When I was in High School for some reason I qualified for a “gifted and talented” class, although at the time I felt most unremarkable. This class changed my life as our instructor worked hard to find out our interests and allowed us to delve as deep as we wanted to. At first I spent weeks researching the possible link in numerology of Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life” and Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen”. Nerd alert!
Toward the middle of the first year I was in the G&T class (which is what we called it, but now G&T means something much different our life J) we started studying religion. Each week we examined a religion in depth and if it struck a chord with anyone they were allowed to dig deeper. Religions are fascinating social constructs that remain to this day an endless source of fascination for me. But I’ll never forget the day I felt resonation and identification with one.
We walked into class and settled down, our instructor came in and said, “Life is suffering, that is the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism.” He went on to explain how Buddha (after being a prince and a monk) learned that all humans he observed had one thing in common: if they think about their own life, or look at the world around them, they will see that life is full of suffering.
At the time I was maybe 16, I’d lost my mother to suicide after years of horrible depression. The last year of her life my mom and I lived alone, my sister was living with my dad. During that time I comforted her when she woke up screaming from night terrors, called and told her boss she was too sick to come in to work, balanced the check book, paid the plumber, drove to the store (at 13yrs old), lied to family friends and teachers about just how bad the situation was. So sitting in this classroom several years later hearing about this religion whose first noble truth was an acknowledgement that life is not all roses, this notion that life is full of suffering, that life is full of shitty events that are out of our control, and that’s the norm, hit my heart like a ton of bricks.
The second noble truth of Buddhism has to do with the cause of suffering, the third with the end of suffering and the fourth is about the path that leads one to the end of suffering. That was the beginning spark that led me to take refuge vows years later and become a Buddhist, which I’m rather private about. (Until now I guess)
I’m not the best Buddhist in the bunch. I don’t regularly go practice with other Buddhists, I probably don’t meditate enough but it’s what I identify with in my heart, it’s what makes sense to me.
I’m writing about this because lately my heart has been wrung out like a dirty washcloth. My sweet puppy Princess Birdie Mae Meadowfrost, born on Christmas morning, light of my life, sweetest puppy every, was diagnosed with advanced kidney dysplasia which means her kidneys are not well shaped and don’t do their job. This means her little life will not last long. We got Birdie when we were pretty sure we could never afford surrogacy, can’t have a baby so let’s get a dog! She healed me in ways I never knew I was wounded.
The story how we got her is pretty interesting. My Bosnian neighbors across the street are a wonderful couple that I adore. When their 14yr old Shih Tzu suddenly died last summer they were crushed. At a party at their house in January he talked about how sad he still was and how much he wanted a puppy but he could not find one nor afford one. I decided I’d find him one!
So I searched and searched for a Shih Tzu puppy, a little girl. I found a breeder in Cedar City who had bred her two healthy dogs that had a litter Christmas morning. She said she had two females that were not spoken for. I went out and told Brett, “I’m buying the neighbors a dog, if he for some reason finds one before I pick this dog up I’m going to keep it.”
Brett, the f*cking angel simply said, “That sounds stressful, wouldn’t you rather know you’re getting a dog? Maybe it’s time you had a little friend.” Of course I cried. I’d been real depressed over this no kids thing.
To make a long story short I went with a friend to pick up two puppies in February. The neighbors named their little love Biba. Biba is a little cutie but a month ago she got a scratch on her eye that got infected with flesh-eating bacteria and had to have her eyeball removed. Before they did surgery they got labs and discovered her kidneys were not functioning properly. That’s when we got worried.
Birdie has never been a real energetic puppy nor a very good eater. When she got REALLY lethargic I took her in and that’s when we got the news, then confirmation a couple days later after an ultrasound of her kidneys.
The same time all this is happening my 96yr old Grandpa has been losing his marbles. My cute grandpa is such a smart guy and to see him decline in his cognitive ability so quickly is heart breaking. My family is wonderful and we’ve been rallying around him to give him the best care, but it’s really hard to watch.
Life is suffering. Last night in bed around 3am I was awake and listening to Birdie’s belly rumble from hunger or nausea I’m not sure. My heart and guts were in a knot and I wondered to myself, “If this is this painful with a puppy I’ve known for 6 months, how can I ever manage worry for a child?” Then I remembered the four noble truths of Buddhism, life is suffering, there is a cause to suffering, there is an end to suffering and there is a clear path to the end of suffering.
I did a practice called tonglen that is a meditation about giving and receiving. It’s about feeling the suffering in our lives, recognizing it then gently sending it relief. It’s starts by breathing in hotness and breathing out coolness, that turns into breathing in the pain and suffering and breathing out compassion and kindness. It starts with yourself, then your family and friends, then the city, then the state, then the world and so on. 45min later I felt calm and peaceful and ready to sleep for a few more hours so I could get up and feel today.
I’ve dealt with a lot in my life but all the experiences good and bad make me who I am today and I like that person. I don’t want some unseen force to remove my pain and suffering, I don’t want to give it away. It’s part of my experience; it’s part of who I am. How can a beautiful garden grow without a bunch of rotting compost and shit?
I’m gonna give my Grandpa, my puppy Birdie, my cat Rabbit (who is also in kidney failure) and all my friends and family all the love I can while they’re here, same for our little human creature when they get here. I just have to let go of my craving for more time and my feelings of unfairness or being picked on. If we never risk putting our heart out there we’d never feel the pure joy of having it filled with unconditional love and if grief is the price we pay for love it’s well worth it.
PS. If anyone has an extra ticket to see the Dali Lama in SLC I’ll be forever in your debt!!
PPS. No new news on the baby front, still waiting for various details of the embryo move.