I move the curtain from the open window by the bed just enough to greet Venus in the eastern sky. I’m glad to see her there, glad to catch the scattering of sunrise-colored clouds, but I don’t want to be awake yet. I let the curtain fall and snuggle back beneath the blankets. Blankets, I think. I grin, so pleased it’s autumn now, and I return to blankets. I have a nine a.m. videoconference call this morning. And I want to remember to mention the aloe vera gel to my mom for these last stages of the wound that’s finally healing on her leg. I’m going to focus on building next week’s online classes today. I want to write a blog post, too, I think. I can’t believe it’s been so long. Is this the longest gap in over seven years of my commitment to posting? I must be a zillion weeks behind by now. I don’t even want to know. I can feel the tension mounting in me with each thought. For a little while I even replay all the well-worn reasons I believe I was wronged by someone years ago. I take a deep breath, smoosh the pillow beneath my head, settle down on my left side, close my eyes. I hear bird calls in the distance. I think of my two cats, dead now these two years. I whisper to them, send their spirits love. And then I let myself imagine them going back to sleep with me in this cool early morning air. They used to flank me, Sofia wrapping herself in the curve of my legs and Sable curling up against my belly. I know it’s unlikely I’ll fall asleep again, but I let myself drift, using my imagination now, reaching for memory. I remember waking in the middle of the night, their soft little bodies pressed against me, the comforting weight of them. It always made me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Drifting, I wonder what that makes me today. But even in that dreamy place shaded by a longing for them, I know the answer. It makes me the luckiest woman in the world because I had that, their dear companionship, night after night for years. And because I get to love them forever.
For the first time in ages, I’m enjoying the luxury of easing into the new year. I took the week off, and I’ve been attending special daily sessions at our meditation center. At first, I was going to plan a demanding daily schedule of writing and sitting practice to accompany these evenings of sitting and teaching. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to stick to my schedule,” I said. Marylou and Richard and I were sitting together on their patio. Richard suggested in the kindest of ways I might be more easy with myself. At the time, I felt defensive and not understood. “Retreats are supposed to be challenging,” I grumbled. But later, I let his gentle words sink through me, and I ease off of expecting so much of myself. Instead of pushing, I let myself sleep in, dawdle over tea, do my morning writing and sitting practices propped up in bed with the San Jacintos stretched out before me. I make soup, nap, read, eat popcorn. Each evening I step outside, close the door behind me. The solar Christmas lights in the bougainvillea greet me in the dark courtyard. One night the crescent moon is cupping Venus. The next night Mars and the waxing moon and Venus are all in a row. They accompany me on my half-hour walk to the meditation center, the air brisk on my face, my scarves soft and warm against my ears. After, the stars walk me home. One morning midway through, I cry without knowing why. But I trust in the rightness of it. One afternoon I fight on the phone with a loved one. I make her cry. When I hang up, I remember to hold my self-hatred with kindness, identify the swirl of other feelings, five in all. I picture them nested in my open palms, the tenderness immense. One day during the teaching I am overcome. To think, we are all here wanting to heal, working toward becoming the peace we want to see in the world. What a gift to be able to do this together. On day seven, a morning session, I look back as I leave my courtyard and see scores of goldfinch in the bare branches of my neighbor’s tree, like ornaments, like lemons. I walk to the center, happy I am me, so glad for these eight days of practice, for the connection with this sangha, this community. The air is cold on my face, but I am warm in my layers. I feel the way I used to feel on a winter night flanked by Sofia and Sable, their small weights warm against my calves, my belly. I would lie there in the quiet dark and cry because I knew I must be the luckiest woman in the world.
This year was laced with the absence of my cats, sometimes glaring, sometimes subtle, more muted as the year progressed. I lit a candle yesterday for Boo, one year to the day. I only cried a little. I’ve quieted most of my if onlys, I think, most of my what ifs. I’ve returned to winter quarters again this year after Boo taught me its wonders when he was sick, and I abandoned our courtyard to stay with him inside. From the blankets in the mornings I watch the San Jacintos, warm tea cradled in my hands. Now in the early dusk, I have the sliding glass door open. The white crowned sparrows flit about near the bougainvillea. I can hear them peeping, hear the rattle of the dried blossoms while they hunt for seeds. Now and then exquisite bursts of song erupt. One lone mourning dove comes to the big tray feeder. The solar Christmas lights looped in the bougainvillea will come on any minute now. The waxing moon is not yet far enough west for me to see her, but when I glance up, I surprise Venus in the clerestory window. The two have been bright companions in the evening sky, heralds of the season. The more the light leaves the day, the happier my timid sparrows are, playing in the corner of the courtyard. I can hear the traffic one street over, the clink of dinner dishes next door. I linger until the sparrows seek their beds, until only the ridge of the mountains is visible against the darkening sky. The solar lights wink on like magic, a bright, wild tangle. May we each be blessed with quiet, glowing, untamed peace like this through all our days and nights.
“May I become truly self-assured,” I say. It is a kind of metta I try for my changing. Wishes, Beth calls them. I like that. Part prayers, too, this metta. Part affirmations, maybe. They are all good, all effective, I believe. We only need to bring ourselves to them fully, heart and soul. Not grasping, of course. Believing, hoping, grateful. Funny thing, though, each time I bring myself to this one, I stumble in my mind. I say “reassured” instead of “self-assured.” A mistake, I think. I make it again and again. Then I am at a one-day retreat. I eat Brussels sprouts and radishes leaning against a low wall beside the small fountain on a June afternoon. I eat cool cubes of watermelon for dessert, lick the sweet from my fingers, luxuriate in the summer heat. After, I make a discovery during sitting practice. I say my metta. I make the same mistake. “May I be truly reassured,” I say. And then I know this is not a mistake. To be reassured is exactly what I need. I understand being reassured can be my path to self-assurance. Later, I realize with a kind of awe this is something I trust the universe to give me, no hint of doubt. I make lists in my head, different ways I am reassured. My cats reassured me when they were here in their small furry forms. I get excited about adding to my list, and eager to see how this unfolds, what gets sent to me. On Monday I try to rescue five stems of trimmed orange lantana blooms from the sidewalk, but after my bus ride they are wilted. I kiss them and place them on the bench outside the yoga studio. After in chavasanah I feel bad about not saving them. “But they were loved,” a voice inside me whispers. It is my first clear reassurance since I understood what I am asking for. I am dancing, lying in stillness on the yoga mat. I give thanks. I wriggle, a child about to unwrap a birthday present. What comes next?
It’s early, just after six in the morning. I am sweeping the cement in the courtyard. I’m a little tired, the aftermath of a long academic year, I think. I am looking forward to the end of the online teacher training I’m co-leading, three more days. The student login help for all the summer terms is beginning to ease off, too, and that part of my job will go away soon. (It will be a relief.) I’ve been going to yoga a lot, still haven’t figured out how to make my mornings work with needing to leave for class each day, feel a little off kilter, almost grumpy about it even though I’m choosing this. I seem to be busy, doing, most of the day. But I’m not getting to things. I’m not writing the way I want to be, not washing the louvered windows, not trimming the yellow tecoma. I remind myself doing yoga is enough. It makes me smile. I hear an odd metallic thump and look over at my neighbor’s roof. I see the pale breast and belly of a very big bird through the branches between us, then they disappear into the tree. An American kestrel is calling nonstop from the electrical pole on the other side of my trailer. I put these two events together, make up a story (or maybe intuit what is true). I believe this bird is hiding from the kestrel. I think it may be a heron, as unlikely as that seems, something about the shape of that torso I glimpsed. I wonder if he tried to steal eggs or got too near a nest. I go back to my sweeping. I decide I feel pretty good, even with being tired from teaching and just this side of disgruntled about my new need to leave home early in the day. I feel content, like something is easy in me. I finish sweeping, fill the bird feeders. I carry water out to the honeysuckle. The waning moon is my companion while I work, big and bold in the western sky. I finish my chores, settle in my tall metal chair outside. The moon is suspended now above the mountains right in front of me. I watch it setting while I sip my lemon garlic drink. Sofia surfaces inside me, and I cry for a moment. I miss her. I am so sorry the end was hard. Sable’s ending, too. I remember the taxi ride, holding Sofia in my lap wrapped in a blanket. I wonder why there are no pet paramedics. I sip my drink, clear of grief again, and listen to the water in the garden, feel at peace. I study my neighbor’s tree and wonder if the big bird is still up there, sheltered in its leaves.
I’m sweeping black sunflower seeds across the cement and into the shell-strewn dirt when I hear a funny noise. (I’ve just filled the feeders in my house finch corner of the courtyard, and a handful or two of the dark seeds always spill out.) For a long time I thought this sound I am hearing now was made by one of those extended leashes when you reel them in fast. (We have a lot of dog walkers here. Funny, isn’t it, how we make up things in our heads, trying to make sense of the world?) But now I recognize the sound. It is not a leash. I look for the source and spot the road runner perched at the edge of the swamp cooler on my neighbor’s roof. He is facing north, away from me, surveying his domain. When I talk to him, he swivels his head around, listening. “You’re so beautiful,” I tell him. And then I am crying, all this love welling up in me and spilling over like the sunflower seeds. I think of my cats now, that ache never far away. I marvel at how quick love comes, like that first day I brought Sofia home from the shelter all those years ago. I remember how she walked from room to room in our home over the garage in Sebastopol. She was hunting for signs of other beasts, and she was so relieved and so glad when there were none to be found. (Old scents maybe, of Trair who’d died four months before, but nothing that would threaten her.) Already I loved her so much, as much as I’ve loved anyone. I remember my surprise. I didn’t know then it could happen like that, thought love needed time to grow. That’s how quick it is this morning with the roadrunner. I am filled with the blessing of it. Then I think about how it’s not the same for me with people most of the time. It makes me sad. I guess there are too many things in the way. It’s complicated with humans. For one moment I worry. If I don’t let myself get another animal for the time being, will I not get to feel that kind of love? And then I remember the roadrunner, how it came to me today. I can love wild animals in the meantime. And maybe even other human beings, along with roadrunners, ravens, coyotes, lizards. And me, too.
My dog Sanji died 31 years ago today. She was born in 1976, part Great Dane and part German Shepherd, the runt of eleven. A woman I worked with then at the secret shopper spy job told me sanji means female bear in Tibetan. I don’t know if that’s true, but I liked the sound of it. I used to say she was part deer and part fish. She had a tender spirit, and she loved any kind of water, would leap with pure dog joy into the swimming pool. She loved going to the beach in Alameda when we lived in Oakland. After she died I wished I’d taken her there more often. She chased the seagulls along the wide sandbar, ears laid back in the wind, big grin on her beautiful face. It seems impossible she’s been dead so long. I can’t believe I’ve been dogless for three decades now. If a psychic had predicted this, that 27-year-old me wouldn’t have believed another word she said, convinced she was a fraud. And to think I’ve spent such a big chunk of my life without a dog seems unbelievably sad. But life unfolds as it will, and this was all about the timing.
Sanji and my cat Trair and I made this little family. When Sanji died Trair and I were left alone together. I knew she didn’t want another dog. When Trair died 12 years later, my landlord wouldn’t let me get a dog, so I got Sofia instead. Doglessness continued from there until now when both Sofia and Sable have so newly left me catless, too. I still cry now and then when I think of Sanji, but after all this time they are grateful tears more than anything, the memories dreamy and good. I remember our back-house cottage in Highland Park where she died of cancer and how she and Trair and I used to hang out together in our little backyard there. I would sit between the bougainvillea and the lemon tree on the small patch of grass I cut on rare occasions with an old rusty hand mower. Trair would land in my lap as soon as I settled in the chair, my joint resting unlit with a box of wooden matches in the clean blue enamel ashtray, my Marlboro Lights and my ice cold Corona beside them. When Sanji got tired of fetching, or more often when I got tired of throwing the slimy green tennis ball, she’d sprawl beside us on the grass. I marveled over our sweet little family of three. If you paid attention, you could hear traffic a block away on the old highway 11. But in our tiny yard tucked away from the world the three of us would rest together in a different kind of quiet, bask together in a deep and lucky peace.