I graduated from college in 3 1/2 years. I say this only to show how anxious I have lived most of my life.
I’ve sat on the edge of my seat looking ahead at what could be, maybe, if I hoped enough, if I proved to be good enough, if I worked hard enough, if I was lucky enough.
My dog changed that.
I adopted Karma with the name when she was 10 and so we started with limited time. Then the other week an emergency visit to the vet revealed cancer. A tumor in her mouth that will spread and that all agree there’s not much to be done about.
Her prognosis is uncertain with opinions mixed on whether she has days, weeks, months, or a year or more and the last couple weeks have had ups and downs. The realness of it all has forced me into the present, to live one day at a time, because that’s the only way I’m not sad. If I think forward, then I have to face a time I’m not ready to type. If I think backward, I have to remember something that is over. In the present my dog lives and is doing pretty well.
Over the last four years, I’ve come to think of myself as a girl and her dog, as one unit. Karma had gone through five different homes in the year before I adopted her – from her original owner, who died, to a son to the pound to a foster home to my home. She trained me from the start, waking me up each morning at 7 am on the dot for an hour-long walk before breakfast. In the evening, she’d stand at the doorway to the bedroom when she thought it was time for me to go to sleep (I assume to make sure I would be well rested for our morning walk.)
We were unsure of each other the first couple months. She was more like a cat, letting me pet her a couple brushes before she’d move on. Then one night when I was watching TV she came over and pawed my leg, looking up at me, waiting for me to pick her up and pet her. We became inseparable. She’s been there when relationships haven’t worked out, when work was falling apart, when I was new in Portland and knew no one. When I packed up to return to LA, she was so afraid I might leave her she insisted on sitting in my lap on the drive out of town, hugging my arm with her paws.
Now, she likes to cuddle up in my lap while I write. I pet her, trying to remember to avoid her swollen lymph node and the other new tumor that’s since popped up, not because she seems sensitive, but because it freaks me out. When I think of her tumor, or mass, or growth, or the disease that cannot be named, I’m hit with this feeling of permanence, the inability to go back or deny that death exists and will come for us all. That things changed, are scarred, and even if healed we won’t be that person again.
Dramatic, I know, but I’ve been absurdly blessed with healthy people in my life. I’ve never wanted to acknowledge how lucky I have been for fear it will run out, that maybe somehow I sneaked by the universal order of things, the vengeful gods who dole out karmic justice missed me. I have a friend who is afraid to breathe during yoga because it reminds her that someday she won’t. I’d venture a lot of us have some trick to keep us from remembering that life comes with death.
So here I am in the present, sweet like my breath in meditation.
I’m behind in my advanced yoga teacher training and I’m not rushing to catch up, for once. I want to absorb all I’m learning, to take the time to understand it. I learned that in Chinese medicine, the lungs are associated with grief and inspiration. My mentor, Maria Cristina Jiminez, told the class a week ago to breathe feeling their grief. I teared up.
It made me think of how in yoga, grief is imbalance of the heart chakra. Unresolved grief makes us close our heart or lose our boundaries.
The lungs cradle the heart, like a hammock, she said.
My breath in each class has cleared out my roller coaster of emotions each week. I cried on and off for 3 days when I first learned my dog had untreatable cancer then realized Karma is here now. Today I’m happy.