He’ll Let You Know

Are Life and Death extremes, at opposite ends of a spectrum? Or are Life and Death partners walking together along the path in the world? Are Life and Death parallel experiences, intersecting and criss-crossing each other? Perhaps they are flip sides of the same coin?
Mused on by countless thinkers, authors, philosophers… and folks like you and I.
Do Life and Death find definition by not being the other, such as if you are alive, you’re not dead. If you’re dead, you’re not alive. Sort of like the definition of black is the presence of all colors, white is the absence of all colors.

Ziggy – 1 day old!

I arrived in Oregon last week to visit my wondrous and beloved daughter and son-in-law. Within a few hours, their goat gave birth to beautiful twin girls. I can take no credit for that other than my arrival may have startled the mama, yet I so love my little grand-goatlings. Who knew goats could be cuddly and responsive? Not me. These are Swiss Oberhasli goats, the new babies’ names are Fantasia and Ziggy, each at one time or another fell asleep in my arms.

I get home and again in the time frame of a few hours, my veterinarian diagnoses my gentle tabby with advanced kidney disease, with a short life expectancy. Monkey is just shy of thirteen years old and has stopped eating. It is all up to him now. He is gentle, purrs, and likes to sit on my lap. However every few minutes he fidgets and rearranges himself – he just can’t get comfortable, and will then awkwardly toddle into my room to nestle in my thick fleece blanket.

After a couple tearful meltdowns, I pondered on what do I do that is best for my sweet tabby? My son, who gave Monkey his name because as a kitten he insisted on climbing the drapes, gently told me, “Mom, he’ll let you know when it’s time. He’ll meow differently, quit purring, or won’t get up – he’ll let you know.”

This river of life (I know, you are impressed by the originality of my metaphor) splashing along, capturing and whisking things along with it, tossing other things up on the shore, drowning some and feeding others. Cleansing the earth, replenishing the earth, sometimes devastating, more often nourishing.

Monkey’s gentleness and tenacity remind me of my mom’s passing three years ago. She too was gentle and tenacious. I can still hear her last breath, a long, slow sigh. I felt in it acceptance… and relief.

Acceptance. Monkey seems calm, he is not anxious or fretful.
The life force he has. He jumps up on my bed, gives a little trill as I first pet him when he wakes up. He hasn’t eaten for several days. Yet purrs in my arms.
I have lost pets before. I have lost loved family members and friends before. What is different now is that I have time. I am not working a forty-seven hour week. I have been able to cancel or reschedule my commitments and spend time with Monkey, make visits and calls to the vet myself instead of delegating.

If you had told me a few years back that one day I would be sitting on the hay-covered ground in a goat pen holding a baby goat, enjoying the smells of hay, goats, and fertilizer wafting all around me, delighting in the ‘bi-ip’ sounds the baby goats make, laughing at the the barking and jostling of the pups, and swaying to the the coo of doves, I would have thought you had me confused with someone else. This different connection with life, and time, is stunning to me.
Wasn’t I connected to life? I sure thought so: I raised two children, I worked in social services for decades. I taught, volunteered countless hours at many organizations, had a romance here and there, walked on the Great Wall of China, swished my hand in the water as the gondolier paddled us down a canal in Venice. Yet this was different.

Monkey 3-5-2019

Sitting on the earth, holding a newborn goat, away from phone and internet. Sitting close to my newly pregnant daughter who is married to her soulmate, I was connected to life in a deeper way, a clearer way.

One of the memorable stories about my mom’s mother, Grandmere Marguerite, happened just before she died. Many of us were in her hospital room circled around her bed, some standing, some of us sitting: my mom, her sister, her brother and his wife (so all three of Grandmere’s children), a couple cousins, and myself. We were hushed at first, then as families do, the whispers evolved into chatter about who did what with whom when and where.
“I am dying. You should be praying,” Grandmere declared firmly. Instantly we became silent. A few stolen looks passed among us from beneath lowered brows. Now, that was clarity.

Grandmere had lived life: a war bride, widowed at thirty-nine with three young children separated by an ocean and a continent from her birth family in eastern France, survived breast cancer. At eighty, she had lived and parts of her had died to get to such clarity.

Why yes, I did say newly pregnant daughter. So life embraces all. We love, we leave, we learn, we grow. We live, we release, we accept.

Monkey has taught me new things about being in the Now. I hold him, he purrs and snuggles into my shoulder, tucking his head by my chin. Now is what we have.

A Mysterious Thread

Peninsula College photo by Mary Dessein
It is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.
Now that could mean this is the only fall I can remember. It could mean I am truly amazed by the flamboyant oranges, golds, yellows, russets, ambers, corals, titians, hennas, coppers, and saffrons I see across the park in the one hundred foot tall cottonwoods and maples.

It could mean I have been so focused on going, doing, finishing, scheduling, herding, supervising, parenting, balancing, cleaning, and meeting that I did not take time to look around me. No matter how the wind blew or how high the tawny maple leaves piled up in the corners of my carport, I had tasks to complete, dawdling in wonder was not on that list.

In the fall that I started first grade, I could hardly wait for the first day of school. My mother bought me a dress. It came in a plastic bag, was folded neatly and flatly like the shirts on tables at Penney’s. She probably got it there actually. I clearly recall the pale steel blue background with little gold and dark blue pinwheel designs in an orderly pattern of rows, similar to a chain link fence. I kicked through the leaves as Mom walked me the nine blocks to Central Elementary School, delivered me to Miss Winan’s first grade classroom, then took my little sister’s hand and walked back home.

In driving southeast on I-90 through Sammamish, by Preston, over Snoqualmie Pass, alongside Keechelus Lake, and past Cle Elum a few days ago, I again thought, “This is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.”

How much have I skimmed by without taking the time to really see? Oh my, I don’t think I want to start a list. What I do want to do is start anew. Hear the Canadian geese flying over head and stop to listen to their honking.

Ritter Ridge, OR photo by Mary Dessein

See the jagged edges of ice along Camas Creek, white against the dark creek bed; watch the fuchsia leaf dangling below the hanging basket on my porch by a mysterious thread twisting in the breeze; watch a toddler pulling at the handles of a paper grocery bag and laughing in delight while she sits in the shopping cart; pull my car off to the side of the road of Ritter Ridge and gaze into the forever distance over the hills at the gathering soft pink and orange dusk; play fetch-the-stick with my grand-puppies and be in their joy, not my to-do list.

Indeed, this is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.

I Cry at Car Washes

Bowie and I
And baby goats.

Driving by the local Les Schwab tire and automotive center last Sunday, I saw three teenage girls waving ‘Car Wash’ signs at passing traffic. On my way back from errands, I drove into Les Schwab, the girls gave me the thumbs up, and I waited behind a bright red Toyota Forerunner. Mercy, they were thorough: a man with a long-handled brush, two girls with hoses, and two more girls with rags and sponges. Having just completed an 850 mile drive to eastern Oregon to visit my daughter and son-in-law, their four dogs, mama goat, and two newborn baby goats, a car wash was definitely in order.

I was surprised by my eyes tearing up watching the car-washers bustle around the Toyota in front of me. A young lady walked up to my window.
“What are we raising money for?” I asked her.
“4-H,” she smiled broadly, and thanked me as I handed her my six dollars of cash. Young people doing something for good makes me cry? People doing things in community makes me cry? Me getting to peripherally help as I donated money to the cause makes me cry? Apparently so.

Oh yeah, forty years ago, I cried at the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethons. He did those until 2010 when he was 84. He and all those celebrities giving their time for free to raise money to help people.

This Les Schwab center frequently donates their space, and precious water, to help groups raise money for what they believe in. Les Schwab himself and his wife donated money to a local hospital to build a wing in honor of their son. A native Oregonian, Les was born in Bend and died in Prineville eleven years ago. A town I had not heard of until my young ones drove through there in June, looking for a place in Oregon to settle down with all their critters and call their own.

A place to call our own. A place where we belong. My daughter, Dorothy, is so happy in their new home: a town with a population of two hundred and fifty-three, with no grocery store, no police department, no laundry-mat, yet a strong sense of community. By their second day there, the mayor had stopped by to meet my young ones, as well as many of the townspeople; one bringing a loaf of fresh-baked blueberry lemon bread. Really? Yup.

“This is our place, Mom. We belong here,” Dorothy said to me several times. There was a doe on the doorstep of the motel when I went back to it Tuesday night. A guy driving by in an old pick-up truck stuck his arm out the window and waved at me as he saw me sitting on the edge of the kiddoes’ property, writing in my journal. Did I wave back? Sure did!

Idyllic? In many respects. Perfectly harmonious? No, people do people things. A woman was arrested for assaulting her boyfriend a few nights before I got there. The neighbors asked how they could help. Community.

The worldwide community. Jerry Lewis also worked with UNICEF, in the Civil Rights Movement, and ‘Jerry’s House’, a home for traumatized children in Melbourne, Australia.

“Leave the world better than you found it,” was a much repeated value in my home growing up, as was, “Give more than you take.” I certainly took those caveats to heart, working in a social services career for decades. Also tending to be an ‘over-responsible’ person, I have had trouble seeing what is my part and what is not. If I see something that needs to be done, and it is not being done, and since it must be done, then I better do it. Right? Good question. I certainly have a history of jumping in to help people, situations, and organizations. That is a juicy topic for another time.

Yet when people do things simply to help others, to be part of something, it shapes a community – be it a telethon, a hospital donation, a go-fund-me campaign, a neighborhood watch, or a meet-up group. When I see those things happen, it often moves me as I see the humanity in people, something that seems lacking in observing the world these days, whether local or international.

Or when I hold baby goats. The gentleness of them of them fills my heart. I totally enjoy kittens and puppies and baby rabbits. Yet there is something so tender about the baby goats which connected me to my own life, their new innocent lives, and the wonder of life itself.

Crying… and life. They’ve gone hand in hand many times for me as I look for where I belong.