I get up very early on my better days. Preferably about five am. I like to have the quiet of the morning to simply be in the presence of the Divine to the best of my busy brain ability, to at least appreciate the simple moments as the night becomes dawn becoming day. A precious time of the morning. I wake up at that speed and always get creative work accomplished that otherwise is eaten up with the business of to-do lists if I rise as late as eight. Or even seven. To that end I woke just at dawn this morning. I made coffee. Had lit candles in my office and was headed to watch the light outside my window. Then Mama's bedroom door opens and her dog runs out. Ok, fine. Let Duncan out with plans of hustling back to bed. But then Mama comes out dressed like all - Top of the Morning to you!
My mother is not an early riser. This is a well known fact of life. We grew up knowing not to wake her and not to talk to her until she had her coffee because she could be ill in the morning in a mean spirited kind of way. Which is fine with me and sister because we don't want to talk in the morning either. I told Miss Top of the Morning who informed me she had been awake most of the night so she just decided that she was going to get up for awhile and then maybe go back to sleep that I had to go say my prayers. What the translation of this is in everyday language is - Don't talk to me. Don't think about talking to me. Don't make any noise. And don't even THINK ABOUT turning on that television. Then I go up to my office with the candles lit to be all saintly and stuff. Then I sit down to be all thankful for things and realize one of the most thankful things I have to be thankful for is that my Mama is alive and I can sit on the porch with her and have coffee and see the birds. So I get up and go back down stairs and say hey, Mama do you want to sit on the porch and see the birds? And she says Ok. So I make her coffee and go out to the porch.
She says she sure wishes she had a rocking chair on the porch. I tell her we need to get her one of those for the porch. She likes the camp rocking chair that her niece bought her except you can't walk around it. I told her we will take it to the football game if she wants to go. She sits in the chair. The rescue dog Kevin must say good morning which tangles the other dog on the leash. We untangle and sit down dividing dogs among us and look at the birds.
In four.two seconds Mama tells me there is a vine growing that needs to be cut out of a tree. I tell her it would be nice if we could just look at the trees and not start working on my to-do list yet this morning. She says ok. We look at the trees. I tell her how nice and quiet it is. She says yes, I like the quiet. But I kinda get the feeling she is sick of it. It must get a little too quiet while I am at work. I know she misses her corner and her house of fifty years and her neighbors.
Well, the trees are turning and in a few weeks it will look like the Smokies up here. It will be so pretty. She asks me if that is a tree down my hill that just fell over. I tell her yes. She asked me if azaleas grow up here and I tell her I just don't know for sure but I thought I saw some once. She says they sure would be pretty down there if someone could set some out. Of course they would have to put a bunch of big rocks down there to hold the dirt up so it didn't go over the cliff. Yes, I tell her. Maybe someone could do that. She asks me then if Rye grass will grow in the yard if some is thrown out. If there is anything out there for it to hang onto. I tell her there is dirt out there for it to hang onto. That rye grass can find purchase. She said it sure would look better to see some green. That rye grass is really green and she likes green. We happen to be looking out over acres and miles of green as far as the eye can see. She says she likes the light green of rye grass. We sit for a minute looking at all the green that is not rye grass green.
Mama asks me if I got my birthday card from Cousin Deb. I tell her I did not and ask her if she sent it to the house or the po. She says the house. Then she says she does not trust that mailbox. That my birthday card should have come last week. I tell her I just do not know. Then she tells me she has not gotten her bill from Dillards and she should have and I need to call and make sure they have the new address. I tell her it is not seven o'clock and maybe we should just look at the birds and not start on my to-do list. She says ok.
Then the dogs get jealous and cause a problem and need to be petted. And we talk about old dogs and missing Titan and she talks about her little dog that loved her and got ran over and then she is very sad about that. This happened when we were teen-agers. I told her we should just be thankful we have had some really good dogs. She said yes, including my german shepherd that got hit by car when I was a kid and that was just tragic and begins to recount his last hour. I tell her she has now gone from my to-do list to dead dogs. She laughs a little bit and says she will just think of something nice to talk about. We try to go back to the birds.
A hummingbird shows up and that is a happy thing because we thought they were all gone and the feeders had run dry and I thought I had sent them to their doom by running out of sugar when they needed it most. But I found a little and put feeders out full and so at least the stragglers might survive. We identified a blue bird and a dove and heard a crow. It was peaceful for a minute and then Mama said she sure was worried about North Korea. I said, yes everyone is but if he is crazy and sends a missile we will blow up all of North Korea and it will be tragic so let's not talk about it for just a little bit. She said she just wanted to call someone and ask them if they remembered what MacArthur said.
It was quiet for just a minute. Then Mama said, I just want to say one thing about Hitler.
And just like that I decided it was time to go to work.
Wishing you peace this morning in your neck of the woods.
(*This blog was picked up by Psychology Today and chosen as one of their essential reads. You can catch it here.)
I came into the world in the month of September. The great time of hurricanes. My birthday is only a few days away and Florida is heavy on my mind. Weighted on my heart. Saltwater runs through my veins and as I write this looking over this hill from Tennessee I can see those waves crashing, hear the pounding of the Gulf growing angrier by the minute, the slash and snap of the Palms wild from the wind. Along with the rest of the nation my eyes are now turned to the devastation that Irma has left in the Islands and fearing what is yet to come.
I’ve ridden out more tropical storms than I can remember. For about fifteen solid years I’ve made Tennessee my home but right now it’s in my blood to stock up on batteries, water, canned food. To Hunker down and hope.Had our little brick house turned into Noah's Ark full of cousins and animals and family year after year. My mother managed a restaurant right on the beach where I worked every summer. People sat at tables by the water and watched the moonlight on the waves as they rolled up on the shore. Every year we saw that it was bordered up and prayed for the best through the hurricanes. Every single year. A part of life.
I witnessed the destruction first hand after Hurricane Camille - a raging category five - hit the coast of Mississippi on the way to see my Daddy at Ft. Polk right afterwards. My mother crept the car by a warship that had been tossed onto land and into someones yard like a toy boat. The destruction was eerie. It was like driving through a graveyard at the close of day.
Hurricane Opal was downgraded to a three before it hit but the storm surge of Opal came in at high tide and carved molehills out of the backside of condos. From the front they looked perfectly fine but when you walked around to the back of the building there actually was no building there. The storm surge is a deadly thing.
The first time I actually moved away from Northwest Florida was to transfer with my company to south Florida. A world away. The palm trees were taller than the buildings from my hometown. The scent on the air intoxicatingly exotic. The night blooming jasmine, the orchids. I was 21 and didn’t know what to expect. North Florida is a land of old oaks, beautiful beaches, slow talkers, and porch rockers. Pine trees. Ft. Lauderdale was fast. It became home. I gave birth to a baby boy there in Hollywood just north of Miami where I had friends.
I evacuated one time when it looked like a ‘cane was coming in fast and furious and might land as a strong four and my daddy wanted me to get out. Me and sister packed up two cars with two little boys, two dogs, four puppies, one cat, and all the family photos I could carry. My brakes went out as I skirted storms that sent crashing limbs into the roads. Tornadoes chased us all the way to my Aunt Kate’s door up in Georgia. It was days upon days before we could get back (with new brakes), the National Guard still in charge, the power still out.
The world is full of refugees. It’s a clamoring world problem but sometimes a distant drum from our side of the pond. Until Katrina sent refugees scattering everywhere trying to find a toehold to hang onto. Until Harvey just hit and took our breath away. After the big show, when all the tv crews have moved on, the recovery begins. Recovery is slow. Harvey’s price tag might be close to 190 billion. But crunching the numbers says nothing about the amount of lives that will have to be rebuilt. And here’s Irma with Jose right on her tail and barreling up the same path. This time - we are the refugees.
Millions have evacuated. Millions. I can’t even fathom that number on the move in this country trying to avoid disaster, trying to save their loved ones. That’s a lot of tired, scared, thirsty, hungry people. I saw on the news where a city in another state opened a shelter and advertised for Floridians to keep coming north, they have arms open. I was watching the news from Tennessee but I was watching it as a Floridian. Worrying about family and friends there in different counties. Watching the path of the storms twists and turns. Then I realized, I’m not the only one watching. That the entire nation is watching.
Should you be a praying kind of person, now would be a good time to give a pause, to say hello to God for a good cause. For the children losing homes, for the parents clinging to their children, for the first responders everywhere and those that are standing at the ready to work to rebuild what is about to be destroyed and can’t be held back. For order, peace, provision.
Frank Sundram posted on Facebook a reminder from the old movie Starman. When the alien is asked why he wanted to come to Earth he replied, “Unlike the rest of the Universe, the people of Earth are at their best when things are at their worst.”
With a storm that will be felt across the entire state of Florida barreling its way toward us I see the news reporting that campgrounds, hotels, shelters, cities are all opening their gates to evacuees, I cling to that truth. In the survival against what might be the worst to come that we may prove in a million ways be our very best.
Pennies and prayers. They both count more than you know. Give what you can, where you can from the heart of who you are.
Praying for your peace in the middle of all of life’s storms within and without.
I had to say goodbye to my my loyal companion of the last decade of my life. What a blessing to have ever known the devotion and love of an old dog. The end was a long time coming but the 'so long' finally found us. He hung on way past the time he could make it. On our last regular trip to the vet when I was trying to 'fix him' and make him all better and they started talking 'quality of life' and gently let me know that he really wasn't going to need an update on those vaccinations because time had grown as short as time does.
There is really no need for me to go into how faithful and loyal an old dog can be. Those of you who've experienced this know all so well. I've read your Facebook posts and mourned with all of those who have said goodbye. I've lost family pets and good dogs but I've never known a beast such as this. He was a constant, gentle presence in my life with the most serious mind-reading eyes. If I cried he came and leaned on me, larger than life, soaked my tears in his fur. My happiness was his happiness. Truly. All he asked in life was a little food and water - and me. Granted he had the whole family and loved every one. Tolerated grandchildren leaning and cleaving. One who followed him everywhere toddling with one hand clutching his fur and one thumb in his mouth.
It was twelve years ago this little creature came into my life. He was to be a present for my mother. I researched dogs and for some reason beyond comprehension decided the gentle giant of a Great Pyrenees was just the beast my mother needed. Something to fill in the large, empty space my Dad's passing had left behind. The little space her fourteen year old dachshund's passing had left. Looking back I guess I was searching for the largest animal that could roam the halls of home.
I traveled to a goat farm in Smyrna that had advertised Pyr pups for sale. Not the blue-blood variety with long lineage papers but the kind that had a working goat farm. A Daddy dog and a mama dog and a cage full of puppies. A litter of eight perhaps. All pressing their tiny faces to the bars saying take me, take me. In the end I picked one. He had the baby fur of all Pyrenees pups. Silky to touch. It's their first fur. Eyes large and almond. Most human. And loved to be cuddled. He rode in my lap all the way home. Spent one night with me then I drove off to Florida to deliver him. Eight hours later I was crying as I handed him over to my mother. The thought of leaving him behind left an ache in my heart I couldn't explain. Three days later when I was ready to head back Nashville way she released him and said, I think he might be too big for me when he grows up. Maybe I need a smaller dog." This is the heart of a mother. She couldn't take from me what was meant to be hers when it caused me such pain. I drove home with the puppy who would become BIG DOG TITAN in due time.
When I first moved to Nashville I saw a sign for doggy day care and thought - What kind of person would bring a dog to day care. Then I discovered it was me. My guilt trips are not limited to my children and so while I wrote grants at NSCC he popped in a few days a week for 'social time' with kids his own age. He used to sneak away when he was still a puppy and in a little while as I searched frantically for him he had gone to visit the other pups at Doggy-Do's.
He snuck off one night to visit some cows and didn't come back. I was beside myself with worry but got a phone call the next day from a woman in her 70's who said, "We think we have your dog here. I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday but he's a really big dog and he's got a big mouth so I was afraid to reach down and read his tag. We've had him locked up in the goat pen all night."
By the time I arrived he was inside this tiny country house in the kitchen with the woman's mother who was 92. She looked at me and said, "He's nothing but a baby!" She told me this twice. He'd eaten fried chicken and greens and cornbread. Happy to see me, a big smile on his face, a full tummy. Yes, we all know that dogs really smile.
He was a road warrior that covered thousands of miles with me who'd rather spend eight hours in a car than five minutes out of my sight. He loved to put his feet on the console and stick his big head out the sunroof. Gave me those special eyes when I put on my shoes. The ones said, "We're going? You're going? I"m coming too right? Taking me too right? I'll go lay right in front of the door right now so you don't forget me." The sight of my suitcase depressed him unless he figured out it was a road trip where he could travel along.
In a photo shoot so many years ago for a book cover I asked if I could bring my dog so that I could just look at him. It was the only time I've had photos that weren't 'gently touched up' as they put it. Someone once told me in that photo, God threw you a bone. Which I thought was funny but it was Titan that had made me smile. Did I mention he gave hugs? Friends and family can attest to this. Writer friends who came and stayed on the way to their next gig always ended up having a little photo shoot with Titan before they left. Shellie called me one day and asked, "Am I imagining things or does Titan give hugs?"
The last few years have been terribly rough on the personal front and he was my stable grace. On the longest ride of my life, him with me every mile filling up the backseat, I'd constantly reach back to touch him, to ground myself in the continued realities of his love. He stayed by my side and it wasn't until he passed that I realized how much he had tethered me to this world through that storm. He was my silent, strong. He showed me both what it was to be loved by God - because surely it is this absolute and unconditional - and what my loving God might look like if I could be half as true.
In the last months of his life he needed help to make it up the stairs because he had started to fall. He needed a fan in his face to help him breath when he slept. He had entered his elderly years yet I remained his sun. He still managed to bounce on his feet and run around in big circles when I came home. Desire overpowering his able. And, I think that desire to see me through the hard places had overpowered his able for a long time. But the night came when he couldn't go on, was in horrible pain and the next morning my sister met me at the vets for one last trip.
She brought her favorite soft blanket and a little fan to blow in his face. I sat on the floor, held his big head in my lap, said, "Good dog," over and over again. Best dog ever. So in that way he went to sleep with his head in my lap, my sister holding that fan to his face. Crazy to have these kind of luxuries when the world has gone mad and people are hurt and dying everywhere yet, in the final hour for anyone we love, family and friends, for a soldier in arms who has served by our side, we would wish a peaceful passing.
I will never have another dog like this in my life. Not like this. And, I had sworn to my mother I'd never have another dog period. No cat. No dog. No fish. No nothing. I'd be free to be me and travel when I needed and not search for sitters. No loving no nithing. But then a dog that ate in the trash, wandered the roads, got hit by a car, never had a bath, was matted and ticked, showed up at the house before Titan died. He officially belonged to a neighbor in that when they yelled he was supposed to show up. I started sneaking him food, putting a blanket out for him when it was freezing and he was left in the cold.
Soonater we said good-bye to Titan I left for Florida to continue packing for Mom's move for the 1000 time. In my absence, my sister paid a special visit with the neighbors and had a special conversation. When I returned the dog known as Kevin had been shaved, had his shots, wore a collar. He sleeps now on the floor as I write this. He's too young to snore. He is thankful for kindness, for food, and wants to be loved, to be petted or receive a gentle touch. Things all foreign and new to him. I've tried to tell him, it's not fair to you - you know. I had a great dog once. And, you'll never be him, can't be him. Kevin the dog we call buddy just looks at me as if - It's ok. I'm just happy to be here. I'll take what you've got. Even leftover love. It's more than I've known. I have pictures of this transformation I'll post later this week.)
There will never be another Big Dog Titan in my life. But God's teaching me that love's not just for one season. It's a perpetual thing. That it grows in the giving not in the keeping away.
CS Lewis wrote:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal."
I have given my whole heart and I'm learning to give it again.