Monday, August 31, 2009

Fall, All of a Sudden

Last year, at around this time, I had felt the coming of fall in early August and then waited on pins and needles for the autumn to settle in for good amid recurring lapses of hot of humid. Not this year. After a cool spring and summer, punctuated by about 3 weeks of blistering heat and humidity, fall, all of a sudden, is upon us. I really do think that perhaps it's here for real. All week it's supposed to be in the low to mid 70s during the day and the low 60s or high 50s or night. The leaves are rustling, the spirits in the dog walking graveyard are stirring, the air is clear and crisp, and the earth is cooling. Fall, all of an abrupt sudden, is upon us. Welcome, as always, my favorite season.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Death is a Form of Healing

In previous posts, I have written about a family member who was seriously ill. That family member was my fiance's 21-year old daughther, Helen, who sadly lost her battle with leukemia on Friday, June 26, at 1:51 p.m. This was the latest, and saddest, of many deaths -- human and animal -- that have occurred within my circle this year. 2009 has somehow turned into the year of death. I will say, though, that this year has forever changed the way that I think about death.

My personal view of the universe is that death is inevitable for all that lives, and that everything that dies comes back around again in another form, so paradoxically souls don't ever really die, they just continually evolve. That's been my belief for a while, and that belief remains not only intact but also stronger than ever in light of recent events. When viewed through this lens, death is less scary and tragic than most people tend to see it, although it doesn't necessarily make things less painful when it's someone you love, or ultimately yourself, who's doing the dying. The things that I recently added to my view of death are these: that death is a form a healing, and that to be with someone when they die is one of life's highest honors and holds its own kind of beauty.

Right before Helen's leukemia returned and the doctors said there was no hope, she had been through a lengthy and life-threatening lung illness. She was hooked to a ventilator through a trach tube, and she weighed all of about 70 pounds. As a Iwatched her fight her lung troubles, I remember thinking, "I want to her to find peace, in whatever form that may take." Maybe because I equate peace with health, it occurred to me that death could be viewed as a form of healing. When no other means of healing proves up to the challenge, death provides body and soul with much-sought relief. Moreover, death is just one step on our soul's journey to find ultimate peace, so it can be viewed as healing in a cosmic, as well as an immediate, sense.

We found out on Monday, June 22, that Helen's leukemia had returned, and that peace to her would, indeed, come through death, likely within a matter of days, or at most weeks. This was a hard punch to the gut, because the previous month the doctors said that the stem cell transplant had worked and that almost all her bone marrow was the donor's, plus she was finally out of the woods on the lung ailment. Helen was alert and fully appreciated her situation, and although she could not talk because of her trach tube she could write, mouth words, and use sign language. We all had time with her that last week to say what needed to be said. Although it was difficult to watch one so young and so brave face her mortality, that last week with Helen was precious, sacred time.

Helen deteriorated rapidly after being moved from Johns Hopkins to the ICU of a hospital in her home town, according to her wish to die as close to home as possible (home care and even hospice care were out of the question due to the graveness of her condition). When the palliative care team suggested that the time to disconnect the ventilator had come on Friday morning, the whole family let Helen go willingly and lovingly, and we were all there with her when her soul finally passed away. Even through the grief and tears, it was a beautiful, powerful moment -- by far the most sacred moment I have yet experienced. I was incredibly honored to know Helen in life (and will write about how wonderful she was in a later post), and I was equally honored to be present when she departed this life.

I will say, as a final observation, that of everyone affected by Helen's death, she was the strongest and the most serene during that last week. By miles. I hope that for her death really was a form of healing, and that wherever she is now she has peace.

Photograph of Adrianne and Jacob at Congressional Cemetery, by Stewart Harris

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Full Circle

Today I had a full circle moment.

I love Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I discovered as a result of reading The Gold Puppy. The Rilke poem that started it all for me just happened to turn up in a book about religion that I'm reading at the moment. It still made me cry. The poem is this:

Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

--Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Entertainer

Tonight I left work relatively early (meaning 7:30 p.m.) and took the shepherds for a walk in their favorite dog-walking graveyard. On the drive back to the house I was channel surfing on XM and found myself actually stopping to listen to what was on channel 28 (which usually has elevator music). I flipped away, registered what I had been hearing, and then flipped back to listen to this--

This is beautiful guitar music, if you ask me. Chet Atkins could really play, and in a way that would have made J.S. Bach proud (in the sense that Chet could make one instrument sound like three or four). He's so good that I even forgive him for the truly awful '70s shirt. Listening to this put me in a mind of someone I loved who could match Chet Atkins even when he (my friend, that is) was having a bad day. Sammy, this one's for you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Best Blog Thinker

The wise and wonderful Val recently bestowed on me the Best Blog Thinker Award. In the words of the creator of the award--

"This award acknowledges the values that every Blogger displays in their effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values with each message they write. Awards like this have been created with the intention of promoting community among Bloggers. It`s a way to show appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

Wow - what an honor! Especially coming from Val, who has one of the best blogs going. I in turn would like to pass this award along to four others, as follows:

Merle Wayne Sneed, who often makes me laugh with his tales of Hooterville, sometimes makes me cry with his sad but tender tales of childhood, and always make me think.

Barry of An Explorer's View of Life, who tells stories of both the fiction and non-fiction varieties with such poignancy, lyricism, charm, and ease.

Willow of Life at Willow Manor, who enriches the blogosphere with thoughtful prose that is interwoven with lovely paintings, photographs, poetry, and music.

Aileen of Infinite Connections, who discusses a wide variety of topics with a wonderful combination of fearlessness, keen analysis, and good humor.

I of course would have chosen Val, Reya, and Geli, but they already have received the award from others.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Amazing Grace

For me the past two weeks have been a time of great sorrow, and when confronted with sorrow I usually turn to music. Listening to Jessye Norman is a treat on any day, but listening to her sing Amazing Grace when you're ailing is hard to beat.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

In Memory of Julie Giles

The phone rang as I was making lunch this past Saturday, and I could see from the caller ID that it was my vet's office. I wasn't awaiting any test results or anything, so I was a bit perplexed as I answered. At the other end of the line was the vet clinic's senior veterinary technician who had worked with my long-time vet, Dr. Julie Giles, for many years.

I could tell as soon as I heard her voice that something was very wrong, and I had a sinking feeling that I knew what. I wished that time would stand still so that I would not have to hear the dreaded news, and I had already started to cry when I heard the words, "Julie left us." I pounded my kitchen counters with my fists and wept as I learned that Dr. Giles had died at home on Wednesday, Feb. 11. At some point I collected myself enough to say that I was so very sorry to hear this news and would be keeping the entire vet clinic staff in my thoughts over the coming weeks and months. My fiance had come into the kitchen as soon as he realized that I was distraught, and as I hung up I just collapsed into his arms, not believing that what I heard was true but at the same time knowing all too well that it was.

It might sound odd to react in such a way to the death of one's vet, but Julie Giles was no ordinary vet. I completely and immediately adored her from the very first time Arthur and I saw her at DuPont Vet Clinic in 1998, although I didn't immediately know why. As I got to know Dr. Giles better over the next 11 years as my pet ranks grew to 7 and as she opened and ran Union Vet Clinic on Capitol Hill, I began to feel a real bond with her. Early in our relationship, Julie and I discovered that we were from the same part of North Carolina, so we always had a hometown connection. But even more than that, Dr. Giles impressed me time and again with her intellect, intuition, effusiveness, sense of humor, free-flowing laughter, and profound kindness. And of course she was a damn fine vet. She kept many of my friends' pets alive well beyond their average life expectancies, and on more than one occasion she successfully diagnosed and treated conditions that other vets had missed. When Dr. Giles learned several years ago that she had multiple sclerosis, she greeted that news with courage, strength, and poise, thus deepening my admiration for her all the more.

Although my relationship with Julie Giles was strictly that of client-to-vet, I nonetheless could say without hesitation that I truly loved her, much as I would have loved a cool older sister had I been blessed to have one. Today's post over at The Gold Puppy deals with the mysteries of how human beings can bring out the best and worst in one another, and while reading that post I realized that part of why I loved Julie Giles so much was because whenever I was in her presence I could not help but feel happier and uplifted. It literally was impossible for me to be in the same room with her and not smile. She brought out the happy and fun sides of my personality that usually live well beneath the surface, and for that I will always be thankful to her.

I have spent enough hours in Union Vet Clinic and in conversation with other pet owners over the years to know that I am far from alone in my adoration of Dr. Giles. There are legions of pet owners on Capitol Hill who trusted their pets' care to Dr. Giles, had great affection for her as a person, and found themselves leaving her office happier than when they arrived. As the Capitol Hill neighborhood over the last week gradually learned of Dr. Giles's death, a sense of loss and grief descended on the entire community.

Julie Giles was a great light in the world during her time in it, and she will be deeply missed and mourned by those whose lives she touched. Although she will continue to live in the hearts and memories of those of us who knew her, the world will never be quite the same without the woman herself in it. I hope that you at last have found peace, dear Julie. We all shall miss you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Some Thoughts about Death and Grief

As my regular readers already know, Arthur the cat was diagnosed with incurable cancer last Thursday. By this Monday, it was clear that the medications intended to keep him out of pain were not working. After watching him decline steadily each day after his grim diagnosis, I knew that euthanizing him was unambiguously the right thing to do. When J and I took Arthur to the vet on Monday afternoon, I felt that we all three were ready for Arthur's suffering to end. I also felt that the knowledge that we were doing what was best would somehow make it easy to carry out our decision.

Well, it was not easy. I stayed with Arthur while the vet administered the drugs, first Valium to calm him a bit and then an overdose of anesthesia to permanently end his pain. I gave him one last kiss on the head, thanked him for 11 fine years, and wished him well on his journey while the vet did her thing, and by the time she finished the second injection he was gone. She checked with the stethoscope to make sure, but I knew he was gone. It is hard to explain how or why, but I was aware of the exact moment of his death. I just knew.

Although I have had a couple of experiences with pets and humans who clearly were in the process of dying, this was the first time that I was present at the moment when a soul actually crossed over. It was such a strange sensation to be in the presence of a creature who was alive one second and dead the next. After the vet hugged me and left the room, I finally allowed myself to cry freely as I kept uncontrollably stroking Arthur's body, which looked so much smaller without his animating spirit there any more. I wondered if his soul was still hanging around and watching from above, and maybe understanding the full depth of my love for him.

My grief for Arthur began the instant I knew he was gone, and it has not yet stopped. Although it seems silly in retrospect, I was somehow thinking that I would get to skip the grieving process because I knew that Arthur's death was for the best, but it does not work that way, does it? I found myself totally unable to intellectualize my way out of feeling depressed. One of the best things I did for myself this week -- on Tuesday morning when I woke up and realized that I was a hopeless wreck, all for the love of a dead cat -- was to stop trying to feel any differently and just be with the grief for a while. I know that these feelings will pass, as do all people, things, thoughts, and emotions, but while they want to be here I will not try to suppress them or make them go away.

I know I've said this more than once before, but I think that we humans really do ourselves a great disservice when we fear and seek to avoid death and when we try to escape from or otherwise deny the more difficult and painful human emotions that can be associated with it. It is an inescapable truth that everything that lives will one day die. In my experience at least, it also is an inescapable truth that suppressed emotions don't really go away, but rather in their unresolved states keep finding new and creative ways to torment us. In what must be the greatest of all paradoxes, it is in seeking to avoid death and pain that we bring ourselves greater pain and prevent ourselves from living fully while we are here.

It seems to me that acknowledging death and difficult emotions as an integral part of our human experience is a more honest and ultimately more peaceful approach to them, so I am going to grieve for Arthur the cat until I'm all grieved out. Right now I still miss my kitty, sometimes so much that I cry, but I know that it is OK (actually better than OK) to feel this way. Thank you, Arthur -- you taught me a lot, both in life and in death.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rest in Peace

Arthur Threatt

October 6, 1997-February 9, 2009

My kitty

Friday, February 6, 2009


I wind up posting about my doggies a lot, but today's post is devoted to one of my five cats (no, I am not a crazy cat lady - five cats is what happens when two cat lovers combine households).

This picture is of me with Arthur, who is the first pet that I acquired after I starting living on my own. I'll never forget the night in January 1998 when one of my law school pals called me and said, "Hey, do you want a cute 3-month-old black kitten? I have one sitting on my lap right now who needs a home." My friend and her housemates on Capitol Hill had taken in a mama cat who had given birth to five kittens, and this one was the last to need a home. I'd been wanting a cat of my own for a while - I'd been living on my own without one for five years - and it was right around my birthday, so figured that there was no harm in at least going to look at my friend's kitten. But before I did that, I went to PetSmart to get a cat carrier, kitten food (wet and dry), food and water bowls, a litter box, kitty litter, and a scoop - not that I had already made up my mind or anything. . . .

I lived downtown at the time, so I drove up to
Capitol Hill on an icy night to look at the little black kitty, and he stole my heart immediately. His mama cat, Ebony, clearly was not pleased when she realized that I was taking her last baby, so my glee was mixed with guilt as I left my friend's home and drove toward my own. When I finally got back to my apartment and saw this little bundle of shiny black-coated, kitteny joy romping around my apartment, I forgot the guilt and experienced unadulterated happiness. I called my mother to tell her I'd actually gone through with the adoption, and we discussed some potential names. I wanted a real boy name but not something on the top-10 baby names list. At some point my mother said, "What about Arthur?" "Hmmm. Arthur. That's pretty good," I said, at which point the little kitty looked at me. So I stuck with Arthur as his name. (Although I didn't know it at the time, this was the beginning of an "old Jewish man" naming theme for all of my subsequent pets).

Arthur was sweet as a kitten but he also was hell on wheels. He climbed the draperies from top
to bottom, shredded the couch, and for a while liked to pounce all over me when I slept. Luckily, for us both, I let him live through kittenhood and he turned into a pretty mellow young cat, but as he got older he decided he didn't really like any humans other than me. All guests to my apartment, and later my house when I moved to Arthur's home turf of Capitol Hill, received a mandatory "Arthur warning" upon entering. "He will come up to you and rub against your leg like you're his best friend, but no matter how strong the temptation DO NOT PET HIM!!! As soon as you reach your arm toward him HE WILL SHRED YOU!!!" Most people quite sensibly gave him a wide berth after a warning like that, but some of my hard-core cat loving friends just could not help themselves. The most notable of these was my friend HSA, who actively invited Arthur to shred her and took to calling him "the shiny wicked guy." "Shiny and wicked" was a description that stuck (it sounded better than Darth Vader, which was what I tended to call him when he got in one of his moods), and I still describe him as such today. He is one handsome shiny black dude, even though he can still be wicked at times.

I think that Mr. Shiny and Wicked probably delayed J's decision to
move in with me, in part out of fear for his own safety and in part out of fear of what might happen to his two cats. I promised J that all the cats eventually would work things out just fine, although there probably would be a period of fur-flying and weird yowling sounds, and I argued strenuously that J would be safe if he became The Food Guy. The cats integrated far more quickly and peaceably than my fondest hopes, and after a few weeks of being The Food Guy, J no longer walked half way around a room to avoid Arthur. After a few months of being The Food Guy, J actually made friends with Arthur. But Arthur continued to have dominion over all the other cats, and the dogs, too, for that matter. OK, I admit it, Arthur is the alpha-creature of the entire house, even the humans, although he lets us keep our blood in our own veins because he realizes that we are his devoted servants.

Arthur is now nearly 11.5, and J and I have noticed that he has been slowing down a bit over the past couple months. Two weeks ago he was leaving us evidence of pretty bad urinary tract distress, so we took him to the vet and got meds for that. Although Arthur stopped leaving the evidence after he finished the meds, this Tuesday and Wednesday a.m. he didn't eat much and he walked around our house extremely slowly looking like he was stoned. I was worried that he had a UT blockage and so took him to our usual vet first thing on Wednesday a.m. on an emergency basis. He was not blocked, but an x-dray showed fluid in his abdominal cavity, which was evidence of a much bigger kind of problem. We spent half the day yesterday at South Paws Veterinary Referral Center (a very impressive place) seeing an internal medicine specialist to try to find out what was going on.

It turns out that Arthur has cancerous tumors throughout his entire abdominal cavity, including in his bladder (which explains why he was leaving us all the scary UT evidence). It obviously is too late for a cure or even a life-prolonging treatment, so we are giving him prednisone and subcutaneous fluids to see if that will at least bring him some comfort for whatever time he naturally has left. The vet said that some cats do really well with this kind of palliative care and get a few more quality months, while for others it does not work at all. J and I now are in the unenviable position of monitoring Arthur carefully to determine when enough is enough -- although I will miss Arthur terribly when he goes, I don't want him to suffer needlessly for even one minute for the sole point of delaying my own grief.

This morning Arthur ate fairly well and moved around OK - slowly, but without any evidence of pain - and he seems to be hanging out comfortably with the other cats. He's staked out one of the dining room chairs as his safe spot, and Thomas, who was my second cat and is Arthur's best cat pal, will not leave Arthur's side and has taken up residence in the adjacent chair. The other cats, and even the dogs, are hanging around the dining room a lot, too. They all know. In fact, I think that Jacob the dog has known for a while -- he and Arthur have traditionally been neutral toward one another, but about six weeks ago Jacob started going up to Arthur on a daily basis to sniff and lick him. I thought it was sweet, but a bit odd, when I first observed it, but in retrospect I think that was Jacob's way of acknowledging Arthur's condition and starting to take care of him.

Now we're all taking special care of Mr. Arthur and will continue to do so for as long as we can keep him comfortable, and we are preparing ourselves for the inevitable day when that will no longer be possible. Last year, as I watched several of my friends lose their beloved pets, I thought to myself how lucky I was that my oldest cat was only 11 and should have lots more time. Shows you what I knew. These last three days have been a stark reminder for me of how unpredictable and tenuous life is and of how little I really control. I suppose that if there is a bright side to this situation, perhaps it is receiving a reminder of some of life's inevitable truths.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Look

(Sunrise over the Atlantic -- Duck, NC -- August 2008)

I couldn't figure out what to write about today -- I have too many thoughts rattling around in my mind right now to focus on and write about only one. So, instead of regaling you with my philosophical prowess, I instead am changing the look of my blog for the first time since I started blogging last fall. Comments of course are welcome, as always.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fanfare for the Common Man

As the week of pomp and official celebration winds down and the day-to-day work that will be required to heal and improve our nation begins, this musical composition seems particularly significant and inspiring to me. Perhaps it will resonate with you, too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Journey Ahead

Yesterday, for the first time in my 38-year-old life, someone who I believe to be worthy of the office in all respects became President of the United States. As a group, Americans time and again have displayed an almost uncanny inability to choose a decent president, but I honestly believe that we got this one right.

Although I have been an Obama fan for some time now, my confidence that he is the right person to be our president at this moment in history grew even stronger as I listened to his inaugural address. The first thing that he did as president was to tell the American people, gently but firmly, that we need to grow up. And he is right about that.

His version of "growing up" would involve each of us doing many things that may well have become unfamiliar -- things like choosing cooperation, both in our political landscape and our daily lives, instead of continually dividing ourselves out of fear, anger, and pride; choosing to seek enduring solutions to our personal and collective challenges, instead of searching for the fast yet fleeting "quick fix" that ultimately fixes nothing; choosing the true strength that comes from recognizing, and doing, what is right and just, instead of the pseudo-strength that comes from answering every challenge with arms and hubris; choosing to believe that our preservation and prosperity depend on the preservation and prosperity of others, instead of believing that only we matter in a zero-sum game; and choosing an overall attitude of goodness and hope, instead of maintaining a mindset in which bitterness and cynicism are the norm.

I think that Americans, individually and collectively, basically are good people who want to do good things. However, I think that we somehow have equated goodness with weakness in our collective mindset, and as a result we have adopted a kick-ass, me-first, us-versus-them attitude to convince ourselves and others (but mostly ourselves) of our strength. Our 44th president was telling us yesterday, I think much to our collective relief, that our goodness-equals-weakness premise is a wrongheaded one. He was telling us that we can be, and if we hope to remain a great country indeed we must be, good and strong simultaneously. That's what I think he ultimately means when he talks about "responsibility."

Yesterday, President Obama offered to guide this nation on a journey to discover, or maybe simply uncover, our greatest selves. Having finally elected someone who is willing and able to undertake this task, hopefully we will have the good sense to go along with him for the ride.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What's the Opposite of Christmas in July?

(I'm on vacation!)

So, what is the opposite of Christmas in July? Why, a beach vacation in January, of course! I've been wanting to post these pictures of Jacob the "golden shepherd" and Amos the smooth collie mix for some time, but I only recently got electronic access to them. For those of you who, like me, are trying to find ways to endure the cold, I hope that these will warm you up. All photos were taken by my fiance J, who has a way with a camera, during our trip to the Outer Banks last August.

(Wave? What wave?)

BBFE-JWP ("best butt fluff ever-John Wayne Pose")

(I am happy)

(Very, very happy!)

(Hey, do you think they'd let me drive that dune buggy? Collies are excellent drivers!)

(Little Amos and the great big sea)

(I caught a sand crab. What did you catch?)

(We're not up to anything; we swear!)

(Ha ha -- you guys fell for that? Of course we were up to something!)

(Wow, that girl lab sure is pretty! And look at how she swims!)

(The answer to your question yes -- I am always this good looking)

(See, really, I am -- even with sand on my nose)

(Wow - what a fun day!)

Amos and Jacob say that they had an excellent time at the beach, and they hope that you had fun looking at their pictures.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Interview with the Manor Lady

("Watching the Flock," by Allan Houser)

Recently, Willow of Life at Willow Manor posted her interview with Steph of The Incurable Insomniac and offered in turn to interview those of her bloggy friends who were game. I volunteered for an interview, and Willow sent me five interview questions, which I answer below. If you would like for me to interview you, please follow the instructions at the end of the post.

1. What is your most marked characteristic? Inquisitiveness -- and I mean that in the generally-interested-and-curious sense, not in the prying-where-I-have-no business sense. I am intellectually curious about a wide range of topics, and when I have a question relating to one of those topics I must know the answer. I simply must. I am a seeker of truth. Questioning, analyzing, and learning are what make me tick.

2. What living person would you most like to meet, and why? I would most like to meet the Dalai Lama. A large part of my curiosity is focused on spiritual matters, and the Dalai Lama seems to me to be the most spiritual, reasonable, understanding, humble, and, well, inquisitive, of all those who are labeled "spiritual leaders" these days. I think that his brand of inquisitiveness is much purer than my own, though; by that I mean that ego and a propensity to judge others harshly do not appear to enter into his calculations, as they unfortunately sometimes do with mine. I can think of no one with whom I could have a more interesting and enjoyable spiritual discussion than with the Dalai Lama, and I also am curious about what it feels like to be in the same space with him. My guess is that he exudes a peaceful calm and an unshakable strength all at once, and I would love to find out if that hunch is correct (there's that inquisitive thing again)!

3. Apart from your loved ones, what is your most treasured possession? The sculpture that I use in my profile photo, which appears in a larger version at the top of this post. I had never heard of Allan Houser, who was an Apache Indian and famous sculptor, before I accompanied J when he went on a business trip to Santa Fe last year (our best trip together so far). However, when I walked into the Allan Houser Gallery in downtown Santa Fe and saw the distinctive style of the sculptures displayed there, I instantly realized that I had previously seen Houser's work in art museums in DC and NYC. I was drawn to "Watching the Flock" immediately -- the shepherd looked so wise and peaceful and content, and his dog looked just like my dog Amos -- but it was waaaaay outside my price range. The only sculpture I could reasonably afford was an abstract sculpture of an owl that fit very neatly inside the palm of my hand, but even that was pushing the budget. I left the gallery empty-handed, but I couldn't stop thinking about what I had seen there. The day before we returned home, I convinced J to go back to the gallery, at which point I fully intended to purchase the owl. But that serene shepherd and his dog kept calling my name. J could see that I was getting weak. So could the saleslady, who offered a reduced price that was still far more than I "should" have had any business spending. At that point, J, who is know for his parsimony, looked at me and said, "If you actually buy that, I will not sit beside you on the plane on the way home." But I thought to myself, and eventually said aloud, "This is art, this piece is asking me to give it a home (it has one of my dogs in it, for heaven's sake!), and if I don't do just that I know in my bones that I will regret it for a long time to come." So, I bought the shepherd and his dog, and J nearly shocked the life out of me when he decided to buy the owl in a show of art-appreciating solidarity. Watching the Flock therefore is an important, symbolic possession to me for many reasons. I have never once regretted the splurge.

4. What is your motto? Generally speaking, I find life far too complicated to be summed up in a motto-esque kind of way, so consequently I have never had a personal motto. When it comes to mottos more generally, the only one that's ever really moved me much is the motto of the Moravian Church in which I was raised -- "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love." I like this motto because it encapsulates what I believe to be a sound philosophy not only for approaching religion but also for approaching life more generally. Seems to me that the world would be a better place if more people put that kind of philosophy into practice.

5. Before blogging, what, if any, was your main mode of personal expression? The work in progress known as my house. I've spent many an hour choosing paint colors, painting, renovating the bathrooms and kitchen (or more accurately overseeing renovations done by others pursuant to my specifications), choosing and placing furniture, and finding the perfect spot for each of the various works of art that has chosen me over the years. When J moved in, I got to integrate the possessions of two people with very different taste, which was challenging but fun. Although I've always loved to write, almost all of my writing prior to blogging was job-related. I wrote new regulations, amended existing regulations, drafted Federal Register notices for all those amendments, and wrote lots of legal memoranda. Although I enjoyed most of this writing, I thought of it as more of an expression of my analytical side rather than my creative side. Blogging has been a real blessing to me, because it has given me a creative outlet that involves using my beloved written word. For that, I must thank my dear friend over at The Gold Puppy for convincing me to venture into the blogosphere. I know it took a while. I'm so glad that you were persistent!

In conclusion, many thanks to Willow for sending me these questions. It has been a pleasure to answer them. Now, if any of you out there would like for me to interview you, just follow these instructions (remembering to send me your e-mail address if I don't already have it or if it is not listed on your Blogger profile page), and I will be happy to oblige:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview
someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask
them five questions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

(Original columns of the U.S. Capitol, now displayed at the National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.)

The management of my neighborhood gym each day posts a "quote of the day" above each of the water fountains. I've been reading these quotes several times a week for several years, and they range from kinda sorta OK to breathtaking. Here's the quote that hung above the water fountains this morning:

"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
-- Jiddu Krishnamurti

I wonder if he is talking about--

a society in which money and power are valued more than the nourishment of mind, body, and spirit;

a society in which most people look outside themselves instead of within for validation and fulfillment;

a society in which, in pursuit of money, power, and validation, people deprive themselves of sleep and eat "convenience" foods loaded with hydrogenated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, and sodium (which constitute the bulk of the average inventory of an average grocery store);

a society in which technology has gotten so good and become so pervasive that everybody wants everything now and few people know how to prioritize or, perish the thought, set limits concerning what they can or intend to do;

a society in which, on the one hand, acceptable "entertainment" consists heavily of stories that glorify crime and graphic violence, usually involving guns, and on the other hand people wonder why crime is such a problem in real life;

a society that kills people for the most serious crimes, even though by its own laws killing is forbidden and its process for assigning guilt is admittedly imperfect;

a society in which, in the name of God, people divide themselves into groups that frequently insult, and sometimes even physically harm, one another;

a society in which many people have forgotten that mind, body, and spirit are connected; doctors tend to treat the part instead of the whole, the symptom instead of the root; and people always seem to be ailing with something;

a society in which many people will do almost anything to numb or otherwise mask any sensation or emotion that is not labeled "happiness" (take a look at the size of the pain-killer aisle at the drug store and/or the lack of unoccupied seats at your favorite bar if you don't believe me);

a society in which humans have polluted the earth, perhaps irreparably in the short term (i.e., a period that is easily conceivable by humans, as opposed to a period relative to the overall age of the earth) so that most of us can go anywhere we want, whenever we want, and do whatever we want once we get there;

a society in which we view all the items above as signs of "progress," even though people are suffering and dying from things like cancer and heart disease at much higher rates than in the past, and in which we now are susceptible to all manner of diseases that weren't observed at all 100 years ago;

a society in which so many people, both rich and poor, are bereft of spirit and overall health?

Does that kind of society sound familiar to anyone out there?

It is possible that the ongoing financial troubles, especially if they worsen, will more deeply entrench the kind of society described above, as people find ways to lay blame for their misfortunes and commit themselves to regaining all the money and possessions they have lost. On the other hand, it is possible that a long economic recession, or possibly even depression, will bring the members of such a society back to themselves, so that they see more clearly what is true, important, and good, both for themselves and their fellow citizens. If the economic downturn does the latter, it will have done us all a great service, in my opinion.

Regardless of one's personal financial condition or the overall fate of the US and world economies over the coming months and years, one always is free to choose which, if any, of the "sick" societal norms one wishes to believe and follow. Choice is a powerful thing, and it always is available. Always. How many things can you say that about? Go forth and choose wisely, my blog friends.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some Dogs Will Do Anything for More Cookies

J's brother and sister-in-law and their dog, Sassie Sue, are fond of baking and decorating dog cookies to send to our dogs, Jacob and Amos. Last night, J discovered that our boys apparently will stop at nothing, even if it includes temporarily fraternizing with a cat, to coax our relatives who bake into sending more cookies their way.

Amos and Jacob apparently took, and added captions to, the two photos below. They then sent these photos to "Santa T" (aka J's brother) in an e-mail in which Amos pleaded for help and more home-baked cookies.

Although I find this behavior to be shameless in the extreme, I must admit that it is not bad work for a couple of creatures who lack opposable thumbs. I take this as further evidence that herding dogs really are the smartest dogs.

(Jacob pretending to be held hostage by Lincoln)

(Amos wearing the most pitiful look I've seen since the day I chose him at the animal shelter)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year's Resolution to Keep

(Jefferson Building, Library of Congress)

I always have had trouble with New Year's resolutions. They always seem to involve doing something painful -- either giving up something pleasurable, like food (or some subset thereof) or wine, or committing to do something that one hates, like jog even though one has rickety knees. Most traditional resolutions also seem to involve setting up some kind of rule that one intends to follow rigidly. Although I think that rules have their place -- I am a lawyer, after all (and a Capricorn!) -- I also think that the resolution-type rules usually involve trying to impose rigidity where flexibility would be better suited.

Resolutions like those described above are not -- at least not for me -- easily sustainable over the long term. In fact, they seem downright destined for failure from the get-go. I think that I have known this for a pretty long while now, at least subconsciously, which probably is why I gave up the typical New Year's resolution charade many years ago. Most New Years Days in recent memory, I have found myself resolving not to make any resolutions. But that seems defeatist in a different kind of way, doesn't it? Surely, there must be a better way.

I've been thinking for a while now about what that better way might be. Since Christmas, that topic has constantly consumed my thoughts. Here is what I decided: this year, my resolution is to cultivate the principle of mindfulness when it comes to my thoughts and behaviors. I am going to identify ingrained thought patterns (including but not limited to things like "this is just how I am" and "I can't do that") and examine them for their truth or lack thereof. When I sit down to eat and drink and when I go out to exercise, I am not going to give myself hard-and-fast rules or weight loss goals of any sort; instead, I am going to ask my body what it really needs and wants at the moment. When I am about to speak or act in a way that directly affects another sentient being, I am first going to ask myself whether my intended words or actions comport with how, when I am at my kindest and most patient, I think that other beings ideally should be treated. My intention is to take the information that is gleaned from paying attention in this manner and use it to make more positive, compassionate choices concerning my thoughts and behaviors.

To me, putting this kind of truth-seeking and positive mindset into more regular use makes a lot more sense than "resolving" to lose 15 pounds by giving up wine and carbs and jogging with bad knees. But that's just me. . . .