Thanks for Bringing Me Joy - Suzanne
“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” – Ben Sweetland
It was June 1999. I was standing in a middle school cafeteria for the end of the year faculty meeting. I just completed 18 months as a middle school assistant principal. This was Phase 2 of my career after teaching twenty years. In a few short weeks, I would begin Phase 3, high school administration which was my comfort zone. For 15 of those first 20 years, I taught political science to 18- year-olds. After 20 years, I felt I needed a change and new challenges.
Sandra, my wife, warned me middle school was a different world. She spent 26 of her 30 years working with middle school teachers and children. Of course, I didn’t heed her advice. For 15 years, my world was young adults and now, suddenly I was staring into the faces of 7th grade children with their mood swings, tempers, and irrational behavior. During those 18 months, I aged 10 years.
Yet, working with the teachers was rather easy. I tried to be accessible, supportive, and was learning how to be a good (better) listener. Through my 31 years of educational experience, I can comfortably say, “Teachers make great talkers but generally poor listeners. ,” However, I was trying to be a better listener. Trying to be there for the teachers and trying to survive 7th grade! In the end, I did survive…barely.
So, there I was, my final day in middle school. As the awards were winding down, I was recognized for my efforts and the fact I was moving on to high school. All I could think about was, “Let me out of here.” As the meeting was concluding, a young reading teacher held up her hand and asked if she could present me with something she had done. She handed me a piece of rolled up parchment paper tied with a sky-blue ribbon. As I began to open it, I saw her look toward the floor. On the parchment was a beautiful hand painted beach scene. Puffy white clouds dotted the blue sky as it met the beige sand. Toward the bottom was a gold and white beach towel spread under a red and white stripped umbrella. A multi-colored beach ball was close by.
Written on the scene was this poem:
Stay loose, Learn to watch snails. Plant impossible gardens. Invite someone
dangerous to tea.
Make little signs that say ‘Yes!’ And post them all over the house. Make friends with
freedom and uncertainty.
Look forward to dreams. Cry during movies.
Swing as high as you can on a swing set by moonlight. Cultivate moods. Refuse to be
responsible. Do it for love.
Take lots of naps. Give money away. Do it now. The money will follow.
Believe in magic. Laugh a lot. Celebrate every gorgeous moment. Take moon baths.
Have wild imaginings, transformative dreams, and perfect calm.
Draw on the walls. Read every day. Imagine yourself magic. Giggle with children.
Listen to old people.
Open up. Dive in. Be free. Bless yourself. Drive away fear. Play with everything.
Entertain your inner child.
You are innocent. Build a fort with blankets. Get wet. Hug trees. Write love letters.
Thanks for bringing me joy,
That day in June, she gave me much more than a beautiful poem. She allowed me to see life through her eyes…the importance of remembering those who help us, even when we’re not aware. You see, I had taken over her class a few times when she was with her mother, who was dying. I listened to her talk about the childhood memories with her mother. At the time, little did I realize the importance of what I was doing.
Today, her poem hangs in our library. A constant reminder of the importance of being human and taking the time to listen.
For we never know why, how, or when we will make a difference in someone’s life.
And if you’re one of the lucky ones, as I was, maybe some day someone may brighten your path, as you did theirs, by saying, “Thanks for bringing me joy.”
Suzanne, I hope you have found joy in your life.
Oh, Those Beautiful Brown Eyes
Merry Taught Me the Meaning of Real Love
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains awakened.”
― Anatole France
This chapter contains stories about many of our memorable pets – our cats Jessie, Sydney, and Mr Gray.`There are also stories about Merry, a very special Larbrador retriever. Merry – the name suited her so wellfor she so Merry, Merry to the very end.
This story is dedicated to Merry and to her memory., for she taught me the meaning of real love. She taught my how to live a better lifeand how to become a better person.
So, this is for you “Merry Wiggles.”
Love comes in a wiggle: Even as a puppy, she knew how to touch my heart. When I would pick her up, from the tip of her tail to the end of her nose, everything was wiggling. That is how she got the nickname, Merry Wiggles. which was just one of her many deserved nicknames. Her eyes were so black they looked like shiny lumps of coal. It was only as she grew older that they changed to a deep brown. Her eyes said, “Thank you Dad, for holding me so close.”
Master of non-verbal communication: Unlike most, if not all dogs, Merry knew how to get what she wanted (or needed) with a look – never a bark or a growl. When I was reading the newspaper, she would stand in front of me and just stare. If it was 7:00 a.m.,12:00 p.m., or 5:00 p.m., her look said, “Dad, I’m hungry. Time to feed me!” If I did not respond in a ‘Merry Moment,’ she would take her nose, flip up the paper and place her muzzle on my knee and cut those beautiful eyes. Then, she got what she wanted or needed. When the last crumb of food had disappeared, she would look up at, head slightly tilted, ears up high, lick her lips, and her eyes would say “Thank you. Any chance for more?”
If my wife Sandra and I were in the kitchen and we had been negligent in filling her water bowl. She would stare at the empty bowl, look directly at us, bowl, us, bowl, us – until we got the message. When Merry needed to go outside, she would walk to the door, stare at it, then turn her head and stare at us – repeatedly, back and forth. She never barked. Her way of saying, “Dad, Mom, one of you needs to let me out. You know I would die before I had an accident in the house.” If I was somewhere else in the house, she would stand in front of me and just stare. The time of day or night determined back door, food, or water bowl.
Always a happy greeter: When she was a puppy and saw me enter the driveway, which was 400’ long, she would wait until I got out of the truck and then would run full bore, leaping into my arms, “Dad’s home. Dad’s Home. Can we play now!” She knew I would catch her. I always did. That is, until she began to gain weight and length. Catching a full speed Labrador that weighs 50 pounds and is still growing becomes a challenge. Eventually, we had to stop the ‘Leap & Catch.’ Stopping puzzled and may have even hurt her feelings, but my kneeling down and vigorously scratching her back, combined with a good belly rub was a good substitute – she said so.
From the day she arrived in my life to the day she died, she always greeted me with happiness and kindness.
I forgive you Dad: Merry was not perfect, but near perfect. I was the one who had the personality issues. At times, I was verbally a bit rough during her training or when something in my life went wrong, I would occasionally take it out on her. She never deserved either.
When I would raise my voice, she would drop her head and retreat. Regardless of how I acted, she would always return to me, tail wagging. Her eyes said, “Dad, I’m so sorry for whatever I did. I try so hard to be good but sometimes it is so hard. Please hold me.” She taught me that all she needed was a firm voice. And lots of love. She taught me about forgiveness.
Oh, how I love the simple things: It didn’t take much to make Merry happy. True, she had more stuffies than one could count and a bed on every floor – even an orthopedic bed for long night sleeps. She always had fresh water and the right kind of food. We exercised together and we played together and she had the best medical care possible.
Nevertheless, it was the simplest of things that gave her great joy. Going for any walk became an event. She would jump up and down at the door making yodeling, moaning sounds of excitement. Getting her choker and bandana on her was a chore because she would not stand still. Side note: One day, even with all the excitement, I forgot to put her bandana around her neck. I opened the door and she stopped dead, turned her head, and looked at me with eyes that said, “Dad, you forgot something. I can’t go out half dressed.” With bandana around her neck, I would open the door and she would leap from the porch and sprint to the back door of the garage. A simple walk – one of life’s simpler pleasures.
Somehow, she could read our body language and knew when she was going for a car ride. No, I didn’t reach for the keys until the last minute. It was the walk routine all over again. However, when we got to the truck, she could barely contain herself while I opened the door. With one massive leap, she was in the back seat, bouncing from side window to side window. The only way to calm her was to begin moving and crack the window a few inches She didn’t care where we were going. She just loved to see new things and smell new smells. Another simple pleasure. As the years went by, she never lost this joy, even when she needed a ramp to enter the back seat. It folded up like an accordion and stayed in the back of the truck.
Merry taught me how to love the simplest of things and activities: Sitting in the back yard watching a butterfly. Hearing children playing up the street. Watching hummingbirds compete for feeder space. It has been a year since she died. But, she still walks with me. And, I still find her black hairs in the truck. Occasionally, one will float around the cab as a reminder, “Dad, I love car rides.”
I am so tired. I just can’t do it anymore: Merry taught me about limitations. She taught me that growing old(er) is a gift from God. As the years went by, the simplest of activities became more difficult and eventually impossible – for her and me. The difference between us: was she was smart enough to accept, “I just can’t do it anymore.” She would always go up the stairs with us for a good night’s sleep. One evening she stopped at the bottom of the stairs, moving from side-to-side, picking up the right foot then the left. She wanted to try the stairs so bad, but eventually sat down and just looked at us. Her eyes and body language said, “I want to so much, but I just can’t. It’s hurts too much.”
We brought her upstairs bed down to the main floor, along with her stuffies, and just sat with her for a while. She was content and knew we loved her. In my younger days, I would have gone down the stairs and encouraged her to again, try the stairs. She taught me: We all have limits and pushing those limits not only hurts us, but it can hurt those around us. Merry taught me compassion and understanding.
True love means making the most difficult of decisions: As Merry reached the age of 10, her health was beginning to fail. At 11, she was visibly tired. I could see it in her eyes. She was losing a little weight, arthritis was slowing her down, and she had already been treated for a small malignant growth. However, she still had the heart of a lion and the will of an Olympic champion. The desire to rip and tear was still in her eyes, but she accepted the realities, “Dad, let’s go for a short walk in the back yard and lay in the sun for a while” She still had her dignity. And we vowed we would never allow her to lose that dignity.
The next story, “Merry’s Last Car Ride” is about dignity and the most difficult decision we ever made.
Merry, we love you! Thank you for showing us how to love life.