While I Wait: Contemplating My Dog (and Existential Angst)

Remember that song Mr. Rogers sang on his old TV show, the one that goes something like, “let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting, while we’re waiting for something to do?”

No? Anyway, it’s a song, and I’m thinking of it, because I am waiting (and hoping) to have a new book out in the world. Soonish? Maybe. But in the meantime, I wait.

So what is something I can do while I’m waiting, while I’m waiting, for something to do?

Ah, I know. I shall write a blog about Stuff I’m Thinking About While Waiting.

Let’s see. At the moment, I am thinking about chocolate. And cheese popcorn. And sweet potato fries. (Geez, I must be hungry.) But I’m also pondering deep stuff these days, way deeper. Like life, death, and the meaning of life. In fact, I think I’ll write about the night my dog Layla rescued me from a vortex of existential angst. Dogs and existentialism—how’s that for deep?

Here’s how it started, (although I’m not proud of it): with a glass of wine. I do not recommend this right before bed when one is already sad. It only makes you sadder and more susceptible to the vortex. But I’d been dealing with my mom and dad, who are both failing in big and small ways. They are old folks now, with a whole lot of sand in the bottom of the hourglass, and only a handful of grains left on top. It is a long, sad goodbye, and sometimes it can rip the heart out of my chest on a regular basis.

So anyway, back to the wine and the vortex. I was sitting on my bed with my hubby and Layla, my sweet 5-year-old miniature Australian shepherd. She is a sweet, smart girl with intelligent brown eyes that look into your soul, I tell you. This dog (despite the “miniature” thing—she’s a medium sized dog, about 30 pounds) has personality. She communicates. And she and I, we know each other. So there I was, sloshing wine on the bedspread and talking about my parents, feeling overwhelmed, and I started to cry. I couldn’t bear for one more moment, the knowledge that my parents are going to die, and that I will be witness to this enormous loss. How will I survive that unavoidable reality, I wondered? My husband tried to comfort me—something he is usually stellar at doing—but this time, I was inconsolable. I was dealing with death, with oblivion, with what the heck is this all about? How can we be expected to endure an existence where we lose everyone and everything precious to us?

By this point, I was weeping and heartbroken over loss I hadn’t even been clobbered with yet, but know is coming. So as I wept and railed and felt there was nothing, nothing in this world that could comfort me or distract me from the agony of life and loss, Layla came up from her spot at the foot of the bed, planted herself in front of me, and stared at me. She forced her wet nose into my face and made me look at her, made me see her. This made me cry harder. Layla is my first dog ever you see, the only dog of my lifetime.

“Someday you will die too, Layla,” I sobbed with renewed fervor. “My God, some day this beautiful little dog buddy of mine will die, and I will have to witness it. How will I ever, ever bear that?”

Layla’s response was to lick my face and look deeper yet into my eyes. Those bright brown eyes seemed to say, “I know, Cal, I know. It’s sad and it hurts and it’s so very hard. It doesn’t seem fair, but hey, guess what, we’re here now. You’re here. I’m here. We are in this together and we have now. Now.”

Then Layla licked me all over my face, licked up my tears and stuck her tongue up my nose until I had to laugh at this dog all up in my face, getting me slobbery with dog love and dog comfort. My sobbing morphed into laughter. And crazy, wild, unexpected joy. I hugged my sweet puppy girl, nestled my nose in her soft fur, felt her presence, her warmth, the vibrant life of her. And I felt better. Layla made it clear to me that we are here now, and this is no small thing. We have this. This.

So yeah, I get it. In this context, the waiting is not so bad. The something to do while I’m waiting, while I’m waiting for something to do, is to live, and love, and celebrate every second of “now” that I can get my hands on, with my husband, with my parents, with my exceptional daughters, with my amazing, sweet, extraordinary, empathic dog.

Here’s to NOW. Thank you, Layla. ❤

layla

4 Comments

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4 responses to “While I Wait: Contemplating My Dog (and Existential Angst)

  1. Cissy Cohen

    Cal, Your heart felt post resonates with many of us aging Boomers as we see loved ones fade into another place and time. In some ways I call you fortunate. I have read that the earlier you experience loss and sadness the sooner you come to terms with the existential…finite nature of existence and the realization that now is all we have. When I was 7 my little sister died of a childhood cancer and I learned about death. When I was 13 my father died suddenly and I understood how quickly change can undermine life as you know it. The writer and artist MFK Fisher said, “I live with Capri Diem engraved on my heart.” I viscerally understand your grief as daily I listen to my mom on the phone; being the only one who caries the family memory. Hug Layah and Tedford, live in the here and now, but more importantly, enjoy that glass of wine, know that you are loved and even after they are gone the light… that of your parents’ reflected in your eyes will continue.
    I can hardly wait to get Mary Jewell your new book!
    Much love,
    Cissy

  2. Trudi suggested l read your blog. I’m glad l did.

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