Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: gifts of every day life

A Dog Named Ringo

20160220_152251I am not good at delivering bad news. So the other morning when I showed up looking rather serious in the boys’ bedroom and said ‘I have sad news’, merely confirmed my lack of skill in the area.

One of my best friend’s dog died. Oh, you’ll say, that. Yes, that, but he was not ‘just a dog’ and I will tell you why. You see, having been through my fair share of losses of people I loved dearly since the age of six I know death well enough to know it reeks of helplessness. I accept it but I will never just shrug and say ‘Life is like that’ because I cannot say that with a straight face or I’d be lying.

This dog named Ringo was the reason I met my friend you see. A couple of days after we moved to Kamloops almost four years ago we were at the river where the sand is fine and sparkly, and the river laps ever so gently over your feet if you approach the water line. It’s the dog beach, my favourite in town (as long as you avoid the mid-summer madness.) Dogs have it good and I don’t mind because they can appreciate water and beaches.

That day we were four strangers on a pretty sandy beach trying to make sense of our new surroundings. A golden retriever was running in and out of the water, happy as happy can be. I don’t know if dogs ever laugh, but he was doing it right then and there.

I watched him, his joyful puppy face and his big golden frame dripping with water. He made me smile. The next thing I know I was talking to his owner. She and Ringo were to become our first friends here. A few days later when her and I met for a walk by the river, he spotted me coming from afar and ran to greet me. He jumped and gave me a kiss on the side of my mouth. Boundaries you say? Well, I took it as a compliment.

‘He’s not usually doing that…’ my bemused friend explained. We nicknamed him Lips and our friendship grew richer since because he was in it.

There is no obituary I can throw here without sounding melodramatic. That’s not what I want either. The morning I told the boys that Ringo died unexpectedly I choked though and my voice was teary. Because he was such an important part of our life here you see.

We’d take him for walks, or he would come to our place for the day. We would have him in the car on the way to some hills for a hike, lodged in between the boys and he would always put his big furry head on my armrest. I’d pet him in between the eyes and he would close them gently.

He always made sure the boys were close by when we hiked and if they got too far he ran to check on them. I hugged him often, checked him for cacti and ticks when needed and felt his soft fur with my feet when my friend and I sat for tea on the sofa and he lay on the floor under the coffee table, not bearing to be out of the conversation. We joked that he should have his own cup of tea too.

We once went to a lake and kayaked and he swam alongside the kayak, amazing me with his strength and determination to keep up with us. We kayaked up a stream to where the woods were mysterious and a bit frightening and I felt safe because Ringo was with us. His tracks and ours were left scattered on a sunny beach that already had imprints of bear paws.

that dayHe was gentle and even gentler if you asked him to, and he knew how to lay his head on my knee when a tough day would find me in my friend’s kitchen sipping tea and unraveling life’s complicated threads. He knew. That’s why he was not just ‘a dog’.

The boys’ eyes welled up when I told them the news, and mine teared up often during the day and then again the next day and the next. For the little boy, Ringo’s death was the first he experienced up close. Though Ringo was big, little boy always asked to hold the leash during walks because he knew he could trust him to listen. He did listen. And for all the times he didn’t, we loved him just the same.

Just like my dog many years ago, Ringo goes with bits of life I shared during evening walks on back alleys. One particularly bright evening this winter we left tracks on the new thin layer of snow and I was grateful for so much as I looked behind us and saw them.

Grateful for the gift of companionship my friend was sharing with me by sharing Ringo, and grateful that I could have my boys taste the heart-melting feeling of having a friend who makes you feel so utterly loved without needing any words to do so.

three boysTwo weeks ago we took him to the river. He tried to coax us to throw sticks in the water but we couldn’t. He had a dinner invite that evening which clearly stated ‘dry dog’ so I could not let him follow his impulses that one time. But we sat and watched ducks and geese waddling on the river shores and I laid my head on his in consolation. He accepted it and gently nuzzled me. I loved that. I will miss that.


MagicSo you see, his presence was more than just a dog’s presence would be. He was our friend in a way that will stay memorable and sweet. We will miss him and will always say his name with an extra happy note attached to it because he made it so. And I will always be grateful that I learned of that extra dimension of closeness that my friend gifted me by sharing Ringo.

Tying Wind and River Together… The Dance Continues

yellowThis is the place I discovered last year in May when the cacti were in bloom. And it was our first time seeing a cactus flower. It gives you the tingles. No pun, it does. You want to become a bee for the privilege of loading your insect pants with cactus flower pollen. A green bee. They exist.

Today is cloudy and the wind wraps us up in occasional shivers. It dies down just a bit as we follow the path. Dry dirt, past tracks of people and bikes and dogs, and the smell of sage, strong as we brush against the bushes still drowsy, awakened too son from winter, grumpy with sunshine that is too intrusive, too betraying of a spring that’s not here to dance with yet.

gazeWe have a companion, my dog friend, the dog of my friend. He runs ahead, waits, sniffs, runs again, returns, a furry pioneer smelling the wind and letting it ruffle its long smooth hair. It’s easy to become dependent on that gaze he throws back… Are you coming? Yes, do, the wind will ruffle your hair toosmell the world we’re in, it’s intoxicating. He knows. A dance forgotten. You have to smile back and catch the wind in your hair or else.

The trail snakes up, so steep you almost fall backwards, so you lean forward and see the dust up-close. You’re a higher expression of it. Dust is all. Walking, dancing. Dust…

Remember the boys on the day of the cactus flowers… They were running and dust was swirling behind them and back then both had long hair and the sky was blue. A swallowtail butterfly was resting on a purple flower that looked like a goblin’s head full of purple hair…

small Remember that boys grow; they turn back to smile every now and then, and you should do too. Never mistake their wind and dust-grimaced faces for grumpiness. You will though, it’s how you’re taught of opening the door that lets your heart dance outside, naked of pretense and belief that you know it all. You never will. Humbleness to go… to grow.

SidesWe walk, Max and I, and the city gurgles on one side and the silent hills grow on the other. We’re in between. Dog, me, him. Up and down, dance, know that life is happening now, learn to see life and the moments that happen as you blink. Breathe. Chests inflate with wings that stir the dust as you make our way to secret, quiet places.

ShyWait… A yellow thimble. The first yellow spring bells. So shy. It’s like seeing a friend, fragile and quiet. By the side of the trail, by the prickles of the cactus… awake, unspoiled by dust. Hello.

I kneel by it, I see more. There are Ponderosa pines dripping with sounds of birds singing of wind and worry, and all is as it should be. We walk far enough to find a spot with dried grasses, among fragrant sage. We sit down. Quiet. The mountains to the east have freckles of snow. They ache for more. There should be more. We sit, aware of so much, graceful to let the silence be. Dog, me, him. Sit, eyes on skies that move, thoughts that want to fly but stop right there. Just for a bit. Take it all in, leave everything aside and know that this moment will never come again.

Dog whines… he wants to move. We smile. Yes, let’s. The wind picks up and we walk. Hold on. We will come back. You’re tied to a place that echoes your heartbeat.

We drop off dog friend, then we sit, and eat and talk. Sip tea, talk softly. What if… Dreams and rewinding life. Be kind, rewind… We learn by rewinding, we step with truth and when the path is too steep we lean forward; for balance. There is a path to follow.

BoysThere is much to learn as we step alongside each other, boys in tow. It is portal to a magic land. Watching kids grow. You forget that they can be pirates and roaring dinosaurs and their growing pains are real. But their hugs are sweet and their eyes remind you of stories once told, of snuggles where seeds of patience and unconditional love were planted long ago. You tell the stories again, you have to… The language is kindness. You teach it to them, they speak it.

We walk along the river, stop to sit on rocks near the old metal bridge. Cold and quiet, the river laps in waves small and relentless. Let’s measure time by the lapping sounds. Me, him, a river so wide and deep. We’re here. Again.

TurnsAgainTwo ducks skid on the water surface. Him, her, water so green. They take turns putting their heads in. Head in, head out… Repeat. How human of them. They stare, I say hello. I have to. I love to, I always do. It reminds me of connections we so easily forget. In the middle of the river, a sand bank speckled with birds. Loud and pretty. We smile. Hands are warm and together.

Time to pick up little boy. Little boy and his friend. They have the same name and they delight in tiny things whispered in the back seat as we drive home. Sharks and giggles, and all that becomes when children are free to play.

‘Mom, was Ringo in here today?’

‘Yes love, we took him for a walk… ‘

Remember last summer when dog and boys piled up in the back and we drove to a lake that had clear water but also mucky shores and leeches?… ‘Yuck’ said the boys, fascinated and disgusted at once. Wet dog, wet boys on the drive back, moments that will always be.

Home… Boys keep on playing, running, chasing each other, laughing out loud, chewing on crunchy apples and popcorn made in the big pot… no kernels burnt today. Silliness. Hide and seek. Whirlwinds of now.

I make coffee, we sit and sip. Max, me, swirls of coffee smells, a day of time and stillness, coffee to slow down time that picks up again like the wind of the hill we roamed on today, following the path where memories of summers and flowers live, where we plant dreams of what’s to come and dogs run wild, tussled hair over brown eyes that know you know… Time, preciousness of bits we make ours every now and then, skies that bloom into storms, and then storms pass and new skies return.

roses are...The living room hides a bouquet of roses and the air is inundated by Brahms’s Hungarian Dances. Among the loud sounds of boys, whispers of days past and promises of kind presence, life happens here, true. Every day.

‘Mom, can we snuggle and read about sharks tonight?’

‘Yes we can.’

‘And the tickling that you do?’

‘That too…’

We call it as it is. Good night.


Advice To My Sons: Live With Joy

All of itLive with joy, no matter what comes your way, because joy is never to be lost, I’ll tell you why. You were once given to the world, to feel it all, to add to it, to stub your toes against thick knobbly roots and not feel anger but joy that trees exist and you can walk near them. You were given to the world to feel alive as you let your hand caress tall slim grass, smooth sands and waters that come from sky and ground alike, enclosing you in a circle where you cannot lie or pretend as you learn about what life tastes like.

Live with joy and catch raindrops in the nest of your palms at least once because rain was never meant to cause you grief but give life around you and for you. It does that, regardless of whether you see it or not, but if you do, you’ll stand astounded by the miracle of it all.

You were given to the world with joy, thus you must live in ways that will let joy be seen in you wherever you go. Live with joy so you have nothing to hide. It’s with you. Joy. It’s in how you start the day. Or how you end the day before. Remember that yesterday and today become the ground your soul feels before your feet trace the first steps and your eyes are peeled open by morning light.

Be joyful for the slimmest sliver of daylight that tickles your eyelids and for the furtive glimpse of shadowed stars as sleep steals you away for a bit. Make joy a constant thought you braid with gratefulness; they feed on each other. Do it every day, because every day brings gifts. Not all come with ribbons and beauty. Some will make you cry, some will hurt as you open them, but please, hang on to joy, you’ll understand why later on.

WorldsLive with joy. It gives you reason to forgive when forgiveness is what you have to give, find joy in the humble act of understanding it. Live with joy; it’s what will help you build boundaries that will keep you safe and your dreams too. Be joyful so you can understand what matters in life. Start learning it early. It’ll keep you grounded when the going gets tough, because it will. Joy will be the moonlit path that will lead out of the darkest scariest woods.

Take yourselves places where joy grows wild. Don’t ask where that is, you’ll find them. There is a place like that for everyone. You’ll be overwhelmed by the mirrors in which you will see yourself, your naked soul, reflected in ways that will make you understand life and your own place in it. You’ll understand how joy and tears are never too far from each other. It’s where you will find me. It’s where I’ve been plotting all along to meet you, since the first day I knew of your existence. It’s yet another place where we learn of each other’s depths and dreams.

Live with joy, because when you do, you grow wings that will take you high enough to never taste bitterness, resentment and unkindness. Joy leaves no room for that. Live with joy and you’ll find the right people to share that with. Simplicity

Simplify your life so you can see all the colours your were meant to see and hear the whispers of even the quietest of hearts. Make joy the key that will open doors you were meant to open. Remember that people’s hearts are doors too. Never force your way in. If you live with joy, you’ll be safe from that.

You will know that it is not perpetual smiles I wish for you when I urge you to give in to joy, but the ability to understand that as you should feed on it, your wings will grow strong and ready into stormy skies and cloudy grey mornings, just like they will soften and give in to the warm glaze of many sunrises and sunsets. Joy will see to that. You’ll grow tired of flying at times, of coldness and bleak horizons, and then, just the same, you’ll blush with the realization that your heart expands with every day you tell yourself ‘I have what I need to keep on going.’ That is joy; because you chose to live with it. So keep at it, it’s the right way to live. It’s what I wished for each of you the day you struggled to open your eyes to the world for the first time. You don’t remember it, but what you first saw was joy. All there could be. I thought you ought to know that. Now you do.

Life As I See It. So Far

Mirrors in lifeI always had this fascination with balls of yarn and spools. Questions. I’d try to undo the ball of yarn just to get to the other end. Because that was where it all started, deep inside. Or was the beginning the end that I was holding?

See what I mean? There is no way of settling it unless you pick one just because and that’s that.

People’s lives are like that too. That’s what they look like to me. Balls of yarn. There is the end that is available for all to see but more unravels as you listen to their stories, or see how the glimmer of sunsets and full moons makes them tear up, by how they talk of times past and broken dreams and life happenings that untangled more yarn they expected and now they are half undone, shreds hanging here and there.

It’s like that with all of us. With some more than others.

Sometimes you get a glimpse of where it all started, or enough pieces that, if you take the time and courage to put together, may reveal the way it was in the beginning… The end of the spool. The beginning. The way all life adventures begin.

Unraveling a bit here and a bit there is how it’s done. Life, I mean. It can be ungracious when too much gets undone, or when the yarn breaks and you have to tie knots to keep on going and they show. Truth is, we all hide knots of one kind or another. Until one day, when we bid goodbye to righteousness and decide to stop hiding.

The day we start living our own truth. As we see it, as we live it, as the only one there ever was.

Truth, counted in knots, just like the winds at sea. Because, in a way, that’s what they are. Tattle-tellers of grace and ungrace, of coming undone and realizing that though painful at times, our wings expand further than before. And with liberating freedom.

There’s much to be learned when knots are considered not faults but facts of life, or life as we know it. Ours and others’.

That’s how life is. Everyone unravels at some point. Yarn breaks. We tie it up. And we keep at it. But if we spend too much time of judging everyone else’s knots, how they are much too weak in how they are tied, or too big, or too tight or not tight enough… we may just miss that it’s not about how knots are tied but in how unraveled yarn comes together to help weave the pattern of life.

Life is ungracious in how it unravels us. In how it shows us what humble is and what being human is all about.

I came to realize that it is not in whether we are graceful or not as we step through life, or in how we tie our knots, but rather in how we learn to help others tie theirs when they struggle through it, because somehow, life is the kind of weaving that can only tell the real story of us when all the broken, knot-full yarns become part of it.

TapestryAnd that only happens when we acknowledge that being human is one of the faultiest, most beautiful and humbling adventures we’ll ever be in. When we have the courage to face it in all its truth that is.

Night and Snow and Frozen. Again…

SidewaysIt was snowing sideways in icy sharp arrows. You had to blink often or get stung in the eyes. Muffled sounds, signs of life far away, stacks prolonged in smoky tongues meeting with low-hanging clouds, cars that stop short, afraid of white and dark combined.

We walked to the park, dragging purple sleds, snow-filled boots… wait, already? 

The park snoozes under thick snow. More coming. We’re wrapped up in snowflakes and tumbles – wild boys, and fragmented thoughts of a long day – mama.

We made it here late, borderline bedtime, but it had to happen… I guiltily wanted tired children and droopy eyes so I said yes to pleads of sledding. 

‘Mom, he doesn’t want to play my game…’

‘Because you put snow in my mouth, that’s why!’

The tumultuous world of boys, laughter and fighting landing in a pile of arms and legs and there’s no time to scold because things are patched up by the time I get there.

‘Wanna do double sleds?’ There’s no stopping them or entering their world. When big people do so, they have to leave all big-world thoughts behind, sublime and conditional at the same time. And worth it… But now it’s all tangled up, thoughts and worries and changes ahead.

Lost boysI envy their irreverent fun, all the ‘so what if that’s not allowed I’ll try it anyway and taste the no up-close,’ they do that with each other, testing boundaries, testing patience and saying I did not mean to.

I want them like that, free to tumble. Free to laugh and say no, and ask for endless sled rides down icy hills, past bedtime and deeply immersed in being children, boys lost in precious childhood.

SleepySnowfall thickens, all plushy and white. There’s sleepy branches on the ground, buried and beautifully quiet, a row of swings, gently whipped by sideways thick plushy snowfall…Swings

Time for bed, we trail home, purple sleds and wet mitts and snowy hats.

Snuggle in bed… remember to be grateful, what are you grateful for… We say prayers for all whom we love, for all who cannot hear us and for all who need one tonight.

Then again, the hardest question pops up and my eyes become squished lines…’Mom, can I be stuck at being seven forever?’

Head full of soft, long hair, smelling sweet, trying to imprint the smell in every part of my brain. To remember…

No, you can’t ask that… Because I want it too much too… But I don’t say it.

‘No you cannot, I wish you could… but you can save some of that forever in your heart…’

‘I don’t want to grow up…’ he snuggles close, maybe it’ll happen?

I feel ashamed for all the times I said the same, not an ounce of grown-up me seeping into that absurd request…I don’t want that either… Be joyful, never be afraid of life. I want to say it but I don’t. One day I will…

Snuggle some more, ruffled long hair against pillows and stuffed otter, smelling sweet… here to stay, mine…

Good night, sleep tight…

But my wishes for sleepy droopy eyelids do not come true. I leave the room with a trail of sounds and whines… There’s itchy noses, itchy elbows and that itchy spot behind the knees and all the noises a nose can make the nose makes them, so annoying, and the comforter is too hot… what a silly name for something that annoys him so…

Two wild boys, one already slipping into growing up, still hugging and wide-eyed, one clinging to every bit of sweetness that he himself brings about… Nighttime whines included.

Snowfall stops, house is quiet… Late night, no more clinging, itchiness gone, boundaries back in place until tomorrow when they’ll be pushed again… And again.

Never stop… never grow up… My eyes will be wide open tonight, no droopiness until I say out loud what I am grateful for. Again. To know, to never give in to rushing them… I promise. To make every itchy knee count.

To listen, to love, to hug… A promise…



So You Can Breathe. Be Grateful

Reminder...As I write this a fire truck makes its hasty way in the distance. I know it is hasty because the sirens are wailing, cutting long and sharp shards of worry in the night. I know, because they came to our doorstep a couple of days ago and painted the pavement a temporary flickering red.

There’s no beast wilder than fear for your child’s life. It tears you to pieces in a matter of seconds and you have almost nothing to fight back with but your bare soul, already shredded by thoughts you don’t want to decipher, pretending you don’t understand them. Like walking on a tight rope with nothingness underneath, you have to look at the rope to keep going, not at the seemingly empty space below.

Don’t lose hope, they say and you try hard not to. But just like driving in thick fast-plopping rain with tired, broken wipers, you can barely see ahead and you keep driving because you can’t stop. But how keep going, since you cannot see much. Hoping you will not lose control, hoping you can make it is all you have; that’s how.

It’s like that. Having a sick child that struggles for his every breath, taking but shallow labored ones as if there is a shortage of air around him, it’s a ride so draining that nothing comes close to it.

Sasha’s recent asthma attack marked me in many ways. I am grateful to have him back, I am grateful to see him laugh, raspy voice and all, but most of all, I am aware that seeing him breathe keeps my breathing steady.

Spending the night in the hospital, monitoring screens with lines and numbers and feeling my heart sink every time numbers dropped too low because Sasha’s tired body could not breathe the oxygen in, it all drove home the simple truth we proclaim often but forget almost every time: Live every day, live it fully as if it’s your last.

We are fragile and strong at the same time, we ask for help and pray that living nightmares end and ask others to pray for us too, we break down in tears when it is all over because now we are taught to fear more than before and the taste of fear takes longer to dissipate. Yet a gift is a gift, and so was Sasha’s ability to hold his breathing steady after hours of struggle. It’s when you can forget the pain to make room for gratefulness.

You have at least one reason to be grateful at this very moment. I hope that you do. You can breathe, no struggle, no gasping, no panic. Be grateful. The world becomes a better place when we remember the often forgotten yet vital things. Gifts. Like breathing… If you can, say a prayer for those who can’t. It will reach them. I know it will because a couple of days ago we had many coming our way…

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