New Year’s Resolution: Let Loss Open My Heart to Kindness

Peter’s red pick-up is parked in the road when I get home just before dark. Peter often brings his dog Simo to my land for a run, but Peter’s long dark silhouette stands alone against the snow.

“Come inside and get warm by the wood stove,” I offer, guessing what has happened.

“Simo took off,” Peter says with resigned eyes and a thin smile. Simo has taken off before, but he always comes back in an hour. Peter works hard to train this sweet rescue dog, but he’s a young hound with a wild need to run.

I offer Peter almonds and we talk about the difficulty of training an adult dog to stay with us in the woods, especially a hound on a deer trail.

“I’ll keep calling him and let him inside when he comes,” I offer. “You can pick him up in the morning.” At 8 and 9 and 10 p.m., I stand on the back porch while the snow flies and whistle until my hearing aids shrieks. Then I call with long drawn-out vowels. “Si-mo. Si-mo.” No Simo at midnight or 4 a.m. or 7 a.m.  By morning, new snow covers any tracks we might have followed. My heart aches for Peter and everyone who loses what they love.

“I don’t need to be reminded that I lose things,” Peter had said as we waited for Simo. Peter’s dad died four months ago. I remember the first raw Christmas without Vic in 2008 and the first Christmas after my dad’s death in 1959. Peter just survived his first Christmas without his dad. He’s lost enough.

Three days later, there is no sign of Simo. The weather is bitter and the snow pack deep. Yesterday, I tromped through my woods on snowshoes whistling and calling, “Si-mo.” Peter searched the woods and the road many times and called the Schuyler Humane Society and the sheriff. Peter’s phone number is on Simo’s collar, so we hope the hound is cuddling next to a wood stove somewhere and will find his way home. I watch for him out the windows, hoping for a miracle.

Simo’s return

This year, I hope to do better at accepting unavoidable losses, to make another baby step toward opening to whatever comes. I’ll try to follow Pema Chodron’s advice and be curious about what arrives. I’ll breathe more deeply and relax rather than resist.

When I whine about my losses, you can say, “That was a dumb New Years Resolution.” Then I’ll quote the first stanza of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness,” one of the wisest and most hopeful poems I know about loss.

For Peter, the lessons are harsh, but I trust the words of the poem. When we lose things, we soften to others who have lost what they count on. I trust Peter’s heart is being opened to kindness. I wish it didn’t hurt so much.

    Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
 between the regions of kindness…

***

I wish you a happy and peaceful New Year. May your losses become opportunities. This post experience with Peter and Simo happened in 2013. After five days, Simo stuck his head out of the dog house on my back porch when I walked outside to call once again. He somehow survived and found his way back. I fed him and called Peter.  Follow this link to read the complete poem “Kindness.” Mothering Our Abandoned Longing is about the vital role played by my dog companion and therapist Amigo after my father’s death.

18 Comments
  1. Such a sweet and poignant reminder. Keeping your heart open as beings you love leave or shift how they live in your world is a noble effort. Sending love to you, Elaine, in this new year.

    • Yes, a poignant reminder–and this morning at 6:30 a.m. when I let Willow out, Simon emerged from the dog house on the back porch. Five nights out in cold weather. He is skinny and subdued, but obviously a boy who knows how to survive in the wild world. Peter is on his way to pick him up. Lesson remains the same. Things come and things go. Stay open, observant, and curious. I fail to maintain this attitude a hundred times a day, but I’ll keep trying.

  2. I’m relieved to know that Simon is home. Our little Westie has a dislocated hip. She does not seem to be in any pain, but she can’t race around like she used to, nor jump up into her favorite chairs, and sometimes she looks as if she would just like to go away. In this experience called aging, I can sympathise with her. So we try to savor the quieter sweetnesses of life together.

    • Simo looks none the less for wear, but Peter seems to understand that he can’t let this dog run and that–really–the dog needs a new home in the country. We’ll see what happens next, but as Peter said, “I got a lesson and you got a great blog.” I had asked Peter for permission to write about this experience, so I’m glad he liked what I wrote. My New Year’s Resolution remains the same and I’m not even slightly tempted to adopt Simo. His energy won’t work in my life. Sounds like Westie knows to stay home and get all the care you likely give her. Our loving canine friends put us through the ringer.

  3. Thank you for this tenderness and kindness this cold and snowy evening.

    • Thanks, Kay Marie. Peter’s dog came back–as you might have read in the comments. Skinny and tired, but tough. So we all learned lessons from the experience and it turned out well. For me, another lesson about being pessimistic rather than waiting with curiosity.

  4. I need to spend an entire Saturday afternoon catching up on your blog. You write beautifully Elaine.

    I’m so glad Simo returned… as you said, Peter has lost enough.

    The poem took my breath away – thank you for sharing it.

    Much love and happiness in the new year. I’m glad our paths crossed. I’ll be right there with you trying to breath more deeply, relax rather than resist, and remain open and curious – like you, failing a zillion times each day but continuing to try.

    • Thanks for your encouraging and kind words about my writing, Ann. They mean so much coming from someone who writes as well about loss and grief as you do. Isn’t “Kindness” a gem? My husband Vic’s last book (Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge) was published just 3 months before he died and ended with that poem. In payment for using the poem, Naomi Shihab Nye asked for a copy of the book, a local food from Ithaca (she’s in Texas, so we sent maple syrup and a box of other treats), and $10. He would have gladly paid many hundreds, and she knew it. Kindness passed along. The poem is also in the book I’m finishing.

      I’m thankful our paths have crossed and I’m glad to be reading your honest tales of love, care, and letting go.

  5. Elaine, my dear friend, your post touches my heart (as your writing always does), and the Kindness poem left me in a puddle of tears. So beautiful, and so very true. As I read through the comments following your story, I am SO relieved to learn the outcome. In so many ways, ambiguous loss is more difficult than other types of loss, because we don’t know if and when to give up all hope and begin to mourn. Since it sounds as if this could happen again, I thought your young friend might appreciate this article I wrote for Open to Hope: “When Your Companion Animal Is Missing,” http://j.mp/VIuyBG

    • Marty, thank you for your encouraging words and for the article link. Peter is learning about the responsibility of owning a dog and the difficulty of training a rescue dog. As he said, “Lesson learned–and you (meaning me) wrote a great blog about what happened.” With gratitude, Elaine

  6. I loved reading your blog entry, Elaine.
    Kindness is one of my favorite poems. I had the honor of meeting Naomi Shahib Nye at a reading in Hingham, MA last year and I, too, found her to be kind, gracious, humble and generous.
    My best wishes to you for peace, joy and kindness as we embark on another new year!
    Rob

    • Thank you so much, Rob, for reading my blog and for taking your precious time to respond to it. I am finishing a book that also contains the poem “Kindness.” During a slow hospital procedure with a grumpy doctor, Vic asked me to read the poem out loud. I thought he was nuts, but as I read, the doctor mellowed, the residents and students relaxed, and a mellow hush settled on the room. The poem created an atmosphere of spiritual healing accessible to everyone there. I will never forget that moment of transcendence and will tell Naomi Shahib Nye about it when I ask for permission to use the poem.
      Elaine

  7. An incredibly touching story. Loss can be so incredibly painful but it is often where we discover courage we didn’t know we had. Happy New Year to you.

    • Thank you for your comment and for reading this piece, Jeremy. I’m glad it touched your heart. Loss has much to teach us if we open our heart to it. It sounds as though you already know that. A Bountiful New Year to you.

  8. Beautifully written. My mother once told me that we can only experience joy to the degree that we have been hollowed out by sorrow. That saying helped me keep looking forward to beauty in my life when things were rough. I’m glad I found your writing via #MondayBlog.

    • So am I, Liesl. I’m new on Twitter and don’t have the hang of it, but today is Monday, so you remind me to put out a blog or two. Your mother sounds like a wise woman. I know grief made me a kinder and more open-hearted woman. We all have grief, so it seems we have a choice whether to soften or harden in the face of it–but we first have to know we have that choice because it can be so hard to let grief and sorrow in if we’re used to blocking our feelings.

  9. Lovely to read this Elaine & the comments – eternal in their wisdom

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