Leading Our Lives

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I confess I’ve crossed the floor to open the door to 2017 with a wariness not experienced during my short span on earth, stepping with more of a reluctant trudge than airy leap, but still standing. Last year’s events did not portend a new year I’ve longed to meet. It has not signaled its desirability as a traveling companion for 2 days, let alone 365.

The knock has come and here is the new year, on my porch, waiting on my greeting. My impulse is to love it, as I always have, expecting the best, demanding nothing in return, pushing through my doubts and embracing it, trusting that this will flood me with tingling, joyful hormones and a happy ending. But this year, I’m hesitant, thinking about the fine line between a wise woman and a fool.

I cannot help but feel we’re circling each other, this new year and I, and I note the sadness welling in my heart’s response. I’ve always embraced my new years so genuinely; this inability to feel or sustain a sense of happy welcome makes me wonder what has been lost and how I might retrieve it. Or if I should. Sometimes, sadness needs remedy, but I think it can also signal a change that’s needed and grieved because we’ve had to release an “easier” way of being for the hard work of behaving more maturely. Wisdom is earned, not given.

So, how to proceed? And then a question occurs: Am I truly leading my life? Have I ever?

I think I’ve given my trust and adjusted the depth of my needs too readily, inviting others, including people and chance, to lead my life, because I feared abandonment, or a loss of friendship and companionship. Or I thought I’d become cynical, or develop a hardened heart and closed worldview. Now, I realize these aren’t necessarily the only options to taking back the leadership of my own life. Intelligent centering, and a kind of gentle seriousness call me to marshal my energy and disperse it more deliberately, and to intentionally ponder my choices.

 I’ve too rarely met the new with pronounced expectation or demands. I’m quite certain previous New Year’s Days have considered me a dim and slobbering puppy. “Hi! Wanna play? Oh, you wanna run over there? Sure! Let’s go!”   

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And so we would travel through the next 12 months, the year leading and I following, wagging my tail and slobbering.

But last year, things happened that changed me, personally, politically, globally, and eternally. Or last year, the lessons of a lifetime finally began to coalesce into practices I choose to acknowledge and follow. I am more centered and balanced. And ready to lead my life.

Now, I am an abbess and this life is my monastery, and I am unwilling to allow the year’s foolishness or misery to dictate the path my life will follow.

So I open the door and gesture the new year to sit at my table. I seat myself across from it and fold my hands upon the tabletop and look directly into its eyes and ask what it will expect of me and tell it exactly what I expect of it. It may slide out of its chair and shapeshift, but I will call it back, over and over, for 365 days, and meet it and demand, as many times as I need to, that it behave decently, that it treat those in need kindly, that it allow my monastery (which is everything I love, which is everything) to feel safe, blessed, joyful, and hopeful. Able to create what is new and necessary. I am older and wiser than this year.

We will be equal partners in the dance, this year and I, for I’ve learned how to organize, and to lead my life, and to control my precious time (and that I must, if it’s to accrue to a day and then a month, and then a year that I value). I have many gifts to offer, but they’re mine to give, if and when and how I choose. I am the gatekeeper now; this has not always been the case. Last year granted me an advanced degree of consciousness. I earned it. I claim it. I will put it to use. I will hold myself accountable.

Perhaps this new year will surprise me in wonderful ways. But it will not fool me. My heart will be open. But so will my eyes. My intuition has never been keener, my gullibility so restrained, my words more direct, or my needs so little.

I will even retain belief in the possibility that the year and I will part as friends, but that won’t be determined for 365 days. I am leading this life.

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A Blessing for the New Year

This blessing comes with the New Year

To remind you of your power

To say yes,

To say no,

To give,

To receive,

To begin,

To conclude,

To resolve,

To surrender to mystery.

May we be present to wonder

And equally to loss.

May we be beacons of hope

And harbors of healing.

May we be open to surprise,

Abundantly delighted,

And measured in judgement.

May we defend the weak,

And speak truth to power.

And when we are weary,

May Love guide us home

And send us forth renewed,

Scattering joy

And sharing gentle peace.

May we be the leaders

Of our lives.

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Bon Hiver, We Greet the First Snow

dscf2860One of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV programs, Northern Exposure, unites all the episode’s sub-plots beautifully when the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska, step outside on the night of the season’s first snow and greet it, and one another, with the cry, “Bon Hiver!” (“Good Winter!”)dscf2863The episode, like the others, deals with longing, loss, guilt, memory, wisdom, peace, and a deep appreciation for life and its co-creator, death…and always, with gentle humor and love for humans and our charming follies. Never preaching, the scripts always honor the characters’—and our—desire for sacred meaning to attach itself to our brief moments and so guide us toward making sense of our lives, and living peacefully with unresolved mystery. I’ve always found the program profound in its simplicity and deeply endearing.dscf2673dscf2747dscf2765dscf2755
Here at Full Moon, the past few weeks have been filled with long days featuring the meteorology beloved by the Brontë Girls. The pups and I expected to encounter Heathcliff on our daily walks, but only discovered a variety of interesting fungi, and an elusive blue jay (who would be offered in better focus had I not been entangled by the leashes of two leaping, pulling puppies).

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As a friend pointed out, the season’s absence of leaves very cleanly reveals the glacial land formations: eskers, kames, kettles, and drumlins abound in our neck of the woods. But the unrelenting dreariness of sunless days began to wear on my spirit.

The only way to counter it has been to get rather over-sparkly indoors.
Micky, after his initial surprise, seemed to enjoy the holiday music, decorations, and merriment; Malarky affected a subdued air, as if to show-off his worldliness. After all, it’s his second Christmas season. Sigh.

The cats, as always, have just enjoyed having their annual bit of fun with shiny globes and sartorial correctness. dscf2889dscf3216
Today, though, we received our first snow, and the magic inside now plays second fiddle to the glory of snow-gowned trees and grasses. The world looks so enchanting…a perfect setting to wander in wonder and bid others a most tender, “Bon Hiver!”
We admired the snowfall from inside, beside the fire, and then outside, walking, running, looking, and being amazed, an altogether perfect day.dscf2883dscf2870dscf2830dscf2874dscf2827Here is a blessing, perfectly pure and floating down softly, right into your hand: Let us decorate our hearts with gratitude and forgiveness, with sweet acceptance of the meanings we’ve made and been given, and those we’re reaching for, and those we’ll never have, for the stunning miracle of a snow-frosted world reminds us that mystery, too, is a treasured facet of all that shines in our most beautiful lives, in this most beautiful world.
Bon Hiver, my friends! May all the gifts of the season be yours, those lovely surprises that are both simple and profound, given and received in love, from heart to heart, in reverence for who we are and who we are becoming.dscf2886dscf2835

Happy Halloween From Full Moon Cottage

dscf2496May you be blessed with the lovely gifts the dark months bring: Stillness, centering, introspection, orientation, and gentle peace. And may all the spirits who gather round you bring their sweet memories and commune with your heart, reminding you that love never dies. May all things that go bump in the night be us, tripping over insights the season offers. May we walk merrily into our darkness, willing to embrace the mystery that always surrounds us.dscf2520dscf2461dscf2451Let’s grab our mugs of cocoa (or glasses of wine, or both); sit by the fire; tell stories; share wisdom; dream out loud; and locate good chocolate. Autumn is my favorite time for dancing. Shall we? Maybe I’m not a nasty woman, but I’m definitely one who cherishes her wild side and shakes hands with her shadow. Darkness is only scary until we enter it and listen for its invitations. Let’s welcome it. Let’s show it a good time.dscf2386dscf2518dscf2490Let’s release the anxiety the world is pushing so very intently these days and create what the world needs that only we can offer it. There is so much to notice and love in the world, and so much in a day to treasure. Let’s gather in the souvenirs the days offer us and build a gratitude altar, a tangible sign that blessing and hope are more plentiful in our lives than what many in power (or who are seeking it) would have us believe.dscf2567Here’s an idea: Let’s elect ourselves and put ourselves in power regarding the way the world will work: See what it can be? Look! In so many little ways (that can become the only way)…Joy is winning. Love is winning. Kindness is winning. Peace is winning. Take heart.dscf2539Happy Halloween from Full Moon Cottage!dscf1409dscf2380dscf2504

The Finest Music

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There is an old Celtic myth regarding Fionn Mac Cumhail, the hunter and warrior who’d eaten the Salmon of Knowledge when he was a boy. He was sitting with his followers, the Fianna, one day, listening to their earnest discussion about what they believed to be the world’s finest music.

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One said it was the call of the mourning dove at dawn; another the baying of hounds in hunt; still others said, no, it’s the laughter of a child, or the sigh of a lover, or the rush of wind across the sea.

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Finally, they turned the question over to their leader and asked for his response. Fionn considered in silence and then replied, with a customary enigmatic smile, “The finest music in the world is the music of what happens.”

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I’ve been carrying that story in my heart the past few weeks, along with Seamus Heaney’s comment that in creating his poems he tried to “stay close to the energies of generation.” Both Fionn and Seamus seem to be inviting us to bring a focused awareness to the present moment, nothing new in wisdom literature, but stated in ways that caught my attention and pleased me, so both “listen to the music of what’s happening,” and, “stay close to the energies of generation” have become new mantras throughout my days.

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I was reminded of the old question, “Do you want to be a human doing or a human being?” Accomplishing tasks and reaching goals show we’re using our gifts, and hopefully, to help the earth and her creatures survive another turn with kindness, creativity, gentleness, and humor, but we can sometimes “do” without pause, as a distraction from just being, and miss hearing the finest music of our lives.

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Considering events as the music of what happens keeps me from judging them too quickly or labeling them as good or bad. It’s much more peaceful and pleasing to listen for the music they create, and how these chords fit into the established melodies of my day and life.

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I’ve taken a new job, working with seniors at a large facility a far distance from home. I love the people, the place, and the work, but was hesitant, initially, because saying yes meant crating the pups three days a week. (The job is just 28 hours a week, at this time.) Up to now, they’ve only been crated for a nap during the day and at night, for sleep. We were both very concerned about the pups spending long work days so confined.

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But I listened for the music and focused on discovering the best possible outcome.

A dear friend gave me the number of the woman who provides dog-walking services for her. I contacted Jill, who came and met with the pups and me, and we were all smitten with her energy and spirit. She is enthusiastic about visiting Mickey and Malarky at midday, and taking them for a walk, so that has eased my heart greatly.

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The damage from the roof leak I spoke of in the last post will require extensive remodeling: a new roof, some drywall repair, ceiling work, and perhaps some roof beams will need replacement. We decided to forego replacing the skylights that led to the leak, and I’ll miss the added indoor light they provided, but I’m going with lighter paint colors in the rooms, and that will make a difference. Thankfully, our insurance will help pay for all of this, and Phillip can do a lot of the work. And we wanted to update those two rooms (the dining room and kitchen) anyway. So, what began as something akin to discordant crashing and banging has been untangled and quite nicely woven into the music of what happens.

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 St. Clare of Assisi is reported to have said, right before she died, “Thank you for letting me be a human being.” So often, we go through life pinning joy to “someday, not this, not yet,” waiting for all of our expectations of the way life “should be” to simultaneously occur, fall into place, and remain perfect from then forward. Yet, all the while, the finest music, the symphony created right here and now, where the energies of generation in our own once-in-a-lifetime human life are happening, is being played.

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So, let us attend, listen to, and love the music of what happens, my friends, and be grateful for every note: the sweet, the sour, the out of tune, and the surprising grace notes flitting through all.

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Blessings on your week and the music of what happens.

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To Walk in Balance

 

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Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery,
teach me how to trust my heart,
my mind, my intuition,
my inner knowing,
the senses of my body,
the blessings of my spirit.
Teach me to trust these things
so that I may enter my Sacred Space
and love beyond my fear,
and thus Walk in Balance
with the passing of each glorious Sun.
~ Lakota Prayer

 The autumn equinox seems a fitting time to contemplate the balance we manage to hold and honor in our lives.

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And the currently overused word, “literally” does seem to apply to my sense of balance: Since July 8th, most of my time has been spent lying on a bed or couch with my left leg elevated and the foot iced, following surgery. Prior to the surgery, the doctor had repeatedly stressed that the recovery would be a long slog, but the foot wasn’t working well, so I chose the misery for improved quality of life. I’m fairly active and need to be for my joy to flow.

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The past few weeks, I’ve been going to therapy and am now free of the walker and boot that accompanied the majority of my healing. But I’m still working on regaining my balance. I can’t yet support myself standing on the left foot alone, which impedes (excellent word, meaning “to shackle the foot”) my yoga and work outs. The foot still swells to a stunning circumference if it’s down too long. I call her Hindenburg.

The view during my confinement didn’t inspire too much photography.

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I appreciated the 4-legged companions and the friends and family who stayed in touch through visits, messages, and calls. These made all the difference in my healing. The days became static, drifting one-into-the-next, and the world diminished to the size of a bedroom. By week three, I felt like Grace Poole in Rochester’s attic. Highly imbalanced.

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Caregivers are the saints of the earth, and mine was the best. Phillip made Mother Teresa look like an insensitive thug; he was that great a support. There’s a lot to do at Full Moon, especially in summer when the many gardens are in need of tending, and he managed all that, the 4-leggeds, my needs, the housecleaning and laundry, and full time remodeling jobs…I think, for once, he’s very happy summer is over and he can get back to the cushy job of teaching high school students. (!) A good friend visited at least twice a week, sat and chatted, helped clean, made meals…Challenges always reveal so many blessings in our lives, don’t they? And the blessings help to bring our spirits back into balance.

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For a time, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more with my enforced free time…I could have written an entire book series in the time I sat and watched old movies and read several mystery series that others wrote. I could have taught myself to knit, or taken up some other craft, or bettered myself in some laudable way, despite the pain in my foot and the humiliation of being utterly dependent on others.

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But those feelings led to one of the great gifts of my healing time.

 I’ve always powered through my schoolwork, my jobs, my chores, and my days, and done more than I should (I think, trying to make Sr. Mary Someone take notice and validate my wonderfulness) so the second-best gift I’ve received from this experience (Phillip is always the first), is the chance to finally learn how to stop and say, “Enough. For now.” I think I’ve always feared I’d just slide into indolence and never rise again, but I think I’m discovering a better rhythm for my days that allows me both productivity and peace. Both can call upon our creativity.

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For my first outing, we went to the dogpark. The weather was grand and, although I sat at a picnic table with my leg raised and iced (sigh), I cried, just to be there and enjoying the lovely world outside my room.

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I’ve managed a couple trips (again, literally) down to the bridge since then.

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And I’ve even spent time weeding gardens, although the first time I overdid it, and Hindenburg rebelled. Learning the parameters is tricky, but being in the garden heals other parts of me, so not a loss, but a lesson.

I’m also back in the kitchen, making candy, roasting veggies, baking treats and feeling like myself again.

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So we roll around our lovely sun to autumn. The combines in surrounding fields are running from dawn to dusk, when they’re able, and the birds are emptying the feeders maddeningly fast, preparing for migrations. The gardens are nearing the time for cutting back and cleaning, harvests drawing to an end.

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We’ve received 15.5 inches of rain since the beginning of August and more is coming tonight and next week. The river is high, but we’re not experiencing the flooding that others are. A roof leak has led to drywall damage we’ll need to rectify, so that will be the Next Big Thing. (At Full Moon, not nationally, as we all know.)

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Autumn, the time when our world becomes a thin place, begins, and my spirit feels strengthened and ready for the sweet encounters with mystery it always brings. We make commitments and then we make them again, revising, reviewing, respecting (to “look again”) them, honoring the challenges they present and gifts they yield. The equinox is a lovely symbol of the balance that’s come to me, finally, and which I hope to integrate more profoundly into my life’s dance, however inelegantly executed it currently is. I have faith I’ll be pirouetting on the left foot one day soon.

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The Light That Fills the World

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I think over again my small adventures, my fears, those small ones that seemed so big, all those vital things I had to reach and to possess, and yet there is only one great thing: to live and see the great day that dawns, and the light that fills the world.  ~ Old Inuit Song

These days, the pre-selected and formatted news of the world comes to us whether we want it or not, it seems.

It seeps through the pores of our days, flashing its dire warnings, keening the earth’s death song, screaming the antics of strange players, interrupting the flow of our choices and preferences, and scrolling across the bottom of our daily round. You turn on an information source to learn the weather forecast and you’re flattened by the psychic attack created by some media celebrity spewing hype about the latest battle between police and citizens, or vying political candidates, or warring countries. Somewhere, a city’s exploded, a plane has crashed, and another murder has robbed us of someone’s gifts. In the wake of what was once journalism, the circus entertainment that’s replaced it never sleeps.

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And, truly, there are choices being made by leaders that affect us all and should be discussed, even argued against and protested. There is sloppy thinking, a loss of respect for fact and intellectual reasoning, and a backsliding of concern for the common good. Language is cruder and interactions are ruder.

But I think we can get mired in anger and fear, the result of over-exposure to these things, and lose the ability to think our own thoughts and remain focused on our next creative action in our own little corner of the world. The rush of bad news accelerates our anxiety, and we surrender the time and space necessary to locate the inherent peace and stillness within ourselves that allow us to move in the world with balanced energy and perspective, doing the good we’re here to do.

Happily, Full Moon Cottage has been offering us a lovely summer of sunlight and rain, fireflies and flowers, June’s gorgeous solstice and full moon, and social gatherings that reinforce the light that fills the world and renews our spirits.

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Last week, our buddy Jax was our guest once again, and he seemed quite certain that 4:30 A.M. was the best time to wake and enjoy our morning walk. We thought otherwise, but had to agree the sunrises were amazing, making our hesitant efforts to offer hospitality worth it, and far more sincere on subsequent mornings.

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The fireflies have been surprisingly abundant this summer, and their nightly show invites meditation and peace. We turn down the indoor lights, grab a window-seat and 4-legged companion, and watch. And breathe. And benefit greatly. Malarky and I enjoyed both fireflies and the solstice together at about 1:00 in the morning, when nature called us, in many and different ways. I’m sorry I’m not a more skillful photographer and lack a better camera, but here you can (kind of) see the full moon and the blinks of fireflies.

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Like the early walks with Jax and the pups, this was an enchanting break in the routine for me. I don’t mind losing sleep when it’s surrendered for a silent stroll in light and mystery. These encounters bring me back to hope and joy.

In mid-June, a friend called and offered to bring an entire feast, and her little pup, for a visit to celebrate my birthday. (Well, I made the carrot cake!) It was such a kind gesture and perfect gift of a day; I’m still smiling whenever I think about the fun we had.

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Later in the month, I was asked to officiate at another friend’s wedding, a light-filled celebration, if there ever was one. Weddings fill my cup of hope to overflowing. I love creating the service with a young couple, and celebrating their joy with a community of people who love and support them. We’re all changed, every time, it seems, taken back to memories of our own partnerships in life and their deepening.

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We also had company visit for a few days, and the weather obliged. My older brother came south from the Twin Cities (although here, we just say “the Cities,”) and his daughter drove west from Milwaukee, and we had a merry visit indeed. So merry, I didn’t take photos, but just relaxed and laughed. A lot. You’ll have to imagine our visits to a local winery, restaurant, antique stores, and then a pub, where we brought a picnic and listened to wonderful music. And our long visits on the back deck with the pups chasing around our chairs, the fireflies seeking true love in the trees and gardens, and the river flowing by in peace.

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The gardens are making a comeback from last year’s devastating storm; the freezer is crammed with berries; the bird feeders have been very active; this year’s turkey nursery parades through the yard most mornings; and, except for the annual onslaught of Japanese Beetles, peace reigns and sustains at Full Moon Cottage.

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Blessing and gratitude keep me going when the world’s noise and fear crowd in. The light that fills the world shines through, shines on, nurturing our hope, peace, and love, and that is the only one great thing: To let that light lead us into our days and through our lives. Gentle peace to you and yours.

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Deep Bows to the Earth

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Our difficult and very urgent task is to accept the truth that nature is not primarily a property to be possessed, but a gift to be received with admiration and gratitude. Only when we make a deep bow to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, only then can they become transparent and reveal to us their real meaning.  ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, Clowning in Rome

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March ended with a glorious full moon. I remember it, because that was the day our dear friend was admitted to the hospital. For a week or more, she had been suffering from violent bursts of headache, much worse than her usual migraine. We’d accompanied her to the ER one long night, when the pain was excruciating and, when it happened again, another friend got her to the doctor who (finally) admitted her. Over the course of the next two weeks, a nimbus of neurologists poked, sliced, scraped and analyzed her brain before concluding with a diagnosis that left her ravaged spirit and body heavily drugged and cautiously hopeful. The headaches continued, but gradually abated to an endurable level.

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As with any hospitalization of a loved one, our days slid into overtime. We drove back and forth to the hospital to visit and support our friend and her son, and twice a day, drove to her home, to care for her sweet, old, almost-blind, mostly-deaf pup, Jax. He seemed more at peace in his own familiar spaces, but clearly missed his “mom,” despite our attempts to comfort him. He always perked up for treats, we noticed.

Her son flew home from Brazil and helped mightily for a time, until his mother was discharged, but then, after she’d been home for a few days, he had to return to work, so she and Jax came to us for a week of rest and recovery. Their presence and spirits blessed us.

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Malarky, Jax, and I went for a few walks every day, while our friend rested. Malarky was a good host, leading Jax to all of our “treat spots” and waiting for him to catch up.

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Winter seemed to be tilting tentatively into spring. One day, we’d hike through a glorious snowfall, and the next, a sunny trail beckoned with robin song and wildflowers. All of it seemed to intrigue Jax, and his spirit and energy thrived.

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My friend fatigued easily and felt apprehensive about the thunderclap headaches returning, but, as the week went on and spring began to settle in, I noticed her spirit lifting and confidence returning. Every day, she set new tasks to complete that would support her return to independence after almost a month of being bedridden. She made a meal, did her laundry, came on a short walk. She weaned herself off the pain meds. (I can’t imagine the courage that took, after what she’d endured and feared encountering again.) The syndrome she suffered from is known to debilitate and devour energy, and it can require up to six months before the patient feels like her old self, or—more accurately—her new self, since these experiences always transform us.

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My friend deeply honors and tends her spirituality, and we had interesting conversations about the ways she felt herself transformed; the gifts she perceived had come to her through the ordeal; the struggles she anticipated in returning to work; and her hopes for healing.

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My heart filled with gratitude to see her strength returning, even in tiny amounts, and I loved how spring’s brighter days contributed to this. My friend blooms in warmer weather, and the sunshine and flowers, open windows, and sweet breezes contributed far more to her recovery than my vegetables and broths. I think I saw her blossom on one of our walks. It seemed like her spirit came back into focus.

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She returned home the night of April’s Full Pink moon. My tulips were just opening to the sun that day. We stayed in close touch, and I took her to a few appointments the next week, but her recovery since then has been glorious and all due to her own body and soul-tending.

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I missed her presence after she’d returned home. It was fun to have human conversations throughout the day. The 4-leggeds and I had to adjust to the unfilled hours and reserves of energy we now had to fill and spend. Malarky and I took long walks through county parks and marveled at a Great Blue Heron rookery. To see these huge nests tended by their prehistoric profiles, even at the distance we kept, took us deep into silence.

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We gardened and watched the spring birds gather at the feeders.       

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We watched this fellow court various ladies, it seemed with little luck, over the past few weeks.

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But we discovered that we still longed for another presence…and settled on Mickey.

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Two weeks later, we’re all adjusting to our new companion. We’re grateful for the hard, often heart-breaking work at the Houston rescue that saved Mickey, and for its local satellite that brought him to us. He’s sweet and feisty, and a good buddy for Malarky. Of course, we planned on a girl, about Malarky’s size (25 pounds) and age (9 months), and came home with a 4-month-old, 6-lb boy. Funny how love works.

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And Mickey was in need of love. Full Moon is working its magic on his little body and spirit as it did on our friend’s recovery. And just as her presence blessed us, Mickey has brought gifts to each of us, completing a puzzle we didn’t know was missing a piece. Till now.

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And so I make deep bows to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, and to the fields, and flowers, and birds, and 4-leggeds who teach us about resurrection and love, and the possibilities these hold for us in our brokenness and loneliness. May we be healed and offer our mended energy to the world.

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