Time To Be Happy is Now: Gracie, part 3

Time to be Happy is Now
The Gracie Stories, part 3

I have learned from the animals I have cared for over the years how inexorable the drive to live is. It has been a great teacher for me. In an un-theoretical way I experienced the change from death to life, figured it more in Biblical terms than animal terms (Deut. 30:19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life. . .), and my animals have taught me this is nature, this is how it works.

Gracie has pushed through every obstacle; her weakening, the loss of her vision, the loss of her hearing, her equanimity on her feet, she now hurtles down the stairs driven by gravity and about %50 of the time ends up on her feet but when she doesn’t she flops onto her belly, gets up and on with it. We have stairs and they are becoming difficult.

She is not deterred; she pushes on. I watch that sitting on the porch waiting for my students, Gracie sits next to me and now that [I assume] she doesn’t see much she casts her noble head towards the wind and angles her face into the sun and as old and infirm as she now looks there is nobility and steeliness that I have seen in many but not all of the people I have accompanied into death.

I have seen many people through death in my work; not everyone has that quality and I may be more sensitive than others because I recognize the absence of it. Any effectiveness I have in my work [?] is that I’ve experienced almost everything people come to me with. So it goes.

Gracie and the other beasts demonstrate none of that quality that I know for its absence in animals higher on the chain of being, when it is lost or through excessive expectations or entitlement or the inevitable darkness within overwhelms the animal push for life. Life. Life on life’s terms. I watch this working in Gracie the mongrel dog.

Last night at shul someone dear dear to me who has experienced loss beyond reason gave me a bag full of coffee gear. It belonged to her husband who was equally dear to all of us, who made the good coffee (as does most everyone in the Middle East), and she knew I appreciated this coffee quality and everything about excellence and stick-to-it-tive-ness and life on life’s sake and the small joys in addition to the big joys that bind us to Real Life as we were designed — the way Gracie was designed, by God or Nature or whatever it is we believe in – to live.

So I took the coffee gear home and this morning as I prepared Gracie some tasty ground turkey I unpacked the coffee gear and washed it – there are three espresso cups and three saucers – made finely in Portugal with this written on it: Time to be happy is now. Again and again: time to be happy is now. I appreciate the elision of the definite article: no the, just time to be happy is now.

I drank from it. Drank from it twice. Gave one to my wife. I’m off to shul.

On the way I am thinking: I’ve forgotten something. I’ve forgotten something.
Oh – I forgot to eat (forgot to pee too).
Alive.

jsg, usa

Gracie is the Baddest Dog I Ever Had

Part 2
As Gracie is settling I am indulging myself with the solace of writing her story. She is pacing in the pen next to the house as I am writing this, a place she would never tolerate when she was vigorous, but now that she does not see does not hear she seems to enjoy the safety of pacing within its secure borders. I take her out a stick of jerky doggie meat every so often to assure her she has not been abandoned.

Years ago, when we took her home, she was incorrigible even for a new dog/puppie we’re not at all sure how old she is/was. I took her to one of those doggie classes. They kicked me out because Gracie was just too disruptive. I know it’s my personality; Wallie the bulldog was also incorrigible and did not tolerate those classes either. Too militaristic, I used to say, but it was me. These people in class were no dog whisperers.

At home, Gracie worsened. Frightened and frenetic, she hid under the fancy Italian table and went about the systematic dismantling of our house. My wife had right away abandoned all ownership; Gracie was my dog and I was committed to her taming.

One night she pee’d again on the exotic tiles from New York the kiln that qualified the house for a place on the national register, etc. and in the middle of the night I trudged downstairs, cleaned it up, went back to bed. I was beaten.

I surrendered the next morning. I sat in front of Gracie, she was cute with that spaniel glee staring up at me — she always made excellent eye contact unless she was afraid which she was frequently — and I said out loud: the house is yours. I made a commitment to you, I took you home, I will take care of you the best I can until you die. Then I will repair whatever damage you have done to my house. I will take you to no more classes, I will not spank you nor rub your nose in your refuse, I won’t raise my voice when you eat my furniture. Go at it. You live here too.

I meant it, I swear on a stack of Torahs.

I could tell this story that then and there she turned around and became a model dog, that would be a cute story. It didn’t happen that way. It took a week.

In one week, she stopped doing every single thing that had turned our house upside down. She never ate another piece of furniture, she tired of her diet of rug, she didn’t pee anymore on the tiles from upstate New York, she became the best behaved dog I have ever had and I have had a few.

She had some quirks. She was fearful for another ten years, diminishing oh-so-gradually every year. She never barked. She absolutely would not take to a leash but she walked diligently by my side looking up at me every few seconds to make sure I had not abandoned her but she would not tolerate a leash which drove the city police mad when I took her to the park. She wouldn’t take off after a squirrel or another dog when walking with me but she would absolutely not budge with a leash attached to her neck.

When the police finally stopped me and read me the leash law riot act, I informed them that Gracie was a military dog. Perfectly trained. I was speaking so much nonsense that they believed me and from that day on whenever anybody on the street or in the park asked me how is it that dog is so well trained my response was always the same: she’s a military dog. Trained for war.

Her other quirk was that she was a one-person dog. She sat next to me wherever I was and stayed there as long as I did. She spoke to me with her eyes. When she was ready to go out, she looked at me one way. When she was hungry, another way. She never eliminated in the house; she could hold out for days. If she was a camel she could have crossed deserts.

Last Chapter

As Gracie is winding down her days in this life, in preparation for our physical separation
honoring the hearts that beasts crack open – her story:

Part 1

I figure Gracie is at least sixteen years old. Our beloved Wallie, bulldog, had lived almost that long. Wallie died on Yom Kippur 1996, a bulldog rarely lives that long and she wasn’t incapacitated until the last day of her life, which happened to be Yom Kippur.

I had been up all night tending to her and I knew it was her last night, so in the morning before shul I took her to my empathic vet and said, if you can, keep her alive today – try and keep her comfortable until I return. I’ll be back just after six.

I prayed the day’s Yom Kippur services and If I never understood the pure mournfulness of Yom Kippur, not sad exactly but mournful over the natural ways of attachment, passing, release – I knew it that day. I prayed and cried the silent tears of intimacy and acceptance the entire day long and it purified me in just the manner my forbears demonstrated if not described. I cleansed my self clean with my tears, and when I had cried a river of them, I returned to the veternarian’s office, held my beloved yoked beast Wallie the bulldog in my arms, thanked her for her years of devotion and service to my family, and let her go.

A year later a message appeared from a rescue person in the city; she had a doggie, thrown off a truck near Tower Grove Park, presently occupying her bathroom. She had no time to socialize the beast, but rescue her she did, am I interested? My little family rode over to her place and that was it – we came home with a mongrel that looked like the precious beast, some sort of spaniel mixology, who guarded my cradle on Cortland Street in Detroit, and who watched over me much of my youth-hood on the porch of my Grandpa’s house. We took the dog home.

Never had I seen a more traumatized dog, skittish, afraid of every single thing, not only people – objects and birds and all moving things. Whatever happened to this animal took years of undoing. She hid under every table then she went after the furniture and the rugs and the hearth to our on–the-national-register-tiled fireplace.

She ate up the newly laid wall-to-wall carpet in the basement. I never saw a beast eat up a wall-to-wall carpet. I didn’t think it was possible. Then she went after our furniture in the living room. Then she pee’d and pooped in the most precious of places, that world class hearth of extinct ceramics from the exotic kiln in upstate New York, the one item in our house that qualifies it as – something that excited the neighbors I can‘t recall what.

My children were going through their Elvis period, how this happened in my house is something I’ve never understood. But I kept my mouth shut (in a generation of sophisticated parenting strategies, this one is mine) and took them to Tupelo to visit his birthplace and his home in Memphis on the way back: Graceland. Adina at ten was dressing like Elvis, rhinestones and velvet, which redeemed the whole preoccupation for me. I bought her a load of such clothes and kept my mouth shut, delighting in each outrageous outfit as if this was normal.

We entered Graceland just as it was closing for the day and were stunned that it maintained its origins as just a regular house on a street in Memphis, until you reached the zebra room and other cracked wired design concepts. We loved Graceland and that’s what the children named the doggie: Graceland. We call her Gracie.

Thanks Be To God

Thanks be to God for God is good.

Let the soft touch hand drummers say
God’s goodness endures forever

Let the finger style stringists say
God is the tonic and the passing note
God’s goodness endures forever

Let the loofa-loving spa dogs say
God’s goodness goes on and on
rock steady forever

Thanks be to God for God is the greatest
God’s goodness goes on and on

Let those who bandage the lepers say
God’s goodness endures forever

Let the horn players say
God is the greatest the best
For God swings forever

Let the oud masters say
Peace is the engine of beauty
God plays the modes forever

Thanks be to God for you
For your hair complements your face
God is the greatest
forever

Lift Up the Remains of Yesterday

Lift up the remains of yesterday
put them next to the holy altar
the fire shall not go out
we long for a pure act of worship.

The fire burning throughout
the camp moving
the altar traveling
we long for a pure act of worship.

The offering burnt
nothing of the offering remains
ashes
nothing of it can be eaten or sold or turned into anything else

[we long for a pure act of worship] –

Except for the hides
we might make a nice jacket out of the hides
be ruthlessly precise
in the mystery ways,

the future depends on it –
we long for a pure act of worship.

jsg, usa
Small alef; poetry Tzav 1
Maqam Nawa
C [1] D [1/2] E flat [1 ½] F sharp [1/2] G
Every Shabbat a maqam,
a musical figure, associated with it.
Hebrew cognate maqom, signifying Place.

Language and the Diagrammatic Truth

Alef: vav and two yuds
human-being-li-ness and
G*d-li-ness

Alef suspended between —
foundational lower world
reach to upper world

connected by the sitting Vav
And
Connected above and below

Diagrammatic Alef
human being planted in lower world
human being reaching for upper world.

jsg, usa

Small alef; poetry Vayikra 4
Maqam Rast
C [1] D [3/4] E half-flat [3/4] F

Voice

Great prophet
Most humble person

The Alef – One
called to him

All the other letters turned their faces
away

The Aluf is concealed within each soul
Calling come home

Small alef; poetry Vayikra 3
Maqam Rast
C [1] D [3/4] E half-flat [3/4] F

The Joy of the Mitzvah

I was sitting in the booth with
The truthful linguist
It was just after the turn of the Millenium

The truthful linguist
Stretched out in his chair
His hands folded over his belly

He was eating fish
Fish is a blessing, he said
He then talked about water

The early waters into which we pitch our sins
And the later waters when we draw them out
Those are the sins that become merits –

Transforming, he said to me
You know how that works,
don’t you?

The place where the turning one stands
The righteous cannot stand —
Yes, I said,

I do know how that works
But joy?
That’s elusive for me

Simchah is avodah, he said
You have to work it
It doesn’t fall out of the heavens for us

Then he began to sing until the hand of G*d came and rested upon him
We settled into our vessels and our vessels into our chairs
And our chairs descended into the earth

Later when we were finished
I pulled myself up by a strap of woven palm
Hung from the roof of the radiant booth

jsg, usa

Then I commended joyfulness [Kohelet 8:15],
this is the joy of the mitzvah. . .
as it is said, but now bring me a minstrel.
And it came to pass, when the minstrel played,
the hand of G*d came upon him [2 Kings 3:15]
— BT, Shabbat 30b

Some Time Soon

Some time soon
I will meet him
He was the one
We picked

To honor
For all that he has done
In the future
To bring us into A deeper Version
of his own
Pitiable sit-
Uation.

I am thanking him for
Each minute.
He thrilled in spite of our
Best efforts
To starve him.

He is best of all
The same now as he has
Always been —

Slow to respond
And quick to Grab a bite to eat
On his way To and from
Hell.

Call the trees over To discuss
Politics
And give them
Employment
As dressers of
Souls.