Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Okay, I'm not exactly a poster child for fundamental christian principles. I'm not really even christian. Except that I am a Universalist: I believe in the fundamental truth of all faith. I do believe in something other than life in this dimension as we know it. Something bigger. Something greater. Something more. I also believe that we are incapable of really knowing what that is.

It's not uncommon for people experiencing dark and frightening times of life to seek greater wisdom and power. I have done that. I have asked. I have been offered otherworldly guidance. I have blindly followed. Blindly. And I mean that literally.

One day, I walked away from my life, my career, my ambitions, my education, my house, my belongings, my everything. I gave up. I had worked hard. I had a good education. None of that mattered. Security never existed. I couldn't count on anything I had ever believed in. Quite the contrary, I could count on everything I had believed in to be fundamentally false. What then?

I got a lot of advise. I tried a lot of things. I went in any number of directions. I do remember reading a lot of religion. I remember laughing at some of things I read. "Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Wow. That's some instruction. Not that anybody would really do that. I certainly wouldn't. And even if someone did, not every body can. Because then there would be no towns, no homes, just a lot of lost souls wandering around seeking kindness from strangers. Would that really be a better world? No. But, then, if you take Jesus seriously, you are probably smart enough to realize that everybody isn't going to do that. And Jesus, being omnipotently smarter than anybody else, obviously knew that as well.

In truth, that's what I did. It was never what I intended to do. I made no deliberate plan and set out to accomplish it. In hindsight, I realize that doing so would have been contrary to the purpose. I just asked a question. In prayer, I wondered, cynically, what life would be like if I were to really do that. In fact, it's really only been recently pointed out to me that I did this, am doing this. It's very odd to me to look back and make that connection.

Truth is, we all have a gospel, all our own. We preach it every day. In our thoughts, our acts, our works, we spread our gospel as we go. what we have, what we do, this is what I cherish most. Often it is our children, our hobbies, sometimes it's our work, for many it is the public recompense we value most. What I am worth to the world in terms of dollars and cents - very real, very tangible, very necessary appreciation. We truly cannot live without it.

As an artist, and occasional writer, I accept that my recompense must often come in smaller increments, further apart, than most in our culture enjoy. When survival depends on having the gold and silver to pay the tax man, the corporate supplier of food, water, housing, transportation, then there is so little left over for things like beauty, decoration. Somehow, since starting this journey, I have always had enough. It hasn't always felt like enough. It often felt way too close to a day late and a dollar short. I've learned there is a wide gap between what I want and what I need.

We can all live with a lot less. Try it. For a month. Use only what you absolutely, bottom line need. You will quickly find that beauty, kindness, laughter are absolutely mandatory.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I'm something of an Antiques Roadshow freak. I love it. I'm sure I'll get that priceless prize at the garage sale, thrift store, trash pile on the side of the road. Whatever. I've always loved digging through attics, basements, boxes, just for the thrill of discovering what's in there.

The same thrill of discovery is achieved weekly on my favorite PBS show. The sweet old lady who spent twenty-five cents at a yard sale has an original Picasso. Too good to be true, but there it is. What's not to love?

Last night I watched in horror. A sweet little old lady proudly claimed an original artwork from a famous watercolorist. She found it at a silent auction. A school was raising money for scholarships to give to students who didn't have the money to attend the highly regarded private school. Mrs. Sweet Little Old Lady PROUDLY recalled how she bid seventy-five cents for the priceless work and the hovered around to make sure nobody outbid her!

WTF??? Am I the only one appalled? Is this behavior we want to encourage? I certainly hope not. I've been to numerous charitable auctions, silent and rowdy, and felt the point was to get the money to the charity, rather than expect a windfall take away. I've even applauded when raffle winners turned over the proceeds won to the charity involved. I've never won said raffle, so I can't vouch for what exactly I would do if I did win the color tv (or whatever). I'd like to think I'd be magnanimous.

I know I'm not the best person I would like to be, or even could be. I dance a fine line some days, knowing what's right, just not being fully committed to the personal wisdom of it (like the above paragraph - I did delete the series of nasty names I called the old bitch). But, there I go again.

It's not up to me to judge. But, when I see Gilbert Godfried celebrated in spite of spiteful anti Japanese 'jokes', or Mel Gibson praised in spite of just plain stupid meanness, or Charlie Sheen selling tickets and getting good reviews even though he beats women and isn't even allowed unsupervised around his own children, or old ladies cheaping out on a charity I just can't help but thing that maybe we are sending the wrong message about really matters. And in case you wondered, it isn't money.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Divine Miss Emmy

I've officiated at any number of funerals for pets. I never cease to be amazed. There is a ritual that dogs know. All dogs. The largest dog funeral I officiated had twenty dogs in attendance. My dog, Mongo, had to be put down. She was a fifteen year old lab mix with severe arthritis who had suddenly lost her sight. She had to do stairs and couldn't manage it without eyes, unless I carried her. I couldn't spend every minute with her and she didn't want to be where I wasn't.

She spent a lot of time at one particular farm. There were ten dogs that lived there full time. Another five to ten dogs were frequent farm visitors. They all came to say goodbye to Mongo. We brought her home from the vet's office. From the truck, she rode the wheel barrow to the little cemetery. Someone brought a little yard angel to sit beside her. I had dug the hole earlier. Mongo had sat beside me while I worked, content to be near me. There was a half of a chocolate cake left over from the weekend, so I fed it to her. She loved chocolate, and stole it whenever she could. She had to have known something was up when I gave it to her.

Friends came over to help me, and to comfort us both. I took a break. Mongo took a nap. In the hole. Any concerns I had over whether or not it was a good fit were at least dispelled. It took tugging, pulling, laughter and tears, and a pack of hot dogs to get her out of her grave and into the car and off to the vet. Talk about ironic.

When we came home, the dogs were sitting quietly in the yard, waiting for us. We loaded her into the wheel barrow and they followed behind me as I took her to the grave. There they watched while I placed her gently in the ground. They looked at me, as though they fully expected me to say something. So I did. I talked about the joy she gave me, the weird way she barked at airplanes, her love of forbidden chocolate. I said a little prayer. Then, one by one, each dog walked by the grave, nudged her, sniffed, went back and sat down. I covered her up, gently put the rocks around the space to mark it as hers. When I was done, Jake leaned his head back and let out a long, loud howl. Those inclined to do so joined in. Then, they took off running full speed up the mountain.

Emmy has been sick a long time, but had an attitude and enjoyment of life that belied her diagnosis. This week, though, she quit eating. Dogs have their ways of telling us when it's time to move on. Mongo didn't like being blind and I knew what she wanted - napping in her grave was only the last clue. Emmy loved to eat. She would eat everything. She could eat more than Webster who is four times her size. When she quit eating, I knew. I think, too, she didn't want Donna to see her that way, but to remember her royal demeanor. Donna knew, and we had talked about it, but it wasn't obvious when Donna left on a trip. It was obvious later. Donna knew I wouldn't let her, or any dog, suffer needlessly. She didn't give me the job, but I offered to take it on if it became necessary. She trusted me to know when that might be.

Abbey, Savannah and Webster came today and watched as I put Emmy in her own little grave. I planted an azalea with her. They each walked over to Emmy, sniffed her, nudged her, then sat respectfully and watched as I finished the work. I said some words, about how much she loved Jean, loved to eat, would push Webster away from his dish and polish off his dinner, push him off his bed to nap there, prance past the other dogs languishing in the ninety degree heat to go loll about in the air conditioning inside. Then I said a prayer. On cue, Webster leaned his head back and let out a long, loud howl. Abbey and and Savannah joined him. Goodbye Miss Em.