Memorial Day: Thinking about peace (video)

Sitting here on my couch.

The dog — Jackie Mudpie — sprawled beside me, sleeping.

She’s not feeling well. Her stomach is growling. She didn’t eat much yesterday. Today is a holiday. We’ll go to the vet tomorrow.

There’s been some loud hammering on our house this morning. Our kitchen had a leak, and we just had it fixed. Rain is on the way, and all is well.

It’s quiet now. It’s peaceful.

The dog is not well, but she’s resting. She’s at peace.

It’s Memorial Day, a holiday — and it’s peaceful.

And we talk about remembering those who sacrificed.

They sacrificed because there is a thing called war that we, as human beings, think is normal.

It’s not normal. It’s insane.

I never scarified. Other than books and movies and watching news, I have no idea what war is like. My whole life has been this way — lived in a war-free zone.

It’s Memorial Day. It’s peaceful. And while thanking and honoring those who served and scarified is proper and appropriate, it’s not sufficient.

We can honor them more by creating peace in the future.

How do we do that? How do we eliminate war? How do we change the way we talk about war?

On days like today, we’re drawn to words like glory and honor and sacrifice and country. And that’s good. We owe them that.

But what about including words like insanity and fear and loss and pain and grief and dying young.

How do we make a world in which Memorial Day is something that refers to a relic of the distant past?

waiting for a parent to die

A fear that looms large in our childhoods and throughout our lives.

There comes a point (around age 30?  40?  50?) when we start to feel lucky.  Our parents have beat the averages.  We’ve seen our friends go through this while our parents are still with us.  We’ve talked about mom and dad with people who have no mom and dad.

The fear eventually becomes anticipation, and then expectancy.

We’re lucky if we have time to say the things we need to say.

But what about the time after the things have been said, while the fragile consciousness slowly slips away?

And it nears — this approaching shift, this moment, when we become the orphan?  We enter a stage of exquisite, unmatched drama.  What about this time?

It’s so close, yet so far away.  The way we measure time disappears entirely.  Hours.  Days.  Weeks.  These concepts lose their meaning.

Each moment in our lives become stretched to the snapping point, while we wait for the singular moment that we know, in days to come, we’ll never forget.

If we take the time to make a pot of coffee or take a walk or go to that Christmas party or take a long, long shower — this could have been time we could have put to other use.  This could have been time spent with Mom.  This could have been the last chance to see her alive.  What about that pot of coffee?  Or that…anything…

And is time itself really that precious?  So full of choice and possibility?  Did it take this long to learn something this simple?  This basic?

Certainly this applies to death and dying and loss, whether it’s a parent or another loved one.

But the loss of a parent is the one that has other implications.  It puts down a marker.

And I wait…

My daughters’ puppies died too young

Last night, my daughter’s new puppy died from Parvo.

It’s hard to lose a pet, especially a dog.  They are nothing but love.

We never knew the puppy personally.  Sarah lives in Alaska.  We did know how much she wanted and loved it.  She visited the puppy in the shelter since it was three weeks old and finally brought it home — only to have it live two weeks.

Murphy, Sarah's puppy
Murphy, Sarah’s puppy

In those two weeks, she posted pictures on Facebook and asked her friends to suggest names.  She named it Murphy.  When the dog became sick, she posted updates about her feelings and about Murphy’s battle.

I’ve always been a liberal Democrat and disagree with most things Charles Krauthammer writes — but I was very moved by a column he wrote in 2003 about losing his dog.  At the time, we had just lost our dog, Honey.

He talks about growing up in a city apartment with few pets, and then being introduced to the joy of dogs by his wife.

This is the concluding passage that has stayed with me:  “Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal, indeed, deeply human to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty. Should we not be moved when it produces a vision — a creature — of the purest sweetness?”

His column is available here.

I also remember hearing an interview on NPR about how much we learn about loss — and the human condition itself — from having pets.

Our dog, Honey, died a week after her first birthday.  I had just gotten my video camera and recorded the grand event, which was carefully arranged by my other daughter (see video below).

Honey spent her days at my parents’ house, with my parents’ dog, Zellie.  Zellie, who is still my mother’s constant companion, was Honey’s mother. My younger daughter — whose life revolved around this dog — visited my father each day after school, while we — her parents — worked.  She played cards with my dad, sometimes for hours, and then put Honey on a leash and walked the three blocks home, often stopping to discuss dog ownership with all the other dog owners in the neighborhood.  When she was outside, Honey required a leash at all times, and we had several of them.

Honey’s miracle was that she was a total surprise.  My parents thought Zellie had been spayed and didn’t know she was pregnant until she gave birth. My daughter had been begging for a dog for years — so she had her puppy only minutes after it was born.

At one point, when Zellie was nursing her two puppies, the proud mother found a baby possum outside and brought into the bed with her puppies.

I remarked to my father, “She can’t tell the difference between a possum and a puppy.”

“She also can’t count very well,” my father said.

She kept bringing baby possums in and I had to eventually take that possum deep into the woods and let it go.

The tragedy occurred when the guy who mowed my parents’ lawn left without closing the fence gate.  Honey and her mother, Zellie, decided to leave the yard.  Zellie came back home.  Honey was Lhasa, part Jack Russell, and part Chiwawa — and much younger.  She sprinted two blocks and got hit by a car.  The person who hit her took her to the vet’s office.  It was our vet, and we found her there after an afternoon of frantic searching.

We do learn about grief, whether we want to or not.  Sarah, I’m sorry about your broken heart.  I wish you weren’t so far away.  I’m glad we have Facebook.  I know, with Parvo, you have to wait before getting another dog.  But when you do, I can’t wait to see the pictures.