Learning to Breathe

learning to breathe

I have been learning to breathe again.

I’ve been practicing breathing for a few months now. You know, the kind of breathing that requires a concentrated effort to simply listen to the sound, the sound of your breath.

No thoughts allowed. Just create a small wind tunnel in your throat and focus on that sound for twenty minutes. It’s supposed to be healing; a meditative exercise in calming the brain and body.

‘How does one not think thoughts?’ I wonder in my head as I try to listen to my breath. The sound reminds me of ocean waves on the beach in some small town along the Gulf of Mexico, and I picture myself on the sand, and, oh, I could use a week at the beach and–oops, there I go thinking thoughts again!

Letting Go of Tension

When I do this practice, I usually lie on my back on the floor with my knees up on a chair. This creates a release for my lower spine and gives me the best chance to not use a single muscle. Except for my breathing muscles.

I hold a lot of tension in my body, even when lying in this completely relaxed position. My neck is tight and my feet and hands slightly clenched. Honestly, when I roll out of bed every morning, I have more tension in my hips and back than when I rolled into bed. How does that happen? Do my muscles ever loosen their grip? If not in sleep, then when?

That’s why I am re-learning how to breathe, how to tell my brain that all is well. Then maybe my brain will give my muscles a vacation. Take a few days off, go to the beach, ahh the beach, the ocean, oh my thoughts are running off again and I was supposed to be just breathing, just listening…

Learning to Die

Have you noticed how an exhalation makes your torso collapse a bit? The rib cage shuffles down and the shoulders drop as the diaphragm forces the lungs to let go of their air. If I push all of the air out of my lungs, my entire body drops more deeply and more heavily toward the floor. Pausing between that full exhale and the next breath in, I lie in stillness like a corpse.


This place between breaths feels like a kind of death. When I empty myself of the breath of life and hesitate before the next inhalation, I am in liminal space. Between rooms, I pause on the threshold and take the time to examine where I’ve been, before moving on to God-only-knows-where.

As I understand it, the autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. When I inhale, I engage the sympathetic so that my body is ready for flight or fight. My heart rate increases and my bladder is more than willing to empty itself.

When I exhale, my heart rate should drop as the parasympathetic system kicks in for calming and relaxing my body. In this state, I should be able to digest food and lose some anxiety. The bladder holds on and the bowels loosen up.

Not so much for me.

One Breath at a Time

My sympathetic system seems stuck on hold. Hyper-vigilance might be a good word: ready for anything all the time. It’s as if my body is saying, “no way, José, I’m not letting you die!”

Maybe I learned hyper-vigilance as a child, lying in my bed at night hoping Dad would come home so Mom could relax. Perhaps it was later when we were hoping he wouldn’t show up drunk to wake us up in the middle of the night. Possibly, I learned to be on high alert because of my personality, hyper-sensitive or something.

Let’s face it, the unpredictability of life presents a case for staying on the watchtower, no matter how safe your castle may seem.

What I want to know is: how do I let go and live now? Forget the past; who knows the future?

This very moment is what’s happening!

So, back to the breath.

Learning to Live

When I practice my twenty minutes of doing nothing but breathing and listening, I am learning to live in the moment I’m in. Trust the present being, let the doing take care of itself.

I’m not supposed to be thinking but here’s what I’m thinking:

  • The very first breath we take as humans is at birth. Our life in the womb suddenly opens up to the flow of air through mouth, throat, and lungs.
  • Then comes our first exhalation–a tiny death as life immediately shakes our bodies and creates fear and insecurity. We feel untethered. No wonder most babies start out with a good cry.
  • The next breath in is a tiny resurrection: Oh, I’m still here and I’ve been here before. I’m alive.

Something in Me Just Takes Over

And so it goes. Every breath a birth, death, and resurrection.

If it weren’t a mystery, we’d have stopped thinking, talking, and writing about it by now. But Life is wild. The daily-ness of each day, the normalcy of each creature, the magnitude of every morning. Why shouldn’t every breath we take be as astounding?

As I lie here learning to breathe, my shoulders settle for a better situation. A connective tissue clicks loose in my spine. An electric tingle sizzles on the tips of my fingers and toes. Small signs of change and movement towards release. I’ll take them.

I’m alive, I’m dying, I’m alive again. My soul longs for eternal life even as my flesh lies encumbered by the tension of suffering and death. With all of that to think about, I’m glad I don’t forget to breathe.

(Oh, and here’s a song about breathing: Love, Like Breathing)

Finding Life in Creativity

creativity

Creativity 101

I wrote my first song after leaving home. creativity

At eighteen, I’d moved out of my house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and landed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a college freshman. It was my first time living away from home.

Feeling the loneliness of being a 5-hour drive from all that was familiar, I wrote a song for my boyfriend called, “Baby, I’m Missing You.” That’s all I remember of my first song but I’m certain it was not very good. 

However, this creativity had awakened something new in me. I sensed songwriting was a door to discovering more of myself, healing deep hurts, and dealing with some confusing emotions. Maybe the creative life was for me!

Little did I know how far I would have to go to become a true artist.

Secondary Education

We have to start somewhere. Singing was my beginning. First in elementary schooI then all the way through high school, I sang other people’s songs. I still remember my first solo in a choral Christmas concert. I got to step out and sing a short verse of Wintertime Aglow. The local TV station aired it which thrilled my mom. That performance had a huge impact on my 15-year-old self. What else would I be brave enough to try?

I sang my heart out in every high school talent show that came my way after that. Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar inspired me to belt out many a rock ballad for my peers. I was always mimicking the singer’s inflections, matching the song’s sentiment without really comprehending its message. In one show I sang “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” by Linda Ronstadt. The chorus went like this:

Someone to lay down beside me
Even though it’s not real
Just someone to lay down beside me
You’re the story of my life

Thankfully, it was not the story of my life. The message went over my head but tapped into my heart’s desire. I wanted to sing out my sadness with passion.  

The Singer and the Songwriter

That first semester in college, with all its disruptive changes and challenges, I decided to give my feelings a voice. With a borrowed a guitar, I plunked out the 3 chords I knew. I created a melody and lyrics to match my loneliness. And to fit my writing style.

creativityWell, my emerging style.

Just as my vocal style wanted to amalgamate all of the singers from the ’70’s and ’80’s whom I wished I could be, my writing style wanted to combine Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Ian to create the perfect blend.

In the end, though, I had to be me. My songwriting morphed into a vehicle for my limited vocal power and the message and emotions I had to communicate.   

Creativity 201

At Berklee College of Music I began writing in earnest. I had transferred to this college in Boston because I wanted to move beyond the classical voice training from my first college. Now I could work on becoming a singer-songwriter. Berklee was perfect because it was all about the pop and jazz!

My songwriting and theory teachers taught me so much. I studied jazz harmony, ear training, voice, and performance. Also, I got involved in ensembles, gained recording studio experience, and performed in some shows on Berklee’s big stage.

My singing and songwriting improved as did my performance chops. Probably, I wouldn’t want to record any of those early songs I wrote. But they are still a part of my bigger story.  

Scheduled Creativity

Scott Dente and I had met at Berklee during my second semester. We became an item soon after and have collaborated on music ever since. After graduation and marriage, we loaded up the truck and headed to Tennessee. Nashville, that is. 

As Out of the Grey, we got to make 7 studio records. After that, he and I worked on my solo projects and several outside collaborations. Throughout the decades of our musical marriage, we always had to make the time to write. We called it scheduled creativity.    

In fact, we’re doing it that way still. He works on new music constantly with his production company called Global Genius. He has a lot on his plate and maps the days for creative space.

Creativity has never been easy for me. I can’t just drop everything when a bright idea strikes. Mostly, I like to schedule my creativity and hope for inspiration to show up. She usually does. If not, I come back again and again until I get my writing up to snuff.  

Tools For Creativity   

creativity
A Handbook and A Workbook

Recently, I put together a few songwriting tools for my songwriting students. The Singer and the Songwriter is a handbook and workbook for singer-songwriters. It’s based on my training and experience.

I put in some teaching elements as well as exercises, prompts, and reminders to help writers to get creative.

  • I mapped out 10 steps to keep your flow of creativity going so you can start–and finish–your song.
  • I created a section for developing your lyrics by using figurative language. 
  • I included a section on basic music theory and harmony so you know what chord patterns work well and how to write a good melody.
  • My vocal technique section teaches you how to gain strength and range while releasing vocal tension.

The other tool is my Creativity Journal which has lots of space for getting creative with emotions, images, and lyrics. Using samples of some of my lyrics, this journal inspires writers of all kinds to create a flow of imagination and artistry. (If you want to get creative using an autographed Songwriter Handbook, you can find it here and I’ll also write you a nice note!)

Also, I created my 10 Tips for Better Songwriting on this site. 

The Bigger Story

Looking back, I see how far along the road I had to go to hone my artistic expression.

At the end of the day, the joy, the sorrow, and the chaos of life drive us to draw some creative conclusions about what’s going on. 

When I sing,”Walk By Faith,”  it’s because I can’t see straight in the broad daylight. I’m looking for a way to live in the big picture without having all of the answers. 

When my son sings, “Hallelujah,” I lift my hands and agree that I don’t know why I’m alive. Sometimes I don’t have to wonder why.

“Oh hallelujah, I am alive
Yeah and I don’t know why, why
No I don’t know
Hallelujah
I don’t have to wonder”

When You Create….

We all get creative in some way. Trying to put our lives into perspective, we write, draw, paint, or play.

  • Who did you sing along with as a teenager?
  • What artists have impacted your story? 
  • When did you create your first song, story, poem, or painting?
  • Have you tried getting creative lately?

I’m Worse Than You Think!

finding freedom from judgment

Finding Freedom from Judgment

I heard a Christian pastor announce that he had decided to stop worrying about what other people thought of him. He needed freedom from judgment. He chose to be honest with himself and say,

“Yeah, if they are judging me, they’re probably right. Not only that, I am actually worse than they think I am.”

finding freedom from judgment

My friend, Cathy, once lamented about her selfish and judgmental thoughts rearing their ugly heads in one of her college classes.

Her impatient and mean thoughts about some of the other students surprised her.

I said that’s why it’s a gift that we can keep our thoughts to ourselves. If everyone could hear what everyone else was thinking, the world would erupt in all our private wars made public.

“Fake it till you make it” makes a lot of sense in this context. This has worked for me many times.

Or has it?

Maybe my faking it is like a teenager who cleans up her trashed house after her illicit party but before her parents get home. They don’t see the breach in trust but the lie hovers in the house and does some hidden damage of its own.

Perhaps finding freedom from people’s judgments of me AND freedom from my own judgments of others is going to cost me more than a hurried house cleaning.

Is there a better approach to finding this kind of freedom?

My Ugly Underside

I was walking along with a crowd of typical American families recently — judgment alert— and noticed the many overweight people around me, their soda straws pressed between their lips and the french fries pouching on their hips.     

I pulled my husband Scott aside.      freedom from judgement

“I have a really mean joke that I just thought of,” I giggled.

“What?” He grinned, warming to this rare confession of my judgmental cruelty.

I said, “imagine a T-shirt for kids that said, ‘Destined for Greatness’ only the ‘Greatness’ is crossed out and below it is scribbled, ‘Fatness.’ Ha! Get it? All of these fat American parents are raising their kids to be fat!”

He was shocked. It really isn’t funny. It is quite mean and arrogant of me. Easy for me to laugh when I’ve done the parenting and nutrition thing perfectly—NOT!

Hear My Confession

The next week we were hanging out with friends and Scott began to tell this story. Midway through, he realized he was about to confess my sin. Giving him a sideways glance, I picked up where he’d left off and finished the story in all its gory detail.

I’m not sure if any of our friends thought it was funny. But if they had any lingering doubts about my proud and  wicked heart, I certainly dispelled them.

That night, I lay awake regretting the revelation of my depravity. A vulnerability hangover of sorts. BUT—was I sad about my judgmental heart or just embarrassed to be outed?

The next morning it dawned on me that I could be glad that the blackness of my heart had been laid bare. Especially to friends that, I think, love me.

No more pretending. I am free to be me. I had a taste of freedom from judgment. Yum!   

freedom from judgement 

What’s The Point?

  • I write this for people like me who long for freedom from pretense, long to tell the truth—show the truth about themselves.
  • I write for Christians imprisoned by the belief they have to present a picture-perfect, “what would Jesus do” kind of life.
  • I write to encourage self-righteous or shame-filled people to find freedom by telling the truth about themselves.
  • I write at my own risk of losing (or gaining) a reputation, friends, acceptance, and love.

The ugly underside that we try to hide is actually the key to finding freedom from judgment.

When we stop pretending, we can also let go of the judgments we make and the ones we fear from others. 

 

freedom from judgement
https://www.thedailymind.com/quotes-2/14-quotes-judging-judged/

Finding Freedom From Judgment

I have spent a lot of my adult life trying to look good—be good—when in fact I am not all that good.

Some of my sins I can keep between me and Jesus. He says He loves and forgives me unconditionally. Not every confession need be public. 

However, other transgressions are painfully obvious so I’d better get honest with myself and others.

Pretending has created lots of space between me and would-be friends. I have presented myself as a whole-grain-cookie-eating, Bible-reading, clean-freaking woman.

  • Why would someone want to come under my radar?
  • Why should I be surprised that people think I’m better than I am?
  • Do I really think my friends don’t smell my baloney from a mile away?
  • Am I afraid they won’t love me when I’m not awesome? 
  • Will they love me because I’m not perfect?

Will you love me even though you know the truth?

Now that I am not pretending and defending my own righteousness, I can look at you without condemnation. Admitting my own mess frees me to have compassion for your struggle. 

It’s true: I am judgmental, proud, and mean sometimes.

So if you are judging me now, you’re probably right.

In fact, I’m worse than you think!

 

other related posts from me: Making Pretend and Closer to Free

I Wanted My Dog Dead

sweet white dog

“But I’m Finding Compassion Instead”

I’ve threatened to kill Luna.

I’ve cursed her name. I’ve smacked her on the butt a few times in her life. Oh, and maybe kicked her lightly once as she went out the door.

Luna is the family dog. Throughout the 13 years of her life with us, she has deposited pee, poop, puke, and piles of her white fur on every inch of my floors and carpets. Her fur is woven into the upholstery as well as into my clothing, especially my favorite black polar fleece jacket, a magnet for her stiff white hairs.

In the family we like to say that Luna has been everywhere we have been, all over the world, really. Her hair is in our suitcases and guitar cases, on our coat sleeves and the soles of our shoes. I have had a hard time finding compassion for this animal. As far as I go, try as I may, I can’t get away from Luna.

finding compassion learning lessons for graceful aging from my dog
Young Luna with my youngsters

We all loved her from the start. She was so sweet and shy when we rescued her as a puppy. The kids and I thought her shyness would melt with our love. The people at the shelter said she’d been found in a ditch, possibly abused and abandoned. We all showered our cream-colored pup with affection as we brought her up in the safety and security of our family.

Thirteen years later, she still flinches at quick-reaching hands and threatens to bite those hands that have fed, petted, and thrown countless tennis balls across the lawn. She’s an emotional wreck when any family member comes home — doing her weird whiny throat yodel — as if she’s surprised we haven’t abandoned her. Lunacy! Her defensiveness and neuroses are mysteries we may never understand.

All The Rage

Now that she’s older, she’s decided to potty-train in reverse. I am finding fresh pee stains on my new shag carpet. She can’t hold it as she used to, and she seems confused by body signals that used to tell her to go outside.

So it’s back in the kennel at night and when we go out, the one we used for potty-training when she was a puppy. I’ve even purchased some doggy diapers at the pet supermarket. As I run the vacuum, I realize that her fur accounts for 85% of the dirt I’ve sucked up for 13 years. Why do I even have dogs in my house?

And as I watch her age, my rage grows. It’s not just the fresh pee or the perennial fur. Luna is the embodiment of all that I cannot control.

We’re both getting older. And we’re both wearing out.

We spend a lot of time together now that the kids have grown up and out of the house. In the mornings, she’s a little leg-stiff. Me, too. We both hobble out of our beds and head outside to scan for life on the lawn. Squirrels and birds scatter as we step onto our mossy grass and sniff the wind. We find a comfortable seat and settle in, staying out there under the trees all day when it’s warm. We like to go for afternoon walks in the woods with our other dog, sweet (non-shedding) Josie. We keep moving even though it would be easier to sit still.

 

finding compassion learning lessons for graceful aging from my dog
A walk in the woods with Josie and Luna

Graceful Aging

Luna was a great athlete in her youth. Her sport of choice: Tennis Ball. She awed everyone with her soaring mid-air catches. Our joy was in recognizing her joy, the embodiment of doing exactly what she was created to do: run, leap, land, and loop back to do it all again. And again. And again. And again.

Perhaps too many rough landings led to those shaky back legs of hers. I admire how, even now, she’ll surge after a squirrel, though she’ll pay for it in pain later.

I can sometimes see her attributes:

  • She stays clean and white and doesn’t smell bad.
  • She cleans sweet Josie’s eyes and ears.
  • She accepts each day as it comes and lives in the moment.
  • She doesn’t seem to worry about what the future holds.

I’m trying to learn from Luna. Soon enough, one of us will die, and the odds are against her.

My brother’s dog, Annie, died last month. He and his family are heartbroken. She’d been a part of their family for a long time. I think I would miss Luna if she died today.

Finding Compassion

She has become a mirror for me. After years of our love/hate relationship, I have reached a new awareness: If I can learn to find compassion for this dog, perhaps I can find some for myself.

Luna teaches me to get creative with aging. Some new tricks I am learning:

  • Bending over again and again to clean her mess offers me a constant choice of cursing versus gratitude.
  • Scratching her favorite spot behind her ears gives me pause to recall the years of walking this dog with my husband, kids, grandma, and neighbors.
  • Pondering the love she accepts and gives prompts me to remember the love I get and give away, too.
  • Finding compassion when she flinches for no good reason helps me acknowledge my own flinching fears, still with me after all of these years.

Something tells me I’m never going to get control of all the chaos in my life, whether it’s dog crap or my own crap. In fact, I suspect I will have less control over normal things, the older I get.

Strange how we often end the way we start: a little unsteady and needing a close eye. Like infants and the elderly, dogs like Luna often just want a little love, patience, and compassion.

I had never intended to kill Luna. I guess I don’t really want her dead.

She’s out on the porch now, barking at me through the glass, demanding to come in. Today, I will open the door and scratch her ears as she enters, offering an extra dose of love. She’ll thank me with a grunt and a shake, depositing a fresh sprinkling of her lovely white fur on my freshly-vacuumed rug.

Read next: Closer To Free

Get Out of Your Head and Into Health

emotional mental health

“3 Unusual Ways to Move Toward Emotional & Mental Health”

I sometimes totter on the edge of despondency. Especially in winter.

If you are like me, you get stuck in your head and need help moving toward emotional and mental health.

Do you have a secret sadness? Maybe a shapeless grief you can’t explain?

What if some unique and creative activities could alleviate melancholy for people like us?

I have found 3 unusual ways to keep despondency at bay. I’m not suggesting changing anything your doctor has prescribed — just bringing a little color to the palette.

These 3 exercises are not easy — but they are good!

1.  TELL YOUR STORYmental emotional health

When I was in my twenties, I had an eating disorder called bulimia. Looking back, I wonder at how much of my story I kept stuffed inside, rarely sharing the hidden parts of myself. Fresh out of childhood, my feelings were trying to surface but I didn’t have an escape hatch for them. This disorder kept me from dealing with the story of my past.

Then I met Scott, who later became my husband. He helped me take an honest look at my life and begin to tell my story. When I told him about my bingeing and purging, it was like a tiny shaft of light broke into my cellar. My heart felt less heavy and I began to let the truth about my childhood come out.

There are many ways to tell your story:

  • Talk to a friend, spiritual advisor, or counselor to pop the lid on bottled up emotions. Our negative emotions have a way of dissipating when they decompress and spread their weight across other shoulders.
  • Journal. Pen on paper helps disentangle the jumble of thoughts and feelings in our minds and bodies.
  • Pray. Our creator knows our weaknesses and fears. He listens well and won’t be surprised by anything we have to say.
  • Form a fictional tale from your experiences or current turmoil. You don’t have to be writer to create a character that acts as a mirror. Can you create a short story to represent what’s stirring deep in your soul?

2.  WRITE A SONGemotional mental health

I am the kind of person who spins and spins inside my head until I make myself dizzy and sick. Songwriting has helped me work out a lot of sadness, confusion, and anger in my life. In the process, I found a lot of hope and healing.

Years ago, I wrote a song called “Tell Your Story.” As a recording artist, I had the luxury of writing and recording my kind of crazy. Call it music therapy.

Writing a song can be tricky but it’s not as hard as you think. You’ve listened to countless songs in your life and even followed the lyrics on a page as you listened to a favorite artist. What if you grabbed one of those song lyrics you love and used it as a model, a template for writing your own lyric?

  • Try to write and sing your lyrics to the same rhythm and melody as the song you are using as a framework. You’re not trying to plagiarize and publish here.
  • Connect to the emotion of the song you love and write your own words and music.
  • Build on snippets from your journal or a poem that connects to your soul.
  • Create a tiny soundtrack with your own melody. Go with the flow of emotion that comes from listening to a favorite song.

See if songwriting is therapy for your soul. If you want to go deeper, here are 10 more unusual tips for songwriting.

3.  SING OUT YOUR SADNESSemotional mental health

As a teenager, I belted out a lot of Linda Ronstadt ballads. Singing along with her soulful voice, I found a connection to my own soul. These days, I don’t sing a lot around the house or even in the car. I stay too much in my head and must remind myself to sing.

  • So sing in your shower, house, or car!
  • Join a band or choral group which can be especially healthful and uplifting.

Time Magazine explained the reasons why singing can lift the spirits:

“The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. Or it might be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness.”*

I let go of the bulimia when I learned to find words for my feelings.

Can you bring your hidden insides out to help lift the weight of those heavy emotions?

When I find myself wearing winter blues or spinning inside my head too much, I get to work on one of these 3 ideas. Let me know how it goes for you!

If you want to hear the song I wrote and recorded with my husband as Out of the Grey, check it out here: “Tell Your Story.” (lyrics here)

If you want to learn more about songwriting and singing, my handbook/workbook, The Singer and The Songwriter can help.

Clap, Follow me, and Share if this gives you a lift!

“Animal House”: A chapter from my book, Lifelines

“Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and Song  “

I recently published a book for those wanting to know more of my story and the story behind some of my songs! These stories trace the lifelines of God’s healing and grace in my life.

Here is an excerpt:

Animal HouseAmish farmer and mules pulling plow

I grew up in a house on Horseshoe Road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the midst of Amish and Mennonite farms, that drafty rental formed the backdrop of my playing days.

An Amish family, the Kings, lived across the road, and their kids sometimes invited us to run around in the barn or whisper through the house. I’ll never forget the smell of that natural-gas-heated kitchen or the smooth, simple surfaces in that dimly lit Amish home. Or the fact that the cats and kittens lived in the barn and were only there for the mice and rats.

It made me wonder and worry at the practicality of their lives. The horses’ main purpose was pulling their black buggies. The dog that hung around the gravel lane was less a pet and more a second thought. The scraggly cat with the oozing eye would never see a veterinarian for her ills. Even the mules seemed to be just tools for fieldwork.

Dogs and Cats and Mice, Oh My!

In my house, the animals were everything. They formed the basis of love in my early years. My cats and dogs were there for touching and hugging. Had I a mule, I’d have coddled him and kept him in my room. What would the Kings have thought if they knew I had a mouse in a cage in my house? I can’t remember her name, but I can still picture her fresh litter of wriggling pink babies.

My hamsters were a staple and scores must have scurried through my childhood. Added to their naturally short lifespan came the playful but deadly tosses from cats and kids alike. I remember coming home one evening to a dark bedroom where Spooky, my Siamese, was batting something around on the bed. I flicked the light to find my Sophie mostly dead beneath his playful paw. I have no idea how the poor thing got out of her cage.

The Birds and the Bugs            green praying mantis

Many damaged birds found their way into my living room infirmary. There was a sparrow with a tumor that would have died peacefully had Spooky not followed his feline instincts when no one was watching.

I even had a pet praying mantis named Herman. Each day I fed him freshly whacked flies. With lovely circumspection, he’d examine the squashed insect I dangled before him, then, swift as a whip, those spiky forearms grabbed that fly from my fingertips. Herman ate with relish and refinement, keeping those black-dotted orbs on his dinner and me simultaneously.

A few weeks later I discovered that he was a she, as I found my lovely green friend dead in the jar with an egg sack snugly glued to her twig. Her babies by the hundreds eventually hatched, and, like Wilbur keeping his piggy promise to Charlotte, I set Herman’s brood free to carry on her legacy.

Spooky

Spooky the Siamese catSpooky was my best cat and had stayed on with me through my high school years. He made the move with us when my parents split up and we left the house on Horseshoe Road. After a few years in a mobile home, we moved again twice, and he came along. Osteoarthritis and old age had hobbled him by the time my turn for college arrived. I had to put my childhood constant to sleep and bury him in the yard a few days before saying good-bye.

I still dream about Spooky and some of my other cats. Something about the way they smelled and felt in my young, unsteady world. I could count on their warmth, their love and acceptance.

They needed me, and I needed them. 

Puppy, Puppy, Puppy

Of all the pets we had, the family dogs were beyond compare. My sister Ginny and brother David and I had three dogs across the years that we named “Puppy.”

Puppy #1 actually was a puppy that never lived to see her doggy days. I remember the accident like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday morning and David and I were playing in mud puddles in a low strip of grass that bordered Horseshoe Road.

Our backs to the macadam, we hadn’t thought to leash our wandering Puppy. Duh-blunk. I heard the thud of what could have been a brown paper grocery bag run over by a car. I straightened and spun to look. There was my puppy on the road and a shock-faced woman coming from the side of her car.

I ran screaming into the house where my dad rushed downstairs from deep sleep. He met the apologetic driver at the door in his underwear, so afraid it was one of his kids who had been hit. Realizing what had happened, Dad left to dress. A minute later, I followed as he went to see what was left of our Puppy. She was alive for a few more moments as we cried there in the middle of Horseshoe Road. My eyes still fill up when I retell the story.

Puppy #2 was the love of my life when I was 9 years old. He sang for joy every time the family returned to the house, always ecstatic that we had come back. His acceptance and availability was exactly what we all needed.  I was crushed when we had to give him away because my parents separated and we weren’t allowed to have a big dog in the trailer. Losing him seemed the saddest part of my parents’ leaving each other. 

small dog in the grass
Puppy #3

Puppy #3 came from the shelter and was small enough to fit with us in the mobile home. She lived with our family for 14 years. We walked many roads together. She also went boating, swimming, river-rafting and jogging—wherever her people were! She died long after we three kids had grown and gone away to college.

Signposts and Symbols of Healing and Grace

Who can account for the impact of these pets? Their lives seem to be signposts and symbols of a sort.

My first Puppy died early, as did my innocence, marking a time of loss and death that probably prepared me for some losses ahead.

My second Puppy could be a symbol of grief and heartache that eventually healed.

And my last Puppy lived to tell of life’s longevity, normality, and dependability even when it begins in disruption and confusion.

Spooky, like the dogs, showed me unconditional love for all of his years by my side.

Maybe I am reading too much into it. But maybe not.

Whether insects and rodents or cats and dogs, these wonderful creatures mark the cycles of life and death on a small scale, which were, for a little girl like me, exactly what I needed.

If you want to read more, find Lifelines on Amazon or an autographed copy at my store.

More like this: I Wanted My Dog Dead, Making Pretend

 

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