I thought my dog Buddy would enjoy a companion because he loved playing with other dogs at the dog park. But when I brought Zena home one scorching August day in 2010, I learned I was wrong. Buddy was jealous, annoyed, and intimidated by this big Shepherd/heeler female who had suddenly appeared in his kingdom.
I worried about how they would get along, but after one altercation instigated by little Buddy, Zena let him have his way. Although half her size, Buddy assumed the position of top dog. He stole her toys, hid her treats, and commandeered her bed, so Zena slept on the rug. Six years old, shy, and abandoned by her family during the recession, she was so happy to have a home she didn’t care. I didn’t realize then how very loving she was.
No matter how much Buddy teased and plagued her, Zena never snapped or growled. She accepted every new situation, dog, and person with shy anticipation, followed by enthusiastic wags of her long tail. She was a big gentle girl, patient and forgiving, without a trace of competition or jealousy. She had none of Buddy’s annoying habits. She didn’t rummage in the trash or steal food. When she wanted something, she sat and quietly asked for it. When Buddy beat her to the punch, she sighed and walked away. I learned to offer their treats separately.
Zena tried to play with Buddy. Sometimes he would engage with her, but most of the time she was forced to impersonate a lone wolf.
From the first, Zena was on the job, making a show of fierceness with her deep throated barks at anyone approaching the front yard. She took her role as guard dog seriously.
She needed no training to stay at my side on our walks and trotted along beside my bike as if she had always been there. She never tried to escape the yard, as Buddy routinely did, or dash away when I took her to the bosque or mesa trails. Sometimes she joyfully charged after a rabbit (in vain), but always returned quickly at my call.
She never chased Bosco, the cat, and as an elder, cautiously accepted the arrival of Clio the kitten. They soon became fast friends.
Walking in the bosque one day with both dogs, when Buddy was in the early stage of dementia, I learned more about Zena. I couldn’t find Buddy, and when Zena heard my frantic calls, she took off searching. She found him and brought him back to me. I wrote a story about that experience, called Angel Dog, which I’ve posted on my website. It’s a true story about how I learned to see Zena more clearly.
After Buddy left us, Zena moved into the dog bed I had bought for her and continued as my faithful companion for another four years. She was a happy dog who took pleasure in small things—a cat friend, peanut butter treats, a house to protect, and the occasional rabbit to chase. She loved me and Buddy and the cats, and although she was shy with new people, she enjoyed every person who visited us. Her tail wagged constantly. She came here to love and to serve, and she did both perfectly. Now my beautiful girl is running free.
On February 4, Zena left this world as peacefully as she had walked upon it.
Zena, Beloved Friend, 2004 – 2021
Many of my students sign up for a writing course because they have an urge to bring forth their experiences.
They want to write stories, poems, memoirs. Many have never written before. They don’t know where to start. What to write about. How to choose fiction or nonfiction. Many have confidence issues. Fearing judgement, they hesitate to share their work.
I understand the tenderness of the beginning writer, the courage it takes to put forth embryonic work and place it under the light of scrutiny.
Even though I had written professionally for years, when I was ready to put out my first fiction, I was terrified. The marketing and training books I wrote, the manuals, web text, and scripts, even the ghost-written articles—none were as personal as fiction. It took stern conversations with myself before I started sending my work to magazines, accepting the inevitable rejections, and sending it out again.
Now, after publishing many short stories, three novels, and a few personal experience narratives, I tell my students that I learned the most about writing from the effort to produce publishable work.
My writing teachers taught me much. So did the students in the classes and workshops I attended. Every editor I hired to advise me before I sent out a piece taught me something new.
Some magazine editors were kind enough to say why they rejected my piece. Some even suggested changes. Every time I looked anew at a rejected story, I found ways to improve it. And of course there was the exquisite pleasure when an editor said they liked my story.
The whole process was a learning experience. It toughened me and eventually became fun. Not to say I enjoy rejections, but they no longer stop me. It’s not personal. It’s the work. Which can be improved.
What’s important for new writers, especially those who start later in life, is to honor the urge to create. To bring forth and shape the nascent idea nagging at you. The images you know are part of a story. The characters who spring to life in your mind. The feeling that your experiences matter. Which they do.
We live our lives according to the story we tell ourselves. We change our lives by changing our stories. Whether we fictionalize our experiences or write searingly honest memoir, the benefits of getting them out of our heads and into the world are enormous. It helps us, and it helps others.
The drive to create is in everyone. It’s part of being human. Honored, it makes us more human. Our Creative Self urges us onward. It wants to be expressed. It wants to dance, with joy and abandon. Honor it.
So, write! Sing! Dance! Paint! Make a poem! Outline your novel! Decide you’re going to tell about all that you’ve learned! I promise, you won’t be sorry.
Do you believe in miracles?
Sure, you might say. I’ve seen miracles. And I expect to see them again
Or, There are no such things. Science has explanations for everything.
Actually, both perspectives are right. Miracles are prayers answered, hope fulfilled, stories of the seemingly impossible, inspirations that change lives, the melting of hardened hearts, personal transformation. But how do these things happen?
Contrary to what our senses tell us, science informs us that everything is energy. The observer affects the observed. Our thoughts influence what we perceive, how we feel, and whether we are joyful or depressed.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “A man is a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
Traditionally, a miracle is an event we don’t expect and didn’t foresee. It comes out of the blue, full of meaning, an object of wonder so marvelous it points to a reality beyond our reach. In a religious context, we can see this as God, the ground of being, or as manifestations of supernatural powers.
What is miraculous in one culture may be ordinary in another.
In the west, people interpret spontaneous recovery from serious illness as a miracle, and persons with unusual healing powers as miraculous beings. In some earth-based cultures, thunder and lightning are considered messengers of the divine, while recovery from serious afflictions is the result of energetic interventions by a shaman or spiritual healer. And perfectly ordinary
Saint Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, only to what we know about nature.”
Another view is that the miraculous shows itself in the everyday world—in nature, in the love between people, in a child’s smile.
The miraculous may simply be something we do not yet understand. When we use the power of intention, affirmation, gratitude, or prayer, we are harnessing energy in the living field that connects us all. We do it to change our lives, which means we acknowledge our connectedness in the field of life. Nothing is really separate. If I love you, I love myself. If I hurt you, I hurt myself.
When we understand this, we notice that our thoughts and words change our perception of reality. If we persevere with those new thoughts, our actual reality changes too.
If I pray for healing for my friend, and my friend recovers from his illness, is that a miracle? Or the effect of intention on the web of consciousness that binds us together
You decide, according to what you believe.
For 101 stories of everyday miracles, check out the new anthology, Believe in Miracles, by Chicken Soup for the Soul, available now for pre-order. My essay, Please Pass the Holy Water, is one of the stories. I hope you enjoy it.
Yes, we love the holidays. Family, food, out of town guests, parties, long lunches, shopping, and evergreen trees in the living room. Of course we do. But it can be overwhelming. Too much family, food, guests, parties, lunches, and shopping. What happened to the tree? Is it still tied to the roof of the car?
When November arrives, we go on alert. The pumpkin is still sagging on the porch when it’s time to plan the Thanksgiving guest list and find the perfect tree. We have to do it all on top of our regular jobs, family responsibilities, and creative work. And guess what? Sometimes we can’t.
The best response to overwhelm is to back off. Let something go. Scratch a few items off that to-do list. Decline an invitation or two.
Failing that, here are some simple methods to relieve holiday tension. They don’t require long periods of time, gym memberships, or complicated shoes. When you feel overwhelmed, out of sorts, pressed for time, or frustrated, try one of these exercises.
Remember to breathe. Nice and deep. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Bring the air all the way into your body. Imagine it as golden light filling your organs, spreading through every muscle, nerve, and tendon. Release your breath as golden energy out your hands and feet. Do this for five minutes.
Go outside. Stand or sit and observe what you see. A tree. A patch of grass. A squirrel. Your neighbor’s dog chasing the squirrel.The FedEx truck parked down the block. Stars shining through the bare branches of a cottonwood tree. Do nothing but observe your world for five minutes. (Can be combined with deep breathing.)
Remember who and what you love. People, animals, places. Ideas, books, that action movie you saw last week. Bring your attention to your chest at the level of your heart as you remember how good it feels to care about someone or something besides yourself.
Mentally step back. If you’re judging yourself or another, stop. Notice that everyone is doing their best with the resources they have. Forgive yourself. Forgive them. Notice that you may not have the whole story about why people act the way they do. You may never have it. Forgive them anyway.
Laugh at yourself. It’s the holidays and you’re the only one who can make them great.
What are your tips for decompressing? What can you add to my list?