Goodbye, My Friend

Today, Llewy was euthanized. It’s already weird being in our house without him. Always, his presence warmed my heart. To suddenly be without him…. well I guess that’s why I’m writing this goodbye to him now. So I don’t have to lose the idea of him yet, even if he is gone.

Llewy balanced me, when I didn’t know that I needed to be balanced. His unconditional love, spirit, and stubbornness, often reminded me of how to be the person that I wanted to be. Every dog is an emotional support dog, and Llewy was mine. Brenna would often say that he was my spirit animal, and that’s true. Having him in our family for these years made me a better person.

My spirit is dampened due to his loss, but what I learned from Llewy will live beyond the sorrow. When I had no one else, Llewy was there. When I needed someone to hold, Llewy was there. When I just needed to be with someone else, Llewy was there. I’ll never know if he knew when I needed him or not, but he was always there. Just his being there, and his irrepressible attitude while he was there, eased so much pain in my life. Llewy made it easier to process all the things I have gone through in the last 10+ years. He made it easier to make the choices in my life that I needed to make.

He made it easier when I got laid off. He made it easier when Brenna and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. He made it easier to raise two daughters. He made it easier to buy a house, and move to a (relatively) new region. Llewy made it easier to quell the demons that have always been in my mind.

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The first weekend we had him, we took him on a walk from our apartment in Campbell to downtown. Traffic literally stopped in the middle of the road when people saw him – I think shortly after we took the picture above. He was the cutest puppy ever. I’m slightly biased. When we got to downtown, where there was a farmer’s market that day, a crowd of about 30 people gathered around to see him.

I’ll never forget the day we got him. He was sad to leave his family, but after he had been with us for a few hours, his personality came through. I think it was at least a year before I was sure that he wanted to be with us.

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He always found comfort in my feet, from the first day we had him to the last day of his life.

Llewy was great with babies. He was always patient, always protective. He put up with so much from Ember when she was a baby, and was always sweet with Ash. With kids, Llew wasn’t so great. Thankfully he didn’t nip at their heels, but he didn’t appreciate them running around or any roughhousing of any kind.

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Here is one of the few photos of Llewy and Ash. She obviously won’t remember him.

Llew once ate half a pound of Starburst. We came home (I thought I had left the Starburst out of reach) and found him, on the floor next to a chewed through bag, so bloated. No matter how many times I took him out to walk and get things moving, he only barfed in the house. Reddish, sticky, watery goo came out of him – with Starburst wrappers. It was truly awful. I don’t think that carpet ever recovered.

There was the time he and Nacho got kennel cough from eating horse poop and dead crabs on a beach in SF. There was the time he got stung by a bee and his nose got all swollen – that happened when he got his vaccines as well. There were the many times he knocked over someone’s drink at a party so he could drink it himself. There was the time he ran through downtown Boulder Creek, and we found him eating garbage out of the dumpster by the old brewery. Or when we pulled him out of herding lessons because he lost interest in herding the sheep, preferring to just eat their poop. Before it became clear that the degenerative myelopathy was going to take him, Brenna and I really thought that he would manage to eat himself to death.

I love that picture above of Ash and Llewy. It really captures the dignity with which he finished his life.

He had no feat. The only thing I remember Llewy ever being afraid of was power outages (of all things). Bigger dogs, people, cars, nothing else I ever saw him back down from. Such a great lesson for life. Here he is, I managed to get a selfie of him when the power went out in our house:

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Llewy was a great pack dog, even if he wasn’t totally happy with additions to the pack. He watched out for all of us, and helped us train our new puppy in the last year of his life.

Llewy helped me to be whole. I had no idea a dog could do that before him. I feel like I could go on forever, but being that he has only been dead an hour and a half or so as I’m writing this, I think I’m going to stop writing for now. I may very well write more about him in the future as I’m processing his departure.

One more thing. Here are the photos from his last trip to the beach, the day before he died. I’ve never been able to take selfies with him, and yesterday was no different. He did get to dig in the sand one last time, something he loved to do. There were also a few dogs there, and I got to see how social he wanted to be as he dragged his back end across the beach to see them.

More photos:

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Goodbye, Llewy. You were my rock. I will miss you dearly, and I will always carry you in my soul. What you did for me and our family is immeasurable. In my heart, you will always be by my side.

It’s Me

Here this is, for you to read

If there’s ever a day
When you’ve found you’ve
lost your way
and you’re looking for
someone to reach out to

And you don’t know
who’ll be there and
who won’t
who’ll listen and give you
something to hold on to

I’m not so far
just a message away
if you’ve got something
to say
or need someone
to walk with

Who’s gonna be there when
you’re in your worst moment?
Who will watch you as
you cry and you scream?
Who will put out their hand
when you need someone to hold?
Who will rock you back to sanity?

It’s me

It doesn’t bother me
if it’s been a year, or two, or three
a decade, or more
since you spoke to me

You are my friend
I mean that to the end
As long as I draw breath
you are part of me

If you don’t have
a roof over your head
if you’ve got track marks instead
If self harm seems like
the best solution for you

If you’ve lost your last sense
of direction

It’s me

I will be there
when the darkness closes in
when there’s nothing left
but the feet your standing in

I will walk a mile
or a thousand more
to get to your door
or take you to a new one

You’re never alone
in this world
when it’s cold as stone
As long as I draw breath
you’ve got me

Who’s gonna be there
when you’re in your worst moment?
Who will watch you as you
cry and you scream?
Who will put out their hand
when you need someone to hold?
Who will rock you back to sanity?

It’s me

I was listening to “It Ain’t Me” by Kygo and Selena Gomez yesterday – which I think is a beautiful song – and was experiencing a sense of cognitive dissonance deep in my soul. It’s essentially a breakup song, the way it’s performed it comes across as a lady saying that she isn’t going to support a guy anymore in the moments where he can’t take care of himself. Which, is a sentiment I can appreciate. As the song went along, I realized that it is me. That I want to be there in those moments. That, though I may not be in the habit of communicating this to the people I care about, it is exactly my intention to be there for my friends in their hardest times and any time. That when I become friends with a person, I am making a lifetime commitment to them. That, though I’ve struggled with the logistics of that commitment, as I’m sure we all have – it has been my commitment my entire life.

So, even though I haven’t written poetry for years, this poem just sort of spilled out of me. I wrote it roughly to the tune of “It Ain’t Me.” Apparently I’m much more of a lyricist than a tune-writer. I didn’t go and re-write the song word for word though, I just wrote what came to mind. Since the words of this poem are what I am feeling deeply on a daily basis these days, I thought I’d share it with you.

Mourning 9/11, And Everything After

Now that I work with veterans, today was not an easy day

As I drove up to the 9/11 memorial this morning, I saw veterans outside greeting each other. I had to flee. I had to keep going. I couldn’t be in that space. I couldn’t be with men and women who had signed up to sacrifice it all – when I hadn’t. It felt… disrespectful. I felt as if I would be violating a sacred space.

All of my conflicted thoughts about 9/11 came to the surface at once. I found myself parked down the road, with tears in my eyes.

A vet asked me recently, why I didn’t serve. I told him that, being 18 on 9/11, I didn’t want to fight an insurgency…

He didn’t know what an insurgency was.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog how I had studied foreign affairs for years, and that I knew jihad was coming to the US – I also knew that our military and our society hadn’t learned the lessons from Vietnam. That we hadn’t come up with effective strategies for dealing with an enemy who could blend into the populace.

The mess that followed justified my decision. The expanded war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. ISIS… Dying via an IED on some street in Iraq would have been far from an acceptable death for me.

I also see 9/11 as a catalyst, a catalyst that exposed the fissures in American society. Besides the death and misery of millions in the Middle East; 9/11 brought us Obama, and 9/11 brought us Trump. The deep divide in our culture, the big oscillations between extremes – I see as responses to 9/11.

What there is for me is to mourn all of it. Not just the events of 9/11, but the seventeen years that have followed. The swift death of the America of my childhood (the 90’s)…

Yet, even though I feel as though I made the right choices for me, I have guilt. Guilt for not taking direct action in the face of a trying time. Guilt for seeing the options in front of me, saying “not the military,” and then not finding another way to take action. Guilt that I only feel on days like today.

So instead? I’ll do what I’m paid to do. I’ll go out into Santa Cruz county to look for homeless veterans. Just for the game of it, I’ll look for someone specific. I’ll see if I can find a young guy who was on the streets of Fallujah. Maybe in the back country of Afghanistan. I’ll go put the light at the end of somebody’s tunnel.

That’s how I can serve my country today. That’s what’s in front of me.

And the tears in my eyes as I finish this post are tears for 9/11, and everything after.

 

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Unknown Today

Today gave me stuff to think about

I was walking down the street in my town, pulling my corgi in a cart because his back legs don’t work anymore, with tears in my eyes knowing that this may be one of our last walks…

And I saw a woman, sitting on the sidewalk across from the town bar, crying.

I was in no space to be emotionally present. But my corgi cheers people up just by his presence. So I figured if…

She said hi to him as we went by. I moved him closer to her so she could pet him.

As I was telling her about his condition, she recognized me. We met, maybe six weeks prior, one of the only times I’ve been to the bar this year. She is a really friendly older lady, and we just happened to have a great conversation the first time we met. We probably only spoke for ten minutes inside that loud bar, but we both had a good time. She asked why I haven’t been by, and I told her I have trouble getting out of the house at night.

“Wife and kids at home?” She said.

“Yep, both wife and kids” and I love them dearly.

We both agreed that it was good to see each other. She went back to the bar, composed, and I and my corgi went towards home.

Today I met an Iraq war veteran, my age, who is wrecked by PTSD. Did two tours, saw combat. Amazingly sweet and gentle. Thanked my intern and I for making him laugh, because when he feels sick he normally doesn’t laugh. So thankful, and ready to undergo whatever is in store for him to get to the other side. The kind of person that I just want to help with everything I have…

When we left, I said to my intern “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I was 18 on 9/11. I was in great physical shape then. I didn’t join because I knew we were bad at insurgencies. I knew we weren’t going to know who the combatants were on the battlefield. I didn’t think my life would be valued by my commanders. I didn’t want to die for something that years later was meaningless.

This intern has been with me, 20 hours a week, for a couple months now. She’s seen the gnarly stuff I do to find homeless veterans. She’s seen the crazy. She was present when I had to drive myself to the ER to get staples in my head.

When I said to her “You know me. You know I would have gone straight into combat. You know I wouldn’t do anything else.” She agreed.

Today, there was a broken man in front of me. Who didn’t stay in one place or open up to people because he didn’t want to be a burden. Who was literally shaking. Who had trouble making eye contact. Who is clearly a great guy, that a lot of people care about.

Processing this day, what I see are tradeoffs. I see that we are all presented with tradeoffs in life. Sometimes we’ll know the outcome, sometimes we won’t. When it comes to the really important stuff, most of the time we won’t know the outcome.

And often, you gotta give up good things, things you want, in order to keep going the way you’re going. Even when you don’t know where the way you’re going is going to get you.

I’m gonna keep going.

Oh Man, What The Heck Am I Doing?

My last blog post received quite a few views (for me), and quite a few comments on facebook. I found myself dreading the comments. Like, “oh crap, who is going to be terrible in the comments now?”

Yet this is what I set myself up for, this is what I asked for in a way. I want my stuff to be read, I want people to be thinking about it. In our world, the best way to do that is to write stuff that gets a lot of comments. But if I’m deliberately avoiding facebook because I don’t want to see what people are saying now, even if it isn’t directed at me, that’s a problem.

I took this on for a variety of reasons. I wanted an online presence to establish who I am and what I’m about. Over the years I have felt that the real me doesn’t get communicated in short bursts, nor do I really get captured by the tools we have to capture who people are: resumes, social media profiles, business cards, etc. I wanted to have a place where people could see the different sides of me.

I also wanted to have a place where I could affect the way we talk about the world around us, even if it is just among my very small readership. I think most, if not all of us, today would agree that there is crazy stuff going on in the world around us. I wanted to have a place where I could assist, in my own small way, in us finding solutions to our seemingly insurmountable problems.

I also wanted a forum to start conversations. There is so much going on in our world, and a limited time to actually talk about it. For friends of mine to say “I read your blog, and here’s what I think about it…” gets us to the heart of the matter real fast when we have a limited amount of time to talk. It also gets me thinking in new ways about the subject. Invariably, every time I talk with someone about one of these topic I’ve written about it changes the way I see it.

Of course, if I’m going to be engaging in the discourse that exists around the problems of today, I’m going to have to deal with the vitriol that exists in our current political discourse. In fact, that is exactly what I want to be addressing with my writing.

But holy crap guys, sometimes witnessing that on my own feed is really hard. And I’m sure that one day I’ll write something that ends up getting that vitriol directed at me, and those few days will be hard as well. Honestly, I’m afraid of that day. That’s really what it is. I’m afraid of that day when it feels like the whole world has turned against me. I’m afraid that one day I’ll write something, and people will lobby my employer to get me fired over it. I’m afraid I’ll write something, and I’ll feel like people I love and care about are judging me over it. I’m afraid that I’ll lose friends. I’m afraid that my intentions, which are ultimately just to calm the dialogue around our divisive issues, will be lost.

There’s more to what I’m feeling than that, however. I think I’m also really coming to grips with exactly how much work there is to be done. How calloused we all are to each other’s points of view that we skip all of the lead up and cut straight to the arguing. Or we skip the arguing, and go straight to taking action against each other.

What we have in our culture today is a failure to diffuse negative feelings towards one another. We have a failure to help each other move past anger. A failure to address issues before they become causes, a failure to listen and take action before people become calloused. We have an inability to perceived injustice when it affects people we don’t identify with. Our initial response to people who don’t share our worldview is one of not trusting their intentions.

And now, violence feels much more common in our political discourse than it did say, 20 years ago. It certainly feels much easier for people to rationalize violent acts.

Yet I also know that this is just a period, and that this period will pass. Since our world has become interconnected, it has always suffered from periods of “unrest” – for lack of any better vocabulary. World War I and II were extreme examples. The 1960’s were another. We are in one now. How long it will last, I don’t know. When will it peak? I don’t know that either. But it will pass. What will the world look like when it’s done? I don’t know that either.

Sometimes I wonder how far I want to put myself out there. How much am I going to risk getting burned? Yet the time has come for me where I can no longer live with inaction. I cannot sit by and watch the world burn.

Yet my contribution is not… normal? I don’t yet see how going to protests or calling my representatives is actually going to further what I’m up to. I’m concerned with the dialogue, and I’m concerned with the lack of listening happening in our culture.

Behind every political position is at least one unaddressed concern. Immigration, in our country, is a great example. Someone can be against immigration because they are concerned about it’s impact on our economy overall, because they don’t want the people who are already here to lose their jobs, because they don’t want our culture to be diluted, because they don’t want immigrants who are going to take from us instead of contribute, because they don’t want criminals to come here… OR they could be biased against people that don’t look like them, or racist. Anyone who comes up with an immigration policy that demonstrates that it mitigates against those first five concerns, while meeting the goals of people who are in favor of immigration, is going to end up with the great majority of the US populace behind them.

But what doesn’t make it into the national conversation, is anyone actually attempting to alleviate the concerns of people who are anti-immigration. What we hear from the pro-immigration side is “Those people are racists!” Or, people who are against immigration are hopelessly biased or simply ignorant of the economic facts about immigration. Maybe we’ll see frustrated speculation wondering why people don’t understand what is such an obvious, to them, truth.

What I want is for people engaged in our national conversation to start listening to, and alleviating, the concerns of the different groups that make up our population. I haven’t the slightest idea how to achieve that. That, and reinforce and strengthen our democratic institutions (ie; make sure everyone gets a vote and every vote is counted equally). That also means refraining from purposely distributing false information, and giving up achieving legislative agendas through undemocratic means.

This is a big ask. I understand that. As a people we’re so used to doing things the way we have been, to suddenly actually “do democracy” in a democratic way would be a big change. But for me, this is what’s worth wading into the public discourse for. I would consider myself remiss if I did not take action on this issue. This is why I’ve been writing and podcasting recently. This is my overall goal.

Lol, and yes I have always taken on things that are too big. But I know what this is. I know, that if it is ever achieved, that it may not happen in my lifetime. There is no manual for this. It’s ultimately going to take millions of people taking up this cause in one way or another to have a noticeable effect. But what the heck else is worth doing?

It’s time to put a black dog to sleep

Blogging has opened up a new well of anxiety for me. It’s time I addressed it. I wasn’t originally planning on this blog being personal – but this is what I have to write so I may as well write it.

Let me give you some of the backstory of why this feels the way it does for me.

I have always loved to write. I have been writing my entire life. The sweet spot, as I think of it, of communication in general is when what you’re communicating resonates with the audience and the speaker or writer at the same time – and I love to hit that spot.

During my sophomore year of high school I needed a change. I was really unsatisfied with my high school experience at that point. So when I found the opportunity to take college courses held at Stanford during the summer on things I really cared about (Comparative Politics and Rhetoric, right up my alley), I jumped at the chance.

I loved it. It opened my eyes to a lot, I met a lot of people, and made a life long friend. And, I didn’t do as well on the essays in my courses as I wanted to.

When I came back to school in the fall, I was ready to take on the world. I signed up for Honors English (because I wanted to improve my writing) and AP History. I became an editor for the school paper. I tried out for the school play. I volunteered for student government.

I did well at it all… except Honors English. I could not get good grades on the essays. In fact, I was getting the worst grades of my life. Worst of all, was I didn’t know why. Nothing my teacher said about the grades I was getting made sense to me.

I failed Honors English that first semester, while getting straight A’s in all my other classes. While co-editing the student paper and writing a bunch of articles for it, performing in the school play, and volunteering for the bond campaign to raise money to upgrade the school facilities. I failed the next semester too. I never understood why my teacher gave me the grades he did. I never understood what was missing from my writing.

It was the first time, maybe the only time, that I wanted to improve something about myself and wasn’t able to do it. I had failed plenty of times at plenty of things, but before I had always learned something from the failure. This time I learned nothing. It has haunted me ever since. It didn’t matter that I later had a regular column in the local newspaper, or that I had a handful of poems published each year in the school poetry publication. Or that people told me my whole life that I was a good writer. I always felt that there was something missing. I could never shake the feeling that there was just something that I didn’t get.

Now, whenever I go to write for my blog, I feel this feeling again. Time has not healed this wound. I found myself today in a milieu of emotions. I have so much to write – I’m not even close to writing all the blogs I wanted to write before I started this blog, yet alone the ones I’ve thought of after – yet I found myself questioning stuff I’m very clear I want to say. I found myself doubting my ability to write anything well. I found myself… wanting to give up.

Now you can see what I do when I have a feeling that I can’t resolve myself. This is how I confront it, let it wash over me, and move past it. By writing about it. This is why I must keep writing.

That, and I have a lot to say. Thank you all for reading.