14 May 2017

Reflections: My True Vocation. Beginning To Live.

My True Vocation

A prophet once wrote that a person has found his or her true vocation when they stop thinking about how to live and begin to live.

People who have run from the idea of loving what they do will worry so much when they are alone, writes Thomas Merton, they will forget to live.

When we are not being fulfilled, not living up to our true vocation, thought deadens our life, or substitutes itself for life, or gives in to life so that our life drowns out our thinking and stifles the voice of conscience and meaning. We live in a restless kind of anxiety.

When we find out what it is we are meant to do, thought and life becomes one thing, not two different things.

I am beginning to live. I have found my vocation, a place to call home, a community around me. My words are my vocation, my blog is my vocation, my photography is my vocation, my farm is my vocation,  my love is my vocation. I have found these things one after the other, not because I am lucky or brilliant, but because they are the right things for me to be doing and feeling.

I am determined to live.

I no longer need deep and structured contemplation to be a special state apart from life.

I am free at last, tethered only by the material and physical strings of life, as we all are.

I do not have to think about giving an account of myself, or arguing about myself, or explaining myself to anyone but me and the angels that swirling around me, stinging my face and skin with the bites of cherubs when I fall into fear and lament and think too much about what others think.

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Talking To Red: The Language Of Emotion. New Message.

The Language Of Emotion

I took this photograph when Red lay hooked up to an IV at the Cambridge Valley Vet, I put my arm out and he lay on it and looked directly into my eyes. I was well aware that just a few days earlier I had published my new book "Talking To Animals," and I had deliberately stopped mentioning it or writing about.

This is bad publishing, but good humanity. I didn't want to seem to tie the book to Red's illness or to use the sickness to manipulate people into buying it. Still, I knew this experience would be a personal test of my ideas, and right out into the open where lots of people would be waiting to jeer at it.

In contemporary publishing, it often happens that the only promotion there will be is done by the author him or herself. But it would have been creepy to promote the book this week, with Red so sick. But my book needs my support, so I need to return to it, and the experience with Red came right out of its pages.

At the moment this photo was taken with my Iphone – I wanted to have a record of it in case it was our last time together.

This seemed a growing possibility that day, and the photo showed Red's emotions and his soulfulness. Maria took a Polaroid photo of me trying unsuccessfully to feed Red a hot dog a few days later, she said to her the photo captured my relationship with Red, what she called the language of emotion.

This is a wonderful term for the way in which we can communicate with animals. It is not a literal language, it is not in words, it is in images and emotion and instincts and it works.

Red and I communicated in this way two times during this unnerving week (It is not simple to deal with a gravelly ill dog out in the open, but it is important), the first was Tuesday when he made it clear to me with those eyes that he was not going to die and leave this world with his work with me (and with others) unfinished.

He was not ready to go.

It was just as clear as a statement as one living creature could make to another, and it was not wishful thinking. Until then,  I did not think he would survive the day, I texted Maria that he was sinking and she came rushing over to join us. But then I talked with Red, and I never again thought for a second that he was going to die, my focus shifted to helping him heal, eat and rest.

I have never had a more distinct and emotional message from an animal that, and came right out of my book.

Maria is right of course, Red and I communicate in the language of emotion all the time, she sees it all the time, even when I can't, and it is a remarkable thing. Many people have this gift with their dogs, especially when they open up to it.

My second communication in this language came this evening.

We have been concerned about Red's high and stubborn fever, and his continuing nausea, dehydration and  refusal to eat. All of those things spelled something more malignant than is normal for most Lyme disease or tick-borne disease episodes, they suggested a cancerous growth, bone marrow cancer or a disease that had ravaged the kidney or the liver.

One by one, with great clarity and skill, through tests and technology, Dr. Suzanne Fariello eliminated the worst of these fears, and extensive advanced blood work revealed Friday that Red was suffering from four different tick-borne diseases. That was enough to kill him if we couldn't stop the fever and get him to eat.

Veterinary medicine has changed, and not always for the better.

Vets have mostly given up on instinct, just as human doctors have, and rely increasingly on data and expensive new technologies. Veterinary care is losing its simple and relatively inexpensive patina, the old stereotype of the family vet calling it from his or her gut is over.

Anyone who has a dog or cat with a serious illness should expect to spend thousands of dollars to treat him or her. Health care costs are skyrocketing for animals just as they are for people.

As I have often written, it is critical to have an honest and open relationship with the vet, and to have established financial and emotional and humane boundaries spelled out in advance, and before people end up in the clinic having to make life-and-death decisions with your dog lying on the floor staring at you.

Red is very important to me, but I was scrambling to define those boundaries as the days passed, the equipment bills mounted and his condition seemed almost impervious to treatment. It is so important to have these conversations in advance, and Maria and I did. And Dr. Fariello knows me well, I will not permit my dogs to suffer from endless and invasive and expensive procedures and treatments.

These boundaries are individual, there is no one way to define them, we all have to face that moral and practical choice and look inside of ourselves, no one can decide it for you, and the dog certainly cannot make that decision, contrary to popular belief. Red can tell me many things, but he cannot tell me how far to take his illness. That is my decision.

Communication is not about avoidance of responsibility, or sliding off the hook, at least not for me.

We were not near, or really, nearly there, when it comes to those decisions. But the reality needs to be faced before raw emotions make the decision for vulnerable people.

I know one woman who has spent $17,000 on numerous kidney surgeries for her aging cat, and she is proud of this, she believes this proves her love.I do not measure love by money.

Dr. Fariello had her data in hand by Friday and made her decision to move aggressively against the tick-borne diseases. If it didn't work by tomorrow, Monday, then we had some serious talking to do and more decisions to make.

The anti-biotics Dr. Fariello prescribed began to work after a nerve-wracking 48 hours, and this morning Red wolfed down his meatloaf, some dog food, and some cheese with pills embedded. He ate again tonight, in much the same way he usually eats, without much fussing or hesitation.

That is what we have been  waiting for because he wouldn't be eating like that if he still had a  fever, and the nutrition will help him fend off the fever. We go to the vet tomorrow morning for what should be a final visit, and an end to his ordeal, and ours. He will be resting and taking pills for months.

I am averse to drama, I just hate it and I want Red and me to get back to our normal lives, and me to get back to my writing, blogging and book.

After dinner, I took him outside for a short walk, and I had my second talk, the second experience this week with the language of emotion. Again, this was not a message sent or received in words or our language, it was an exchange of emotions. Once again, Red was just as clear as he was last Tuesday. It's over, I'm fine, let's get back to work. I'm tired and need rest, but I need some work too. It's who I am, it's part of my healing.  Let's do some therapy work tomorrow.

We will.


Oh, and here's this. My book "Talking To Animals: How we Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us" is now available for sale everywhere books are sold. The reviews have been very nice, and I am proud of the book. I just put it aside last week.

If you order it through Battenkill Books (518-677 2515), I will sign and personalize it and Connie Brooks of Battenkill will send you a lovely literary dog tote-bag. It says "Sit. Stay.Read."

I want to get the book sales coming in again,  the blog is the only promotion there will be for the book. We are off to a great start, we are hoping for at least 1,000 orders to Battenkill,

We are about 200 books away. Plenty of tote-bags left. The very lovely independent book store takes Paypal and major credit cards.

I'm not sure, but I think Red's last exchange with me had a message. You get back to work too. You can order the book here and learn just how I learned to talk to Red and listen to him. It is more important than even I realized.

Posted in General

Red, On The Mend

On The Mend

On Tuesday, I thought we might be losing Red, today he is clearly on the rebound, he ate his breakfast, a mixture of his kibble, Maria's home-made meatloaf, gravy, Muenster Cheese and chicken broth, one of my more ingenious culinary creations.

Even yesterday, he was struggling to eat, was drooling and licking his lips. He has tested positive for four separate tick-borne diseases – Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia, and Lyme (I would be grateful if people stopped sending me messages advising me that there is such a thing as Lyme disease and Red might have it. I am definitely crazy but not stupid). This veterinary practice had never seen a dog tested positive for four tick-borne diseases at once.

Dr Suzanne Fariello did a remarkable job of sorting through the possibilities, she treated Red cautiously and thoughtfully, eliminating some of the worse possibilities and seizing on the tick-bone infections. She is now treating that aggressively. I have added probiotics to his food, the doxycycline can wreak havoc with a dog or human gut (I took it when I had Lyme Disease.)

The treatment has been expensive – it is already over $2,000 – but was well worth it. Dr. Fariello was as conservative as she could be, and gave us different options at every step of the way. She was as thorough and efficient as was necessary. We are very grateful to her and her very wonderful staff.

I will be honest, I was approaching the point where we would have to discuss how far to go with Red's treatment, as much as I love him, and as important as he is to me, I have strong ethical concerns about the limits of financial and emotional resources when it comes to treating sick pets or other animals. There are many sick and needy human beings in this world, and perspective is an article of faith to me.

Fortunately, we didn't get there, but it was beginning to be on my mind.

Red's titer test was shocking, he had enough infections at high enough levels to kill a dog quite easily, and very nearly did. We began the doxycycline on Friday and I saw the results this morning, he was hungry, showed no signs of nausea, ate quickly and hungrily. This means the fever has most like broken also.

He is slowly but surely returning to life. I believe we have turned the corner. He somehow made it clear to me last Tuesday that he was not ready to leave, that he was not finished here with me or his work. Yet it was wrenching to see how sick he was and how much suffering he was enduring.

And what if I was wrong?

I believe this shadow is lifting from us, and while I will be cautious for a few more days – and will continue to offer updates – I believe he will be fine, and soon.

I never take Red for granted, but I saw clearly this week how central Red is to the work we are going, to the therapy and refugee work and other small acts of kindness me and many others have undertaken to help us stay grounded. A friend is right, Red came to me to show me and others the depth of compassion, and how important it is to a world in distress.

I am thankful he is staying with us. Spirit dogs come when they are needed, and leave when they are done. He is not done. Your support and encouragement have been  profound and uplifting, and I am thankful to be a part of this community. You really came through for Red, and for me and Maria, and for the many people Red comforts and uplifts. And there are too many to count.

I am taking him to the Mansion today, for his own healing and for the sake of the residents, who are very worried about him. He will get plenty of rest, and we will soon begin transitioning back to his regular dog food. We have a good chunk of meatloaf left. I can toss the baby food and frozen hamburger or give it to the chickens.

Posted in General

And Lo, She Stands. Turning A Corner.

She Stands: Photo by Emma Span

On Mother's day, Robin stood up for the first time, a turning point, another chapter in a young life. Emma felt much as I did when she first stood up, on no, child, sit down for awhile, where you are so safe. Step by step, Robin is entering the world, noticing people, making noises, waving and laughing, and now, pulling herself up.

In a couple of weeks she will be crawling and the walking, and everything changes, that very peaceful time where a baby is confined to a cozy and narrow world is over. Now, we're into it. Emma made a Facetime call to me (I confess, I hate that, I feel and sound ridiculous talking to a cell phone image, cooing at a puzzled baby) and Robin and I waved and gurgled to each other, and Fate and Red took their turns staring into the phone.

In a couple of weeks, she will be talking and walking around the farm, we can get into all kinds of mischief together. I've decided not to plan things while she is here. The only thing we shall plan is love and joy and peacefulness, the heart of the farm.

I called Emma this morning and wished her a Happy Mother's Day for the first time, I never thought of her that way before. I told her how proud I am of her, she is such a natural and wonderful mother. She is an inspiration to me, and a joy. If everyone had mothers like her, the world would be a peaceful and compassionate place.

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Mother’s Day: Praised Be To You, Our Sister, The Earth, Who Cries Out To Us.

Praised Be To You, Mother Earth

"Laudato Si, mi Signore," – "Praise be to you, my Lord." In his beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. "Praise be to  you, my Lord, through out Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs."

In his wondrous Encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes:

"This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitle to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.

This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she "groans in travail." We have forgotten that our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters."

Happy Mothers Day to the wonderful and life-giving women who are honored today. My mother is gone,  hopefully find a measure of peace at last in her difficult life.

Today, I honor, our shared and beautiful mother who cries out to us for mercy and care, she is our universal mother, life itself, and when we turn a way from her, and worship only money and greed,  our very souls and spirits will wither, for she is life itself, the most precious thing we can protect and leave behind.

Today, we will walk in the deep woods and sing her name. Happy Mother's Day, Mother.

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