Tag Archives: Patty Griffin

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On Them Light Has Shined

Lucy: proper name, from L. Lucianus (cf. Fr. Lucien), a derivative of Roman Lucius, from lux (gen. lucis) “light” (see light (n.)).

Lucy

Lucy — September 2, 2002 – January 5, 2013

If you’re lucky, somewhere in the course of your life an animal picks you who gives you much more love than you can possibly return. If you are luckier still, the animal who picks you lives a long and relatively healthy life. And if you are even luckier still, this abundance of luck suddenly pivots into a kind of curse.

It feels like both the best and the most terrible luck in life to have arrived at this point with our 10-year-old golden retriever, Lucy. We learned this past Wednesday that the fast-growing lump on her neck was an inoperable cancer. PW and I made the excruciating decision to spare Lucy any more suffering than she has already endured, to allow her life to end while she’s still recognizable to us as the goofy, light-bearing wonder she has always been.

And so, Lucy’s humans, on whom her light has shined—who have been adored, and sometimes tolerated, far more than we can begin to comprehend or repay—have to let go of our animal before we are ready. And really, is it ever possible to be ready to let go of a love that has exceeded our wildest dreams, both in its longevity and its sheer size?

This morning GForce and I took Lucy for one last frolic in the snow. Lulu gave her a few Christmas cookies (Lucy loved baked goods of all kinds). Then we gathered with a couple of dear friends, who are facing a similar decision with one of their three dogs, and had a little ceremony of farewell. And then an amazingly compassionate veterinarian came to our house so that Lucy and we could say goodbye in the comfort and familiarity of our own home.

When we adopted Lucy at nine months old, she came to us from the National Education for Assist Dog Services (NEADS) with a list of about 50 commands she had down pat. She could turn on lights, open doors, and, my favorite feature, she never jumped up on people. Her name was Robyn.

Robyn was raised in the NEADS “Prison PUP Partnership,” which places puppies in prisons all over New England to be raised and trained by incarcerated people for assist dog work. I had put in an application for one of the NEADS “furloughed favorites” several months prior to getting a call from them, in July, 2003.

Robyn was “furloughed” from professional assist dog work at 9 months because of hip displaysia, and she was a perfect fit for our family. When PW and I first met her at NEADS, she was fresh out of prison, and her NEADS handler warned us that the prison pups develop an intense bond with the people who raise them because they have so much 1×1 time. She added that in the couple of days since Robyn had left the prison on her furlough, every time she entered a room she would frantically look around for “her guy.” Then the handler went to get Robyn.

Sure enough, Robyn came bursting into the room a la Kramer from the old Seinfeld show. She frantically looked around, then locked in on PW and me and scrabbled excitedly across the tile floor, sliding to a sitting stop on top of my feet. She tilted her head back to look at me and grinned. And that’s pretty much what the last almost 10 years have been like with her.

After that first meeting, PW and I reluctantly left her behind so that we could go home and get our house ready. A couple of days later, the five of us piled into the station wagon and drove an hour west to the NEADS facility to bring Robyn home.

Of course, we brought toys with us. The whole way home, in the rear view mirror I’d see Robyn’s head randomly popping up as she threw the toys from the way back into the back seat where the girls were jammed in next to each other. No offense to anyone named Robyn, but we all felt this dog needed a different name. The five of us discussed new names, and we settled on Lucy, in no small part because her fur had a reddish hue and her personality reminded us of Lucille Ball. She seemed very much like the kind of dog who would have lots of “‘splainin’ to do,” as Ricky always said to Lucy in the “I Love Lucy” show.

Little did we know.

Sure enough, Lucy’s “counter surfing” skills were unparalleled and the only place we could safely leave food out was on top of the refrigerator. One Christmas at PW’s mom’s house, we put all the pies out to cool on a sideboard in the dining room and left for a walk, with Lucy secured in the kitchen by baby gates. When we got back, two pies were gone and a very uncomfortable and bloated Lucy had somehow jumped back over the gates into the kitchen, where her sugar high gave her smile a demented quality.

A couple of years later, that same demented sugar-high smile was tinged with green Christmas cookie frosting after she nosed her way into the room where four dozen Christmas cookies were cooling and ate every last cookie.

PW’s dreams of taking Lucy to work with her were crushed by Lucy’s love of baked goods. It proved impossible to keep Lucy out of the food pantry storage bins at the church. She would sneak off when PW was busy with something, return with a half-eaten loaf of focaccia in her mouth, and fix PW with big sad eyes, as if to say, “I have been bad, and here is the evidence that convicts me.”

In her range of mishaps and facial expressions, our Lucy was the canine embodiment of Lucy Ricardo from that classic old TV show. Because she had such a long and vibrant life, there are way too many Lucy stories to tell in one sitting.

She was both incredibly sweet and ridiculous. She could sit quietly for a long time while our cat Tiger licked her entire face, and she was also given to random air raid siren howling in her sleep. She snored loudly. She would carry on entire conversations if we took the time to grunt back at her. She slept in positions that seemed unbelievably uncomfortable. She was very licky. She had a great smile. She had terrible breath. She loved to grab Tiger around the middle between her  front feet and drag him around the house. Tiger also loved this.

One can learn a lot about love from a dog. I like to think that all of us learned how to love each other a little better from getting to live more than nine years with Lucy. And as it often goes with love, the greatest depths of our connections are plumbed at ending times.

Since our animals can’t talk or write to us about what might be the best time to move on, we have to figure that out, both for them and for us. It is an unbearably heavy load. Thankfully, PW and the girls and I agreed that we didn’t want to wait until the sweet and goofy Lucy we knew was eclipsed by a hollowed out, incontinent, and immobile shell of her former self. We will not choose to let her suffer to squeeze a few more days or weeks out of a well-lived and long life.

I know so many people who, after putting their diminished pets down, have said, “I probably waited too long.” That is not the song that our family wanted to sing, even though we all are probably still feeling wobbly about this decision. So we made our Alleluias with broken hearts and through a river of tears, surrounded by the love of friends, family, and probably quite a few strangers.

The prophet Isaiah wrote,

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

How lucky we have been to have been chosen by Lucy, to have basked in her light for these past nearly 10 years. There are not enough words for the gratitude we feel.

I made this video to share some of Lucy’s spirit with you. The song is “Heavenly Day,” by Patty Griffin. Griffin has described this gorgeous love song as having been inspired by her dog, so it seemed the perfect soundtrack. The last image in the video is a watercolor portrait of Lucy that Lulu gave me for Christmas last week. When I opened it, I burst into tears because even then I could feel the shadow of this day.

“Instead remember the fruits we have bought because of this suffering”

There will surely be a surge in praying today, even among those like me who aren’t quite sure whether what we’re doing could be considered as prayer. Here’s a prayer you might not have come across before that seems worth highlighting on this day in particular. PW is reading a slightly altered version of it in the interfaith “Back Bay 9/11 Commemoration: From Remembrance to Hope” service later this morning. This was found in the clothing of a child who was killed at the Ravensbrük concentration camp:

O Lord,
Remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Instead remember the fruits we have bought because of this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which have become part of our lives because of our suffering here. When our persecutors come to judgement, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Forgiveness – by Patty Griffin,
published in 1996

We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well
So silent and peaceful in the darkness where we fell
But we are not snakes and what’s more we never will be
And if we stay swimming here forever we will never be free
I heard them ringing the bells in heaven and hell
They got a secret they’re getting ready to tell
It’s falling from the skies
It’s calling from the graves
Open your eyes boy, I think we are saved
Open your eyes boy, I think we are saved
Let’s take a walk on the bridge right over this mess
Don’t need to tell me a thing baby, we already confessed
And I raised my voice to the air
And we were blessed
It’s hard to give
It’s hard to get
But everybody needs a little forgiveness
We are calling for help tonight on a thin phone line
As usual we’re having ourselves one hell of a time
And the planes keep flying over our heads
No matter how loud we shout
Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey
And we keep wavin and wavin our arms in the air but we’re all tired out
I heard somebody say today’s the day
Big old hurricane she’s blowing our way
Knockin over the buildings
Killing all the lights
Open your eyes boy, we made it through the night
Open your eyes boy, we made it though the night
Let’s take a walk on the bridge right over this mess
Don’t need to tell me a thing baby, we already confessed
And I raise my voice to the air
And we were blessed
It’s hard to give
It’s hard to get
It’s hard to give
But still I think it’s the best bet
Hard to give
Never gonna forget
But everybody needs a little forgiveness
Everybody needs a little forgiveness

Psalm/Psong for April 6 – “I Want to Be with You Always” by The Majestic Silver Strings, with Patty Griffin

Yes, I’ve already covered the album by Buddy Miller’s Majestic Silver Strings in my Psalm/Psong cycle. However, this track features a different singer (the awesome Patty Griffin), so technically…oh never mind.

If you haven’t bought this record yet, you best do so. The studio version of this Lefty Frizzell classic psong is better than any live version I could find, although you don’t get to see Buddy’s antics. Life is all about trade-offs that way.

This video makes me want to learn how to play the accordion. And what better time to learn to play the accordion than when we still have two kids at home?! Might as well max out the embarrassment factor: if the fact that I’m alive doesn’t embarrass them, my accordion playing DEFINITELY will.

Lyrics for “I Want to Be with You Always”:

I lose my blues, honey, when I’m with you
No one else can do what you do
You’re in my heart to stay
And when I’m gone, and I’m all alone
I’ll be singing this song
I want to be with you, always.

I’d be happy, dear
If you could only be here
And always be near
Forever and a day
Then we’d travel far
To some big, shinin’ star
Just you and my guitar
And stay there sweethearts for always.

I hope you feel the same
You really want my name
You’ll be the one who’s to blame
If it works out wrong that day
‘Cause my love is true
My love is only for you
I’ll never be blue
If I can be with you, always.

Forgiveness Tai Chi

Toy, Miniature, and Standard Poodles. My rant was a little smaller than the dog on the left.

I had a toy rant about forgiveness the other day. You may wonder, “Is it possible to have a rant — of any size (toy, miniature, or standard) — about forgiveness and be taken seriously?” I’ll make my case, and then you can decide for yourselves.

My nephew-in-law’s Facebook page exploded into a debate Tuesday after he posted a comment, “4 out of 5 dogs agree, Michael Vick’s performance [on Monday Night Football] doesn’t make him any less of a horrid human being.”

A relatively respectful (by Internet standards) argument unfolded beneath his comment, between several people who said they could never forgive Michael Vick for what he did to his dogs, and a vegetarian who essentially said that anyone who eats mass-produced meat products is participating in a factory farming system that is far worse, in scope and in practice, than anything Michael Vick did.

Back and forth it went, and I read along without commenting until one too many people said something to the effect of, “I can forgive a factory farmer because he’s contributing to our food supply, but I can never forgive Michael Vick because he was torturing his dogs for sport.”

I think it was the friction of having the words “can” and “forgive” that sparked my rant and made it burst into a toy flame. Most everyone ignored me, probably because I never really indicated which side I was on.

I am on a side, though. I am on the side of understanding that forgiveness is complicated and difficult. More often than not, whenever I have forgiven people, it’s NOT because I got to some point where it was comfortable to do so, some point where I thought, “Okay, I can do this.”

What I know about forgiveness is that it occurs most often when people need a way out of no way. The conditions that bring about forgiveness, in my experience, are when you reach a point where a future without forgiveness is unimaginable, and the present without forgiveness is unbearable.

My comment in the Facebook thread was: “Forgiveness isn’t supposed to be easy, cheap, or something you do because you CAN. Forgiveness involves stretching yourself into incredibly uncomfortable – even unfathomable – positions, and then staying there. People don’t earn our forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we decide to Give FOR people, whether they deserve it or not.”

I bet each of us has at least one person that we just can’t seem to forgive. Maybe we’ve even tried, but we just couldn’t make it out of the pit of unforgiveness. I know I have at least one person I haven’t forgiven. I suspect there are more than just the one, but my particular unforgiven person looms so large and casts such a huge shadow that I can’t actually see any of the other people I haven’t forgiven. They are eclipsed by this one, singular, unforgiven person.

As I typed out my four sentence toy rant on forgiveness yesterday, to a bunch of people I don’t know (except for my nephew-in-law), my unforgiven person leaped to the front of my mind. The massive inland property that this person takes up in my life was suddenly beachfront real estate. In that moment, it became really clear to me what I have to do to forgive this person: I have to be willing to give up carrying around the loss of my relationship with this person, to stop wearing it like some sort of Supersized Emotional Purple Heart Medal of Valor Blindfold.

The refusal to forgive creates a kind of blindness, doesn’t it? By focusing so relentlessly and exclusively on the damage done to me, I’m blinded to the ongoing corrosion and erosion that characterize unforgiveness. I also rob myself of any vision of a future that only forgiveness can offer. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that I’ll have a better future with my currently unforgiven person. But at the very least, forgiveness will give me a future that’s roomier, with better views, more counter space, and maybe even a window seat.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I spent this past Saturday at a “Beijing Circles” workshop. At the workshop, we watched a video by a woman named Margaret Wheatley. She does a lot of leadership training around the world. In the video, she had this whole riff on “following the energy of Yes!”

She talked about how change happens when people start taking action instead of thinking about taking action and wondering how. We often get immobilized because an issue seems so big that we don’t know where to start. To that, Wheatley says, “Start anywhere, with a Yes!, and follow the energy of Yes! everywhere. We learn what works by doing the work.” Follow the energy of Yes! Start anywhere. Follow it everywhere. Learn what works by doing the work. When I went back and read my workshop notes yesterday, they seemed like instructions.

So. It is with no small amount of bewilderment that I am saying “Yes” to beginning the work of forgiving my unforgiven person. All right, it’s probably more of a “Sure. Okay, I’m in.” Maybe I’ll get to “Yes!” if I give an exotic and goofy Tai Chi posture name to whatever unfathomably uncomfortable position I’ll have to assume to pull this off. I know, how about Repulse Broken Heart Blindfold in Verdant Valley Of Laughing Monkey?!

If you hear sounds of discomfort, it’s just me working on my new posture.

“the soprano sings an intimate and gracious air punctuated by surprising unison choral outbursts”

I have so many shout-outs today, it occurs to me that maybe I should start a tradition of Shout-out Sunday here at The Crooked Line.

First, to my beloved friends from college, Martin & Heather, who are creating something wild and wonderful down in the Texas Hill Country: Madroño Ranch, A Center for Writing and the Environment. If creativity and the environment are the least bit interesting or important to you, their blog needs to be on your reading list.

Reading Heather’s blog post yesterday inspired the post I wrote here yesterday on grief, and it’s still weaving its way in and around and through my grey matter.  One of the persistent wonderings I’ve had since reading Heather’s essay about time and creativity and memory was around the possibility of being able to feel time as we’re moving through it.  As a former swimmer, I love the feel of being in water and how the texture of water changes.  Swimming in lakes in New England in the springtime, on a sunny day, the top foot or so of the water can be warm, and sometimes even feels thick in its warmth.  But if you go vertical, you find that there is a very cold, dark, sharp layer of water below.  At least that’s how it feels to me.

It occurred to me last night that music is one way that I feel myself swimming through time.  I love all different kinds of music, which is probably apparent if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, or if I’ve imposed one of my CD mixes on you.  My music appreciation has a whole new gear since my wife PW started working at this church a couple of years ago.  For most of the year, except the summertime, some grouping of singers and musicians from Emmanuel Music provides a couple of musical offerings every Sunday.  For me, this means that nearly every Sunday, I have a goosebump experience.

The title of today’s post comes from Michael Beattie’s always-evocative program notes for today’s anthem, Handel’s Chandos Anthem 7, “My Song Shall Be Alway.”  So picture this.  I usually sit in the third row of the church, just to the right of the center aisle.  I like being this close because if I’m really quiet in my head, and if no one is talking to me, I can hear sharp inhales and exhales of the musicians, I can hear the keys being pressed on the oboe, plus all the wonderful sounds of the instruments and voices blending together.  Anyway, today I was sitting there, and while I usually try not to distract myself by looking at the bulletin during the music, sometimes I can’t help it.  And there was some point during the lovely soprano solo today when I wanted to see how the program notes described it.  I found the weaving together of the soprano’s voice and the oboe, and Michael’s dancy conducting, to be particularly time-swimmy.  So I looked down at the notes, and I just as I was reading this line “the soprano sings an intimate and gracious air punctuated by surprising unison choral outbursts,” I was enveloped in one such surprising “choral outburst” and waves of goosebumps shot up my spine and engulfed my head.

I feel unbelievably lucky to hear extraordinary live music on such a regular basis, and even when the music itself doesn’t bring goosebumps, often just watching and hearing how the ensemble, conductor and chorus are working together will result in goosebumps.  Even when I’m just not feeling the music on a particular day, the luxury of watching the ensemble, conductor and chorus swim through time is inviting in and of itself, and the next thing I know, I’m doing a figurative cannonball into the pool and I’m in there with them.

Finally, completing the kick-butt church day today (“kick-butt” is a high compliment in my family of origin), one of our newer parishioners, the Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew, took the tricky pitch of the virulently anti-Semitic gospel reading for today and basically hit it over the Green Monster onto the Mass Pike.  I love hearing really great preaching and teaching on a reliable basis.  Another reason I love sitting up in the front is because when a particularly good sermon — like today’s — is concluded, I usually hear at least one whispered “Wow” coming from behind me.  Today there were several such murmurs.

That’s it for my first Shout-out Sunday.  Since it’s been such a Heavenly Day, I’ll let Patty Griffin take us out with that very song:

"You may think this is the end, but it’s only the beginning"

In June of 2004, just shy of turning 8, my youngest daughter GForce figured out how to ride a two-wheeler.  One morning shortly after she had mastered this skill, we went out together to walk our dog at a nearby historic home that has a parking lot around it, along with a gravelly path through the surrounding woods. GForce pedaled around in the driveway for a bit, veered off into the grass, then up onto the gravelly path.  I stood back marveling at how quickly she had gotten whatever is the bicycling equivalent of sea legs. After experimenting with the variety of different surfaces available to her, she rode back towards me and came to a screeching stop right in front of me.  I chirped, “WOW!  This is SO COOL!!”  GForce looked up at me, all beamy and happy, and then got a very serious look on her face and said, “Mom, you may think this is the end, but it’s only the beginning.”

I’ve thought a lot about that moment over the past week, first when I heard the rumor of layoffs at my company, and then again this past Monday when I found out that I was among those being discarded.  It didn’t take very long for me to feel like Monday was a kind of Emancipation Day. In fact, one night over the weekend, prior to Emancipation Day, I was awake for awhile during the wee hours and I realized that I was feeling anxious about NOT being laid off.  What if I had to stay at the company while someone else got laid off??  The prospect of that was way too much to bear, thus the insomnia.

When I woke up this morning, I had the Emmylou Harris/Patty Griffin duet “Way Beyond The Blue” echoing in my head.  What’s not to love about hearing those gals’ voices upon awakening?!  Then these cascading layers of colored ideas flew through my head, about a book I could write, about a blog I could start (DONE!), about all the amazing people I’ve known at various jobs across the country, about how I could turn my resume into a show-stopper, about what if I never have another corporate job again because I’ll figure out how to do something different, amazing, and very much me.

At lunchtime, I drove into the city to hear this week’s installment of the Bach Harpsichord Partita series at my wife’s church.  As I was sitting there, in this stunning chapel,

listening to the plinky pluck of the harpsichord, I started thinking about vibrations, about how that’s all music, or any sound is, moving the air in a certain way.  Stringed instruments have to be rubbed or struck or plucked or hammered to make noise.  And what lovely noise this music was.  And then I realized my heart was thundering in my chest.  And I looked up at the rows of female saints sculpted out of marble on the altar,

and my heart pounded louder and louder and then came this sudden Aha! that made me weep:  “I’m alive!  I. Am. Alive.  So THIS is what resurrection feels like. This is what resurrection IS: that feeling of being alive AGAIN.”

You may think this is the end, but it’s only the beginning.