the printed thoughts of a woman on a journey towards awareness, truth, acceptance, clarity, and forgiveness...with some fun and fearlessness thrown in

Friday, November 25, 2011

in no particular order

Po-boys, crawfish, Cajuns, rivers, plantations, strawberries, catfish, Zydeco, the Saints, my sister, Bert, Lexi, Lucy, satsumas, King cake, Doberge, alligators, sugar cane, old friends, new friends, closer friends, bridges, kudzu, Mardi Gras, City Park, Camellia Grill, gumbo, magnolias, snowballs, streetcars, Mr. Bingle, the Moonwalk, St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, Lee Circle, the Audubon Zoo, the neutral ground, beads tangled in tree limbs, pine needles, oyster dressing, Oktoberfest, shrimp, shrimp, and extra shrimp, levees, lagniappe, beignets, cafe au lait, Acadians, Lake Pontchartrain, the Causeway, Abita, bonfires, festivals, Zulu coconuts, Voodoo, Spanish moss, live oaks, bayous, outdoor kitchens, pecans, big copper kettles, Blue Dog, Brees, St. Charles Avenue, parading zombies, ghosts, hot air balloons, horses, returning to roots, new beginnings.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

cyberstalker or just the natural result of 10 days without television?

I cyberstalked you today.  OK, well, not you, but several other people.  People from my past to be more exact.

I don't know why I do it, but today definitely wasn't the first time and most decidedly will not be the last.  It almost always starts out the same way....looking for a former friend.  This friend, whom I will call Rachel, and I were very close once upon a time.  We even lived together for a short, ill-fated period, which makes her the only roommate that I ever had outside of school, live-in boyfriends, and my sister when we were kids.  Rachel and I had a very abrupt, very public, and very contentious break up.  I would have to say that it rivaled my divorce and may have, in fact, been worse.  We haven't spoken in over 10 years.  Yet, every so often, I try to find her on the Internet.

I'm not really sure what I want to know about her.  Where does she live?  Did she ever get married?  Have kids?  What is her career?  Maybe.  I think, though, what I really want to know is why.  Why?  And how?  And have you done it to others?  I want to see how someone can be so mean and evil, yet still carry on.  Actually, that's not really true, either.  I don't think she's evil.  I do think that she treated me meanly and acted cruelly towards me.  But, I don't think she's evil.  I've been advised that others do and that I should, but I don't.  After all, she was my best friend for many years.  If she were evil, what would that say about me?

So, I look for her.  And I've found hints of her around the Web.  Something on MyLife.  A maybe on Zabasearch.  I think I even found a Facebook page once, but it has since been blocked or deleted.  I would never contact her....but still I look.

Looking for Rachel often evolves into looking for other people.  Usually my ex-boyfriends are next on the list.  I find them on Facebook or in the Whitepages.  Facebook is best, because a lot of people don't lock down their sites like they should.  I look at their walls, see who they're friends with.  I look at their pictures, and I imagine the lives they've gone on to live since knowing me.  I gauge whether their wives are prettier than me and if their kids look more like him or like her.  The kids are the weirdest part, really.  First, as a childless person, I think it's odd that people with children post so many pictures of them.  The ratio of child to self represented in photograph form for these people is like 20:1.  I know I post a lot of pictures of my pets, for instance, but I still post pictures of myself.  My identity outside of my pets is still intact.  I wonder about these parents when it comes to that.  Plus, doesn't anyone think about their children's online safety???  OK, on a tangent.  What really is weird about the kids is this--if this guy and I hadn't broken up, if he hadn't then gone on to meet his wife, those kids wouldn't exist.  That is kind of creepy to think about.  Of course, you could say that looking up your ex-boyfriends on Facebook is creepy.  I know.  I know.

There's really no rhyme or reason to the people I look up.  Sometimes, someone just pops into my mind and I wonder what they're up to.  The main thread that they commonly hold is that they probably don't want to hear from me.  In a few cases that may not be accurate, but in those few, I have decided that it is in the best interest of all that they don't hear from me.  Maybe it is the fact the these people have scorned me, have left me behind and still somehow prospered that bothers me.  Maybe I do want to see them wallowing in regret and begging to have me back in their lives.  Maybe I just wonder what it is that these people saw that made them decide that I was bad news.  And, maybe I'm afraid that everyone else will eventually see the same thing.

There have been a few searches of people with whom my bridges had not yet been burned.  I have found some former friends and co-workers and reached out to them.  I am Facebook friends with my first serious boyfriend, as well as with one of my last.  I'm not all the bad to all that many people.  Some searches turn out good, some turn up nothing, and some do not have happy endings.

Once, I found an old jar of homemade, home canned spaghetti sauce that an ex of mine had made.  I actually thought, "I should find him and ask him how long this stuff is good for."  So, I started searching.  He was never one to be on Facebook or to use email, so I figured I would be lucky to find an old phone number for him.  I found him.  And pretty quickly.  Unfortunately, it was in the obituaries.  My old friend, it turned out, had been murdered a few years earlier.  Even though it had been many years since we spoke, I cried like a baby.  I was angry, and I felt cheated.  He was a good man, and he didn't deserve to die the way that he did.  He had been one of the few men in my life who didn't use me and who would have done anything to help me.  He was the last man I spent time with before moving away from Indiana, and he had encouraged me to spread my wings and to find myself, even though it meant him losing me.


I just took a break from writing this and searched for Rachel again.  (I am truly sick!  Send help!)  This time, I found her mother's obituary.  I had always contemplated contacting her mother, with whom I had a good relationship, to tell her my side of our break up.  I never did, and now it's too late.  Maybe, I was giving Rachel some leeway and not putting her mother in a spot where she didn't have to say anything bad about her.  Her mother had actually warned against us moving in together.  Rachel, she argued, doesn't get along with roommates, and if we wanted to remain friends, we should never live together.  How right she was!  I just always wondered what she would have said after the fact.  I didn't go there.  I decided that that was the better thing to do. 

But, now I'm sad that I never got a chance to tell her what I wish I had.  I would have said, "Thank you" for all the times she filled in as a mother to me, including me in family Christmases and Thanksgivings.  I would have told her that I was sorry if what had happened between me and Rachel hurt her in any way.  I would have said that she was right, that I should have heeded her advice, and that I did all that I could to keep our friendship in tact, but that I couldn't take the way that Rachel treated me towards the end.  I would tell her that I'm happy today.  That I married the man that Rachel got jealous over, said mean things about, and never liked, simply because he liked me.  That she was a good mom.  That she wasn't to blame for Rachel's behaviors as an adult.  That it had nothing to do with her divorce from Rachel's father, or the fact that Rachel was adopted.  These were all beliefs that I knew Rachel harbored and held over her mother's head.  Her mother had been a victim of Rachel's meanness before I had.  Maybe that was why she had warned me.

I guess I'm done cyberstalking today.  Finding an obituary usually does that to me.  It feels so final, at least as far as the searching goes.  It reminds me that if I ever do decide that I want to contact Rachel, my time to do so could always be cut short.  I still don't think that I'm ready to open that can of worms, but I will probably keep peeking around the corner at it.

So, there it is.  My deep, dark secret.  My big confession.  I'm a cyberstalker.  I know I'm not the only one who does it, though.  I may be the only one here admitting to it, but that's OK.  I'll wear the badge of shame for the rest of you.  I will come out of the shadowy corner of the Internet to say that I peep into the online windows of my former friends and lovers.  I do.  And, I would imagine that someone has done the same thing to me...maybe even one of my own subjects.  It's human nature to wonder.  It's only natural to want to repair broken connections, especially when they, at one time, were the most important ones in your life.  There are far worse things I could do and far worse attributes I could have.  My motivation, at its core, is really just a desire to be liked, to be accepted, and to be a part of someone else's life.  What doesn't feel normal is the sting of rejection, the pain of reproof, and the loneliness of isolation.  That's what's weird, not me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

my birthday wish

NOT my birthday cake!
I turned 40 almost 365 days ago.  It was 358 days ago, in fact.  And, while in some ways much has happened this year, most of the past year was dedicated to one still unaccomplished, unresolved, ever-stressful, increasingly painful thing....selling my house.  It was just a week before that 40th birthday when we were given the news that we would be transferred.  And it was on that 40th birthday that, with paint-flecked hands, I ate takeout Chinese and allowed myself to dream about the new life we would soon be embarking upon....the new house, the new job, the graduate school possibilities, the new friends and renewed friendships, the new adventures, and the new me.

So, now, as 41 quickly approaches, I can't help but lament the last year lost.  I am nowhere near as hopeful as I was a year ago.  Already facing a loss of around $50,000 on our house, I can't see how we can afford to sell it in this market.  I'm worried about finding a new job.  I don't know how we will afford the graduate school program.  I'm no longer confident about finding our dream home and being approved for a mortgage now that we likely will be coming without the down payment we had counted on.  I even begin to question my ability to settle into a new place again and to make new friendships.  I've actually been in Connecticut now for slightly longer than I was in Chattanooga, yet I don't feel like I've developed friendships here that come anywhere close to the friendships I have from my time in Tennessee.

Like New Year's resolutions, though, we get a new birthday wish every year.  I'm making mine early.  I think I'll make it every day until it comes true.  (I'm nothing if not persistent!)  I'll wish, and I'll hope.  I'll even once again start dreaming of all of the new things to come....both internally and externally.  And, they will come.  I am sure of this.  I must be.  There is no other option. 

They may not come packaged in the way that I once expected, but they will still be the gifts that I most need.  Even if I don't find the job of my dreams right away, I will find something that teaches me and helps me to develop new skills.  Or I will have the opportunity to work for myself.  Even if I can't afford school right away, I will research grants and loans and take advantage of the extra time to put money away in savings.  Even if we can't afford the dream home, we can still find a great home where we can make our dreams manifest through our own hard work and at our own pace.  And, even if I don't make new friends right away, I will still be within driving distance of my sister and many of my dearest friends for the first time.  I can't wait to be able to see these friends more regularly.

The most exciting prospect still remains the chance to reinvent myself in a way, to become the next incarnation of myself.  No delay in time will prevent that from taking place.  There is no expiration date on that opportunity.  With every move I have made, I have gained new perspective, new insights, and new inspiration on the world outside my front door and on the world under my own skin.  Within my changed environment, I am able to experience a metamorphosis of my psyche.  This is the event I look forward to most.  Having to wait for this, my gratification delayed, is the probably what bothers me most about this past year. 

Perhaps I wasn't ready yet?  Maybe there was something I needed from this year that will benefit me in the next?  Of course, identifying it may be difficult, but who says that I have to?  I'm sure that I'm learning patience.  I know that I've learned to appreciate abundance.  I've also experienced gratitude for the support that I do have in friends here.  I've also realized how important it is to listen to my gut and to stand up for myself.  I've gone out of my comfort zone in many ways, and I've actually been impressed with my ability to adapt and to persevere.  I didn't always have the skills that I've seen myself using.  I will be better prepared for my next step because of them.

Helping Nanny blow out her birthday candles.

So, here I go.  From now until it comes true, I will be closing my eyes, making my wish, and blowing out the candles. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

sparklers & squeaky toys

Another Patriotic holiday has come, which, naturally, means that every proud citizen is required to buy explosives and set them off in their yards. I don't know why or how this tradition began, but I do know that for many years it created stress and worry in my household. D.J., my otherwise well-adjusted, confident hound/shepherd mix, was terrified of fireworks. She would shake, quiver, try to burrow under furniture, and couldn't be left alone. She had to be close to me, preferably touching me. If I happened to be in bed, this meant that I had to hang my hand over the side of the bed so that she would could nuzzle it from her hiding place under the bed. The comical aspect of this disturbing and upsetting scene is that D.J. was not a small dog, so she pretty much had to cram herself into the space under the bed, so when she shook, she actually made the entire bed shake like one of those old vibrating beds. That was often my first warning that a thunderstorm might be coming on in the middle of the night. It could be annoying, because no amount of comforting, conversation, or coercion could convince D.J. that the fireworks (or thunder) were not going to come into our house and harm her. But, really, how can you be mad when your bed is shimmying?

I lived with D.J.'s phobias for so long that they became my own. I adjusted my life in expectation of her reactions. I changed my behaviors to minimize her trauma. I would never dream of leaving her alone during any 4th of July celebrations, Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, or Halloween, when the possibility of a repeatedly ringing doorbell would send her into fits of barking, panting, and pacing. In fact, it became my regular practice to leave work early on any Halloween that fell on a workday, just in case the neighborhood kids started celebrating early. I did my best to turn every situation that frightened her into something positive. I had no luck with the fireworks or thunderstorms, but was so successful with Halloween that before I knew it, it had become my favorite holiday and one that all of the dogs looked forward to.

I lived with D.J.'s idiosyncrasies for so long that it wasn't until last night, well into the evening's pyrotechnics, that I realized how quiet the dogs were. None of them, it seems, are afraid of fireworks. Though my insides were twisted in stress and worry, Iko, Bennie, Gator, and Brandi slept or laid quietly around the living room, oblivious to the dangerous projectiles soaring through the skies over our house. They had no idea of the impending doom just outside our windows, but I expected them to be in duress. D.J. has been gone since December 26, 2004, and I still anticipate how every bang and boom will affect her. It was clearly she who trained me, and not the other way around. And, with my luck, by the time I unlearn this behavior, I will probably once again be living with a scaredy dog.

Now, lest I leave you with the idea that knowing and loving D.J. left me traumatized and scarred, let me point out that I wrote about her lasting positive influence on my life in another entry a year ago. D.J. truly did save my life in many ways--giving me hope when I was hopeless, teaching me about the power of unconditional love, leading me into a life of service and volunteerism, and proving to me that no matter how dark and scary the storm might be, the sun always rises the next morning. She had a can-do spirit and never let her physical limitations slow her down. Despite her spinal problems that the vets told me had to cause great pain and constant discomfort, she always had a smile on her face and she often managed to span great distances while my head was turned. She left me way too early, but she left me with a lifetime of positive memories.

It's funny how dogs change us. My sister and my mother-in-law both recently decided to welcome a puppy into their households. They are both people who haven't owned a dog for a few years and have said that they didn't really want another dog. In fact, they are two of the last people I would have ever dreamed would be adopting dogs right now, especially puppies! My sister has a full plate with a full-time job and four kids in the house. She's got 2 older cats who she adores, but who are very low maintenance creatures. My mother-in-law is at that point in life where she enjoys her quiet time in the garden and the ability to travel when she wants. She also has a resident cat who makes the rules and does as he pleases. I can only imagine how their lives will be turned upside down by these little furry additions!

I can't wait to hear about the frustrations of housebreaking, the wonders of weird behaviors, and the discoveries of destroyed shoes, paperbacks, pillows, and other seemingly uninteresting household items that somehow prove irresistible to a teething canine. I can't wait to see the pictures that document the changes from puppy-faced cuteness, through their awkward adolescence, into adulthood and the senior years. I can't wait for the way that living with a dog will change them. I hope that they will experience the joy, the fun, and the laughter that accompany life with a dog in it. I hope that they will wonder if their hearts are going to burst from sheer love for this four-legged baby. I know that someday they will feel the pain of loss, but I hope that that day is long and far into the future, and that their happy memories will make it all worthwhile.

So, tonight, as the stillness of the summer evening is disturbed by bottle rockets, M-60's, Black Cats, Roman candles, cherry bombs, repeaters, and various other exploding devices, I will practice no longer being tense or worried. Instead, I will think about how happy D.J. was on all the days of the year not punctuated by fireworks. I will think about how happy my sister's puppy will be in his new life, getting to know his kitty sisters and being loved on by a houseful of kids. I will think about how happy my mother-in-law's puppy will be in her new life, getting to know her kitty brother, chasing squirrels out of the garden, exploring the ruins of Civilian Conservation Corps' campsites, and romping among the ghosts of the Civil War who inhabit the side of Lookout Mountain. And, I will think about how happy D.J. would know that my life has gone on and that two dogs in need have found forever families. Sounds like a good enough reason for fireworks to me!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

all things wise and wonderful

"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." -E.M. Forster

This morning, on my way to my personal growth group, I found myself driving behind a large animal veterinarian. It felt like an out-of-body experience of sorts where the present me was peeking in on the once-possible me. I imagined where the vet was heading and what kind of patient he was going to see. Was it a routine visit or an emergency call? Since I was driving through the horse country of Granby, CT, I eventually settled on the idea that the vet was going to check in on a foal who was born in the last few weeks. An inexplicable twinge of jealously came over me as I imagined the foal kicking up her heels and playing chase with another late Spring foal.

I can't remember ever wanting to be anything other than a veterinarian when I was a kid. I read every James Herriot book I could get my hands on and watched the BBC's "All Creatures Great and Small" whenever I could find it on PBS. I started researching vet schools and planned out my undergraduate studies before I even started high school. Every class I took from 8th grade on was a purposeful part of a bigger picture. I started working with the horses and ponies at the zoo every summer at the age of 12. I shadowed a vet on weekends during my senior year. I knew exactly what I wanted and how I was going to get it.

I won't get into how, when or why my plan eroded (at least not now), but I can say with certainty that I not only accept the course that my life followed, but that I am grateful for its twists and turns. I am so passionate about the work that I do with and for victims that I couldn't imagine doing anything else. The friends that I've made through my own healing process and my work as a survivor are some of the dearest people in my life. They've impacted me in ways they will probably never know, and I feel a comfort and an intimacy with them that's organic. I am more confident in my abilities and my talents than I have ever been, and I look forward to the challenges of proving them to new people in yet another state.

I was almost at the Massachusetts state line when I saw the flashing yellow lights of the intersection where I would turn off. I slowed, a little sad that the truck in front of me was continuing on straight ahead and that I would never know where the vet was going or who he was going to see. But, as quickly as the sadness had come, it left and was replaced with a deep contentment. I knew that I was where I belonged, doing what I was meant to do. I knew that I was following the right path. I knew that it didn't matter where the vet was going without me. I had adventures and challenges of my own to meet. I took a right turn and went forward in my day. My life was waiting for me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

a rose by any other name

When I got married in March, the idea of changing my last name never really crossed my mind. Since then, however, I have occasionally considered it. I struggle between not wanting to be traditional by taking my husband's name and a desire to make a public declaration of allegiance and a new sense of family. I also toy with the idea of a new last name altogether.

I remember meeting a new girl on the school bus during 4th or 5th grade whose last name was Morgan. I loved the way that name sounded, and I really liked the way it sounded with my first name. I went home and started writing my name as Shannon Morgan. I said it over and over. I practiced putting other first names with Morgan and decided that it must be the perfect name, because it sounded great with every name I could think of. I mean, listen: Shannon Morgan, Mary Morgan, Susan Morgan, Brandy Morgan, Brittany Morgan, Sonia Morgan, Stephanie Morgan, Jennifer Morgan, Yolanda Morgan.... They all sound good. Morgan is the best last name.

But, I also think it would be cool to have a last name that matched up better with my first name in terms of its country of origin. Shannon Murphy. Shannon O'Brien. Shannon McCarthy. Shannon O'Reilly. Shannon O'Connell. Shannon Kelly. Smith is the most common name in the U.S., and Murphy is the most common name in Ireland. I lived in Murphy, NC and loved it there. Murphy seems the most logical choice.

I also considered the meanings of names and finding one with meshed well with me as a person. Shannon means "old, wise one." Of course, this resonates deeply with me. Murphy means "sea warrior" in ancient Irish and "strong, superior" in Gaelic. Nice. Morgan means "born of the sea" in Welsh. Interesting. I sense a theme here. Unfortunately, it doesn't help me in deciding between my favorites.

I love my first name and would never dream of changing it. It's really the name that I identify with. Too bad I can't just go with it as a singular name, like Cher. And that hussy actress Shannon Elizabeth already used my first and middle names as her name. (I don't know and/or believe that Shannon Elizabeth is a hussy. I just say that, because she stole my name.)

I'm not as attached to my last name. Maybe it's the fact that it's so common and that I am sick of hearing the smartass remarks about it being a made-up alias. Maybe it's the fact that the name isn't rooted in a long tradition. My paternal grandfather was orphaned and adopted by an aunt whose married name was Smith, so his name was changed to Smith at that time. He was the first Smith in our line, and my brother and I are the last.

I have a dear friend who changed her name entirely. She found a new family and made a new life as an adult. Her name fits her beautifully, and I can't imagine her with any other name. It's funny what a difference a name can really make.

So, for now, I will make believe and try on different personae. Shannon Smith. Shannon Pearson. Shannon Morgan. Shannon Murphy. Maybe I will spend a day each week as each girl and see how it feels.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

a love letter

"Home is a shelter from storms, all sorts of storms."
-William J. Bennett

You were my first love here, in this new place where I didn't know anyone and where everything seemed so foreign. You held me close, yet allowed me to branch out and to find my way. You sheltered me during the storms that waged outside and always provided me with a warm place to return. When I was alone at night, you helped me to feel safe and secure, and you greeted me each morning with the shining welcome of the rising sun.

You have protected those closest to me and have given them a place to live, play, grow, learn, and explore. You've been there as Iko navigated the difference between chew toys and Mom's slippers, as Brandi sailed down the stairs, as Bennie discovered quiet napping spots, as Alla chased balls and squeaky mice across the floor, and as Gator lounged on the deck. You were there to welcome the newcomers into what was likely their first loving home and family, and you beckoned Eli back home at the end of every day full of outdoor surveillance. And, when time and fate caught up with one of my pets, you gave me the space and the privacy to care for each as I needed to and to say good-bye when all other options were gone.

You've supported me through my own evolution. Since we've met, I took on a job working with sex offenders, something I never would have considered before, and I've learned volumes about myself and about others. I've finished my undergraduate degree and have determined the future educational path I'd like to follow. I've forged closer relationships with several friends and family members, while watching other relationships end or suffer from great strain, and you've been there through it all. Perhaps your steadfastness even played a part in my decision to marry my life partner after 10 years together. In any case, you sent me off with your blessing and welcomed me back with your congratulations.

And, now I prepare in my heart and mind to leave you behind. I don't love you any less today than at any point in our nearly 4 1/2 year relationship. In fact, as the deep snow and thick ice of this winter melted away and the grasses, trees, and flowers of spring came into bloom all around you, I felt myself loving you more. I love you so much that I would bring you with me if it was an option. I love you so much that I want nothing more than to find someone new to love you before I go. I dream of someone loving you so much that they give you things that will make you more beautiful. I hope that they will care for you lovingly as you age and that they will appreciate your imperfections as marks of character, instead of flaws. And, I hope that they will feel as happy to love you as I have felt all this time.

Though we do not know how much time we have left together, I will wake each morning and go to sleep each night loving you. I will reserve my good-byes until the time is imminent, but I want you to know how I feel today and what my thoughts about our future are. I want to cast away any doubts that might linger amid my frustration over forces beyond my control. Yes, I want very much to move on to another place, but this has nothing to do with how I feel about you. I'm grateful that we met and glad that I chose you as my own. And when I leave, I will remember you fondly, even as the years pass and I am unable to spend time in your presence.

It has been said that home is where the heart is, but I believe that you are a house with a lot of heart of your own. I know that all who have stayed here with us have felt that heart, and I pray that the next place I call home will share that attribute. I thank you for all you have done for me, for all that you have represented to me, and for all that you continue to do for me during this time of uncertainty. Thanks for being my home.

Monday, January 17, 2011

faith, hope, and brandi

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." --The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Brandi had a seizure last week. It was late afternoon, following a day of record snowfall for the region. I accompanied the dogs on what seemed to be a regular potty trip outside and videotaped as Iko and Brandi wrestled and played in the nearly two feet of snow. I followed Iko as she romped to the deck and then back to Brandi under the tree. It was then that I noticed Brandi on her side in the snow and struggling to get up. I ran immediately to her and found her motionless and face-down in the snow, completely limp and unresponsive. I feared the worst as I scooped her body up into my arms and ran with her to the house. Never before in the more than 12 years I have known Brandi have I ever touched her and not felt her tense her powerful muscles, even while she was sleeping. She was as soft and pliable as a rag doll and felt just as weightless. Save her deep, guttural breathing, she appeared to be lifeless. By the time we reached the deck, though, her head began to move, and she turned to look into my face. She quickly regained her footing as I gently put her down in the breezeway, then gingerly entered the house, laid down and slept deeply and soundly as I watched her like a hawk.

In the days since, I've kept a close watch over Brandi, and I've tried to keep Iko from jumping all over her obviously older and more feeble sister. I worry about her when she goes out into the snow, and I have definitely spoiled her when it comes to treats and the usually forbidden ingestion of "people food." Brandi, meanwhile, goes on being Brandi. She isn't afraid of the snow, and she still greets Iko's enthusiasm with her own form of reciprocated play. She gets excited about trips in the car and equally as excited about trips that merely end at the car. Less than two days after her near-death experience, she even successfully descended the stairs from the bedroom to the living room in the pitch black darkness of the pre-dawn. To appreciate this feat, you must be familiar with her normal state of functioning. With her worsening eyesight and increasingly poor coordination, Brandi frequently falls down the staircase, sometimes even leaping from the fifth or sixth stair up over the shadows cast by the wall and landing in a heap against the front door, flat on her belly with all four limbs jumbled up under her or splayed out in each direction, much like a fawn struggling on an icy pond.

We had left the bedroom door open a crack to allow the cats to leave during the night so that I wouldn't have to wake up at their 2:00 am meows to let them out. This change in procedure must have appeared to Brandi as the perfect opportunity to exercise her independence. I heard her toenails clicking on the wood floor, but I assumed that she would lie back down as she always does. Instead, I then heard the clicking of her nails retreat to the hall and then down the stairs. I braced for the inevitable crash, but heard only the rhythmic and regular cadence of her steps. My surprise at her success prompted me up and out of the bed even more quickly than a fall might have. I ran down after her and found her nonchalantly walking to the basement door to retrieve the other dogs. Business as usual.

Dogs have such an amazing ability to live life in the present. They are blessed with either a very short memory or a very forgiving attitude--or maybe a wonderful combination of the two. Brandi didn't know that she was "supposed to be" weak or unsteady. She didn't comprehend that having a seizure on Wednesday would make walking down the stairs alone and in the dark on Friday morning a risky maneuver. She doesn't realize that she's old, possibly unhealthy, or definitely compromised. All that she knows is that when she wants to go out, she wants to go out. She enjoys a good scratch on the rump any time, and her favorite treats are the marrow bone-type that we get in bulk at the pet store. She likes to be close to people, even if she doesn't like to be hugged or handled. She tolerates having her toenails clipped and insists on visible proof of the need for ear cleaning (I actually have to show her the wax on the Q-tip!). Brandi isn't afraid of anything or anyone. She doesn't carry a grudge, and she doesn't discriminate. She approaches life just as she does a flight of stairs. She simply puts one foot in front of the other and hopes for the best.

So, it is to Brandi that I now look for inspiration as my life's path is changing direction. I stand at the top of the staircase, where I can see only the two steps in front of me, knowing that turning back is not an option. I must walk on in confidence and with faith that the next step will be there, even when I can't see it. If I look over my shoulder, I may lose my balance and fall. If the steps are obscured by the shadows of uncertainty, I can decide to leap into the dark unknown. In any case, I will end up at the bottom of the stairs, whether on my two feet or on my knees, I will arrive there--exactly where I am supposed to be.