My good friend T is in Seattle, visiting "home" for a few days before making the move from Atlanta to DC. She and I were going to go hiking near Granite Falls, and we stopped at my mom's house on the way.
We walked inside, and T asked, "Uh, is your dog okay?" I hadn't gotten a good look at Cleo, our family dog, and replied, "Yeah, she's just gotten sick recently." And she has. She's been in good health her whole 12 years of life, then suddenly about 3 weeks ago, she started coughing and getting droopy eyes, and went into a rapid decline with bronchial infections, ear problems, went blind, had a stroke, stopped walking, and got diagnosed with a thyroid condition.
"But... the blood?" T asked. I walked farther into the kitchen to see Cleo laying on her doggie bed, breathing heavily and foaming blood at the mouth. There was diarrhea and bloody saliva and vomit smeared all over the kitchen floor and cabinets. She was panting so I held up her water bowl which she drank ravenously, then promptly puked back up. It was so hard to see her like that, clearly suffering, disoriented, and having some kind of major organ failure.
We decided to put her down, with the vet's agreeing and saying it was likely that she had some kind of cancer. I hope she is in a better, pain-free place, and she will be so sorely missed in our family. We drove back to the house in the rain, bleary-eyed and empty. T was so sweet and supportive though it all, and helped clean when we got home. As she finished mopping the floor and getting the last of the blood spots, she got a phone call that one of her coworkers back east had died unexpectedly. It felt like a dark day. I couldn't help but listen to some Ani Difranco: "Sky is grey, sand is grey, the ocean is grey/And I feel right at home, in this stunning monochrome/Alone in my way."
We didn't have time for the hike, but walked around drizzly Discovery Park as a back-up plan. Conversation invariable centered on life, love, and loss... and how all those things don't always go how we plan. What would our 19 year-old selves think of our 29 year-old selves? Would we be disappointed? Inspired? Disillusioned? Feel like we were on-track?
My answer? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what we always thought we would do, where we would live, who we would marry. Dreams change and morph and disintegrate and are reborn all the time, and that's okay. You could say it's the decreased idealism that comes with age, but I think it's more like a wisdom that comes with understanding the unpredictable nature of life. And with the perspective that living with honesty, intention, love, and joy is how I measure greatness... not the same sense of epic grandeur that cradled my younger visions. There is a sense of loss of letting go of those dreams, but I have to remember that mostly I am losing an idea that existed in my mind, and not losing a physical thing. And now, more than ever, I want to interact with what is here and real, and not the idea of something off in the future. I want to get my hands dirty. I want to love earnestly. I want to regret something I did, not something I didn't do.
We kept talking through the glowy green forest and sitting on the grey sand grey sky beach. We made new dreams. We talked about bikes and her love of climbing and my love of gardens. We decided that a romantic relationship changing form 6 and 8 years later, respectively, is not the worst thing in the world. That maybe things started to end before the end, and there is new honesty that happens in breakups. That you can't fear doing something just because one day you might be disappointed or hurt. That that is a normal, healthy part of the The Way Things Work.
We loved Cleo dearly for the decade she was with our family. My heart still felt raw and my eyes stingy in the evening when I headed to an Organic Gardening class at Seattle Tilth. Tonight was the last class in a 4-week series, and we were talking about seed-saving. Students and instructors were sharing seeds, and took what seeds we wanted from brown paper bags- coarse, huge nasturtiums, tiny red broccali raab in their fingery pods, uniform smooth favas, black nigella coming out of spiny pods, dense round brown cilantro. Somehow it was the perfect end to this dark day, the reminder of our ability to save seeds, to cultivate abundance, to trust in the tiniest of things, to look forward to spring, to accept life's cycles, and to know that new growth is inevitable.