Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's resolutions for politicians

A friend asked what resolutions I'd like pols to make for 2011. Here's what I sent to him:

1) Make this country the free and equal place it was meant to be.
2) Stop hate crimes.
3) Feed the hungry and house the homeless.
4) Find a cure for all cancers.
5) Stop thinking about yourselves.
6) Start giving breaks to citizens who live in the margins and forget about cutting deals to the big businesses that funded your campaigns.
7) Talk to each other as caring and committed public servants and spare us the drama.
8) If you need to make budget cuts, stay away from social services. These people make almost no money and do the work that the suits in DC would never be caught dead doing.
9) Stop wasting taxpayer money investigating MLB practices. It's a freakin' game.
10) Make those who kill and torture animals pay the same price as those who do the same with people.
That's my top 10. I'm sure I could go on all night.
Thanks for asking the question.
Happy New Year, everyone! May the force be with us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Farewell to a sweet friend

A week ago today, Ron and I kissed our little cocker spaniel Shawna for the last time. She had an aggressive case of Cushing's Disease that we couldn't get under control without introducing major side effects. She was 14 years old yet we only had her for 2 1/2 years.

Shawna came into our lives when my friend Mark passed away. I met Mark at my church and we became instant friends. I think the fact that we were about the same age and had both done dog rescue for years (he, cocker spaniels; me, springer spaniels) helped our friendship along. When Mark passed away, Shawna was taken in by Mark's friend and dogwalker. His three other dogs were taken in by his family members. I was the backup plan if anything didn't work out. When Mary's dog didn't get along with Shawna, Mark's brother called me.

Although Shawna was never completely house-trained and was very food obsessive, we happily took her into our pack. We had both Alex and Brit at the time and although we never really wanted (or could afford) a third dog, we were committed to giving her the best care and the most amount of love possible. I was happy that Ron agreed to take her in since I felt that this was the greatest gift I could give Mark and his family. Besides, when I was visiting Mark before he died, Shawna was the dog that always jumped into my lap without any encouragement. I hated to see her go back into rescue instead of into a home with someone she already knew and trusted.

Shawna bonded easily with Alex after letting him know in no uncertain terms that she wasn't going to be the pushover that Brit was. Shawna (who was half Alex's size) quickly became the alpha dog. That does not mean, however, that she was not affectionate with Alex and Brit. When we had to send Alex to the bridge, Shawna grieved as much as Brit, which kind of surprised us since Alex and Brit were the ones with the long-standing love affair.

This past year with Shawna has been difficult because of the Cushing's disease. The meds and tests were costly, though our vet was so kind and gave us discounts when she could. But more than the money was the heavy emotional toll the treatment took on her and on me.

When our vet said the words "She's gone" last week, I sobbed and sobbed. I didn't do that when Alex died. I don't know where the gushing well of emotion came from but I think it had a lot to do with other things besides being completely heartbroken to lose Shawna after trying so hard to help her.

This has been the year from hell for me. It started by losing Alex and ended by losing Shawna. Sandwiched in between was my mom's incurable pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I've been quite stoic through all of it but I think I've finally reached my limit.

I discovered too, that I was never completely done grieving the loss of my friend Mark. I always felt that since I had Shawna I still had a little piece of Mark. He was taken too soon and I miss him still.

Shawna's ashes will go back to Mark's family. He requested before he died that her ashes be buried at his gravesite. Mark will be reunited with Shawna as he should be. After we left the vet's office last week, I just kept envisioning Shawna running into Mark's open arms at the bridge and it did help me let go of some of the pain.

Mark gets her ashes but we still have her little coat that kept her warm as the Cushing's took her fur. We also have her 2" thick folder filled with vet bills and instructions. Her bowl, collar and leash, and a lock of fur from her wavy little ears are all tucked away in a box next to the one we have for Alex.

I learned many things about myself in those 2 1/2 years. I learned that I have more patience than I ever thought I could muster. I learned that the 1000-dollar custom made wool rug is not as important as the little dog who had no control over staining it. I learned that my vet is one of the kindest and most generous people I know.

And I learned again that love doesn't come in human and animal versions. A heart is capable of enduring heartbreaking sadness without ever breaking. It can't. There are too many other loves for it to hold.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Youth group joys

One of my greatest joys in my volunteer work is the high school group I co-lead at my church. We meet most Sunday mornings while the younger kids are in Sunday school and the adults are attending the service in the Sanctuary. Leading the high school group is actually a ton of work for me. My friend Carlene and I write all the curriculum, organize and coordinate service trips, and generally obsess over details.
Coming of Age group 2009

It might sound simple but the biggest part of my "job" there is to keep the group not only engaged, but also safe. That means that everyone feels respected and heard.

I've always been better with older kids than younger kids. I have a hard time relating to anyone under 14 because I don't feel like I can have a meaningful conversation with them. I stumble over what is appropriate to say. Luckily, I don't have kids of my own so there will be no expensive psychotherapy bills later.

There are challenges with the high schoolers also. Finding boundaries as far as what is shared and how it is processed is difficult for me. I want to be their friend and mentor, but more importantly be their guardian.

We talk about some serious issues in our group. Suicide, bullying, civil rights, politics, and much more. Our discussions often lead to some soul-searching. I have never been anything but blown away by the thoughtfulness of these kids. They just get it.

Being their leader, though a huge stretch for me, is also very satisfying. They make me proud and also hopeful for the future of this country. But I struggle often with my role as a group leader there. I still think I'm better with teens in a one-on-one relationship.

When I was in my 20s, I said I wanted to be a Big Sister. There are opportunities everywhere for those sorts of relationships and I hope to do that once my life settles down a bit. 

Until then, I will do the best I can to help the high school group at my church learn more about their faith, themselves, and the world they are heading out into -- one Sunday at a time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's your bumper sticker say about you?

My dad said once that bumper stickers are for people who don't have the guts to speak their mind in person. So, when I've added the occasional sticker to my car over the years, I think about that. Because of my dad's great point, I only put something on my car that I'm already vocal about.

I did Springer Spaniel Rescue years ago and on one of the household cars are two rescue-related stickers: "Rescue Mom" (with a paw print), and an anti-pet store/puppy mill sticker. We also have a sticker of the logo for the Westford Conservation Trust where Ron and I were directors a few years ago.

Our other car has a couple of Unitarian stickers. The only one that has any real verbiage says "Deeds are more important than creeds. - Ralph Waldo Emerson".

I figure since all those stickers represent causes I've put my time, talent, treasure, and voice into, my dad's philosophy on bumper stickers doesn't apply to me. So I'm good.

Yesterday I was driving home from a lovely lunch with a Unitarian friend where we discussed, among other things, the hypocrisy of religious extremism. I got behind a minivan that was plastered with extreme Christian stickers. One read, "No Jesus; No Peace". The others were quite militant and had pictures of flaming crosses and verbiage like "Assimilation inevitable."

I thought immediately of my dad and wondered if the driver was one of those people who let their bumpers speak for them. Or if he/she was more like me. Either way, I was struck by the hypocrisy of the slogans. And the driver was obviously unaware of it.

As a Unitarian, I am often questioned about my religion's lack of a creed. I can very easily explain that we are more focused on how we live in the larger world than repeating a creed written for us by a hierarchy we don't know.

Lots of Unitarians will balk when others inside the church want to talk about Jesus. I know that a lot of that comes from some really negative experiences in their pasts, often at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Even though I've suffered that same sort of religious turnoff, I've always felt that I am very Christian. I try to live my life the way Jesus did -- Jesus the man; not Jesus the "God".

So when I see bumper stickers like those on that minivan, I wonder how those extreme Christians reconcile their exclusive, angry words with the words of Jesus. Jesus the man in the New Testament that they can't possibly have read; not Jesus the Christian Rights' reinvented poster boy.

I've had to deal with some religious-right scorn and disapproval because of my Unitarianism. I've been shut out by a family member because I believe in the human and civil right for two consenting adults to marry.

But I've always been able to rise above it and view the hypocrisy for what it is. And I do ask myself at times like these, "WWJD?"