he made a b-line, down the hall, straight to the back of the house, where he would sniff her out. He could usually find her in her bedroom. During the last weeks of her life, spent mostly in bed, he was her constant companion.

After the morning walk, after breakfast, Max headed for the door to go to work. His new job, therapy dog to an ailing "Grammy." Back to her room, he would sit by her bedside, or lay down under the bed. It got to the point he didn't even want to go on the walk in the mornings. "Never mind, lady, just let me go see about my Grammy." There he kept vigil all day, until I forced him to come home at night, only to repeat the routine the next day. Max Minor, reporting for duty. What a good and faithful boy he was.

In the end, nothing Max could do, or the doctors, or his uncles, or his mommy, could keep her here any longer. God called her home.

For a few days, Max was inconsolable. Wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep. He laid around in a hapless heap, pining for his Grammy. Just like usual, he headed straight to her room. But she's not there. Where is she? She's always here. Oh well, we'll come back tomorrow to see if she's returned.

While we revamp our routines, Max and I are rediscovering old joys. Long walks in the park; leisurely days in the country. He's almost back to his old self. Time heals all wounds. Or so they say.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Now that the weather has broken, I've been kicking the tires on these old vehicles we inhabit. I figure between me and Max, we've logged thousands of miles together, possibly tens of thousands of miles, over the years on our feet. Counting his four legs and my two, we've pounded a lot of pavement. We both love to walk. It's what our bond is built on.

I've walked for exercise for most of my adult life. Wherever I've lived, I've found a scenic, safe, walkable path that helped me to work off frustrations as well as pounds. Most of the time I walked alone. Having Max turned an old, familiar routine into a daily ritual, with newfound purpose. Walking centers us, makes us more focused and grounded. We form a rhythm that just propels us forward. We just walk all of our cares away! Sometimes we find ourselves miles away from home with more walking as the only way back. Max never falters; he is a tried and true companion. I think it keeps us both young.

Seasonal allergies notwithstanding, there's no better time of year for walking than Spring. Temperatures are ideal, not too hot or cold. I marvel at being caught in these delightful downpours of "dogwood showers" on our jaunts. It's when the blooms from colorful dogwood trees rain down in a wistful sprinkle. In fact, all the air is humming with signs of life, a virtual vibrational shift in the universe, signaling a new beginning. So palpably heavy is it, that you can feel its gritty weight!

Meandering through Midtown, Max is enthralled with everything growing. He sees it, sniffs it, even sticks out his tongue to taste it. Then, he gives it the old heave-ho lift and tinkle. While in a park the other day, he couldn't refrain from stalking the goose's nest, who hissed at him as she laid her daily eggs.

I, on the other hand, marveled at the sheer force of life. It's as if all of nature has awakened from a long, dark nap to celebrate Spring's arrival. Blooms starting to sprout from barren tree limbs, birds and crickets cackling loudly, brightly colored flowers dressing up the landscape, turtles doing sun salutations on makeshift lilly pads in the pond. Each day is a revelation. And we've got many miles to go before we sleep.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hallelujah! Spring has finally arrived.

Winter hasn't quite given up the ghost yet. It's locked in a fierce tug-o-war with Spring, still reluctant to let go of its stranglehold on our lives. We know it will eventually loose the battle and we'll be free from it's icy grip. It just can't happen soon enough. Meanwhile, we take solace in the sure signs of change... white blooms on dogwood trees, colorful flowers that brighten the landscape, weeds sprouting through brown sod, birds singing merrily as they flutter hither and yon preparing their springtime nests. The most welcome sign of all... the sun. Sometimes shrouded by fluffy clouds, sometimes accompanied by chilly winds, there is, nonetheless, that unmistakable presence. Bright. Cheery. Warmth! Yeah!

I've enjoyed the gift of good health most of my life. But I discovered a malady in my twenties that I just couldn't shake this year. While I thrived in summer, I had always known a sort of melancholy in winter that lingered despite my best efforts. I felt a deep sadness that had no apparent cause. Oddly enough, the revelation came while sitting in the doctor's office waiting to be seen for a routine check-up. There in the pages of a woman's magazine was an article that perfectly described my symptoms. Sad, listless, tired. I couldn't shake this sense of gloom. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, as it was called, was the diagnosis with a cure. Light, especially the kind that mimics the sun, helps to restore brain hormones depleted by winter's darkness. When I talked with my doctor about it, she said not to worry. Get a sunlamp and sit under it several hours a day. That remedy had always worked when winter was brief and gone but, this year, the tried and true was tested in new ways. I had a hard time finding enough light to get me through the long, dark days of this first winter of the new decade. And I wasn't alone; many of my friends complained that they, too, were battling the doldrums.

Now that the sun is making more frequent appearances, we're on the move again. Me and Max have reclaimed Freedom Parkway, our most often traveled trail. The one that brought us together on common ground and gave us the liberty to be our most authentic selves. With the familiarity of the trail, Max found that he could entrust me with his well-being. "This lady can't be too bad; she exercises with me everyday! I think I'll keep her." I, on the other hand, realized that I didn't mind the responsibility. No, that in fact, I relished it. "This dog grounds me and gives my life purpose," I acknowledged. "I think I'll keep him."

Even Max's mood seems brightened as we share our daily ritual. He's become the social dog, greeting new buddies with wags and sniffs, instead of his usual indifference or, worse, a snap. Our winter SAD is fading, and we're singing a new tune... we're so GLAD to have another sunny day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

We're trudging through winter like zombies weighted down in leaden boots. While we're not digging out from epic snowfall like some parts of the country, we're swimming in what seems like an endless stream of rain. Cold. Wet. Dreary days. So much rain the grounds are soaked. Pools of standing water where grass used to be. We're not talking Seattle like showers. These are downpouring deluges. Looking for the bright side, one of my neighbors predicted a very green spring. He's probably right, for whatever survives the drowning.

The all too rare sunny day is cause for jubilant celebration. Break out the sunglasses, we're going for a walk! Max and me were so excited to have sun on Super Bowl Sunday, we headed out to soak up this solstice for the soul. A nice long leisurely stroll recalibrated our bio-rhythms and put us back in touch with nature. I let Max lead the way since he seemed to have a destination in mind. The trek took us on a circuitous route through all his favorite haunts... a string of neighborhood parks; some, public gathering spots with lakes and benches inviting human visitors... others, more remote, hidden jewels that promise exotic sights and smells perfect for curious little canines. No doubt all the rain had washed away most of Max's carefully placed markings, so he went about the tedious task of laying down new ones, tucking his smell into the deepest recesses of shrubbery and bush. I gave him free rein, while I pondered more weighty matters.

The Bible says there is a time and season for all things. We just lost another dear friend. I credit George with leading me to the wonderfully historic area where we live. As true urban pioneers, he and his wife dared to venture into the Old Fourth Ward more than twenty years ago when most folks were running in the other direction... to the suburbs. They carved a beautiful life together, filled with a shared love of community economic development, art and travel, friends and family. He invited me to come out to look at the new homes being developed in the Martin Luther King Historic District and I fell in love. I moved into my home in Spring 1998, and have watched the neighborhood blossom into a thriving, bustling district with a mix of single family homes, townhomes, condos, lofts, restaurants, shops, boutiques, clubs. George's imprint is all over the place.

Three years after I moved in, Max showed up on my doorstep.

As Max and me traversed the network of connecting parks, I was thinking about George and his passion for life. In many ways, he lived the life I would love. A brilliant attorney, George worked hard, but played even harder. Whatever he did, he did it with real gusto. He was an avid athlete who would ride his bicycle from our downtown Atlanta neighborhood to Stone Mountain, about 30 miles one way, and back on week-ends. Sometimes, he would fit in a tennis match with friends before the return trip. He loved nothing more than his wife and girls. Married 27 years, he often talked about how his love for Mtamanika expanded over the years. He was more in love with her every day. A couple of years ago, they toured the Lourve with an art critic in tow. Theirs was a match of equals.

Heading back home with Max, I became acutely aware of George's presence and his impact on my life. Even in the darkest season, there is light. Thank God for sunshine!

Friday, February 5, 2010

By now, it's apparent that lil' Buddy is no longer with us. With all the demands I was facing, I couldn't keep him indefinitely and so we let him go with another gentleman who graciously agreed to accept Buddy into his family. Max, oddly enough, seemed a little down after Buddy left. I think he had become accustomed to sharing space with Buddy. He may not have readily shown it, but he had bonded with his pack mate. Of course, Max soon came to his senses and returned to the exalted status as "the only".

Turned out Buddy was a closet freak! He was all timid when I was around, but the minute he was alone, Buddy turned mannish. For months after he left, every time I washed a load of clothes, I would find a pair of underwear destroyed. Panties of every color and style with the crotch chewed completely through! I had never seen anything like it. Then I learned that some dogs are attracted to human pheromones. Seems that Buddy consoled himself when I was away with the smell of my drawers. Max is not destructive in anyway, so this came as a complete surprise to me. I can leave clothes lying around for days and Max would never touch them.

Lately I've been thinking maybe it's time we brought another dog into the mix. We could use some younger energy around here. Alas, Max and I have become so synchronized in our existence that I question whether another dog would fit in. We have our daily routine down pat. An hour of exercise in the morning and he's good for the rest of the day. On the days when the weather is ugly, Max can wait until there's a break in the clouds. He doesn't even mind sleeping in when I need a little extra shut-eye.

Max goes to work when I do, keeping watch on the street while I earn our keep. He comes up to the office around 6 o'clock to let me know it's time to take a break and prepare his dinner. In the evening, he dashes out to the fence out back to hunt down the possums and squirrels, take potties, and returns to scratch on the door. Then he's ready for evening treats. Max is my road dog, riding shotgun in the back seat when I'm out running errands. He barges in to Mom's house when I go to check on her and runs straight to her bedroom to let her know we're there, always in contemplation of his reward. She never fails to show her love with a little chicken favor. I never have to worry about him going beyond the boundaries of our property, or into the street; he always stays within hollering distance.

I ask myself, how would another dog fit into our tightly knit lives? The same way Buddy did, I guess. I'll just keep a closer watch on the panties next time.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Winter's stark landscape has an eerily beautiful quality, like the haunting cries of crows. Trees stand naked against blistering winds, without a leaf to warm them. All of nature's hidden secrets are revealed. Despite the season's harsh temperatures this year, the sun shines brightly most days. It's amazing how a little sun goes a long way to warm a desolate soul.

My Daily Word offered a reminder this week of the sun's omni-presence. Whether it's in plain view or shrouded by clouds, the sun is always there. Just as God's love shines brightly through every storm in our lives. The sun even shines on Haiti, where unspeakable devastation struck this week. I pray the light of a caring world rallying to the rescue will help ease the pain of such horrendous loss.

Walking with Max this week has been a treacherous affair. Glassy sheets of ice covered streets and sidewalks. Freedom Parkway, our usual walking trail, was a skating rink of slippery shadows. The ponds at our usual neighborhood parks were frozen solid. Today, as temperatures warmed into the 50's, a thin sheet of ice still covered the water, the ducks and turtles tip-toeing their way across. The glow of a radiant sun cast the wintry scene in a bright and cheery light.

Max doesn't care about the weather. Hot, cold, wet, dry... he takes it as it comes. Max makes the most of each day. He dives into his walks with the same gusto as the day before, the same enthusiasm as the first time. Always stopping to sample the smell du jour nature is dishing up, Max reminds me that the sun is always shining, and that we must find ways to feed our souls everyday... because tomorrow is promised to no one.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I have the best dog in the world! Hands down... no contest... Max takes the trophy. I know everyone thinks theirs is the superior pet. Fine, I won't try to disavow you of that notion. Every pet is special. But does your dog meditate? Yes, meditate. Max does. He joined me this morning in a ten minute session of quiet breathing to contemplate the day.

I call 2009 the "Year of tremendous loss"... loss of income, security, relationships, health, innocence, affection, yes, even life... all the things I'd come to know and count on were challenged. The year started with the loss of an esteemed colleague who died suddenly and seemingly unnecessarily at the tender age of 50. At a memorial gathering of family, friends and colleagues, I learned he was an aspiring jazz guitarist, and a doting Uncle. I only knew him as a talented photographer dedicated to his craft and his clients. Things took a downward turn from there. I count it a victory to have survived 2009, still alive, but not unscathed by all that fell away. Meditation has become a coping mechanism to keep me grounded and focused in the moment.

My week-end rituals now begin with preparing Mom's breakfast, and then lining up something for her lunch and dinner. It's the new order of things since her health crisis. Her vision loss makes it necessary to have someone assist with daily routines. That pushes everything back, including walks with Max and the morning meditation. Max can sometimes get anxious waiting to get his day started.

As I settled in with the disc that guides me into my mantra, Max quietly took a seat in the sun streaming through the window. I closed my eyes to begin, and ten minutes later when the chime rang, I looked up to find Max unmoved, in the same position, sitting quietly, looking blissful.

Now you'd have to know Max to fully appreciate the moment. Max is not a sit still kind of dog; he's in constant motion. Give him a ball or Mr. Jack, he can entertain himself indefinitely. He just goes from room to room, running up and down the stairs playing. When he does stop for more than a minute, it's to fall fast asleep. So to find him poised in the seated position, back straight and head upright in the classic meditation position, eyes gazing off into the distance... was an absolute revelation. I live for these moments. Told you he's the best dog in the world!