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What If It Was The Last Time?

To preface this entry, I’ll ask that you excuse me if I begin to ramble because I will assure the reader, I will proceed to make a point by the end of this, what promises to be lengthy, message.

I set out this morning, walking my dog Hank.

Hank hasn’t been with me long, he simply showed up one afternoon, roaming around in a nervous, zig-zag gait, towed in by another dog which soon magically disappeared. It quickly became apparent that Hank was old, and lost. He was also very hungry, which was soon remedied, but as I evaluated his situation, luckily prompted by the advice of another more compassionate soul, it became apparent that Hank’s other concerns were not going to be so easily addressed. He was clearly missing someone terribly – someone who had once occupied a very large part of his life. It also became apparent that Hank could not hear well.

I posted a photo of Hank along with a lost dog notice on Facebook, and asked all of my friends to share the notice in hopes that someone might be looking for their hound. I searched for pleas of a distraught owner on Craigs List, but after two weeks, neither platform provided results.

Hank 2018

Soon it became clear that Hank had been accustomed to having a collar and leash, however when he showed up there was no collar. One evening when I opened my truck door to roll up the window, Hank instinctively proceeded to climb in. He was used to being taken along on rides, it seemed.

After much discussion, Alana and I soon concluded that the dog had been purposely abandoned. But why would anyone turn such a faithful companion out into the world? Unless the owner had died – and the person who had ‘inherited’ him soon found that the dog ‘wouldn’t listen’, was too energetic, and required too much of their time. So, not unlike the heartless soul who would abandon a box of kittens on the side of the road, they loaded Hank into the car, drove some distance before letting him out, and then simply pulled off, leaving the dog in the void of unknowns.

And so he started walking, trying to find his way back to something familiar.

A few days into his stay with us, I referred to him as Hank without giving it much thought. I’ve no idea, the name just seemed to fit, it came to me so naturally. Finally, after we’d both surmised that, if we surrendered him to a shelter, no one would adopt an old dog, and he would eventually be put down, I decided to delete the notice on Facebook and keep the old boy. Besides, he had already decided that I was his new purpose in life, and that he was mine.

This was a responsibility which I could not take lightly, yet seemed to take somewhat begrudgingly. Besides, it wasn’t as if I didn’t already have seven cats. How was I going to integrate this big dog into a household of cranky-ass felines?

Another point, is that this big boy thrived on attention – something that cats have determined that they can live without for the most part, with the exception of the occasional head-butt. Also, as lots of other musicians will attest, cats fit our lifestyles better – they’re quiet while you’re recording, and they don’t come over slobbering all over you while you’re half-way into a groove that you can never repeat in this lifetime.

But Hank was an indoor dog, being left outside made him unbearably nervous. So I erected a re-enforced screen door in between the kitchen and the laundry room, made him a bed, then set his food and water dishes.  Through the door which opens to the outside from the laundry room, I led him inside to see how the he and the cats would interact. Hank seemed satisfied with the arrangement and seemed to realise that the laundry room was his space. The cats were a bit leery of the big animal which was now occupying the laundry room, and they sniffed at the screen door. Hank plopped himself down with his back against the screen and went to sleep. Cats continued to sniff and move cautiously around the door. This went on for a few days, but a couple of the females – Sissy and Popper – decided that they liked Hank, and slept beside him just on the other side of the door.

Oh, there was one other thing that, after a while we finally took note of – Hank never barked. Hank seemed to be so relieved that someone had taken him in, he was willing to accept anything that came with the deal, without voicing a complaint.

After a week or so of the division, the cats seemed to be at ease with Hank – with the exception of Spots, the most cranky 12 year-old girl, who paid him absolutely no attention. (The other cats never even bother Spots. She’s the matriarch of the household.) So, I decided to allow Hank inside to inspect the rest of the house. He trotted in, much to the astonishment of a few of the cats, slipping past them without even looking at them, almost as if he were trying to avoid alarming them. He sniffed about, lay down in the kitchen floor for a while, before eventually letting himself back into the laundry room, letting the screen door slam gently behind him. Alana and I looked at one another, stunned. Clearly the dog himself was taking a test run with the cats.

I finally began to wonder to myself if Hank hadn’t been some sort of support dog. He was extremely well behaved, intelligent, and wanted to be at my side irrespective of where I went throughout the house. He even insisted on accompanying me to the bathroom, dutifully lying down in the floor and waiting. It was but a few days before Alana voiced the very same observation. ‘Hank sticks to you like you are his responsibility.’ she said. I told her that I had come to the same conclusion. Even as I type this, he is lying on the floor beside my chair. For the first week or so, whenever I had to leave the house to attend to some business, Hank would sit in the kitchen floor and release a deep and mournful, almost eerie bay. It sounded as if he were miles away, and it sounded so lonely and sad. After I would return, he was overjoyed. ‘Every time you come home, it’s like Christmas for Hank.’ Alana mused.

It may be noted that the cats are completely at ease Hank now. Occasionally Misfit will even walk up to him and head-butt his snout. The diminutive Popper will often stand alongside him, as if she is every bit as big and powerful.

Hank has been well trained in another aspect as well. He will not relieve himself in the yard. It has come to a point that I have figured that he likes to take a good long walk very early in the morning, one which encompasses one and a half miles, and at a point half way through, he will relieve himself in the tall grass beside an old vacant grocery store. Then we head back home. If it is raining and we can’t take a walk – Hank doesn’t take a dump, so the walk is imperative.

Our morning walks are everything to Hank. They are the highlight of his day. For his life to have been filled with – who knows how many hopeless days and nights, there isn’t a single negative emotion that this old dog harbours. I watched him this morning as we walked – tail wagging, head held high. It was as if this were the very first time that we were ever going on this walk. He was drinking in every second of it and loving it. This same old walk.

“Hank,” I said, “you inspire me. I’m just walking along here as if we will be doing this forever and you’re taking it in as if we’ll never do it again.”

Then it hit me. What if it was the last time? I used to tell myself every time I’d climb the drive on my bike, “Enjoy it like it’s the last time.” But now, as hard as I try to remember – I can’t remember my last ride up the drive before the CFS knocked the wind out of me, but I never got to do it again.

Hank is old. He may not even have a year left. I should really be getting as much enjoyment out of these walks as he does. Because one day – it will be the last time.

I began thinking of my own mortality, and how things can change beyond one’s influence. I do lots of genealogy, and I’ve photographed scores of headstones of individuals whose time on this Earth easily fit within my own. It gives you pause to reflect. We take tomorrow for granted far more than we should. I imagined my dad lying awake at night, fully knowing that it had all been done, and that any moment he could lose grasp of life.

“Things never seem to go the way that we intend – life seems so different when it’s viewed from end to end.”

I penned these words during a moment of enlightened inspiration and included them in a song that I’d written about my son. I began thinking about him and how frustrated he sometimes felt regarding his mundane job and his life in general, how things weren’t running to suit him.

Then I considered how fortunate my dad would have felt a year ago – simply to be 33 and have the good health to enjoy doing anything again. And meanwhile there is my son, replaying scenes which he should have discarded of minutes after they occurred.

We own our thoughts – but negative thinking owns us. We can have goals and aspirations, but to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves is a different matter. Sometimes it’s good to work toward a goal, but if we aren’t enjoying now because all we can dwell on is later – we’re missing the boat.

I prefer Hank’s approach to life, and I’m going to try to be like him henceforth. I’m going to enjoy now – and I’m not even going to think about tomorrow.

Because this may very well be the last time.

 

 

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Love Is Only For the Young

I have written only a handful of love songs. Those songs are now close to forty years old. Politics is the only subject on which I have written no song whatsoever. Music and politics should never be mixed, and if anyone wants to know why I think so, leave a comment and I’ll cover the subject in a future post.

Today however, I am writing about love. Nasty emotion, love.

Very few of us, if any, ever have the opportunity to realise it. When we are lucky enough to grasp the emotion in its pure state, it is usually in connection with our children, or lacking that, a pet, or last, and probably most rampant, with our imagination through music. I personally believe that outside of these three things, everlasting love does not exist.

It has taken me sixty-one years to figure this out. Of course, being the objective guy that I am, I could change my mind tomorrow. But I doubt it.

Perhaps when I was younger, I was too optimistic. Then again, perhaps it is just experience and age which has made me too damned cynical.

Whatever the case, I was crushed by what I identified as love at almost every point in my life. I’ll bet that most of you will agree that you too were crushed, rather than validated. I’ll also bet that every old love song brings on a wistful gaze to most, calling to mind a love that used to be.

I contend that broken hearts rule the world, not love.

In the end, most of us die with a broken heart. Either a spouse has torn us in two, having passed on before us, our friends have all disappeared, our beloved pets have long since departed, or the place in which we were born and reared no longer exists.

Life insures two things: That, having been born strapped to a dying beast, we will one day not exist; and that before this day comes, we will have our souls ripped out by someone who we will never have again.

Enjoy the now. It is truly all that we have. Today’s joys will be tomorrow’s tears.

When I’m In the Hole Every Direction Is Uphill

I am writing this primarily for the benefit of other sufferers so that they know that they are not alone.

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Well – it’s one of those days, and has been for the past three days now. A storm front has been pushing in from the West, and it has been taking its sweet time. I feel as if I’m walking around with a lead blanket thrown over me, and even though the sun is bright, I cannot enjoy it, because it makes my eyes sting, and suppresses me as if I was having the lamp of an interrogator shown squarely into my face.

This is what I refer to as being in the Hole. Yeah, I know, Alice In Chains had a song by the same name. But this hole is not a drug-of-choice induced hell. I didn’t elect to go into this hole, I was pushed by an unknown force. I was dragged kicking and screaming into it.

But if you’re one of us, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know about. I’m just here to tell you that I understand, and to reassure you that you are not mad. The Hole is real.

The problem with it, is that I never know where the edge is until I get there, and I never know how far I’m going to go in.

For the past three days, I’ve started out with the ‘Okay, I can do this’ attitude. But right in the middle of it, I slide directly down the dreaded ‘Okay fuck this’ slope of desperation within the span of a minute.

The only recourse is that damned bed. How I hate that freaking bed.

I’ve grown to where I even dread eating, because I know it is going to hit me like a sledgehammer. I like food, and I like to eat, I just hate what it does to me anymore.

This is what makes it so damned hard to plan anything. And we can try to explain it to others, but the usual response – the eye rolling, the sighs, and the ‘I’m tired too, after working all day’ lines – serve no other purpose but to anger, and farther isolate us.

And we begin to worry. Even close family members may become preoccupied with work, or find reasons to leave us alone. As they grow more distant, they do not realise that, when we are having bad days, ignoring and avoiding us makes our depression more difficult to manage.

We begin to wonder if cherished loved ones won’t suddenly abandon us on the days we need them most. We may even begin to fear that those same individuals may one day leave us completely. We have no reason to feel this way, and that, too, angers us.

We all know that no amount of work has ever left us feeling this drained. And we all know that when we wake up in the morning, we aren’t going to feel much better than we did the night before, irrespective how well or long we sleep.

Sometimes we wish we’d never wake up, because this kind of life leaves one very little to look forward to, especially when those who claim to love us push us away with their apathy.

Many days, we are left only to one another, and ofttimes, distance forbids us from sharing thoughts, tears, and the day with one another.

I do not know who many of you are; others, we have consoled one another late into the night on social media platforms. Our faces do not matter. Only our understanding. Because we are the only ones who truly believe one another without reservation.

Our club is not one of pride, and our bond is not one of secret handshakes, but of desperation.

If you are having one of those days, take heart. I go into that hole often. As lonely as it can sometimes feel, you are not alone.