A Nudge from Nissa

nissa-via-facebook

Well, Dear Readers, as you can clearly see, this post is a little bit behind schedule. It certainly wasn’t intended to be—I even had something written and ready to post by last Wednesday—but as the holiday arrived with all its glorious busyness, laughter, and AMAZING food, the post I had waiting in the wings no longer seemed to “fit” what I was thinking and feeling.

So, just what am I currently thinking and feeling?

Gratitude.

Gratitude for my family—both the family I was born into and the family I have gained through my significant other.

Gratitude for the man that so clearly loves Wallace the Wonderful and I.

And, ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to still be here—alive—to experience the magic of this Christmas.

This holiday season, although characterized by a whirlwind of activity, has also been abundant in hugs and kind words. It has shone as brightly as outdoor lights in the early darkness of December evenings. It has consisted of bad days and good ones, evenings of tears and evenings in which Hope has sat beside me on the couch and whispered of all the wonderful possibilities 2017 might hold. Yet, like my various cancerversaries, it has also been a season in which I am more aware of the passage of time and the mutability of our very mortal lives. There’s a vein of sadness flowing underneath the carols and the ribbons—a sense that things will never quite be the same, that happiness could, and will, slip away.

It was with this in mind—that I could be experiencing something as transient as it was beautiful—that I watched the sky behind Boldt Castle lighten this past Monday morning. There was something serene in the shifting colors, something of the ethereal in the way that the sun’s first rays illuminated the horizon’s edges. I wanted to capture this moment before I forgot it, or worse—never had the chance to experience it again—and reached for my phone. My fingers tapped out my password, the screen automatically opening to Facebook and a face I had not seen since February 2015.

I froze.

Before Wallace the Wonderful was born, before I was a cancer survivor—there was Nissa. I think we all have at least one dog in our lives that takes a bite out of our hearts when they go. Nissa was such a dog. She was a sweet soul with beautiful brown eyes and ears that folded over. She loved to run, belly to the ground, in wide circles. Nissa appreciated snow, too, and would bound through it with all the playfulness of a much younger dog (she was at least two when we adopted her).

For twelve years Nissa slept on the foot of my bed—and would pee on it whenever she was angry at me—until her hips would no longer allow her to jump up. She tolerated Wallace when he came along, giving me doleful looks when the cat would sprawl out on her doggie bed in the living room. She was patient and she was generous, never loving me any less when the chemotherapy took my hair or made me repugnant-smelling to the cats.

Sometimes, I felt that Nissa viewed me as a puppy in need of gentle, toothy reminders; she would take my hand in her mouth and guide me wherever she wanted me to go.

And she still guides me—in the most surprising of ways.

Meeting Nissa’s gaze via Facebook this past Monday, I knew I had a choice. I could view her picture as an unhappy reminder of all that I had lost and yet another example of how fleeting the beautiful things in our lives are, or, I could embrace it as a sign, a message, that yes, life changes. We lose dogs, we lose people, we lose bits of ourselves. Does it hurt? Most definitely. Does healing require time and patience? Certainly. But the love—the love they had for us and the love we had for them—is never truly out of reach.

I didn’t take a picture of Boldt Castle that morning. Beautiful moments like that—similar to the love of those we have lost—don’t always need to be captured by a camera. Sometimes, those moments just need to be felt.

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Repeat After Me: Joy, Peace, Love, Hope

heart-ornament-2015

It’s Sunday evening and the hours are slowly slipping away. The apartment is quiet, calm, and Wallace the Wonderful is sleeping on the far end of the couch. It should be the perfect time to write, but my eyes keep wandering from my laptop’s screen to our miniature Christmas tree. There’s something mesmerizing about the way the lights weave through the branches, illuminating the treasured ornaments hanging there. From where I am sitting, I can see the angel that my grandmother made for me the Christmas of 1994. Darth Vader is on her left, wielding a red light saber. A glass snowflake—a light directly behind it—glows emerald.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself studying our tree, retelling myself the stories behind each ornament. I am amused—and a little proud—that our 2-foot tree, high on a shelf, is so beautiful, so plump with love. Tonight, though, my tree-gazing is a little different. Tonight, I am searching for the words joy, peace, love and hope among our little tree’s boughs.

The search began, in earnest, this past Friday night. I was driving home, enjoying the outdoor Christmas lights along my route, and thinking about the scene that I had just left. I had gone to the VFW to watch my brother and his bandmates perform. Although I was busy snapping pictures of their band, Midnight Moonshine, I wasn’t so oblivious to my surroundings that I didn’t notice an elderly gentleman dancing.

“He’s 92,” an informant told me, “and he does this every week. He will dance here and then when this VFW closes, he’ll dance at the next one.”

Looking at the gentleman in question, there could be no mistaking what the smile on his face meant. He glowed with joy—joy for life, joy for dancing, joy for the present moment.

It seemed like a fitting emotion to have this time of year and it was this thought—that joy somehow “fit” this season—that I began to wonder about other words that might “fit”. My commute home, in fact, became a hunt for them.

While driving by a house with blue icicle lights, the word “peace” came to mind. I thought about how, earlier in the week, Wallace the Wonderful and I had fallen asleep on the couch listening to acoustic carols as the star atop our Christmas tree slowly and serenely shifted colors.

I thought of the word “love” while at an intersection, less than a block away from home, waiting for the light to turn green. Love surprises me on random mornings with a smile and a home-made breakfast fit for royalty. It is a word that I feel in my mother’s embrace and hear in my father’s jokes. Love tastes like hot cocoa, a spoonful of fluff melting atop the liquid and infusing the entire cup with its sweetness.

And, as I finally stepped into the light and warmth of our apartment, I felt the word “hope”. It was residing in the Christmas card on the table—our first card as a couple—and it greeted me with exuberant wishes for a happy and healthy season and year ahead.

Joy. Peace. Love. Hope.

We see these words so frequently this time of year—on accent pillows and wrapping paper, wall art and billboards—that they lose all meaning. The words become part of the backdrop, unobserved and unfelt, until a 92 year-old veteran, tearing up the dance floor, reminds you to start looking for them again.