Monday, November 26, 2007

Who We Are

A few months ago Tamar has hit by a truck. Her hip was dislocated and it took the sweet and gifted folks at Saint Buddy's Hospital for Well-Beloved Animals two separate surgeries to get her pieced back together. Since then, she has been on restriction. She is not allowed to roam free and takes walks only while clipped to a long, but still confining leash. She spends the majority of her days lounging on the deck.

This, I would like to make clear, was not my idea. Mama, who in a rather imperial, but nonetheless understandable way has assumed full custody of Tamar, decided that she could not bear to consider the possibility of her getting hit again and Tamar has become more or less a house dog.

The other afternoon, however, Mama, Daddy and I were standing outside chatting when a truck drove by and there was Tamar tearing across the front yard in pursuit. Daddy yelled for her to stop, but to no avail. Paradoxically fortunately, her injury and subsequent surgeries have left Tamar with a slight limp and her speed has been reduced significantly. The truck was past her long before there was any chance of a physical encounter.

She turned back toward us and obediently trotted back to the steps of the deck where she waited to be reincarcerated.

It didn’t take long to discover that she’d managed to push open one of the gates that had not been completely locked and had, thus, made her escape.

Mama, all aflutter, reprimanded the still panting dog while Daddy shook his head and mumbled, "Getting hit didn’t make a bit of difference to that dog. She’s still gonna chase a truck if she gets a chance." And he is right. She will. It is who she is.

We’ll never know, I suppose, why Tamar feels this untamable compulsion to throw herself into the path of large and noisy objects. Maybe she is being protective and thinks she is chasing away evil. Maybe she is competitive and thinks she has been invited to test herself. Maybe she just likes the way it feels when her heart is beating fast and her legs are pumping.

We’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter. Tamar is a dog who loves to chase trucks and it is one of the characteristics, along with her insatiable need to lick and her staccato bark, that make her Tamar.

Just another example of the similarities among animals, including the ones of us who have proportionally large brains and reasoning skills. No one of us can ever really know why anyone else is the way she is. We deceive ourselves when we assert otherwise and we disparage our relationships when we insist on trying.

"It is a fool playing God who pretends to understand everything that passes in another’s heart," I read somewhere a long time ago and I’ve had to remind myself of that truth often as I have navigated the unpredictable and often uncharted waters of life.

Wanting to understand, pretending I do – it is such a waste of time. Better I should invest my minutes and hours and days in appreciating the uniqueness of each soul who, momentarily or permanently, imprints my heart.

One more thing about Tamar: She was completely nonplused by the effect that her brief breakout had on her humans. She just walked back over to her favorite spot, sat down, looked up and – I promise you – smiled.

Copyright 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clear Reflection

There are few people outside my family who have known me all my life, but Paulette is one of them.

I was born in October; she was born the next May. Together with our parents and siblings we spent the vacations of our childhood wandering all over the state, and occasionally over the edges into the adjoining ones, visiting state parks and what we called tourist attractions. Our fathers worked for the same company. We bunked in the same cabins at church camp.

Mama has lots of photographs of us. In nearly every one we have our arms around each other’s shoulders and our faces turned straight toward the camera – sweetly guileless, totally innocent and proudly uninhibited. Happy children.

When we were teenagers, her dad accepted a promotion and a transfer that whisked them out of our daily lives to far-away Mississippi. I rode with them on the trip to scout out houses and it was a great adventure, the farthest west I had ever been. Still is.

The summer after my freshman year in college, there was another trek across the deepest part of the deep south so that I could be one of her bridesmaids. But before I could don my pale blue dotted-Swiss dress and wide-brimmed white hat, we had to climb through the church’s bathroom window because somebody forgot the key. There is, much to our horror at the time and to our delight today, photographic evidence of breaking and entering.

After that hot June afternoon we rarely saw each other. We wore matching yellow dresses when her sister got married a few years later and visited briefly at her grandmother’s 80th birthday party, but beyond that the only contact we had was the occasional Christmas card. While I finished college and law school and came home, she settled in Louisiana, reared two boys and helped her husband start several businesses.

Somewhere along the line they bought a place in Florida, on the Gulf side, and a few months ago, when her parents were visiting mine and as we laughed and reminisced, I found myself responding to a invitation to meet them there by saying, "Just tell me when." So it was that last week I found myself heading west on I-10 to Destin.

One of the great blessings of my life is that I have a lot of friends. Mama likes to tell people that if I decided to make a cross-country car trip I could stay gone a couple of months and never have to stay in a hotel. She is probably right. The last time I counted, I’d stayed overnight in over 60 of my friends’ homes.

You learn a lot of things by doing that, the main one being that the level of psychic comfort you feel while staying in someone else’s home is directly proportional to the depth of your relationship. Let it be said, then, that from the moment I stepped into the house at Destin I felt as comfortable as if I’d been at Sandhill.

I had a lovely couple of days with Paulette’s parents before she joined us on Friday night. Saturday morning she and I, along with her 3-year-old granddaughter Macy, took a walk along the sugar-sand beach. The late-autumn sun was sharply angled across the clear clear water that gives the Emerald Coast its name and, despite the calendar having just turned to November, children played in the water while their parents stretched out in deck chairs, dozing in the sunshine.

Watching Macy chasing and being chased by the waves out of the corners of our eyes, we strolled along the water’s edge and talked. Talked in tones that were slow and easy and cathartic. Talked about things and people from our shared past and from our separate presents. Talked about ourselves, where we had been and who we had become.

That afternoon we said good-bye and promised to get together again soon.

The photos I took on my trip, once developed, will show us, as before, with our arms around each other’s shoulders. The faces, though, will be different. No longer guileless or innocent or uninhibited. No longer the smooth faces of children, but the sculpted faces of women. Women who understand that – in the midst of a world that doesn’t always reward that which is authentic – one can always find a clear reflection, an undistorted image of who she is in the mirror of a friend.

Copyright 2007