The Real Dawn Revealed

Be free be yourselfNot until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve been struggling just to show up here and tell you what is going on in my life because it’s not been an adventure and it’s about as far from “cool” as the Baja desert in August. I’ve been struggling with whether to share what is happening or whether to struggle and suffer in silence, which is, after all, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way. I am slowly realizing, however that struggle is what makes me, makes us all, human. Despite trying to wear her mask, I am not Super Woman, I’m not perfect, and I’m definitely not always together and smiling, skipping down the beach without a care in the world. And along those lines, I think that in many ways this blog has been a front, a pretense, a misrepresentation of who I am.

In an attempt to be honest and real, I gave voice to my struggle last August and you responded positively. With words of encouragement and understanding. I was astounded that a blog that I had considered not publishing because it revealed too much got more comments than any other I’d written. Nevertheless, I figured that once was enough and I’d best tuck the “I’m not happy” line of discussion back into the cave in my heart where I thought it belonged. Hence the silence. It’s hard to maintain the party line about your adventurous life when it’s actually filled with chronic sadness bordering on depression, illness probably brought on by a weakened immune system the result of such sadness, and the literally mind-numbing sensation that you are all alone in that sadness.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve felt like I’m knee deep in liquid cow manure for the last year or so and then in the last few months, the levels rose to somewhere just south of my nose. Sure I’m still breathing, but from where I’m standing, life stinks.

I was literally sick for most of November and all of December, culminating in a serious sinus infection and bronchitis while visiting Canada during the coldest December and early January they’ve experienced in over 30 years. There’s a reason I moved to the tropics and it has a lot to do with those winters. Even if I hadn’t moved here to learn to surf, I would have moved somewhere warm. I was over being cold, catching cold, feeling miserable for so many months out of the year. Did I ever mention on here that I once frost bit all ten of my toes? They were black. Coal black. I gasped when I saw them. But that’s another story for another blog. So you aren’t left in suspense though, I will say I still have all ten of my little piggies. Miraculously.

Canadians who stick it out for the often six months of frigid weather are a tough lot. They grin and bear what for me has become unbearable. The warmth of Baja has made me thin-skinned, a wussy by Canadian standards, but that’s okay. Admitting I’m a wuss is a fair price to pay for sun kissed skin and wearing flip flops 12 months out of the year. But I digress.

My point is this – I was already feeling down and then I got sick with a mild illness that dragged me down another notch and it lasted for what seemed like forever.

I know, this is a bummer post…but I’m not going to apologize for that. I cannot and will no longer try to minimize and cover up what it is that I’m feeling in the deepest recesses of my soul. And I need to show up, I need to share what I’m feeling because I know that I am not alone and that there are countless people the world over feeling isolated, alone, and depressed. Why do you think Philip Seymour Hoffman shot tainted heroin into his veins on Sunday? Many people, like me, are beating themselves up for not being more thankful for what they do have. And I am thankful. I’m so very thankful for the many blessings that my life abounds with. But the reality is that at the end of the day there are some fundamental things that this life of mine needs in order for me to be truly and unabashedly joyful – yeah, that skipping-down-the-beach-singing-a-jaunty-tune kind of joy that I constantly try to convince everyone out there I’m steeped in. I’ve been operating under the premise that if you believe it, I will too. But it’s just another front like the Super Woman mask I put on when I’m feeling insecure and vulnerable, which, to be honest, is most of the time.

I’m doing the work, I’m reading the self-help books that I hope will unearth the demons that plague me, meditating, doing yoga, eating right, getting in the water now that I’m no longer hacking up a lung. Admittedly, while visiting a friend on the west coast recently to get some surf and much needed social interaction, I probably had more tequila than was wise for someone balancing so precariously on the shadowy line between sadness and clinical depression, but the friendship was invaluable, the waves challenging, but fun. I believe it was Thoreau who said that when we are feeling down we must surround ourselves with positive people. So I went and visited one of the most positive people I know, who it just happened was going through his own health crisis and is dry docked for a month in the middle of surf season on his side of the peninsula. Then he got a message about his cousin being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer – two types no less. Nothing like a little perspective to make you see the silver lining around your own cloud.

So I don’t know if it was the perspective adjustment, time in the water, or just time, but I feel better now than I did when I began writing this post a few days ago. Nevertheless, I need to put this out there: sometimes my life sucks. To be more specific, often times, despite how together and happy we appear from the outside looking in, people are often suffering. I think that in North America we’ve lost our tolerance for suffering. The images of perfection we’re fed by The Media tell us to “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Tell us it’s not acceptable to admit our frailties, our fears, our weaknesses. Tell us to put the Super Man or Super Woman mask on and smile. But that’s a lie, one that hurts the liar and the deceived alike because it’s not who we really are, it’s not how we’re really feeling. If people knew how we were really feeling, they might reach out and offer us a hand – encouragement, a compassionate ear, a hug.

I haven’t shown up here for three months because I couldn’t muster the strength to dawn the mask. As I write these last sentences though, I’m feeling better, more honest, truer to myself. Ironically, it seems I’m made stronger by losing the mask.

Adios To A Dear Friend

In perfect understanding I shall come
And lay my hand in yours, and at your feet
Sit, silent, with my head against your knee.

                       Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wish I didn’t have to write this blog. I wish that I could turn the clock back, make different decisions, do something to make this a happy post. But I can’t. My buddy Zee, the dog I’ve mentioned in this blog more often than I have any other, died two weeks ago. The circumstances are too painful to describe, but my worst fears were realized when I took a trip to Maui to visit a friend. I’ve left the property and the country many times since Zee went blind, but this time was different. This time, I knew that she needed me more than before, this time I sensed that she was starting to lose her hearing and was not as aware of what was going on around her. And this time, there were people that were going to come and work on the house while I was gone. People who don’t know her like I do, who don’t love her like I do and who clearly didn’t realize, despite my admonishments, that they needed to be extra careful when they drove down the driveway.

Despite her passing so many days ago, I haven’t been able to write this until now. It’s been too emotional, too raw and each time I’ve tried my eyes have misted over so I can’t see the computer screen. As the days have passed though, I’ve tried to accept what I cannot change and comforted myself with the knowledge that she will not suffer any more.

While it’s impossible to know how difficult it was for her to be blind, how much she suffered as a result, I know that she was frightened more often than before. At times she’d get so excited – dinner time and when I said, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?”- that she’d run headlong into solid surfaces. That had to hurt. Despite her blindness, she never lost her love of joining me on the beach for a walk or run. She would brave the steps down to the beach, me guiding her with my voice and once we hit the sand, she would exhibit the same exuberance she did as a younger dog – rolling in the wet sand, trotting along with her head and tail held high. She used her nose to follow me and, if she lost my scent, when I called to her, she’d cock her head in the most adorable way, her ears held erect, as though she was thinking, “Is that you?” She’d zone in on the origin of my voice and come loping along until she caught up.

I hadn’t met Mr. T yet in 2002 when she arrived on his property, wrapped in a towel, tiny, dehydrated and nearly dead. Found in the Santa Catarina arroyo, she was left to die in the hot Baja sun along with the rest of her litter mates. She was the only one strong enough to survive. When he took her in his big hands, her eyes were white and her little body was stiff, but T hand fed her milk for several hours and by morning she was standing up in the cardboard box where she’d been placed, looking around curiously and wagging her tail in hopes of getting more nourishment from the nice man who’d nursed her back to health. The very next day she began wreaking havoc on everything and everyone, especially Doobie and Ruby, the two canines in residence. Not long after, he dubbed her “Crazy!” when he looked on in amazement as she ran down to the beach and launched herself into the shorebreak in a  somersault that would give Aly Raisman a run for her money.

In 2005 I was here alone for the first time looking after the dogs when she nearly succumbed to the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis. Zee was never one to turn down a meal, so when she refused to eat, I took her to the vet. To my great consternation, after giving her an injection of antibiotics and potassium to counteract the effects of starvation, he sent us home. That night as I fretted about being her only caretaker, her eyes turned white again. Convinced she was dying from hunger, I resorted to force feeding her a mixture of milk and raw egg using the plunger from a syringe to draw the liquid up and squirt it into her cheek. The first attempt failed as she wouldn’t swallow it, so I had to hold her mouth shut and her head aloft while massaging the fluid into her throat. I prayed a lot that night, asking God not to take her. But the main reason wasn’t because I was afraid of losing Zee, I honestly didn’t think it would do my relationship with T any good if she died on my watch.

Afterwards I sensed that she knew I’d helped her and a bond began to grow between us that was only strengthened when she began to lose her sight. I believe the disease left her permanently weakened and likely caused her blindness.

Before she lost her vision, at night I locked Zee in the garage along with a couple of the other dogs, where they had comfy dog beds and I knew they couldn’t get into trouble. In the desert, “trouble” can take many forms including skunks, coyotes, rattlesnakes and barking at nesting sea turtles. Once everything went permanently dark, Zee began freaking out when she was locked in the garage. One morning I discovered she’d clawed a big hole in the door frame and then the next she tore it off the wall completely. That’s when I knew I was going to have to make an exception to house rules and let her sleep inside with me. I brought first one and then, in time, two dog beds into the house – placing one in the living room, the other in my bedroom. From then on, she spent most of the time lying on one of those beds, content to be near me. If I walked anywhere on the property, she followed with her nose to the ground. If I left the property and didn’t invite her along, she trotted up the driveway and lay near the gate awaiting my return.

She got into the habit of quietly absconding with one of my flip-flops in the middle of the night. In the morning I’d find it in her bed, often under her chin. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that the smell of my feet could be that comforting.

After the first few tentative descents, she figured out that the stairs in the house were evenly spaced, unlike those to the beach, so each morning she would navigate the stairs confidently, bouncing down from step to step two feet at a time. While visiting my friend in Central California last week, my heart lurched when I heard that familiar rhythmic clicking sound as her blind dog “No-Cow” used the same technique to go down the stairs.

Now that I’m home again the reminders are everywhere. The places she liked to lay, the toys she cheerfully carried up the driveway, the eye drops that relieved the pressure in her eye. Even the big fuzzy grey balls of her hair gathered in corners and under the couch choked me up enough that I made sweeping an unusually high priority when I got home. I don’t have the nerve to go look at the place where Felipe buried her. Just seeing her collar, the one covered in brightly colored peace signs, lying next to where she died made me cry. That collar was perfect for such a peaceful being. Even as a younger dog, when the other dogs chased cars, ATVs, cows and other dogs, she never joined in.

When I brought Peanut home, Zee was the only dog that would put up with her young exuberance.

Zee was the sweetest dog in my world, a constant reminder to be patient and loving, to live every day to the fullest, to choose quiet contentment over anger or complaint. If you were to tell me, as someone once did, that dogs are incapable of feeling emotions, let alone expressing them, I would have introduced you to Zee. You’d be hard pressed to dispute that her bark in response to, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?” was filled with enthusiasm or that she was smiling when she appeared at the barbecue, a paper plate held carefully in her mouth.

With any luck that corny poem that never fails to reduce me to tears, Beyond the Rainbow, will turn out to be true and she’ll be there waiting for me along with Soweso, Kipling, Fletcher, and Jinny when I leave this planet too.