Opinion: The lessons of love

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Tears of joy, tears of sadness: two sides of one coin.

She was my companion for the past 15 years, with the last five years being pretty much just the two of us. Now, except for my memories, she has departed.

Because of our closeness, our connection, we could sense the other’s emotional state. This was a blessing. Our affection for one another was not hindered by external circumstances. Correction: My affection for Janney was not hindered by a culture that says “she was just a dog.” For me, that was irrelevant.

Janney lay frequently in the living room on her pillow. I regularly got down on my hands and knees and would massage the inside of her ears with the palms of my hands. She would gently move her head to the side, letting me know where she wanted more pressure. Then, from massaging the inside of her ears, I would begin to scratch the back of her ears, then move my hand to the crown of her head, gently scratching between her eyes, and slowly moving toward her nose, my other hand on the ground, balancing my weight. Janney would tenderly rest the soft underneath of her jaw on the hand that supported me and squeeze it as if she were cradling me.

The day we went to the vet’s office, Janney lay on the table. She could no longer walk for food and potty. She was too large for hospice care, and the inflammation medication (Rimadyl) was not effective. I was crying and supporting myself, with one hand on the table. Janney and I were nearly nose to nose. The vet gave her a narcotic so she could sleep. As her eyes were closing, she moved her head so that the soft underside of her jaw was once again atop my hand, gently squeezing. Harvey, Maria, Irma and Nate… The tears that surged left me crying into the puddle of my pain.

The gift Janney left me with is a new sense of openness, spontaneity and vulnerability. These states allow for connection. Like an open wound, we all have a soft raw opening through which our being bubbles up. These bubbles are filled variously with sorrow and joy. People, pets, places and projects that we care deeply about – these relationships don’t last forever. Our hearts will be broken.

There is a tendency to shut down, constrict, put on our suits of armor. We numb ourselves, we resist and, like the Dutch boy putting his finger into the hole in the dike, we stop the flow. To untie the knots and release the bubbles to flow again we need to experience the pain.

Pain is part of being human; none of us are immune. Suffering is optional.

When we constrict or tie ourselves in knots, we resist the pain by numbing ourselves. Franz Kafka wrote, “A good book should be like taking an axe to the frozen sea within.” By allowing the grief to flow (tears) – as harrowing as that can seem – our vessel is filled, the same vessel that contains joy. Our bubbles get bigger and our horizons expand. We begin to wake up to what really matters.

Achieving goals or obtaining specific outcomes is not what makes us happy.

They are moments of happiness, short lived. Like eating breakfast in the morning: we are satisfied, content. But the lunch hour comes along and we are hungry again. What makes us happy is leaning into our potential, but that takes us out of our comfort zone. By definition stepping outside our comfort zone creates discomfort. But we are brave.

Chapin is a Taos-area resident. 

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