This is the season-of–seasons for millions of people for there is celebration as well as quietude, if only for moments at a time. It begins after Thanksgiving and continues through the New Year — and beyond for some. It is especially so for Christians, for we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ, eternalizing his radical teachings — a transformational tsunami unlike anything the world has ever known. We can choose to believe, or not. Still, a child was born a little more than two thousand years ago and our world today continues to ponder, debate, and wonder at the impact of His life and teachings.
The season of Advent leading to the Nativity with the anticipation of a New Year hovering near, is significant for me. It is characterized with a deep personal inventory of where I am in my heart, how I am in my soul and spirit — if I have grown to be a better, sincerely authentic human being, and more. It is a challenge that cradles both sweetness and sadness as I continue to walk my path of bends, switchbacks, hills, valleys, as well as flat, smooth terrains.
As we yoke jubilation with introspection and bear witness to yet another year rapidly unfolding to its inevitable close, I offer the following short essays and images ‘wrapped in my heartstrings’ as a tribute to what a wonderful life this is. Please enjoy!
I live two short blocks from the Hudson River and while I’ve taken numerous pictures of this body of water at various times, I thought the following captured three distinguishing moods from the first tree to turn its vivid red gracing her shores, to the serenity of late fall when all begins to sleep while mists envelop the land and rise from her waters, and in an extravagant announcement of winter, her bold ice breaking yet flowing, ever flowing.
Lily, A Cat Well Loved
A stray cat named Lily walked into my life on a warm September day. She was discarded by her owner in our village and, though a house cat for ten years, was left to fend for herself outdoors. She was thin and malnourished. Her fur hung from protruding bones and a frail body. But it was Lily’s eyes that invaded hearts as they hauntingly gazed through to the souls of those who looked upon her. Depending on the light, they changed from emerald green to the color of rare, antique jade.
A neighbor kindly fostered her for a month, keeping her safe and fed. But, Lily still did not gain weight though she was eating heartily. So, she took her to the vet for all the usual tests and Lily passed them all. I then decided to take her as mine for I had fallen ‘in love’ and this act was the beginning of an extraordinary journey — a path I had not walked before.
After our first month together and many visits to the vet to determine why she remained so thin, weighing a mere four pounds, we finally learned she was consumed with cancer. Lily asked me in her own way to let her go. She hid in secret places and no longer held down food or water. She became dangerously dehydrated on one occasion. It was apparent that Lily had finished her work here in this life by being with me, and I would like to believe she was needed elsewhere, spreading her tender mercies of love and devotion. For that is what this wonderful creature was: unconditional love, gentle and sweet, wrapped in a rare, palpable beauty.
She followed the sun as it streamed through my windows, sometimes watching birds, others just sleeping and snoring. Apart from my deep love for her, this was all I could offer: safety, warmth, comfort, and my loving hands as I petted and stroked her tender body.
Two months to the day from when I brought her into my home, Lily had to be put down. When my vet gave her the first tranquilizing injection, my friend and I said prayers and sang a lullaby. With her green eyes still open and her heart still beating against my hand as I held her, we gently closed her eyes. She was out of pain and relaxed. The final injection was just that. Her heartbeat and breathing stopped as she lay in my arms.
I did not see death. I witnessed transition. I kept her body with me for a full twenty-four hours ensconced in sage, lavender, and her favorite green knitted blanket. I felt her spirit surround me along with a calming peace and joy. I wept tears, but briefly, while I anointed her head throughout the day with special oils. I have Lily’s ashes now and will some day spread them in an appropriate place. I believe she will let me know when and where.
When Spirit Stands Still
Minor White, a war photographer of stature, and mentor for many photographers in the first half of the Twentieth Century, once said, “No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer IT has chosen.”
Neither of the following two images was planned, nor could they be. Nature was moving rapidly on both occasions. In one, the sheer audacity of sun and black sky converging for only a moment made it almost impossible to capture. In the other, titled “Sky,” it was the swift movement of flowing clouds and flirtatious light reflecting through them at a speed that felt as if it was less than an instant in time, that encouraged me to title the image “Sky,” rather than tree. Was I in the right place at the right time? Yes — and no. I am often in the right place and time, yet there is no music in the image I capture. When there is music, mystery, or both, which I believe is the case with these two images; I know that Spirit ‘stood still long enough.’ Thank you.
The Book of Abbey
In honor of Lily and the precious, short time in which she enriched and graced my life, I adopted a younger female cat, about one year old, and chose the name Abigail. In the Old Testament, names were not blithely given. They had meaning and relevance. Abigail was the second wife of King David. In Hebrew, her name translated to ‘Father’s Joy.’ And, my Abbey Gail, is all joy.
Abbey too has some physical challenges we are working to resolve. After all, shelter life is not easy even under the best of circumstances. But she is young, strong, bright, playful, sweet, loves a good lap to purr on, and a warm cuddle. Most assuredly too, she eats like a small tiger. So, Abbey occupies yet another room in my heart filled with love, for Lily taught me how much love I have to give and that I must keep on giving it for my heart will merely grow larger, adding on rooms as they are needed. Thank you dear Lily.
And, thank you my adorable Abbey for your delightful, flirtatious, and jaunty ways, which bring surprise, solace, and giggles into my heart as your Book begins here in these pages. These two images present rare moments when Abbey was truly still. In the first, she was clearly mesmerized by a hanging object, my window crystal, and in the other she actually settled down long enough for my camera’s shutter to capture and release!
It IS a wonderful life! Of course I have had my share of change, fears, joys, laughter, love, and loss. I believe though that it is the most difficult of these that offer our greatest lessons. When our hearts crack open with grief, love pours out … even if we are not fully aware of it at the moment. In this outpouring our hearts open to love more, striving to be better in our humanness. Living life is the most precious journey of all and we are free to choose what to do, how to feel, and what right actions to take with the lessons given along our pathways.
A quote from an Unknown Author (Courtesy of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book, Simple Abundance):
If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so important that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each one of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And, a being within ourselves to bring to life.
And He said, “Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give you.”
I feel the deepest gratitude for each of you who have faithfully read the pages of this online Journal. Your comments have meant so much to me over these past few years. They serve as support and each word is a blessing. May this coming year be a wonderful life for you … never perfect, but always so in its imperfection.