life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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The wolf that lives within

This past Tuesday, August 15, was the two-year anniversary of the passing of my beloved wolf dog, Okami. Since he left this reality, I have been searching for him. Every few months, I go through an obsessive online search, combing through rescues to see if I can find a dog like him. Though I know full well that there is little chance that his spirit will return to this life in a similar form as the one I knew, I somehow cannot stop myself from looking nonetheless.

 

I feel this deep longing, a kind of craving of the heart, to experience the bond of wolf and woman once more. I seem to find evidence of wolves everywhere I go, in the eyes of passing dogs, graffiti, and even stickers posted on lampposts.

In my online searches, I find many dogs in need of homes. There are wolf like dogs a plenty as well, and yet somehow I cannot bring myself to go beyond the search. Is it because I know deep down that there is no way to replace my beloved? Is it because my husband will only allow me one dog, and I worry about what will happen if that one does not fill the void in my heart?

 

It’s not like buying a pair of boots, I joked to my husband the other day (I have a propensity for buying shoes, and since my feet haven’t grown since I was 12 I have many pairs in my possession.

 

That’s right, he laughed. You better find the right size and color because you won’t be able to exchange them.

 

I know, I responded. I only get one chance.

 

It has only just occurred to me, however, that it’s possible I have been thinking about this whole wolf search from the wrong vantage point. This afternoon, after writing and reflecting on the idea of the Wild Woman Archetype written about by Clarissa Pincola Éstes in Women who run with the wolves, I experienced a moment of clarity where I wondered if perhaps all of the searching was really for my own inner wolf, the spirit of wildness that lives within me and is always present but can be difficult to find and even more challenging (and not a bit terrifying) to set free.

 

Discovering my own inner voice of Self and learning to listen and embody that voice has been many years in the making. In the process, I have found many inner voices who often wage war upon one another.

 

Since Okami’s passing, I have convinced myself that I need a wolf companion to feel complete; however, I wonder if what I need is to engage more closely with the wolf within; my own wild spirit that still lives largely contained despite momentary outbursts when the wolf breaks free and makes itself known.

 

What is an inner wolf? Is it a voice, and if so, what does it sound like and what does it say? What does it feel like to listen to it? What does it feel like to set it free? What would/could life be like if I set it loose all of the time?

 

Is it less a voice than it is a kind of familiar like the ones you read about in fantasy witch stories?

 

Searching for a wolf may not be the answer I seek. It could hold part of the answer, but it could also be somewhat of an illusion. I know that true happiness can only be found within and not without. Tolle has written about the idea that unless we learn to be fully present in the what he refers to as the Now, then no matter what we attain in the future or what problems are resolved, we will create a new set to replace them and recreate our pattern of suffering over and over again. With this idea in mind, I begin wondering if part of what caused me to feel whole when I found Okami was his ability to fill a void that I had not found a way to fill with my own spirit. When we were together, I felt like an absent half had completed my whole being. Is it possible that I could once again find a way to fill this void even in the absence of a live wolf spirit by my physical side?

 

It is possible that I need only to let loose my own inner wolf, to embrace a spirit that may already be present within me and may be the key to becoming whole. If this is true, how do I go about accomplishing this seemingly Sisyphean task?

 

As with most of the self-work I have tackled over the years, awareness seems to be the first step. Awareness of what is or what might be missing and also of what is possible. Next, it’s time to imagine what fullness feels like. Then, I will need to really reflect on what changes I can make in my life to attain that fullness from within, to embody and be whole without grasping for something external to fill a void that I fear can only be filled from within.

 

I will keep you posted on my progress.

 

I invite you to spend a few minutes reflecting on your inner ‘scape and consider the following questions:

 

Do I have an empty place inside?

Do I wish to fill this place?

 

What does my own inner wolf look and sound like?


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Free in every moment

In the absence of a living breathing wolf dog in my life, I have been seeking to find wildness from other sources. One source is the wildness that lives within me, a wildness I grew up thinking was “unladylike” and therefore undesirable.

 

As a child, I was surrounded by other girls who dressed and played the part of the delicate flower, prim, dainty. So many of the young women I went to high school with were unwilling to go outside without plastering their face with makeup to create the face they wished to show the world. Their identities required constant care and attention to remain in a state of perceived perfection, and I sought to imitate them in an effort to become an ideal female myself.

 

Time and again, I failed miserably in my attempts at imitation. Pretty quickly, I realized that makeup was not my cup of tea. For one, it took far too much effort, and it also made my skin breakout. However, not wearing makeup somehow seemed like failure to become the epitome of what it meant to be a woman. I thought that I needed to erase and/or cover up any possible blemish on my person. However, just like those perfectly red, round apples in the grocery store are the ones with the least flavor, these young women who were my role models seemed completely devoid of character. Ones who I knew to be incredibly intelligent feigned ignorance and idiocy around members of the opposite sex.

 

In my young mind, I did not completely understand what was going on, but I sensed that it was false.

 

Even still, I wanted to be like these young women, so each of my failures to embody their feminity informed me that I was not feminine or female. I was far more wild, purple heather pelted by wind and rain on the moor, my hair unkempt, legs muscular from playing outdoors, riding my bicycle and then roller blades all day long, and exploring trails through the woods in the suburban town in Massachusetts where I grew up.

 

It took several decades of suffering before I began to realize and appreciate that being wild and accepting this authenticity was not only exactly what made me a woman, but also what made me an authentic version of my Self with a capital S.

 

In the seven years since beginning this conscious journey toward what I have referred to as self-sustainability, I find that more and more often I am drawn toward those relationships that support my own wild, authentic self. In contrast, I have learned to recognize fairly readily those beings that seek to hinder and inhibit my authentic self, and so I do my best to put distance between us, as much as possible.

 

I have also discovered that I am far less willing to “tame my wild beast” to please someone else and make them feel more comfortable than I was once.

 

The Wild Woman Archetype described by Clarissa Pincola Éstes in her book, Women Who Run With The Wolves – Myths And Storie by the Wild Woman Archetype, reminds me of the tentative, tenuous voice nearly extinguished that I began to hear while studying sustainability and beginning to reach for it in my own life.

 

“Once women have lost her and then found her again, they will contend to keep her for good. Once they have regained her, they will fight and fight hard to keep her, for with her their creative lives blossom; their relationships gain meaning and depth and health; their cycles of sexuality, creativity, work, and play are reestablished; they are no longer marks for the predations of others; they are entitled equally under the laws of nature to grow and to thrive.”

 

According to Éstes, it is an “unconscious culture,” which inhibits the wild woman. The idea of being unconscious is reminiscent of Tolle, who wrote about the need for people to evolve beyond creating their identity through the thinking mind. Tolle advised, “You do not need to wait for the world to become sane, or for somebody else to become conscious, before you can be enlightened. You may wait forever.” Nor should you “accuse each other of being unconscious.”

 

According to the STAGES Adult Development Model put forward by Terri O’Fallon, each person moves through stages of development at their own pace and can move through the stages along a developmental spectrum over and over again in the course of their life. I recognize that it is not for me to criticize other people for being “unconscious” or at a different stage of development than my own. Criticizing is completely useless and unproductive and serves to cause only further suffering. Rather, I believe I must focus on my own path and my own responses to the movements of the universe around me.

 

I do believe that the solution to so many of the world’s troubles lies in an awakening for all people, and I agree with Éstes that “A woman’s issues of soul cannot be treated by carving her into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture, nor can she be bent into a more intellectually acceptable shape by those who claim to be the sole bearers of consciousness.” However, I am finding that my own part is to effect change in a very bottom-up approach.

 

I can and do attempt to effect change with those close to me (and those more distant through writing and virtual media) through the power of story and the creative process.

 

According to Éstes, “The instruction found in story reassures us that the path has not run out, but still leads women deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing. The tracks we all are following are those of the wild and innate instinctual Self.” Story, accompanied by the creation of music, played an integral role in my own bumpy path toward self-sustainability. Over several years, I worked my research partner to compose many songs from my own spoken stories. Each story revealed another contentious layer of my being. Each movement through the creative process of birthing a song from that story helped me confront my inner conflict, to make piece with the warring voices within, each telling me to embody a different version of self, and to experience catharsis and clarity. More often than not, this songwriting project was difficult and emotional. I was putting my self under the bright lights of an operating table with multiple versions of my self arguing over what they found when they pried me open.

 

I have written songs about my struggles with body image, my attempts to find a strong inner voice, my propensity to try to make people in my life happy at the expense of my own wellbeing.

 

The opening lines in the first of verse the song Free in the Moment are quite poignant, clear evidence of the war that being waged within to free my wild Self.

 

I have layers and layers of people from over the years

I keep losing my self in their words, it’s all that I hear

I have been inclined to let them cover my own voice

I, I gotta shed those layers and be free…

 

My path to self-sustainability is an ongoing process. My desire is to move from an ability to experience moments of sustainability (i.e., being “free in the moment”), a term I wrote about in my dissertation, Becoming Sustainable: An Autoethnography in Story and Song in-depth, to being able to live and breathe balance and a sense of freedom at all moments in my life, even in the midst of great challenge and suffering.

 

This path involves a great deal of reflection, writing, reading, meditation, yoga, long walks in the woods, and dialogue with my husband, who I refer to as my own live-in guru. It also requires a lot of self-control to avoid the behaviors that I know will serve only to increase my suffering, the practice of patience, non-attachment to outcomes and life plans, and a willingness to do my best to let go of the definitions of success, health, normalcy, etc. that western culture bombards me with on a regular basis.

 

Becoming conscious and awake is not easy. It is also often quite lonely. Nearly every day, I am confronted with the negative energy and suffering that is created by the actions of unconscious people. Their actions affect my own sensitive energy, as well as my bank account. Nevertheless, I breathe, fume, clean with a fury, and spend hours cooking to create something positive instead of allowing myself to get sucked into the unconscious void. I am not yet enlightened, nor am I very adept at not feeling each affront as a personal attack. There are days when I drink far too much wine or whiskey to ease the pain of consciousness. It’s all a process and a practice.

 

And as I am coming to realize, practice takes practice.


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I dreamed a dream

Given the gravity of what Seth Meyers refers to as a television series called “As the World Burns” on his skit, A Closer Look, I thought I would share the details I can recall from my dream last night in order to provide an ounce of levity in a heavy time.

I remember snippets of details from one REM cycle to the next, but I have absolutely no idea from where some of these images derive in my daily life.

Just to give you an idea:

Last night, I dreamed that I visited a doctor on several occasions because I was experiencing contractions (apparently, in this dream I was also pregnant). On each visit to the doctor’s office, I had to walk through the perfume section of a department store. I was led by a male doctor in white scrubs to a wall lined with perfumes from floor to ceiling. He gently pressed the wall, and it turned out to be a hidden a doorway to lead to the doctor’s office.

As if this were not strange enough, the doctor’s exam table was set on a large football field with people running track around the outer edge. I had to sit on the exam table (and yes, there were foot stirrups…because it wasn’t humiliating enough to be sitting in a gown with an open back while people jog around you) in the middle of the field. At one point, I beamed over to a group of runners who were waiting their turn. No idea how I got there.

After staying at this “office” for several nights to be monitored by the doctor, it was determined that I was experiencing a “hysterical pregnancy” (yes, hilarious) and that I could go home. I recall worrying about the cost of the visit but trying to relax since at least I was in Belgium and not the United States.

End Scene.

I can recall at some point visiting a café or bar in a city, but otherwise the rest of my REM is fairly vague. Even just this strange vignette has me completely nonplussed. I know that my biological clock can go a bit haywire at certain times of the month. Sometimes, my hormones practically scream at me that I must conceive a child NOW NOW NOWWWWWWW!

When my moon begins each month, I feel a simultaneous disappointment and extreme sense of relief. While I do have a deep, raw longing to hug a being in need to my chest, I prefer one with fur and four legs, to be honest. I imagine this baby snuggling its head beneath my chin and becoming my shadow as my wolf dog Okami once was. I miss my shadow.

At least in my dream I did not give birth to a baby wolf, though I wouldn’t put it past my subconscious. When I remind my husband that I have no baby and would like a wolf baby, he reminds me that life is long.

I wonder how many odd dreams I will sleep through before a wolf comes into my life once more?


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Right or happy?

I know that I am not alone when I admit to obsessing over one person who has mistreated me instead of focusing on the many who have supported me. why is it that the negative stay with me so strongly? I have an inkling that perhaps it is because I sense that to mistreat a person takes extra intention and planning, but perhaps this is not the case. Just as I feel betrayed, maybe the other person has created a story of justification and entitlement in their mind?

 

It is difficult to say when the person in question refuses to engage in any form of communication.

 

Since leaving my stable government job with its regular paycheck, I have created a kind of hodge podge career, combining editing with songwriting, music performance, and teaching yoga. Far and away, I have experienced wonderful connections with the people I worked with. It is these experiences that I should be able to focus on.

 

In the several years of working as a freelance editor, I have been lucky that all but one client has observed the honor code of paying for my services. It was not until this past spring that a client dropped off the planet after receiving my edits for her Master’s Thesis. She first had informed me that she had mailed a check to my parents’ house in the United States (I currently live in Belgium). When the check did not arrive after more than a week, I contacted her and she said she would send another check that day and to simply tear up the other one should it arrive. Seemed reasonable enough, and I am a trusting person. Why wouldn’t a social justice Master’s student be honest and reliable? The second check never arrived, and I suggested that perhaps she could just pay me via PayPal, which is fast and easy. No response.

Puzzled, I continued to try to contact her. For weeks, I thought that maybe she was not receiving my emails or having trouble with her email account. Months passed by, and I continued to contact her through as many avenues as I could figure out. I had edited the $*%& out of her thesis, but it has still not been approved for reasons beyond those even the best of editors can repair (not enough cited evidence, for one).

While this information at least helped me to try to put a story together for what was going on, I still felt completely betrayed. Already this year, I had been bested by people of perhaps a similar nature, who also claimed to have sent money to my parents by snail mail. What my parents received was a very empty, untampered with envelope.

I know that I should just let it go. It was one day of work (yes, a precious commodity for the part-time freelancer, but not the end of the world), after all.

I continue to send emails and PayPal invoices, thinking, This time, she will surely come to her senses and pay me for the hard work I engaged in on her behalf. What is all the more shocking to me is that this student is both an adult and a promoter of social justice. It boggles the mind, truly. After much denial, I am beginning to think that she has simply started blocking my communications, though I am not sure how this helps her to sleep soundly each night.

What I am left with is anger and a desire for retribution, energies I do not enjoy in the least. What to do with the desire for retribution? I don’t think there is much I can do. Somehow, this person has justified in their mind that they do not need to embrace honor or ethics in their daily life. In this modern, virtual world, there is little I can do to attain my measly $175 beyond sending her emails, which she can just block.

Her disregard does help me appreciate every other client who sends positive feedback and prompt payment. I make a point now of expressing my gratitude to each of them.

In addition, I don’t like feeling awful, and every time I think about her and/or attempt to claim payment, I am revisited by feelings that I would just as soon not embrace.To counter my frustration and to shift the negative, rotten feeling I have cultivated in my brooding, I try to do kind things and to take deep breaths. Essentially, I retaliate with kindness. There is much to be grateful for in my life, and for this I am endlessly thankful.

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How do you transcend injustice and frustrations in your life? I would love to learn from you.

In the words of my live-in, guru husband, Right or happy, love. You can’t control her. You, however, are beautiful and wonderful, so lift the corners of your mouth and rejoice!


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The cat came back!

I wrote a few days ago about my husband and my rescue attempt of a cat we found in the woods near our house in Boitsfort. The cat appeared to be young because it was so small. When we saw it, was walking along a back road next to an international school in our neighborhood. We called to it, as we like to greet all the cats we meet on our walks, and it immediately crawled underneath a fence and ran ahead along a trail that paralleled the road.

 

As we came closer, my husband noticed that it had its collar wrapped around it neck and front leg. He called it from the road, but it didn’t respond. I climbed/crawled over the fence and walked slowly toward the cat, crouching down intermittently to call it. I figured that perhaps we could coax it toward one of us if we both approached slowly from two sides. What wound up happening was that the cat came running toward me each time I knelt on the ground. He (I deemed it a he because it seemed to have male energy—don’t ask me how, I just sensed it. My husband calls it my “witchy sense”) would nuzzle his nose, head, and body against my legs and then dash off the second I moved even the slightest bit.

 

I convinced my husband to toss his t-shirt over the fence near me, waited for kitty to come back to my lap, and ever so slowly wended by body around to be able to scoop him up in it.

 

Kitty did not smell good. In fact, he smelled like rotting death. His energy and spirits were high, though, and he allowed me to carry him back to our house, where I cleaned him up while he purred nonstop over two bowls of dry food (croquettes en français). We spent some quality time in the small area between the front door and the rest of the house. My husband had closed the set of doors opposite the front door in order to create a small, safe place that would be separate from our two cats. When I opened the door to let the cat out to explore a little, he was not happy about meeting our larger male cat, Fin and lasted only a few minutes before bounding out the front window, which my husband had opened to try to air out the death smell from our small house.

 

I was beside myself, especially after we visited the owner, who had posted flyers all over the neighborhood nearly two months earlier when the cat first disappeared. We showed her the collar and explained what had happened. She was so thankful we had found him, but I felt heartbroken that we had lost him again.

 

My husband explained to me that each animal is on its own path, and I tried to convince myself each night as I lay in bed that he would be ok. My dad was a doctor and said that animals generally do a pretty good job of cleaning their wounds. I woke up each morning after nightmares about trying to catch the cat. He had a pretty serious, raw wound where his front right leg was supposed to be attached to his body but the collar had caused a separation from so much rubbing.

 

I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday returning to the place where we had found the cat (who turned to indeed be a male called Elio). I brought food with me and shook the container, calling out in English and French to Elio to come with me and that I wouldn’t force him to live indoors but that I thought he would benefit from medical attention, which I was happy to provide for him.

 

Monday night, we heard a knock on our door. I opened the door to find the owner, who immediately informed me that she had found the cat! I was so shocked I just there, instantly feeling an emotional meltdown coming on.

 

I invited the owner in, and she proceeded to tell us how she had gone back to the house she had recently moved from and found the cat there. She had been looking there when he first disappeared but then stopped because she gave up hope that he might still be alive. When we told her we had found and lost him, she went back, and there he was. The vet had told her that he weighed less than a kilo and would not have survived beyond a week with the infection and gangrene inside his wound.

 

He was so thin that there was no extra skin to pull toward the wound to stitch it back up, so he may have a limp for his life unless the skin stretches as he gets older.

 

But who cares! He was alive and he would survive. My husband and I stood teary-eyed as we listened to a tale we never thought would come to be. Hugs were exchanged, and we were gifted with a purple flowering plant.

IMG_1294When I walked the woman to the door, she turned around, cupper her hands around my chin, and whispered the words, “Petite Marieke” in such an endearing tone I nearly started weeping all over again.

The rest of the day and ever since, my husband and I have periodically broken into jubilant singing of the song, The cat came back. We have texted it to each other back and forth throughout the days. Every time I lament over a hardship in our life, I respond, but it’s all ok because… to which my husband cries out, the cat came back! Literally, the very next day!

 

And then we start singing all over again.

 

Of late, I have made many wishes between my recent birthday and the tossing of many coins into myriad fountains on our trip to Rome. So far, the only wish to come true was one I made on a tiny, perfect blue-black feather that I found in the forest. It was and continues to be the most important wish because it was, after all, a wish for life.

 

It seems so rare to have happy endings such as this. We see many animal missing posters around our little community and wonder if they are ever reunited with their human families. I was so happy to take down one of the missing Elio posters, leaving an empty canvas for graffiti on the side of the mailbox, and post the flyer proudly on my fridge as a happy reminder that this ending is not only happy; it is also a beginning.

 

Huzzah!

 


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It’s about the adventure

In my life after being a park ranger, I have become a kind of Renaissance woman, cobbling together a humble living as an editor, yoga instructor, and songwriter (the latter has been mostly pro bono since moving to Belgium). Editing tends to be slower in the summer, as the bulk of my work comes from students during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year.

 

To keep myself busy, I pore over animal adoption sites in search of a dog I might be able to convince my husband to let me bring home. I study texts about philosophy and the path to enlightenment, I practice handstands at the wall, and I go for walks. I also do a lot of writing.

 

Since we are on a limited budget with my work being part-time and even less than that during the summer months, I have also begun researching different foods that I would like to be able to eat but cannot really order at restaurants, essentially because we don’t ever go to restaurants in order to save money. My most recent epiphany was that I should try to make dim sum. This revelation came when our favorite couscous stand was absent from the Sunday market in Boitsfort, so we opted for Thai and Balinese. Both were super overpriced, which completely bummed me out. The Thai food was disappointing all around, especially toward the end when I found a hair in mine (this is never fun). My husband suggested that I pretend I didn’t see it, but I was not very successful in this endeavor. The dumplings from the Balinese stand cost 8 euros for four tiny morsels. The shrimp dumplings were amazing, but the friend sesame ones filled with red bean paste were pretty sad.

 

All told, we spent 7 euros for the sad Thai noodles, 8 euro for the dumplings, and 5 euros for two glasses of white wine. The wine won on all fronts.

 

Maybe, I could just figure out how to make the foods I love to eat? I suggested to my husband.

 

Go for it, he acquiesced.

 

Ok, so 20 euros on the Sunday market lunch was nothing when compared with the small fortune I spent at three different Asian markets and two western grocery stores this morning and afternoon. My morning trip was shared with all of the adorable, old ladies of Watermael-Boitsfort, who left their carts sitting in the middle of the aisles so it took me a while to wind my way from one end of the store to the other.

 

My day of adventuring began with a visit to an Optician for an eye exam. Learning about inner workings of the health care system in Belgium is also a challenge, particularly when French is not my native tongue. I had a lovely time visiting with the Optician and asking all kinds of questions about the machines and method he used, all the while trying to decipher the code and meaning of his explanations, which were, of course, all in French. It turned out that I had gone about the eye care process in reverse, as most people began with a visit to an Ophthalmologist to test for tension in the eyes, glaucoma, and an overall medical exam, which an Optician could not provide. (At least, the eye exam was free!)

 

Learning the ins and outs of a foreign culture is an exhausting adventure, which requires figuring out public transit systems, following maps to find venues that Google claims exist but in actuality have long since closed, and beyond. My stamina is not what it was ten more more years ago when I last lived in a foreign land; however, I somehow made it through an eye exam and a visit to five different grocery stores (the sixth had come up as an Asian market but did not look like through the windows, so I didn’t go in because at that point I was beyond exhausted). The final stop of my day was also the highlight. I found the Alimentation Asiatique and quickly befriended the owner.

 

His name was Wang, and he was delighted when I asked if he could help me find some items.

 

Do you like Chinese food? He asked me.

 

I do! And I love trying new things.

 

Then you must try the radish. I just opened some. You can try first before you decide to buy it.

 

He went into the back and brought out a pair of chopsticks and bowl of radish coated in something red, which looked spicy and dangerous for my sensibilities.

 

Can you use chopsticks?

 

I can, but I am not sure I hold them correctly.

 

I modeled my chopstick holding stance.

 

Good enough, he said. He was now speaking in English, explaining that he spent three years studying in New York. Apparently, most of the English speakers who came into the shop had British accents and had a hard time understanding his English.

 

I have a hard time understanding a British accent.

 

Me, too, but it’s so wonderful.

 

It is! I love British English accents, I agreed.

 

I gingerly picked up a piece of the radish, brought it to my mouth, and smiled.

 

It’s so good! Definitely spicy.

 

And it’s very cheap. Everything here is much less expensive than other places because we sell to restaurants.

 

He continued: Where are you from?

 

The United States.

 

Where?

 

Arizona, but I have lived all over. I started listed states on my fingers.

 

You are very nice. You smile all the time. I can tell it is because you travel a lot.

 

Well, not everyone who travels is nice.

 

True, but we can ignore the people who aren’t nice.

 

Yes, we can.

 

I went through my ingredients list, asking about different items. When I asked him if he had red bean paste, he lit up, handed me a can, and told me how his mom would put red bean paste into things she cooked as a treat for him when was a child.

 

We then spoke about our moms and how their cooking is wonderful and full of love.

 

My mom lives far away, so now I have to try cooking things myself, I said.

 

Wang was all about helping simplify my cooking experience. He suggested that I buy frozen dumpling wrappers and already made ravioli.

 

I explained that I really wanted to try making the recipes myself but that I would buy some ready made to put in the oven if I failed so I could pretend that I had made perfect ones.

 

When I asked about bamboo steamers, he said not to waste my money and drew me a picture for how I could put water in a pot and place another bowl inside, covering the pot so the boiling water would create vapors to steam the dumplings.

 

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Later in the evening, when I had spent hours attempting to make the ravioli with the flour I used because I couldn’t find wheat starch, I told my husband that I probably should have listened to Wang.

 

He laughed.

 

We had a good time trying everything. While the proverbial fruits of my labor were a far cry from the photos in the recipes online I had been following, I felt pretty good about my first effort.

 

It’s all about the adventure, my husband said. You should be getting out there, exploring and meeting people.

 

It’s true, I said. Thank you for braving my most recent adventure!

 


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We are each on our own path

I was meant to be a helper. The times I feel most alive and present, I am doing something that to help make the world a happier, more beautiful place. Since I was a child, I have been drawn to help creatures beyond the human realm. Bless my parents for opening our home to all kinds of animals, including the rabbit whose owner couldn’t keep it anymore, fish, gerbils, etc. I recently scooped up a magpie who had been attacked by other magpies and carried him to the forest to give him a chance to recover in a quiet spot.

I don’t know if I would call myself an animal whisperer, but I am drawn to help and there are many animals who either chosen to cross paths with my own or have at least humored me in my attempts to assist them. When I lived in the North Cascade mountains of Washington state, I rescued all kinds of animals: a racing pigeon with a broken wing, baby mice whose mom had been eaten or killed in a trap, birds that had flown into windows, the list goes on. A young squirrel sought me out when I was living in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. I really wanted to bring him home, but he was young and healthy, a state that would not last if I introduced him to my two cats. [As an aside, my husband tells me I am part squirrel because I seem to create little nests of things. He refers to my collection of earplugs and Kleenex underneath my pillow on our bed as my squirrel cache. I recently scooped up a magpie who had been attacked by other magpies and carried him to the forest to give him a chance to recover in a quiet spot.My mom has also informed me that when I was baby, she would have to stick her finger in my mouth and do a sweep in my cheeks for hidden grapes and other items that I apparently stashed there, perhaps for a midnight snack? I can only wonder.]

My desire to help creatures in need is not completely selfless. I experience great benefit from this act. My heart practically bursts open from the love that comes pouring out. I feel alive and present. I think I also benefit from feeling needed by another being.

There is so much suffering in the world, and I often feel helpless to make a difference. On our recent visit to Rome, I witnessed animals in need of medical attention and food, but I knew that I could not help them all. When I bemoan my inability to save all creatures, my husband tells me that each animal is on its own path. We can help them along their way, but we cannot make their own choices for them. I have come to believe that this may indeed be true. We cannot know what goes on for each being, so I do my best to help keep them help them as I am able and as much as they will allow me in to their hidden lives.

The greatest gift I have ever received came in the form of a wolf dog named Okami. My husband and I adopted him from a rescue near our home in Prescott, Arizona. He was with us for only a very short while, but he imprinted deeply and permanently on my heart. We were inseparable. We went everywhere together. He followed me and became my shadow. My husband described him as a wise, Zen creature. Perhaps, he had experienced great suffering or trauma in his short life before our paths crossed. We couldn’t know, but his gentle, grounded demeanor was the most soothing influence on my own anxiety-riddled spirit, second only to my husband.

Okami shared five months of his life with us and then I made the difficult decision to put him down. He had been struggling for a month while our vet tried to figure out what was causing him to waste away. It wasn’t until I researched his symptoms online and suggested a tick-borne disease that we were able to determine the culprit. The vet admitted that testing for tick-borne disease was one of the first round of testing he normally did, but he had forgotten. The test came out positive, and we began treating Okami right away, but it was too late.

For a month, I had provided around the clock care for my beloved wolf dog. Even that fateful afternoon when I brought him to the vet because he could hardly stand up I would not have believed I would be leaving without him. When the vet assistant came to the exam room to tell me he was having difficulty breathing even with an oxygen machine to help him, I made the decision to put him down.

I left with his body in a box and the emptiest feeling my heart has ever known. Without Okami to care for, I felt adrift. I convinced my husband to let me bring home a baby husky the woman from the same rescue had told me about. I needed to be needed again. Our baby husky was full of joy and life, and she made me laugh every day. But she didn’t need me. When we made the decision to move to Brussels less than a year later, my parents generously offered to look after her while we were overseas. It occurred to me that her presence in our life may also have been meant to be only temporary. She helped my heart to heal in absence of Okami, and now she was going to my parents to do the same. We sent her to my parents not 48 hours after they had put their own dog down. They had been heartbroken, and my dad had sent me texts that read: Without Kota, there is no need to leave the house.

We were a little worried about sending them another dog so soon after the loss of their beloved Labrador, but it quickly became clear that Naih the bundle of husky joy was just what they needed. She gave my dad a reason to continue his walks through the woods. She gave my mom a grand puppy, which helped alleviate some of my own guilt at not having provided her with the human kind.

We miss her every day and hope to be reunited in the future, but we sense that her purpose in this life is to bring joy to as many creatures as possible. She is able to do this with my parents very well. In the short time she has been with them, she has helped a young boy overcome his fear of dogs and gained many friends—human and canine—at every dog park she visits. My husband and I joke that one day we will receive a letter from her, thanking us for giving her a home for the first year of her life and kindly requesting to stay with my parents forever more, where she has free reign of a 2400 square foot house, a huge yard, daily walks and visits to dogs parks, a canine best friend who lives around the corner, my mom to bring home toys and treats for her, my dad to wind around her little princess paw, and better healthcare than many people living in the United States and around the world will ever receive.

The spirit of the wolf continues to haunt my heart, and every time I go for a walk in the woods near our home I make a silent (and sometimes not so silent) wish that I will find a baby wolf who will fill the void in my heart and become my constant companion and shadow.

This afternoon when my husband and I went for a walk through the woods, we happened upon a young cat. It became clear that this cat needed help. Its collar had become wrapped around its neck and front leg, so much so that the fur had been rubbed off completely. As we approached, the cat mewed but moved farther away from us and underneath a fence. My husband and I went in different directions to try to get nearer to him.

I found a spot where I could manage to climb over the fence, and I moved toward the cat very slowly, stopping periodically to crouch down, whisper, and rub my fingers together in an attempt to cajole it closer.

Amazingly, kitten did come closer. We did this back and forth dance until he was nuzzling into my hand and legs while I say cross-legged.

Can you take off your shirt and toss it over the fence to me? I asked my husband. My own tank top would not be enough to try to wrap around the cat in order to carry it without being scratched.

If I throw it, he will run away, my husband said.

It’s ok; he will come back. I felt sure that he would. He needed help.

Kitten did run away, but he did come back. We danced a little more until I was able to wrap him up in the t-shirt and draw him into my chest. I whispered and comforted him until he settled into me. I thought I would try to hand him off to my husband so I could get over the fence, but I was afraid he would escape, so my husband held the fence down while I sidled and slip over the top. Apart from my leggings getting temporarily caught on a loose fence end, I made it over with relative ease. Kitten stayed calm for most of the walk except for some panic at the large road crossing between the forest and our quiet corner of Boitsfort.

Once inside our house, my husband cut the collar off and closed the doors between the foyer and the front door. I sat with kitten while he went through two bowls of food. I didn’t try to pry the collar off because I wasn’t sure if it was embedded in his skin, but it eventually fell off of its own accord. Free from the collar, he was much happier. He purred while he ate and let me clean his wounds with a soapy washcloth and wet wipes. He even let me cover the wounds with Neosporin.

My husband came in to say hello, but kitten was not so sure about him. Our other cats were very curious, so we let kitten out for a chaperoned meet and greet. It was clear that kitten did not want to stay inside. He immediately went for the large glass doors that led to our terrace. It was only a few more minutes before he discovered the open kitchen window that my husband had opened to air out the house from the awful stench his collar had carried. I yelled out, No! and went running out the front door in an effort to scare him back into the house, but he was gone.

My husband had walked around the corner to see if this cat might fit the description of a poster we had seen on several windows and light posts around the neighborhood. He did meet the description, but he was also no longer in our care. We walked over to the house where he had once lived and spoke with the owner. She was over the moon that he was still alive. We all walked around the neighborhood, looking for him, but to no avail. Kitten was gone.

Back home, I felt the return of the void. We had been so close, and the lack of resolution was woefully uncomfortable.

I had been texting my dad questions about how to care for the cat in its current condition and then shared my remorse when he escaped. He responded, an animal used to the outdoors would probably not want to live inside. Don’t feel bad. You enabled to continue doing what it loves.

My husband echoed my father’s words. You gave him a real chance to live, my husband told me in a reassuring voice. With the collar, he might have made it maybe three more weeks, but he would have died.

I know, but I’m worried that his wound will get infected. And he was so skinny. He needs to eat so much more food, I said.

When I started to cry, my husband wrapped his arms around me. I told him how I hadn’t felt needed since Okami had died and that I thought this was my wish for a wolf puppy come true.

I thought he would be my wolf cat, I sobbed into my husband’s chest.

You gave him a miracle; you gave him the ultimate wish to be free from a bonded trap that was killing him. His ultimate wish was not to be released from a trap only to be put into a larger cage, a house where he would live indoors.

I took a deep breath in and let out a slow exhale. I think you are right, I said. Maybe, he didn’t want to go back to live with that woman. He was meant to be a wild and free spirit. I hope he will be ok out there.

Even though I know kitten is now somewhere out there, roaming free, I left a bowl of food and an almost empty can of tuna in the windowsill, just in case.