Anne Notations

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beyond loneliness

"Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern world, so full of freedom, independence and our own egotistical selves."        
 - Natsume Soseki, Kokoro (a novel), 1914
Quoted in The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe
How contemporary is that?

There is lonely and there is alone. When Michael first began working and living in another state five years ago, I was terribly lonely - and it got worse when our youngest left for college in 2010, leaving me the only person in this house five days a week.

Somewhere along the way, I learned how to be alone without feeling desperate or incomplete. I'm still an enthusiastically social creature, as my Facebook activity attests. But I have also come to love my quiet home, walks with the dog along the shore or through neighborhood streets, the silent gaze of the waxing moon in an indigo sky after sunset. Alone, I can shed the armor of my ego and just be.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Open the door for love

"From time to time, sit close to the one you love, hold his or her hand, and ask, 'Darling, do I understand you enough? Or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don't want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy.' If you say this in a voice that communicates your real openness to understand, the other person may cry.

"That is a good sign, because it means the door of understanding is opening and everything will be possible again.... With understanding, the one we love will certainly flower.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Be afraid

"To step more fully into courage's embrace, it may help to discover that you don't need to give up fear. Fear may be an old familiar in your life, and fear itself can be courage's best teacher. Sometimes it is only courage that allows us to acknowledge that we are afraid.

"We long for a trouble-free Eden for ourselves, and even more for our children. But they will learn courage after they leave Eden, not before, and they will learn it through their engagement with living, not through avoidance."

 - Stephanie Dowrick, Forgiveness And Other Acts Of Love

Saturday, February 08, 2014


"Mom would often talk about a refugee boy she'd met in a hospital in Afghanistan. He was the victim of a land mine and had lost a leg. She said to him that she brought greetings to him from schoolchildren in New York.

" 'Tell them not to worry about me,' this little boy told her from his hospital bed. 'I still have one leg.'"

 - Will Schwalbe, The End of Your Life Book Club

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Les mots justes

Last weekend a lovely woman who has come into my life said something that blew me away.  She gave me a gift out of wisdom and compassion, and I felt it slide instantly into an empty space I hadn't known was there... in my own heart.

You never know, people. You never know when a word or phrase will penetrate the surface of someone's breezy public persona and transform a moment into gold. It's human alchemy of the highest order.

There is no time like now to say good words to a friend or loved one. We all think we have forever: "Of course, when we're retired I'll let X know how he changed my life. And I'll tell Y that her decency and generosity inspired me to give to the less fortunate. I'll tell them – someday soon."

Guess what, friends. Today you could learn that X died suddenly of a heart attack. (That happened to me with a beloved great-uncle once. The long-delayed letter I sent him arrived in the Midwest a day after he died. I was ashamed and horrified to have procrastinated.) Today you could find out Y has moved to take a job 1,000 miles away and you're unlikely ever to see her again. Tonight you could sit down in the multiplex and have your head blown off by a deluded shooter wearing a gas mask.

Yes, you could. Any of us could.

So do it. Say it. It gets easier each time you share a positive thought:  "I look up to you. I admire your gift with children. Your patience and encouragement make weekdays a pleasure for your co-workers. Your volunteer work inspires me." Even something as simple as: "You are a sweet person. I'm glad I know you."

What did my friend say last week? She told me quite spontaneously, "Anne, I don't know if you realize that people are drawn to you."

Who knows if those words are true? (I'm inclined to be skeptical, thanks to my hyperactive inner critic.) The important thing wasn't the content of the remark but rather that my friend was moved to say it. Afterward, I carried the comment in my heart, like a pearl.

Thank you, M. I'll be paying that forward – now and in the days to come.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


We're in that bittersweet phase of pet ownership now -- the phase where the old dog's end times are at hand and her human family gets its heart broken each day in little ways. And then one day in the big, final way. But not quite yet.

Daisy was a TV star before we met her. She'd been the local "Pet of the Week" representing the Providence city shelter in January 2000. I missed that news show and assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that the city pound would have only the least adoptable and suitable of dogs. I'd been haunting the private animal rescue leagues in the area, looking for our first dog in eight years, with a list of specs that proved harder to meet than I'd expected: medium size, female, short fur, old enough to have been housebroken already, no older than 3.

Then, one night at the end of January, I saw a link online to the pet of the week. And there was a sweet, tricolor beagle-ish-looking dog in profile, stretching her head forward for a treat or a pat, ears back and looking winsome. The next day I went to the pound on my lunch hour. Amid runs holding large, fearsome barking dogs cowered Our Dog, the one that met all my specs. The 42-pound mutt shivered in her run, then sidled up to the chainlink fence so I could stroke her fur.

Part beagle, part pitbull, possibly small parts shepherd and boxer, Daisy was the perfect pet for our children -- people-centric, submissive in the house, lively outdoors, gentle with babies, protective of the household when we were out. I know not everyone likes dogs, "gets" dogs, or wants the work and expense of having a dog. And make no mistake, it's a lot of work and extremely expensive. Think of it as having a small, furry child with all the obligations and doctor's visits that implies. No one who isn't up for that commitment should consider adopting a dog.

But I'm a firm believer in bringing a dog or two into the household when kids are young. Children learn to be gentle with living creatures. They learn to be responsible. They always have a playmate around the house. And they get that unconditional, worshipful love that only a dog can give. Especially in adolescence, kids need that love -- love without judgment or qualification.

Both our sons in turn were Daisy's walkers and playmates. She was stuck like glue first to Andrés and then to Kevin as the years went by. Melinda, meanwhile, was Daisy's spine-scratching slave. Scritch-scritch-scritch just above the tail at the end of Daisy's back. Ahhhh, doggy bliss.

But you know what they say -- rescued pets seem to know who their savior was. Maybe I'm vain, but I believe Daisy always knew that about me. I was, and am, the one she follows from room to room. The one she looks for first when she comes down the stairs into the living room. She sees me and her ears lie back a bit, her tail wags slowly from side to side, and she visibly relaxes and comes over for a pat. (She is not a kisser. That would be Yogi, our sloppy lover of a pitbull.)

Daisy is at least 13.5 years old now; we're not sure of her exact age, but we've had her 12.5 years and she was at least 1 when we brought her home. She's had silly looking fatty tumors -- big lumps -- under her skin for several years, but they have been consistently benign. The past month or two, though, I've noticed her breathing is more labored on our walks. She appears unsteady and confused at times, and going up or down stairs, sometimes her hind legs splay out and she tumbles. She wants to romp with Yogi on the beach, but after a few springy bounds she stops and walks slowly, tongue out, panting.

One day last week as I drove home from work, Melinda called my cell to report that Daisy had been whining off and on all day. A vet visit, aspirations of cells from fatty tumors and a swollen lymph node, and a chest x-ray seemed to indicate something was amiss. More lab work -- blood tests, more analysis of lymph fluid, and today, two more x-rays -- rendered the dreaded verdict: Our lovely old dog has some form of cancer, possibly sarcoma, possibly liver.

We are not going to poke or prod or stick her any more to find out. Whatever it is, the cancer is spreading and surgery isn't a cure. We're going to keep her comfortable with medication until she tells us her time has come. We're going to love her and, probably, spoil her a bit.

Today in the car, driving to the vet for the second set of x-rays with Daisy, I cried for the first time about this. Yogi has been a goofy, wonderful distraction from his "sister's" aging. Busy with training him and integrating the two into a dog-family, I've been able to whistle past the graveyard and pretend all is fine. Now, I know it's not.

This won't be the first time Michael and I have ushered a beloved dog into the peaceful place where pain can't get them. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Heidi, Bonnie and Kelly one by one relaxed and expired on the vet's table as we held and talked to them. It was terribly sad but also peaceful. I always say that deciding when it's time to free your pet from suffering is the hardest, most loving thing you will ever do for him or her. I truly believe it.

So I'm bracing myself, getting ready to step up again for Daisy when she is ready for that passage. It's the ultimate form of rescue, really. Only... I'll miss her so very much, dear old girl.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A mindblowing blog of staggering wisdom!

Two nights ago I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and couldn't figure out where I was. In the near-dark, everything looked different. Yikes.

Then I realized that in my sleep I had thrashed and turned and rotated until I'd done a 180 and ended up with my head at the foot of the bed. That was a first.

The next day I wondered if I had unwittingly enacted a metaphor for my life over the past two years: unfamiliar, disorienting, upside-down.

Nothing for it but to sit up, find the pillow, and put my head where it belongs. It worked that night, and it's been working -- not always as quickly as I'd like -- in life.

When the world shifts around us, we can panic and hide and scream. I've done my share of that, lord knows. Somehow, the seed of strength inside me has prevailed and kept me going. Good people have stretched out their hands to help. They have prayed and kept in touch. Others have seen in me a professional value I had begun to doubt. Since last September I've had the job to prove it.

One is never too old to learn. Here are a few things I know now.

• When someone tells you "it's not personal," it probably is.

• When someone says, "Oh, you're so lucky," pretend to agree even though you want to say, "Actually, I've earned this."

• Believe in yourself but be willing, even eager, to change and grow at any age. Channel Yoda and repeat to yourself, "Much to learn, I have."

• Wherever you go in life, when you find the good people, hold them close.

• When you come across a meany or a bully, don't give that person power over your spirit. Put on a Zen face and breathe. Hang out with the good people (see above). Another person's pathology need not become your neurosis.

• Practicing a faith is its own reward. I miss that.

Everyone's An Expert, Part I: On the best way to train and rehabilitate rescue dogs. Can't we all just get along and save these poor animals? (Related: Beware fanatics of any sort.)

Everyone's An Expert, Part II: On whether to put one space or two between sentences. Listen up: I trained to be that expert! I was hired to be that expert! (Breathe.)

• Pick your battles. Compromise. Make your case. Keep it strategic. Show what works best. Earn trust. Do your best. Sometimes you really do need to drink a tiny drop of the Kool-Ade to make it work. I promise: it won't kill you. Nor need it make you a sellout.

• Everywhere you go in life, and I mean everywhere, you will meet a Star Wars fan.

• A commuter marriage can be, if not a good thing, at least an OK thing. It can work. You can come to cherish your alone time. Sometimes you even think, Uh-oh. I'm getting to used to living without him. And then he walks in the door on a Friday night and you feel that ahhhh, that warm relief, that clicking together of the puzzle pieces.

• There are few things in life as uplifting as a clean CT scan, ultrasound or blood test.

• Our grandparents weren't kidding when they talked about their aches and pains.

• Laughter really is the best medicine.

• The time in life to accumulate more stuff is past. Drive right by the yard sale. Get the heck off of Etsy and eBay. Shopping is a tough habit to break, but your children will thank you someday. (Note: In my case, this is a work in progress. Sigh!)

• I've reached the age when the first thing I read in the newspaper (yes, I said newspaper, the one on real paper, dammit) is the obituaries. Not just those of people I know. Any obituary. I like imagining the different lives people have lived. My heart feels glad reading the praise and prayers of their survivors and knowing that even the quietest life matters to someone. Because love is stronger than death.

• I've missed blogging.