I Ended the Story Too Early, part 5

I Ended the Story Too Early

Gracie Stories, part 5

I ended the story too early. I left Gracie out on the front porch with her breakfast, got dressed for a funeral and then a teaching on Passover for eighth graders, and left her on the front enclosed porch while I prepared breakfast for the inside patient and an excellent mixed Arabica and Robusta bean espresso with just right amount of lactaid-free milk [not to overwhelm] in my Italiano manual espresso maker that Starbuck’s once stuck its moniker on but withdrew it when no one wanted to bother to learn how to manage the true espresso. I stole it off Ebay.

On my way out the door to the funeral, Gracie had eliminated on the front porch, terrazzo tiles, and walked all over it so I cleaned it up in my Milanese suit and washed the porch with the hose, cleaned myself up the best I could and went to the funeral where I gave a eulogy for a man who lived much of his life in a State Hospital until one Republican governor of my state decided that such people would be better served on the streets of our beloved cities.

His father had left him some money and in the last ten years he had finally settled into a group home where — because his Dad had left him a few bucks — he lived the best life, well, that he could.

We live the life we have, not someone else’s life. His life was not like my life, probably not much like your life, or if it was like your life, then you probably would have understood him a lot better, had more empathy for him, than generally the culture we live in has these days.

We live in a country of great sophistication who treat people who do not fit into the common ways of living – shameful, shameful. Sometimes I am ashamed to be an American.

Life is difficult for some of us. We find different ways through it and we all end up at the same place – at the end of life in one of those cemeteries I walked into this morning with doggie poo poo on my shoes. It seems to me we should embrace what we have been able to make out of existence, to thank those who helped us, to work to make it easier for those who don’t fit so well because it’s a big world and there ought to be a place for all of us, and though I didn’t know the person I buried, I felt good expressing these feelings on his behalf, on behalf of his family, on behalf of those who have departed this life who loved him and worried about him and prepared the way for him to be able to live out his days.

He lived the best he could.

At home I fixed a little meal, gave Gracie some meat jerky and sat on the porch musing about the approaching freedom holiday, asking myself the question: when does freedom begin? What contributes to it? How far back can I regress my story to mark who has stood in my freedom chain and for whom am I contributing to their freedom in the future – complex, this notion of freedom. What have we lost here in the United States of America when we toss these sacred notions around without more compassion.


I made a beautiful Assam tea, reserved for Sundays, in memory of our friend Susan from Kentucky and shared it with my beloved; Assam — from the world’s largest tea producing region — adjacent to Myanmar [Burma] and Bangladesh, on either side of the Brahmaputra river. Rich and malty, like the earth.

I called my darling Auntie in Florida who used to take care of me when she was a teenager kissing Walter in the vestibule. She was worried about us. “We’re Stones,” she said referring to our family name, “a Stone worries.” I didn’t say anything. A stone doesn’t worry. A stone just is.

Tomorrow I will discuss with my beloved veterinarian the final rites for my Gracie. When I feel it’s time to take her there, I don’t want to go when there are a lot of other people sitting complacently in the waiting room with their well manicured doggies and kitties. I want it to be at the end of the day, and I want to come and go quietly.

jsg, usa

I Didn’t Pee Until Three, part 4

I Didn’t Pee Until Three

Gracie Stories, part 4

I had a busy day the rest of that day. I did not pee, by the way, until about three in the afternoon, after a full morning at shul, then four students on my front protected porch, some delightfully confused parents and even one forgetful teacher, then finally about three I got to pee. I too am some sort of camel this way but this talk is taking me places I am not comfortable.

In this story of Gracie is also the story of my sacred partner who during this entire drama is recuperating at home from a pelvic fracture and is incapacitated in our bedroom on a platform bed that opens onto a porch Italiano style. It’s a pleasant place to hang out and if it were up to me, I would never leave these two environments: bedroom and porch, happily tapping away on a keyboard, sitting in the sun, playing an old Spanish guitar, listening to the great oud players, etc. But my beloved and I are different this way. This is a huge adjustment for her.

I am cooking for her and filling whatever need she may have. I am cooking simply but consciously; fresh and delightful foods with good ingredients and only the best olive oils, etc., lots of salads and fresh fruits, simple and fresh as I learned some years ago summering in Umbria when I was a cosmopolitan. I don’t want to make her fat either (she doesn’t want to be fat is what I mean), she’s not moving much yet so I am very careful what I prepare but so far it’s been excellent.

We are coming on Passover and that will make it a little more complex but I am up to it. I intend to consult with some of my women friends who are excellent this way and eager to share their recipes plus we eat Sephardi style (my beloved’s family is from Spain by way of the Ottoman Empire so we come to this authentically) and the Sephardi cuisine is an entirely different matter and fine fine for the directives I have assumed in food preparation, also a consciousness distinction that I adopted many years ago when we first met.

I haven’t told her about these stories I am writing because, well, she has her own story, is doing the best she can to recuperate (it’s not her nature to lie in bed day after day while her bones are deep healing within her southernly regions) and I don’t want to burden her with the stories about Gracie who is also preoccupying my thoughts and requiring my care.

I also don’t want a lot of people coming over or bringing food as, well, it would only make it more difficult for all of us during this period of her recuperation.

I am cooking and caring for an injured sacred partner and a declining doggie and if I said too much I might start equating the experiences and insult both creatures.

Better that they intersect through me, so to speak, and don’t know too much about each other. Who knows about such things, I think they are esoteric enough that there is really no one to ask. Should I share their stories with each other? Or am I – the caretaker? Basta. (Why I am turning Italian during these stories is another mystery).

I live in a sophisticated time in which language has eclipsed genuine emotion and someone who takes care of someone else has a nomen professionalis: caretaker I guess. Care-giver I’ve heard. Compassionator. All this I think is ridiculous; I’m showing up as those who I am caring for have shown up for me.

Someone did suggest to me this just yesterday (I can’t remember the context but I cannot forget the question): have you asked Rabbi Tarfon (2nd c.)? As in a consultation of some sort about these subjects. Tarfon is the one who said: the day is short, the work is great, the laborers are sluggish, the reward is much, and the Master is pressing; it is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.

I think that’s so wise and I wish I remembered the conversation but someone did suggest to me: have you asked Rabbi Tarfon? I may have dreamed it.

I have an easy sense of consultation with my ancestors and I don’t think this in any way qualifies as crazy. I admit to even going to my more recent ancestors in times of greatest distress and asking for help; I don’t go there until I really have to, and I have had to several times and that’s all. I consider this a form of z’khut avot (merit of the ancestors).

I have also written many times about the great ones from the past whose genes I share but I honestly thought I was alone in this kind of thinking until this person asked in all seriousness: have you asked Rabbi Tarfon?

I did. Rabbi Tarfon suggested I just show up and take care of every living being I can, that if I did nothing more with my life than that, I would fulfill the purpose of all sentient beings: to take care of one another. Maybe with less self reflection.

Gracie walked gingerly but without flop down the steps this morning and she is presently breakfasting on the porch down below. The weather is holding and I will put her into the pen next to my Italianate home.

jsg, usa

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).

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.