Monday, July 29, 2013

On Saying “Yes” [Katja’s speech to the Contemporary Club*]

Winston (circa 1972)

Dear George,
There are times when saying “yes” to something is really a response to years of having said “no” – a response to an ache, a need, a feeling of emptiness and stillness that permeates the house and calls for one to be reanimated.

In 1986 our beloved Bedlington Terrier, Winston, finally died at the age of 17.  When he died we vowed never to have another animal in our home.  We assessed the damage caused by Winston’s incontinence, his blindness, hearing impairments, even dementia.  Memories of Winston -- careening off walls, bumping into furniture, tripping over water bowls – all reinforced our determination to avoid any future animal presence.  We were exhausted by caring for him, by our worries about his state, and finally by the expenses of his care.  When he died, we started the long road to repairing and replacing floors, carpets, woodwork, and furniture.

As the years went by, our lives underwent changes in concert with the house. Our parents died; shockingly, siblings died at premature ages; old friends died.  Children went off to school and began their lives afresh.  There were new jobs, new careers, new friends, new relationships, new life styles for us.

The house grew more silent, more still.  The damages were repaired and there were no more renovations needed.  We said “no” to any more changes, losses, and grief.

One morning, while glancing over the Saturday newspaper, an advertisement in the “Dogs for Sale” column caught my eye.  A breeder in Hamilton was selling Old English Sheepdogs [OESs].  This was a breed distinguished by its fanciful grooming.  It resembled a gigantic fluffy dandelion with eyes covered by great poofs of teased hair.  Whenever it was shown at the Westminster Kennel Club competition, the breed was described as being a herding dog – loyal, trustworthy, hard-working, non-shedding, friendly, and possessing a bark that would provoke fear in an intruder.

On a whim, I called the breeder and asked if I might come out and take a look at one of these dogs in person.  I also remarked that I was really not interested in purchasing a dog – just looking.  He was amenable.  He mentioned that he had eleven six-week old pups running around and I would get a good look at their various personalities, coloring, body types and sizes.  He said the mother and father of this litter were named Sarah and Abraham – fitting names for parents of such a large litter.

The sight of eleven puppies running freely over and under a porch, along the fencing, up and down the stairs and into the garage where their mother (Sarah) was resting and then out again into the enclosed meadow – all this activity, energy, curiosity, and chaos was life affirming.  It was akin to being thrust into the actual making of a Jackson Pollack painting, and I was caught up in the vitality of life’s own painting.

And so I said “yes” – yes to life and change – yes to loss and grief, and yes to the beauty and joy that the two puppies (yes, two) brought to our lives.

When they were 12 weeks old, Mike and Duffy were introduced to their new home and our new/old home.  A picture of Winston sits on the wall at the entryway.  He is a reminder of the happiness and sadness that come from saying “yes”.

*Katja’s speech to the Contemporary Club on June 3, 2013, members’ task being to describe an occasion when they said “yes” to a suggestion and it changed their lives.

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G-mail Comments
-Vicki L (7-30): Hi David,   Katja's account of saying 'yes' moved me very deeply. So many years after George's passing - I still step so tentatively into the world of re-engagement. The spectre of loss is so daunting. And yet emptiness challenges that pain. It's a great sporting event. Moving toward engagement, I agree, takes backbone and is the 'way to go'. The older I get, the more I gravitate toward old fashioned values like 'courage', 'fortitude', 'true grit', etc: ....I'm so appreciative of your and Katja's accounts of adventuring forward in life 'post retirement'.. (or whatever this phase is called).  Much love to you both. Are you going to Menominee?   Sis
-Linda C (7-29): So lovely, so true, just made me feel happy. (ps I have a cat now)
-Donna D (7-29): as i was reading, i thought, did david write this?  then i thought, sure, he's just using poet license and writing this as if he were really the one who did it.  then i thought, wow, maybe he really does think it was he, not katja, who did this!  then as i kept reading, i thought, well, this doesn't seem to be david's writing style...a bit too something.  i'm not sure he would write, "It was akin to being thrust into the actual making of a Jackson Pollack painting, and I was caught up in the vitality of life’s own painting."  just didn't sound like his writing.  but then i thought, well, he does use other's words sometimes.  anyway, i was puzzled by it all.  then i got to the bottom and, voila!  it was katja's writing!  loved it!

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