Christmas Presence

 

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It seems I fall more deeply in love with Malarky, as I do with each of my four-leggeds, every day. These tiny pulses of warm fur come into your life, and you feed them, and tend them, and hold them close, and then one day, mysteriously, you discover you are forever connected—rooms, or fields, or worlds apart.

Of course, love and laxity, tempting travel companions that they are, won’t help Malarky integrate peacefully into the family of people and cats he’s joined, so we continue (trying to) devote conscious time to his training, especially now that we’ve entered his, “No, I’m the boss” adolescence.  

He’s doing well-ish. 

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Yesterday, Malarky and I went on our first trip to the wonderful local dogpark complex. 60 acres have been subdivided and intentionally created for our 4-legged companions’ pleasure and learning, so I took him to one of the areas designated as a playspace for small dogs.

He tentatively explored this new world, looking to me for assurance that he truly could run free. We had the park to ourselves, cold and windy as the day was, and that seemed a good thing for his first adventure.

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Then, a very large woman entered the same playspace with her older schnauzer-terrier. The woman was bundled in a quilted down coat, gloves, scarf, and knit hat. All I could see of the person so thoroughly winter-wrapped were her smile and twinkling eyes behind shining glasses. She carried a book, so I greeted her and met “Dungee,” and then, sensing the woman’s desire for solitude, I turned my attention back to Mr. Malarky’s anxious attempts to befriend 12-year-old Dungee.

The older, bigger dog pursued his own interests, allowing Malarky to chase and sniff and run beside him. I watched and then relaxed as they played together.

My mistake.

A large-dog acreage runs adjacent to one side of the area where Malarky was playing, and it was beside this fence that Dungee’s Mom had chosen to sit at a picnic table, engrossed in her paperback. A huge hound walking with his person passed on the other side of the fence. He howled and bayed at Malarky and Dungee, who—of course—were between him and the reading woman. (I—of course—was a few acres away staring at a plant or who-knows what, pretending to be a photographer.)

The wailing dog and its proximity alarmed Malarky. I heard his little bark and turned to see him leap to the picnic table’s bench, then tabletop, then up the woman’s quilted down-swaddled shoulders, and, within seconds, to the crown of her wool-capped head, where he perched, clinging like a circus dog atop a rolling ball.

The woman was trying to reach him, wildly swinging her cushioned arms overhead, but Malarky dodged and clung, steadfast, as she flailed and twisted. I admit, I really wanted to take a picture, but propriety won out and I dashed across the field to retrieve my boy, apologizing profusely, and expecting outrage and a well-deserved dressing down for my negligence.

 But she just laughed and laughed.

Dogs’ companions are so often the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

After I’d detached Malarky from her skull and he’d run off with Dungee, we conversed for a while. She told me about her recent job loss, worries regarding employment, the apartment complex where she and Dungee live…her life sounded to be on the brink of imminent upheaval, but there she was, taking time to exercise her dog, sit and read, and laugh at the unexpected intrusions and circus acts life throws at us with regularity.

I drove home wiser and more chastened than any angry reprimand might have left me. Four-leggeds and their people have been some of my best teachers. What a blessing they have been to me, especially as I seem to need to relearn the most basic of life lessons over and over…

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I’ve been doing some spring winter housecleaning, I suppose because there are dandelions blooming, woolly caterpillars crawling, mosquitoes buzzing, and my lilacs are budding. We’ve had so much rain that the river’s overrun its banks, so it even looks like late April. My daily round is seasonally-confused.

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Anyway, sorting through china and glassware, family hand-me-downs, books, old craft tools, or works-in-progress that seem to be in eternal unfinished states…it’s hard to sever the memories and dreams with which these things are encrusted and infused, from the lifeless objects they actually are. Am I giving away my family and personal treasures, or can I keep the treasure in my heart and give away the things?

Letting go of things is easier, I find, if I take the time to hold each item or box that presents a struggle, and allow it to conjure the times and places it evokes. Just to sit with the images and the feelings, set the objects down, and realize the images and feelings are still “there,” within, is helpful. Then, I imagine a new family enjoying these things, creating their own happy memories. It’s a tiny ritual of farewell that tangibly and emotionally reorders my sense of ownership. The memories are always mine; the object needn’t be.

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I’ve also been baking, and cooking, and candy-making, as though I were expecting a family that could populate a small country for the holidays, when really, a few friends and family members are passing through. Examining what’s fueling this bustle, I discovered I’m again trying to conjure the people and feelings of 1950-or-60-something, because everything precious that Christmas has come to mean for me involves those people and those memories.

On our way to the dogpark, an old Christmas song and the gray, cold day so vividly brought my childhood winters to mind that I could feel my parents and brothers beside me and almost had to pull the car over to let the sweet yearning and memories settle.

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So, I was blessed to meet the down-coated woman and Dungee. (It’s interesting how we dogpark people know each other’s 4-leggeds’ names, but rarely each other’s.)

The encounter was pure gift, reminding me that attentive presence to the moment I’m in is where the magic and joy of life generate. If you consider the creation of your life an art and yourself its artist (as I do), then what is there but the present and what we make of it? Love only happens, only comes alive, in the present, which seems the elemental lesson of Christmas. Love this moment for the gift it is.

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And then set it down and create the best of the next. Now, now, and now. There’s the treasure of life, right there, right here.

I wish you Christmas presence and—if you’re lucky—the four-leggeds (and their people) to keep you in it, always.

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 Many of us, at least internally, do not live in the here-and-now. We are consumed with what was or with what might be. A great deal of the spiritual anguish we experience is because we are not content to be, to live in the present. We are of the present, but not in it. It is by attentiveness in the present moment that we encounter God. ~ Bonnie Thurston, To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.   ~ Abraham Maslow

Not the attendance of stones, nor the applauding wind, shall let you know you have arrived. Nor the sea that celebrates only departures, nor the mountains, nor the dying cities. Nothing will tell you where you are. Each moment is a place you’ve never been. You can walk believing you cast a light around you. But how will you know? The present is always dark. Its maps are black, rising from nothing, describing, in their slow ascent into themselves, their own voyage, its emptiness, the bleak temperate necessity of its completion. As they rise into being they are like breath. And if they are studied at all it is only to find, too late, what you thought were concerns of yours do not exist. Your house is not marked on any of them, nor are your friends, waiting for you to appear, nor are your enemies, listing your faults. Only you are there, saying hello to what you will be, and the black grass is holding up the black stars. ~  Mark Strand, Black Maps (adapted from the blank-verse original)

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.  ~Peace Pilgrim

Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. Why? Because it is all we ever have.  ~ Pema Chödrön

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.  ~Thomas Merton

The slow life allows for the release of anxiety, to better focus on the gifts this fantastical moment offers. Choosing to go with mystery’s flow makes the present our continual destination. ETA: Now. No point in resisting what is. Gardening—and life—are always co-created with the surprises Spirit and nature offer; the best we can do is bring attitudes of joy and gratitude to the journey. Hospitality isn’t just something we offer guests; we can offer it to every moment of our lives. Hello! What have you come to teach me?  ~ Catherine O’Meara

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7 thoughts on “Christmas Presence

  1. Beautiful and thoughtful post, Kitty, and you had me laughing out loud at the vision of Malarky on the poor woman’s head. Really, you should have grabbed a photo! I dreamed last night about making Christmas cookies with my parents and woke in a state of nostalgia of Christmas Past but with a sense of today’s gray day. Hmm, I’ll have to return to those memories with your thoughts and reflections in mind. Thank you for sharing a great dog story and your usual sensitive insight into life’s small mysteries.

  2. Your comments are always so kind and generous, Lynn; thank you.
    It was very amusing to see Malarky’s response, but the surprise of it, and speed, (and, I suppose, my distance from assisting) overtook my impulse to photograph. I wish I had a picture other than the one in my head, since the woman responded so beautifully…
    I hope your memories bring you peace and that we both will be gifted with bright sunshine more often this winter! 🙂 Joy to you, my friend.

  3. Such a bright light in the world. Malarky is amazing and that face is angelic. I so hope you all have a warm and meaningful Christmas. It will be wonderful creating a new kind of Christmas…. Malarky Christmas number one!!! To be continued 🙂 Merry days of peace to everyone…Joy to your world….Hugs…VK ❤

    • Yes, a new kind of Christmas is right, Hollis, and that’s most welcome this year! Hope you will also be surrounded by love and light. 🙂 Missing snow, but it’s an adventure to see what’s happening to the gardens, too…saw some good news about Middlebury, VT, and thought of you! Joy to your solstice and Christmas; great blessings to your new year! Gentle Peace.

  4. What a fanbloomingtastic story! It had me literally laughing out loud!!! Who knew that a puppy could perch like a bird??? I’ve heard everything now!!! It’s funny now that you come to mention it, yes, I only know the dogs names too!!!
    Gosh, your weather is as odd as ours, still it rains here too!
    What beautiful pictures and quotes, especially your one, yes, we must learn to live, laugh and love it the present, and enjoy it for the gift it is.xxx

    • He is sweet, and does perch on shoulders and heads when he’s anxious, but is, thankfully, outgrowing this, physically and emotionally. 🙂 Yes, more darn rain and mud today. Argghhh! Can’t believe how high the river is; I suppose it could flood in spring, if this keeps up. Glad we’re high on a drumlin! I also suppose Phillip might be mowing the lawn if it ever dries out. Goodness, sake…But we’re warm and cozy and enjoying the festivities of the merry week: Hope you are, too: send great love and many hugs!

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