Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Anna September 7, 2000 - January 27, 2019

Best cat I've ever had.

End of obituary.

The best cat I've ever had deserves a little more, though. A lot more, to be honest, but a few words are all I have to give now.

Anna was born under my bed in a studio apartment to a dangerously bipolar mother. She and her three brothers and one sister lived there with me and Emily until we decided who should live where. Anna was the smallest. Max was the biggest. Pinto was the smartest. Much later we learned that Elvis was the sickest. Mariah, well, she got to be sort of normal...for a cat who lived all her life with her mom.

I named her Anna because I had Emily and when I adopted a cat I thought I should try to be a grown up and have a theme to my pets. I went with the Brontes and named that cat Charlotte. So when the initial plan was to keep Charlotte with me I chose one of the girls from the litter and named her Anna to round out my trio.

Charlotte was better suited to country living so one of the boys stayed with us and Anna wound up paired for life with a brother whose physical illnesses contributed to mental illnesses that made him unpredictable and fearful and not exactly dangerous but never truly calm. That should have been the first tip off that she was tough.

The story I always tell about her is probably the only story anyone needs to know.

My friend, Pony Express, got a job on a dance company tour when the kittens were around 2 years old. She had adopted Max (big) and Pinto (smart). We decided that with her gone for 4 months the cats should come and live with me. They'd lived together as babies and again for a few months at her home when I was between apartments so we were confident that it would work out. My one misgiving was that Anna was small and quiet and reserved. I worried that she'd be pushed around by the three boys but it was the best solution we had so on we forged.

As a woman I realize that I essentially underestimated Anna's strength and skill in much the same way people have underestimated mine for much of my life.

One morning not long after we'd integrated the feline households I was getting ready for work and I was in the bathroom. I suddenly heard a tremendous banging. It was staccato and rhythmic and so fucking loud! At first I stopped to listen because it had to be coming from outside my apartment, but where?

BANGBANG BANGBANG BANGBANGBANG!

BANGBANG BANGBANG BANGBANGBANG!

It was coming from inside the apartment.

I rushed into the living room expecting to see Anna being terrorized by one or more of the others and poor Emily looking on helplessly.

As I emerged from the hall I saw it:

BANGBANG BANGBANG BANGBANGBANG!

I had a trunk under my living room window, a makeshift window seat. On the trunk, back to the window, hunkered down protectively was Pinto. Pinto was the kind of smart that makes you think about evolution. He picked items up and examined them. He controlled Max's behavior and movements. He stole things from humans. His brothers were justifiably terrified of him.

Anna was on her back legs in front of the trunk. She was using one front paw to smack the trunk with all her might. The trunk, mind you, not Pinto. She was hitting the trunk about a quarter inch in front of Pinto and every time he moved back she advanced just enough to do it again. Always advancing, never touching, she backed him across the trunk, onto the window sill and into a corner. Then she waited a moment in stillness and, in a move reminiscent of her mother's most dangerous moments, walked slowly away.

I went back to the bathroom and got ready for work.

I never worried about her with the boys again.

Later I believe she was the first to understand that Emily was having seizures. She may have been the only one to witness them. Her behavior changed toward Emily, she stayed closer, not for comfort probably but to monitor an increasingly unpredictable situation.

She endured endless veterinary indignities when I couldn't be sure if it was Elvis or her who was ailing.

She nearly killed at least 3 computer trackpads with her drooling. She nearly licked me and Pony Express bald. She loved to knead her paws but only on bare flesh, the moment you protected yourself with cloth it was no fun anymore.

On Sunday night she fought the sedation just barely at the moment the full dose went through the needle. After the next shot her breathing, which had been labored, stopped almost immediately but her heart kept beating for several minutes while I pet her.

She died as she lived, fucking badass.

Best cat I've ever had.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Back to Basics

It's fitting, I think, that I'm sliding into this last post of the year right at the deadline.

Back in the days of blogging I had a number of end of year meme sort of posts I would use to wrap up the year. I do most of that offline now. I miss those memes, though. So I figured I'd use a couple for this month's post. 

It used to be that listing the first line of your first post of each month was a small sampling of what you'd written over the year. For me it's more of a table of contents and it's going to get super meta once I get to December but I think that's cool.

January: The big world is different and my little world is different.

February: For my birthday last month I took myself out to a show.

March: You're not detail oriented.

April: How many of you out there are writers?

May: Someone said, "They should have taught us better."

June: Dear Mr. Pratt;

July: As things have ramped up with my dog training business I've learned a lot about my own anxiety.

August: This morning I was flipping past some photos of a Christmas Eve a few years ago and suddenly asked myself, "How did I feel about last Christmas Eve?"

September: When should I quit my day job?

October: I saw Anne Lamott speak recently.

November: I can do this....right?

December: It's fitting, I think, that I'm sliding into this last post of the year right at the deadline. 

Another thing was this list of questions that went around. Back when I did this regularly I wouldn't redact anything but this year is going to require some redaction. I was going to let that keep me from posting the questions and then I decided that I'm sick of little rules of my own keeping me from doing things I want to do.

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
Had an MRI.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions?
Kept up a 365 project. Did good things. Beat my dog training earnings goal.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not someone very close but I did get to meet a baby at an annual gathering, and she was delicious.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Lots of deaths but none too close to me...yet. Probably the closest was my neighbor, Sharon Robinson. She was a community organizer and when she found out my name she always called out to me as “Ms. Robinson!” and I returned it. She was lovely and she’s missed.
5. What cities/states/countries did you visit?
Went to Paramus for a dog training seminar.
6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked this year?
    Naps/recovery time.
7. What date(s) from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    My brain was so scrambled that the dates won’t stick but M’s pool party, the visit to Barbara & Margaret with Sara, Anna’s diagnosis, my MRI, my biopsy will all stay big.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Hanging out w/M.
Exceeded my earnings goals w/dog training.
Quit [redacted].
9. What was your biggest failure?
Not realizing [redacted] was a problem earlier.
Some of my interactions with M and the [redacted] students.
10. What other hardships did you face?
All the breast cancer shenanigans.
Anna’s terminal diagnosis.
11. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Diagnosed with atypical lobular hyperplasia so figuring out how or whether to take steps to reduce my cancer risk.
12. What was the best thing you bought?
    The trip to see Barbara with Sara.
13. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    M, C, Momma M, Sara, & Rob, the folks who ran the camp we sent M to.
14. Whose behavior made you appalled?
M’s school, [redacted reason].
15. Where did most of your money go?
Veterinary things.
Human medical things.
Lunches.
16. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    [redacted job related stuff]
17. What song will always remind you of this year?
18. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. Happier or sadder? Sadder
ii. Thinner or fatter? Fatter
iii. Richer or poorer? Richer
19. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    Training my dog.
    Snuggling my cat.
    Rehearsing Chekhov.
    Writing.
20. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Ride on the subway.
Worrying.
Phone calls.
21. How will you be spending Christmas?
Went to NH. Visited friends and family. Drove back to BK on Christmas Day.
22. Did you fall in love this year?
No.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    Pretty much the same people, though the next door neighbors are looming large right now.
24. What was your favorite show?
    Vikings, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan
25. What was the best book you read?
The Hazel Wood - fiction
26. What was your greatest musical discovery of the year?
I love Fairytale of NY, I’d never heard it or known that I heard it and we played it several times on the Christmas road trip. It makes me want more Pogues and more of just that song.
27. What was your favorite film?
    I can’t even remember what I saw, I’ve seen so few.
28. What was your favorite meal?
    Michelle made me a dinner party for my birthday and it was glorious. Scallop apps, a stew, Mollie made a cake for dessert. It was awesome.
29. What did you want and get?
    [redacted]
30. What did you want and not get?
    An easy diagnosis for Anna.
31. What did you do on your birthday?
    Can’t remember. Sure I hung with friends. In April Michelle made that dinner party for me, which was amazeballs.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    More time in my house, hanging with my animals, also napping.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of the year?
Stretchy, washable, clean...ish.
34. What kept you sane?
    My friends, hands down.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Norman Reedus
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Getting T out of office/mid term elections.
37. Who did you miss?
Auntie Blanche
Emily
Anna, pre-emptively
38. Who was the best new person you met?
M
39. What valuable life lesson did you learn this year?
How to [redacted life skill].
40. What is a quote that sums up your year?
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
  • Carrie Fisher

In my search for the right quote, and I really think that the one above is the right quote, I found a lot of other great ones. I could have found more but I stopped when I found the right one. I didn't want to leave the other greats behind, though, so here they are as a bonus!


“My desolation does begin to make a better life.”
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

“You know nothing.”
- Game of Thrones

“What do we say to the God of Death? Not today.”
  • Game of Thrones

"It's easy to confuse what is with what ought to be”
  • Game of Thrones

“Besides, she was the Wraith – the only law that applied to her was gravity, and some days she defied that, too.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

“The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

“The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.”
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”
  • Carrie Fisher

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”
  • Carrie Fisher


And then there's this. Some people think it's silly but I've had a lot of luck with my "Year of ____" strategies, starting with the Year of Yes. So I'm sticking with it.

FOCUS WORD/PHRASE
“Back to basics”


Part of going back to basics will be coming back here at least 12 times next year - specifically one each month. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

I Can Do This

I can do this....right?

Do what?

This.

Like what "this?"

OK, well, like finish this job project.

When does it end?

December 17th.

OK, well, it's almost December so, yeah, you can do this.

Great!

I can do this...right?

Do what?

Th...

Quit it.

I can organize this event?

Which one?

The community one that's been going on for 50 years that could completely fail right here on my first year as organizer.

But no pressure, right?

Very funny. Can I do it?

How many events have you organized in your life?

I don't know.

Ballpark.

Like community events?

Like parties and plays and outings, like events. Any kind of event.

Um....a bunch.

How many failed?

I'm sure some failed!

Name one.

Um....well, I don't remember, I've organized a lot of stuff.

I know you have! You're good at organizing stuff.

Eh, I'm ok at organizing stuff. I'm not as good at it as...

Shhh!

I was just going to say that...

Don't speak! You organize things and they don't fail. Sometimes they get weird but they don't fail.

Thanks...I think.

You're welcome. Are we done here?

I guess...except can I do this?

Do what?

Thi...

I said to quit that!

Sorry.

Don't be sorry, don't do it!

OK, so I can do this 12 posts in a year right?

Sure.

Thanks! But what if they suck?

That wasn't part of the deal.

Yes it was! I don't want to write shitty posts.

Maybe you don't but did the goal explicitly state, "12 Exquisite Posts in 2018" or did you leave it at "12 Posts in 2018?"

Well, I mean....

Honestly?

OK, ok, ok you got me. I can do 12 posts.

And so far many of them have been good, right?

To me.

And who else do they have to be good for?

Um....nobody?

Correct! Everyone jokes about blogging being self-centered but, come on, there's a grain of truth in every joke. At least one grain!

True enough. Next year I should be more specific.

You have time to worry about next year?

What?

Maybe concentrate on finishing this year before you jump ahead to next year.

Oh. Yeah, right. But it's so much easier to think about next year.

Yes it is.

Why?

Why do you think?

Well, geez, I don't know. Because it's far enough away that no one has fucked it up yet?

That's accurate but disturbingly phrased. I'd say because it isn't real yet. It won't be real until you're paralyzed with worry about it.

So nothing becomes real until it's awful?

That's not what I said!

That's kind of what you said.

No it's no...ok, yeah it kind of is. And it's a little bit true. But not completely!

This is confusing.

Then stop thinking about it.

Stop thinking about if I can do it?

Stop thinking about next year...and yes, also probably a good idea to stop thinking about if you can do it.

Why?

What are you, a three year old?

At heart.

That's not cool.

Actually, it's pretty cool.

It doesn't matter. In fact, maybe it's good! Three-year-olds are better at living in the moment. Live in the moment.

This moment bites.

Then you better live it quick so it can be over and you can get to the next good one.

Whoa.

I know, right?

So I can do this?

Shut up and do it.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

With Eagle's Claws

Seen in Brooklyn

I saw Anne Lamott speak recently. I always tread a line with her. I love her writing and I take great comfort in a lot of the strategies she espouses, especially the ones from her experience with addiction recovery. I struggle with the amount of talk about Jesus.

To be fair, I don't disagree with or even dislike the vast majority of what she says about her religious practices. A lot of it is interwoven with the recovery strategies that I'm so drawn to. I'm on alert, though. "Is this going to cross my line?" "What about this?" "Where's my line again?" "I thought you knew!" "I'm not sure. I thought you knew!"

Being alert to someone's work can't be all bad, though, can it?

I was, fortunately, alert to an longtime friend's work recently. It was Kath's last year as the creator and organizer of The Great Pupkin. When she started it was just 10 or 20 families and their dogs walking in a small, weird parade around the park during the Halloween festivities organized by the Parks Department. This year, the 20th, there were over 100 participants and around 3,000 viewers. It's huge.

Leo, Kath, & Justine post-show
I've been teaching dog classes the last few years on the Saturdays before Halloween and haven't been able to even attend the Pupkin so I decided to take the day off from teaching in order to volunteer for Kath's last year as the fearless leader of this wacky, wonderful gathering. She gave me a plumb spot on the stage helping to usher contestants off in a timely manner. It's pretty amazing to be up there in front of 3,000 people and some folks need a little help being demagnetized from the thrill. I dressed in as much bright clothing as I could and was as happy and funny as I could be and I got to meet every single ding dang contestant. It's a job I wish I'd been doing for 20 years of this thing and Kath even mentioned to me afterwards that she wished they'd had an exit wrangler all this time. Turns out even after 20 years you learn something new every time you do something like this.

I'm reading the book Ann Lamott was in my neighborhood to promote, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Between the talk and the book there are many little tidbits I want to share with the world. So many that I'm really better off just sharing the book. It's a good book. I think you'd like it. Yes, even if you don't like that sort of thing.

The morsel that she shared in the talk that I cannot get out of my head is something that she and a friend, I think, often say, "Everything we've ever let go of has claw marks on it."

Wow.

Do you need a minute to think on that?

Go ahead and take it, it's worth it.

Gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it?

Available where books are sold.
I needed a minute when I heard it and now I can't stop hearing it and seeing the way she made a fully taloned gesture down toward the edge of the stage as she said it so you could really sense the value scraping itself out of her rigid grip and falling, exhausted, to the ground.

I've long been honest about the fact that letting go isn't my strong suit. It felt nice to have solidarity with Lamott and her friend about that. It was a revelation to me for someone to clarify that we don't have to let go of something easily for it to count as a successful letting go. We just have to let go. Which reminds me of a thing that my friend's dad always said after he'd attended a wedding.

"How was the wedding?"

"It was successful."

If the point was to get married then there's only one little thing that has to happen for it to count as a success!

Perhaps you've gleaned that I'm in the process of figuring out how to let some things go. They are, of course, not any things that I can talk about in public yet so no details will be forthcoming. But I needed to write down something about the process and I needed someone to read that information.

Thank you for reading.

We had a nor-easter deal a glancing blow to Brooklyn on Saturday so all the park Halloween festivities had to be moved to Sunday. We still got enormous turnout. It meant that I had to run right after the awarding of prizes at the Pupkin and head over to Sean Casey Animal Rescue's Howl-o-ween event where I was helping my PumpkinPups colleagues with our table there. I had asked The PP folks if they could do the set up without me and explained that it felt important to me to close the loop on my Pupkin experience. I might wind up back there as a spectator or volunteer but it may be a while. As I'm sure you all know, building a business is no joke and that's where much of my focus lies. It won't be the same without Kath, either. It'll be great, I'm sure, but different.

It's a quick 20 minute train ride from one place to the other. The G Train wasn't crowded. I had a book in my bag and a podcast loaded up on my phone but I didn't turn to either of them. I looked out the window and thought my thoughts like an A. A. Milne character.
The Honorable RBG

I'd had a great time at the Pupkin and getting to meet every contestant was an extra special treat. I was excited to go to Howl-o-ween, too. I couldn't wait to hear what my friends had seen before I got there and who they'd talked to and see what they needed next.

I was letting go but because I had something to move toward it was less like scratching something bloody and more like opening my reluctant paws and letting it fly away.

In the immortal words of T.S. Eliot

"And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching."

And that, too, is true. So on we go...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

When


When should I quit my day job?

That might be the whole of this post, folks. It's such a huge question with so much baggage and I think about it every day. Is there even any point to saying more than that? How does anyone know when it's safe to do something so big?

They don't.

I know.

But...

What if my parents need help?

What if I get sick?

What if the pets get sick?

What if clients stop calling?

What if #45 gets re-elected?

I'm about to turn 50!

That's not a question.

When my mother turned 50 she was elated. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For reasons that may or may not have to do with her illness she lost jobs, burned through savings, and struggled with her health outside of the cancer and its treatment. It was the turning point between being a woman who had changed careers and marital status and come out on top and being a woman who lost so much for complex and intertwined reasons and now, more than 2 decades later, is still working as hard as she ever did for much smaller returns.

Everyone tells me I look like my mom.

Most of my health issues mirror my dad's, though.

So making this decision on the brink of being 50, declaring 50 to be my own, a time when I can take risks because I am capable and confident and intelligent and thoughtful....

I think I blacked out for a second.

I don't want to think about all that.

My brain is full

and afraid.

I just got off the phone with someone who recently made some upgrades to her business and, after all that, has just been offered an opportunity to take the whole thing in a brand new direction.

Terrifying.

Thrilling.

I talked to her for 20 minutes and gave such good advice, if I do say so myself. We laid out pros and cons. We asked the basic questions. We let the worries breathe and show us where the light might shine in. It was all remarkably straightforward from where I stood.

Is this the way you want your business to go?

Your family is changing, does this serve them?

Can you keep going the way you are?

Do you want to?

It's never that way when it's your own decision to make.

Is it?

Well, not for me.

I mean...

My family is solely me (and the pets), so what does that matter?

My family is everyone and they all need everything, how can I support that?

I can't keep going the way that I am.

Can I stop?

I want to stop.

I don't want to stop.

I don't want to sit around worrying.

I don't want to be running around working all the time and worrying.

I'll probably be worrying no matter what!

That's not a question.

The last thing I offered my colleague was an exercise that my life coach used to have us do. We were asked to write out our perfect day. Then we shared it with her to see what steps we could take in our current wildly imperfect lives to move us toward the vision.

Dogs.

Art.

Theatre.

Friends.

Naps.

Reading.

Writing.

Sleep.

Binge watching.

Binge performing.

Blessed sleep.

Snuggling my cat.

Drinking wine.

Snuggling my dog.

Eating chocolate.

Watching the sun set.

Going somewhere warm.

I feel too jumbled to properly narrate my perfect day right now. I miss my dog! I have so many tiny steps already laid out in front of me that the whole exercise makes me fear it would put more on my list. I miss my cat! And my couch!

How will I do all of the things on the list?

You don't have to do them all.

But they're all there and they're all important!

Pick one.

Which one?

Any one!

Like what?

Like...quit your day job?

Quit my day job?

Maybe....

Are you sure?

I might be...

Ugh. I don't know. Ask me again later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Magic of Change

This morning I was flipping past some photos of a Christmas Eve a few years ago and suddenly asked myself, "How did I feel about last Christmas Eve?" I came to the conclusion that I felt pretty good about it.

Let me back up.

For my whole life we celebrated Christmas Eve at my paternal grandfather's home, the one we called Roundabout House, because December 24th was his birthday. Even when we headed to the maternal grandparents home directly afterward, arriving in the wee hours of Christmas Day, we still stayed there for the Eve. I do remember that we occasionally had a stint at someone else's home but mostly it was at Robbie & Biddy's.

When they were gone there was a little shifting until we moved to the cottage that Biddy (and her first husband, Herb) built a little further north. That was good, too. It was weird not to go to Roundabout at first but many of the Roundabout things were there and the people, barring Robbie & Biddy, were the same and we'd had a chance to say goodbye. We've had a lot of practice at goodbyes.

This last year when I called to see what time to be there and what I could bring someone said, "We're going to Tim's!" Logistically my cousin Tim's home made the whole event about a million times easier for me, personally, even though it's not about me. It's also an absolutely gorgeous home and I had a wonderful time and felt quite fortunate.

Traditionally, though, I am terrible at changes. If you know me at all you'd think that any change, especially around Christmas and especially as a last minute surprise, would send me into a bottomless spiral. But it didn't. I'm not entirely sure why.

Earlier this week I took a super quick trip to Maine. Let me define super quick: I traveled 20 hours in the space of about 38 hours. I wouldn't do that for just anyone, of course. Anyone who has ever tried to get me to have dinner in Bushwick, Brooklyn will tell you that. For my 5th grade teacher, Barbara Martin, though, I would do that. And more. So my long time friend, Sara, picked me up in Boston and drove us up to Winterport and we had a sleepover in an airbnb-approved church basement and the following morning we visited Barbara  and her partner, Margaret, before reversing the whole trip.

5th grade was magical.

Even with 10 hours in the car to discuss it Sara and I couldn't figure out why but we kept finding those starry moments. Sara remembered that a friend in another class brought his pet snake to school and our whole class was invited to watch the snake be fed his mouse. I am terrified of snakes. I have no memory of this event but near as I can tell Barbara let me opt out of that event.

The year before, on Friday afternoons we were herded into a nearby classroom to watch educational movies. Sara remembers some fun nature-focused films. I remember terrifying ecological horror movies with dire predictions of our imminent demise. I cowered in the dim classroom and tried to send my mind elsewhere, frantically braiding bits of my hair to pull my focus off the fear, as the screen showed children with swollen bellies, dying sea life, and jammed highways belching exhaust. A couple of years ago Sara's mother asked me why I hadn't told anyone I was so scared and asked not to go. I replied quickly, "No one would have listened to me." I didn't ask so we'll never know but that was certainly what I believed then and I'm pretty sure I was right.

In 5th grade we were heard.

Barbara played classical music. She gave us that test on following directions where the 2nd direction is not to take the test. On field day in the tug of war contest she upped her offer of ice cream sandwiches to motivate us to keep tugging! At 5 sandwiches each we triumphed! We learned the state capitals and we learned to say what we meant. We learned that she loved us and that was, somehow, most magical of all.

Barbara has dementia. Margaret had warned us and solicited photos and emails so she could use them to keep Barbara engaged and for months Sara and I have been working on this plan to get up to visit. We didn't know what to expect. Margaret hadn't described anything specifically but she had a sense of urgency to all her requests. So we went in a little blind, with the best of intentions, and not a little fear. "As long as she's happy to see us this is a good idea." "It's as much a visit to lend Margaret our support as anything." "It's the right thing to do." We're good little girls and highly motivated by the right thing to do.

Barbara didn't know us but she knew us, you know? She has some aphasia so often you can see that she's clear about what she's telling you but the words she's saying aren't the words coming out of her mouth. Other times she's quite clear. She asked questions that we could answer and some we couldn't. In it all, though, we could tell that she was, truly, happy to see us. Whether she knew precisely who we are is unclear but she was able to sort us into the right category. She knew we were to do with school even when it came out schooner. She knew she loved us and that we loved her.

Barbara is magical.

So is Margaret. We had so much fun sitting and talking with them, playing with their sweet little dog, and watching the guinea hens from next door peck along the back lawn. Barbara brought out photos she'd taken before the dementia took the camera out of her hands and insisted that we each take a few. She toured us around the art hanging in their home and what she couldn't identify Margaret filled in. Their home is bright and sunny and beautiful and we heard stories we hadn't heard before and, being who we are, hoarded them away in our memories.

Again, being who we are, I suspect that Sara and I will try to visit another time. We don't know how long it will take us to manage it, though. We're also clear that when you visit people in their 80s there are no guarantees. Those memories may be all we go away with. I guess I shouldn't speak for Sara but in this case I think she wouldn't mind. If those memories are all we have we are grateful. We are full.

There's a procedure we use in animal training called Counter Conditioning. You pair something that upsets your learner with something they love until they become less upset about the first thing and, ideally, learn to love it. So if my dog is afraid of big black dogs I feed him chicken every time he safely sees a big black dog and eventually he thinks that big black dogs bring chicken so big black dogs are A-ok.

Humans are animals. We learn the same way even though we often make it more complicated. Perhaps I've paired enough change with enough lovely things that I'm starting to tolerate it. Maybe, finally, I'm learning.