Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Not A Real Post

I've been having trouble thinking of something to write about this week. I don't know about yours, but my internet is full of breed bans and nurse strikes and misogyny and anger and hatred. So many people yelling at each and no one is listening, so they yell even louder. And then I'm over here like, "Cannon held a dumbbell in his mouth and sat for, like half a second! BEST. DAY. EVER!"

It just doesn't seem like the appropriate response.

But there's enough vitriol in the world that I don't want to add to it. Or even comment on it, really.

So what's there to do? What can I do? Little old me. Who does not want to sit and be angry, but isn't eager to jump into the fray, either. Who cares but is repulsed by all the hatred.

I look around me, and I suspect what the world needs right now is more love. So I think I will go find an opportunity to put love into the world that was not there before. Volunteer for some trail clearing up on the north shore, maybe, or mow the lawn so the Voice of Reason doesn't have to. Donate a few extra bucks to the local nature center. Pay for someone's coffee at Caribou. Take the opportunity to really listen to someone without judgement or agenda. Some random act of kindness.

The trouble with love is that it's quiet. It doesn't usually make the news, and it's often overlooked when it does. And maybe I'm mushy and useless, but I think what the world really needs now, first, before we can tackle the other issues, is more caring. About each other. Particularly about people we disagree with, maybe. Because like Maya Angelou said, hatred has caused a lot of problems, but it has yet to solve any.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pain and Suffering

This is Riley.
Photo by Sarah

He was the first dog in my life who was really mine, and he was a Good Dog. For many years, we went everywhere together - hiking and road tripping, college and therapy work and training classes - all sorts of adventures. Riley die too young, as so many do, from cancer.

But many years before he died, when he was only a puppy of five or six months, Riley was diagnosed with a disease called hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Essentially, the bone in Riley's joints went haywire while he was growing up. Some bones didn't receive the nutrients they needed while others grew too much. This caused Riley's joints, particularly the ones in his front legs, to twist and eventually fuse. As maybe you can imagine, this is not a pleasant process. Riley was in pain every day of his too short life.

But I do not believe that Riley suffered.

He loved to run. He always walked with a limp, but once he moved up to a trot, his awkward gait disappeared, and he was as lovely to watch as any sight hound. And he swam as well as any lab. He loved to eat. Anything. He was my first raw fed dog, and he never turned up his nose at anything I put in his bowl. In seven years, he never turned down a single meal and ate quite a few things I would never had considered dog food. Riley loved to adventure; he was always up for a walk or a trip to grandma's or even just a drive to the grocery store. He loved people. He loved dogs. He loved the world with a passion that would be ridiculous on any human. To Riley, everyday was a new joy.

Riley taught me the difference between pain and suffering. From him, I learned that pain is physical, but suffering is spiritual. While we may hurt, there is still fun to be had in the world, always a new adventure around the corner - so long as we are open and willing to seek it. Our bodies are to be listened to and considered but not allowed to have the final say on our joy. Our pain, while it may limit us, does not need to be our defining characteristic.

I'm grateful that Riley came into my life when he did because it seems that since he and I met, I have only grown older (go figure). And this becoming old thing is certainly not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. I have pain. My wrist aches when the weather changes. My chest gets tight, and sometimes it's hard to breath. Today, my knees feel as if they are rusting from the inside out like metal left too long in the wet. I hurt.

But today - right now - the sun is also shining. There's a light breeze, and a warm bulldog in my lap. I have a good book to read. There's a cupcake in the kitchen calling my name.

And I do not suffer.

Photo by Sarah

Friday, June 3, 2016

On Living Until I Die

I am a hospice nurse. I have been for about eighteen months now, and I really, really love it. But working in hospice changes your perspective on life. In fact, as we regularly remind people, hospice isn't about death - it's about life. It's about living what life you have to the fullest. And about leaving life the way you want to. You can't do this work day in and day out without being profoundly affected or applying the principles of hospice to your own life.

An article keeps popping up on my news feed titled "The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying." It's okay. Kind of standard fair for this type of discussion: it talks about hospice patients and what they wish they'd done differently or changed. There are no surprises. "I wish I'd cared less about what people thought of me." "I wish I'd worked less." "I wish I'd spent more time with my family." And it's bullshit. Because people are all unique, and they all regret - or don't regret - different things. I've met people who do wish they had spent more time working, because then their family would be more financially stable after they die. I've worked with others who tell me, "You want me to die happy? They keep my [insert family member here] the hell away from me. We haven't spoken in twelve years, and I'm not about to start now." We do no favors when we generalize people into bland, uniform groups and label them with mediocre platitudes; the dying are no exception. Besides, the important question is not, "What do dying people regret?"

The important question is, "What would you regret if you were dying?"

Photo by Crystal

That's what articles like this one are actually trying to get at, but I suspect fewer people would read an article titled "Top 5 Regrets of the Living." As a culture, we seem to believe that we have an infinite amount of time to fix our regrets - until we are handed that terminal diagnosis. No one cares about your regrets until you're dying.

But maybe you should. I mean, it's your life we're talking about here.

The tricky part, of course, is that you know not the hour. I know it's hard for me to imagine what I might regret in thirty or fifty or eighty years when my number is up. And so we don't reflect on our own mortality, and instead chug along as if we will live forever. Or die tomorrow. YOLO, right? That's almost as ridiculous as believing we're immortal. After all, if I die tomorrow, I'm going to be really pissed about this whole grad school thing.

Personally, I've discovered that the right number is about ten years. I can see myself living another ten years. But if that were all the time I had, what would I change now? What would I chose to do? What would I chose not to do?

Photo by Sarah

I started asking myself these questions seriously about six months ago. I tried to stop looking at my life as something that might go on forever, with each activity a step to greater glory, a new goal, more money, more things, more more. Instead of submitting to the ideals of our culture of scarcity and hysteria, I attempted to figure out what I wanted to do with this one life I had to live.

For me, I decided to drop down to part time.

Now, I love my job. It's incredible, but there are a lot of activities I love. Backpacking. Canoeing. Dog training. Reading. Writing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the main reason to keep working full time is that I'm pretty sure we're supposed to work full time until we die. Or retire. Whichever comes first. After careful thought, I came to the startling revelation that maybe I didn't need more. Maybe what I had was enough. And if there was a way to have more adventures, spend more time reading and learning and playing with my dogs, maybe I would like to do that instead of spending the majority of my time working.

I realize that dropping to part time might not be a viable option for many people. But if you were going to die in ten years, what would you do? What would you change? How would you live? How much is enough?

Photo by Crystal