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Posted by on Jan 19, 2014 | 0 comments

Lessons From Our CritterKin: Part I

GAbby and Me1


 There was a soul who walked this earth with quiet paws. Completely comfortable within herself, she slept when and where she wanted, ate only when hungry and trusted her nose implicitly.  The joys of her life were simple – sleeping in the sun, chasing crocheted mice filled with catnip, and rubbing her cheeks again and again and against her favorite brush.

From my perspective, only her sense of humor left something to be desired. The glee she exhibited at my reaction to being awakened by a paw in my mouth was downright unseemly. While I swore and spit and rinsed my mouth repeatedly with mouthwash, she would sit patiently by her food bowl with her eyes half closed and tail twitching as if to say, “If you’d only set your alarm clock.”

When she fell ill, I knew immediately. I took her to vets, puzzled over the small but tell tale signs of her discomfort with friends, but no one took me seriously. Instead of trusting her, I doubted myself. I let them tell me she was fine; that her cries were for attention; that she was just getting old. By the time the hard round lump appeared on the side of her neck – impeding her ability to swallow and breathe – it was too late for anything but palliative care.

At first I was inconsolable. I alternated between denying she was dying and berating myself for failing to see. Then I realized I was wasting time. She was dying, but she was here – curled purring at my side, staring at me with her marble green eyes, inviting me as she’d always done to simply be. This is what I learned.

To be with a dying friend is a gift beyond measure.  The veil between realities is very thin, the distinction between energy and form a mere formality. The closer she moved towards death, the clearer her love became. If you are quiet and persistent enough – if you step even for an instant beyond physical belief – you will see what you have always known. Life is eternal.

Of this I am certain – she stayed as long as she could for me. When it was time, I was there for her in the one small way left for me to be. I made the call, held her close, and felt her last small breath when the vet stopped her heart. She did not suffer.

These days I share my life with another four-pawed friend whose presence makes her absence bearable. He is as big and goofy and clumsy as she was small and elegant and graceful. Still you have to wonder why he comes when I accidentally call her name, or rubs his cheek endlessly against my iPad when I replay videos of her rubbing her cheek against my hand. You have to wonder and allow yourself to be reminded that love is never lost just transformed.  – Jena Ball



In loving memory of Gabby. RIP sweet girl.


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Posted by on Jan 7, 2014 | 0 comments

Falling Isn’t Failing

There’s a compelling YouTube video being passed around social media. It’s called “Pick Em Back Up,” and it was produced by Proctor and Gamble as part of their sponsorship of the upcoming winter Olympics. It’s billed as a thank you to mothers for helping pick their children up when they fell and providing the encouragement they needed to try again.

Of course the point of the video is to celebrate the mothers of Olympic athletes who not only picked their kids up, but watched them go on to make Olympic history. As beautiful and inspiring as the images of ice skaters finally completing triple axels, skiers flying past flags without crashing, and hockey players slamming pucks into goals were, I’d love to see other kinds of falls (emotional, mental and physical) that did not result in fairy tale endings.

I would love, for example, to see a video about the boy on my high school swim team with brittle diabetes. It took enormous courage, careful planning and the watchful eyes of everyone on the team to get him through his workouts. Or how about my college friend whose neck was broken by a drunk driver who ran a red light?  She was paralyzed from the neck down but refused to feel sorry for herself. “The accident sucked,” she used to say, “but what am I supposed to do, give up?”

My experiences as an Olympic-swimmer-wanna-be also taught me an invaluable lesson about emotions and perception. After failing to make the trials at the age of 17 I was devastated. I dragged myself out of the water and went to see my coach. He handed me my towel and said, “I’m sorry, but in your case the problem is a matter of talent.” To say I was crushed doesn’t begin to describe what his words did to me. I left the team and didn’t set foot in a pool for almost 10 years. When I did it was to join a masters swimming program in college. When the coach of that team (who once coached  the U.S. Junior Olympic team) heard my story, he had one thing to say, “bullshit.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“That’s bullshit, and if you’ll train exactly as I tell you to train I’ll prove it.”

Imagine my surprise when the workout schedule he gave me was less than 1/3 of the distance I used to log when I was 17. Even more startling was his insistence that I add light weights, meditation and rest to my program. “I’m convinced you were completely over trained,” he told me the day I broke my own personal record.

I will forever be grateful to this coach and to the five or six other teachers in my life who refused to see my falls as failures and encouraged me to keep going.  One, a literature professor, flat out told me I’d make a terrible journalist. “You’ll resent the rules,” she said. “Get out there and write your own kind of quirky stuff.”  At the time I was kind of insulted. Now I see she understood me better than I understood myself. Another, an art teacher, insisted I not drop his illustration class. “You’re not as good as the other kids yet,” he freely admitted, “but that’s not because you don’t have talent. It’s because you lack experience.” He gave me a B in the class by the way.

All of this is meant as a reminder to you and me both. As adults and teachers we tend to forget how important our words and actions are to kids. They watch us like hawks, live for our praise, and count on us to help them find their way in a world that isn’t very good at celebrating those who don’t win gold medals. Let’s help our kids not only recover from falls but grow into the kind of adults who are compassionate, respectful and eager to insure that those coming behind them feel like winners too.

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