In Defense of Walking on the Dead

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Palm Sunday I was walking my dogs in the cemetery. Sundays are busier there than any other day of the week, and holiday Sundays even more so. Team Puggle and I do our best to steer clear of people tending or visiting graves, as well as other dogs, so upon seeing five cars parked along the front drive, we took to the back paths.

The dogs were sniffing away in a clearing, enjoying the perfect weather and all the new spring smells. A car pulled slowly down the road about a hundred feet from us and someone in the car did my all-time least favorite thing: made a passive-aggressive judgmental comment just loud enough for me to hear as they drove by, not stopping to actually confront. The woman said, “How dare anyone walk a dog in a cemetery? That’s disgusting!” Her Jersey accent dripped with contempt.

The Puggles perked their ears and tilted their heads at her. She said some other things but I didn’t quite catch them, though her tone of voice made it sound as if I were personally digging up graves and toppling headstones.

I assured the Puggles that they were not, in fact, disgusting and we went on our way to sniff somewhere else. I asked Jack if he wanted to go track her down and inform her that we likely visit the grave of her dead relative far more than she does, because for this woman to be surprised and offended that people walk their dogs in this cemetery, she can’t come here very often.

Jack scented the air and opted out. He is a better man than I, and his insistence that we merely carry on with the walk shut off the imaginary conversation I was having with her in my head- you know, the one where I judge her back and put her in her place and make her feel at least as bad as she made me feel. Jack pulled in another direction and brought me back to where we were.

For a moment there, I second-guessed myself. About walking my dogs in the cemetery being a good thing.

I started walking them here on the advice of my therapist when I could barely get out of bed from depression a few years ago. For a couple of months it was the only thing I could accomplish in a day besides show up to work.

Walking in the cemetery is their very favorite thing in the world. Because we don’t have a yard, they consider the cemetery to be theirs. It’s part of their territory, and I’m willing to bet every other dog that walks there feels the same. It’s the kind of place that inspires ownership.

 

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For me, it’s a chance to serve. I let them choose which way we go. I let them sniff. I pick up their poop; I don’t let them pee on the flags.

 

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They explore as far as they can on the end of a leash. They notice the new trees the groundskeepers plant to replace the ones destroyed in the storms, the flowers and shrubs added by relatives around headstones. They find the evidence of deer, of raccoons, of owls; of the struggle for life and death that goes on in the animal side of things there. We’ve found dead moles, mice, birds and an inside-out rat, picked clean by crows.

 

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I cannot keep a straight face while walking behind two Puggle butts. Jack walks on an extreme diagonal, as if he is in desperate need of an alignment. If he ever requires a wheel, I fear he’ll only move in circles.

The dogs lead me to the change of seasons through all the small signs. I find the first of spring in the new shoots of grass that Casey likes to eat, the crocuses bursting through the ground that Jack has to investigate; I notice the buds on the tree branches as they both stare at the trunk, mystified at a squirrel that magically disappeared by going up.

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We visit the graves of the ones who touched our family: The boy who died on the high school baseball field. The kid who committed suicide, though some say it was an accident. The mother who very intentionally jumped off a bridge. The 20-year old girl who lost out to a brain tumor.

I’ll stop at a grave I don’t know and wonder about the person there. I wonder how they died, and how they lived. I wish peace for their families; I know it is harder to come by for some than others.

One thing I’ve learned from walking on the dead is that nobody gets enough time.  The cemetery is full of people who probably would have given anything for one more day or a chance to make a different decision had they known what was on the other side, and what they were leaving behind.

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More so than in yoga, or while meditating, the only time I truly appreciate the present moment as it happens is on these walks. Because we are present, Team Puggle and I. We are warming in the sun, we are having our floppy ears blown straight out by the wind, we are smelling all kinds of unbelievable smells.

The definition of reverence is a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe. Walking my dogs in the cemetery is the most reverent thing I do all day.

I guess this whole business of living and dying can be plenty disgusting if you think of it that way, but I don’t. It’s just life. All the gross things that come out of a body have to be tended to, canine and human alike. Is a dog taking a whiz in graveyard dirt any more disgusting than what happens to a body when it expires?

No one here gets out alive.

That’s how I dare walk a dog in a cemetery.

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 Every day above ground is a good day.

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday!!

Recently, I discovered it was a friend’s birthday- via Facebook, of course, which, sadly, is where I get a majority of my information these days. I opted to send Misty a text rather than post on her wall. How this is better, I’m not sure. What I really wanted to do was mail her a card, but it was too late for that.

I sent a text that said, “Happy Birthday! I hope your day is as fabulous as you are.”

It rang hollow to me even as I hit send. Because Misty is fabulous. She’s the kind of fabulous who will always send YOU a card, which will arrive on time, regardless of the weather.

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Misty’s Valentine, which arrived in between blizzards on February 13.

My lame-ass text was not even a Hallmark. More like something from the 99-cent section of greeting cards next to the tampons in the grocery store.

Then I looked at her Facebook page and discovered that three other people had posted that exact same message on her wall!

I sent another text: “I take it back. I hope your birthday rocks balls.”

She gave me credit for sentiment, but marked me down a point for lack of originality. Which got me to thinking, how many ways are there to say Happy Birthday?

I’m a chronic birthday forgetter.

Facebook giving me a reminder and the opportunity to write “Happy Birthday!!” on someone’s wall lets me do fully 100% more to observe that birthday than I would have otherwise.

The problem is that I want to be more than that, and I’m not.

If you see a friend in-person on their birthday, you simply say, “Happy Birthday!” No need to be witty. If you have a gift, it’s even better, but not necessary. Sending a card or a gift across the miles brings joy, if you remember to do it.

Facebook reminds us of the birthdays of close friends, relatives, and acquaintances. We feel an obligation to observe all the birthdays that pop up in our sidebar, regardless of the closeness of the relationship.

You find yourself wishing happy birthday to someone with whom the only thing you have in common is the the same second grade teacher, or the job at the car wash that summer before sophomore year, or the fact that you both shut down the same bar every night for six months before one of you went into rehab and the other one didn’t notice.

Is it possible to send pithy, heartfelt, electronic birthday greetings?

Happy Birthday!! Are you bringing cake to work?

Thanks for letting me copy your math homework in 4th grade. Happy Birthday!!

When I quit that horrid place we worked at together, I swore I’d never speak to anyone from there again. Happy Birthday!!

I hang out with you only to steal your Altoids. Happy Birthday!!

I have no idea who you are. Happy Birthday!!

I’m the one who ran over your cat. Happy Birthday!!

Your parents pay me to be your friend. Happy Birthday!!

*****

#1’s spring break this year happened to coincide with my birthday and she was coming back for a visit. She mentioned she had a birthday surprise for me…

And that she had to go to five different places before finding one that would accommodate her wishes…

And that she told my mom about it and my mom was appalled…

I must confess, I never saw it coming, and I’m so damn proud of her for pulling this off.

See, this Christmas, #1 wasn’t able to make it back to New Jersey. We packed up a trunk with a gift for her to open each day in December leading up to Christmas. My favorite gift of all was a very… special… picture of Jack that I framed and wrapped. I couldn’t imagine that this gift could be topped, ever.

That’s because I failed to imagine the photo topping a cake.

Every place she went to get it made had refused, saying that the photo violated their corporate policies on decency. When she went to the last place, she handed them the picture upside down because, as she says, “Upside down, it kind of looks like a ferret, so they thought it was a ferret and then we both signed off on it before they figured out that it wasn’t a ferret.”

I’ve looked at this picture- and at the subject in real life- a lot, and I don’t see a ferret.

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Finally, with this photo of a cake with a photo on it, I have my pithy, heartfelt electronic birthday wish for everyone’s Facebook wall.

Now, where do we put the candle?

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Caption Me, Please

The backstory:

My dogs eat crap they’re not supposed to eat. For a semi-complete listing, click here. Despite our best efforts to keep them away from things like thumbtacks and nail polish, we have a house full of teen girls plus an 11-year-old boy, and the only times our Puggles exhibit any kind of extreme intelligence is when they’re on a mission to eat something bad for them.

This means that sometimes they get chocolate.

Now, before you cart me off to the animal cops, know that these dogs, who can’t be counted upon to catch a piece of meat dropped directly over their heads, are capable of scaling seven feet of vertical wall, creating diversions, and opening zippers (despite their complete absence of thumbs) in order to get contraband that they’ve set their walnut-sized brains on. It’s not like we’re giving chocolate to them on purpose, or that we’re leaving it about the house willy-nilly; it’s that they’re ninjas.

A couple weeks ago Jack got some chocolate. Just part of a Hershey Bar. The doggie equivalent of an 8-ball. He commenced running about the house like he had some really urgent business to attend to and needed to tell us all about it. This went on for a while, and #4 took this picture.

It’s a crappy picture because she has a crappy, non-smart phone. Yes, I’m that parent. Get a job and when you’re 18 you can get your own cell phone contract, and THEN you can buy your own iPhone. Awesome, right?

 

But no matter how crappy the picture is, it never fails to render me speechless with laughter every time I look at it.

Enter your caption in the comments section below and I’ll pick a winner. The winner will receive something inexpensive but fabulous, most likely a chocolate bar. Probably something a little more exciting than a Hershey Bar, unless that’s your favorite. Contest open until 11:59pm on Thursday, October 31- Halloween!

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