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Tag Archives: uplifting

Life Indestructible

15 Oct
Balm Beach, Canada

Balm Beach, Canada

Back in June, I boarded a plane with a group of my friends to spend a couple of days at my friends’ (Grant and Patty) house on Georgian Bay in Canada, a place they all refer to as The Cottage. I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks, a true vacation by the lake, relaxing, eating, and drinking. But I brought with me on that plane a little dark cloud that I couldn’t ignore.

The day before I had received news that my friend Sheila from Seattle had taken her own life. I had met her on my study abroad program to Prague. The 22 of us that were in the Prague program bonded to each other and became close. I had lost touch with Sheila and had last seen her a couple of years ago when her and some other Prague friends visited New York. But hearing of her passing left me heartbroken. I thought about her family and those that were close to her, and I can’t imagine how much they hurt, dealing with this great loss.

So, I found myself in a foreign country, next to a beautiful lake, with friends who were eating, drinking, playing in the water, and laughing. But all I could think about was the funeral taking place in Seattle. I thought of my memories of her and tried to make sense of tragedy.

There were a lot of people I had never met at The Cottage, friends of Grant from Quebec. And as always happens with new people, they asked me about the tattoo on my foot. It’s a factor in my life, explaining to people what it says, what it means. My answers are so rehearsed, they flow from me without thinking.

My foot tattoo.

My foot tattoo.

“It means ‘life indestructible, always triumphant.'” “It’s in Czech.” “It’s from a book I read while I was there.” “Yes, I’m sure I know what it says.”

At one point in the afternoon, while I was standing around the grill, lost in thoughts about Sheila, about life, about loss, yet another Quebecois sidled up to me and asked me the same old, “So what’s your foot say?”

I looked down at my tattoo and felt the same words tumble from my mouth, “life indestructible, always triumphant.” But something struck me, and I remembered why I got the tattoo.

I went to Prague as one person and came back a different one, completely renewed. It was in Prague that I learned to love life, to be joyful and happy. The full quote that didn’t fit on my size 8 feet is

“for that short moment, I would know for certain that love and hope are infinitely more powerful than hate and fury, and that somewhere beyond the line of my horizon there was life indestructible, always triumphant.”

It was the magic of the city of Prague, it was the book I read “Under a Cruel Star” with the above quote, it was the people I met there that changed me. Sheila was a huge part of that. She was kind, welcoming, adventurous, and fun. And I wanted to be like her. One night in Prague, a small group of us were at an underground, Jazz bar in Prague when I recognized a group of Irish poets across the way. I mentioned it, and Sheila grabbed her camera and insisted we go talk to them, invite them to share our booth. I refused. I wouldn’t do it. “I’m shy. I’m not like you guys. I can’t do it.” I explained. She replied, “Life doesn’t happen just sitting here, but I’m not going to force you.” After a minute of thinking that over, I swigged my Pilsner and told her I’d do it. What resulted was one of the greatest nights of my life. The poets came over to our table and drank with us, entertained us with singing and Irish jokes. They walked with us along the river and took us to weird little comedy shows they knew of.

My life from then on was different. I realized I didn’t have to be shy. I could be like the people I admired, like Sheila. I could chase after the things I wanted and be outgoing and love life. Prague became filled with so many amazing moments, so many involving Sheila. We danced on stage with a Reggae band to “No Woman, No Cry.” We stayed out all night drinking and dancing, and watched the sun rise over the Vltava. We bungee jumped off a bridge in Sokolov. We rode bikes for 70 miles through the Czech countryside. I learned so much from her about loving life, and I’m honored to have known her.

And that was why I tattooed that quote to my foot. I always wanted to remember that in the face of tragedy and sad times, life was always there. I can’t make sense of her death, and my heart continues to ache for her family, but the only way to heal and to honor her memory is to live with the joyful spirit she taught me to have. So I continued to think of her as I swam in the lake, rode the jet skis, kayaked, sang songs around a campfire, laughed with my friends, played my first ever golf game, read a guilty pleasure book while digging my feet in the sand. The world lost an amazing person, and I hope that she has found peace and that somehow she knows what a positive impact she had on the people who were lucky to know her.

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Conversations with Maya Angelou Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot

8 Jun

mayaWhat an incredible woman. My associations with Maya Angelou where formulated in high school when, like so many others of my generation, I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I remember liking it, but like so many books forced upon me in high school, I don’t remember too much about it, or her, other than the basics. She was raised in the South during segregation, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and she had her son at the age of 16. She went on to become a symbol of Black female strength and was even named Poet Laureate during the Clinton Administration, becoming the first poet since Robert Frost to read at the presidential inauguration.

A+ for that book report. But reading these interviews about Maya Angelou made me want to re-read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and perhaps to go back and read all those other books I rushed through in high school so I could finish my Calculus homework.

I knew she was a poet and an author. I did not know that she was a playwright, a screenwriter, a director, an actress, and a dancer. That she had been nominated for Tonys and was the first black woman to write and direct her own film. She worked along Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement. Fluent in seven languages, she also was a master at cooking regional African cuisines that she learned while teaching in Ghana. All this from a woman who never went to college, who worked as a madam and a stripper. She seemed to always push forward, pick herself up and accept any challenge presented to her.

These interviews with her felt like How to Live Life 101. So much zest for living, always striving to write better, and looking for ways to influence and improve the world around her. So many gems to quote, like…

“What do you mean, do I consider myself a feminist? I am a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

or

“I want to know more- not intellectually- to know more so I can be a better human being, to be an honest, courageous, funny and loving human being. That’s what I want to be – and I blow it 86 times a day. My hope is to cut it down to 70.”

This book spans her thoughts on racism in America, the plight of white women vs. the plight of black women, motherhood, creativity, how to write, travel, and how to be happy. From page 1 to page 240, I was gripped by her unwavering love of life.

“Living life fully, fiercely, devotedly, makes you much more able to accept other people who are doing the same. All we’re trying to do is to get from birth to death. And you can’t fail. Even if you only live five minutes, you have succeeded…But it seems to me that life loves the liver.”

Phenomenal woman, indeed.

Happy Ever After

14 Feb
Crane in his youth

Crane in his youth

Almost three years ago, I wrote about a frequent boarder at our hospital, a bulldog named Crane. To recap, he’s disgusting. I wrote about him being disgusting then, and his situation has only deteriorated. His owner is a wealthy, egotistical man who takes little responsibility for Crane. From puppyhood, Crane has boarded with us for a huge chunk of his life. His owner drops him off looking unkempt and uncared for and leaves in his Escalade to fly to some tropical location, forgetting Crane.

In many ways, I can’t stand Crane. He stinks. No matter how much we bathe him, this foul odor radiates from every orifice. Is it the rotting cancerous growth growing out his paw? Is it the noxious farts from a bowel that is likely diseased? Is it the breath from his rotting teeth? He’s too old and sickly to anesthetize, so we’ll likely never know. He has chronic dry eye which causes yellow goop to seep from his eyes. His face folds easily get filled with bacteria and become infected. He’s unpleasant.

But for all his faults, he’s a good dog and wants nothing more than to be petted and snuggled. We all had a love/hate relationship with him. I’d put on gloves to pet him so as not to acquire his rotting smell. We’d bring him cookies during the day. It’s hard to not love him when there is not a mean bone in his ever-decaying body.

Earlier this week, his owner called us, because he was tired of having to pay for boarding. He told us to euthanize him. Dr. L and I agreed that maybe it was the best thing for him. He’s old and disgusting, and a life living in a cage (for as much as we try to give him attention) is not a happy existence. Selfishly, perhaps we were tired of having to deal with him, to take care of him.

Much to our chagrin, another technician, Kristina convinced Dr. S to keep him at the hospital. She has an aunt who works with rescue animals, and Kristina felt confident that they could find him a home. I was skeptical. I thought Kristina was being too much of a soft heart, and I stood by Dr. L in asserting that he should be euthanized.

Within three days, eight families had come forward wanting to adopt Crane, and on Wednesday, a lovely family from Long Island came in to get him. We were stunned. What would they say when they smelled him? We went over all his medical problems, and they seemed unfazed. The whole family (parents and two teenage daughters) came to collect him and take him back to Long Island. Crane stood with them, looking confused as they all leaned down to pet him and tell him how handsome he is.

Yesterday we got pictures of Crane in his new home. His large luxurious bed, another Bulldog to be his friend, and a family that adores him. For all of his years of being ignored by an owner who left him in a cage at our clinic, he now has a family. They gushed about how much they love him. The email read, “We can’t wait to make his golden years absolutely golden.”

I kept thinking today how happy I am that Kristina exists and that I have the honor of being friends with her. I often think of her as too soft-hearted, too effusive with affection for every patient we have. But she never fails to remind me that there is never too much love to be given. It isn’t possible to be too soft-hearted. Being strong and being soft-hearted are not mutually exclusive.

Three years ago, I wrote

“Somebody has to love and take care of the messes of the world. Right?”

Yeah, somebody does, and with a little determination, somebody will.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

12 Feb

unbroken-cover_custom-s6-c10 Here are some things I’ve been whining about lately.

  • My right calf has been really itchy.
  • I’m hold #166 on a book I really want from the library.
  • My tax return was not nearly as large as I thought it was going to be!
  • I want a kitten sooooo bad.

It’s times like this in life that we all need to read a quit-your-bitching book. This is it. “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand is guaranteed to pull you out of your high-pitched, teary-eyed funk.

I must emphasize this isn’t a quit-your-bitching book in the vein of “The Jungle” or “Angela’s Ashes” where you just feel depressed and want to give up on that cruel world. This book is positive, optimistic. It follows the true story of Louis Zamperini whose plane crashed in the Pacific in WWII. He survived in a raft for weeks only to become a POW in a Japanese internment camp. Yet he held on to hope and spirit. It’s unbelievable what the human body can survive, what the mind can endure.

Had a bad day, huh? Were there sharks circling your deflating life raft, lunging at your face? Were you forced to sleep in a hut with your own feces as a pillow? Did anybody beat the dignity out of you with a bamboo shoot? Is your answer no? Then I think your day isn’t going half bad.

I recently read Hillenbrand’s first book “Seabiscuit” which is also an excellent book. She is good at holding interest, suspense. Her writing style is fluid and poetic. But where “Seabiscuit” was an entertaining tale, this is another level of empowerment.

And if you need some empowerment and are too lazy to read a book?