A Connection Unexpected.
Serendipity can make a time of life when everything feels wrong, make sense. I call serendipitous things God Things, though I’ll admit my faith has been tested of late, so I feel a little hypocritical saying that at the moment.
I haven’t been shooting too much lately. I’ve been learning all about the business side of photography, which is good. I’ve also been navigating a very scary and unexpected health change in my daughter, which is not good. But I was glad Camas Life Magazine asked me to photograph Saturday’s Camas Days Grand Parade, because I knew it would inject some normalcy into my spirit.
Just before parade start, I spied a stylin’ couple standing just where I wanted to shoot. Perfect. The rain started, and they opened an umbrella. Score! And then I noticed the Hayao Miyazaki tattoes on her calves. Totoro, no less. We’re major Miyazaki fans in this house. I knew this would be my favorite shot of the day.
I knew when I shot it that this was my favorite photograph of the day.
I put my worry for my daughter on hold, and really enjoyed shooting the parade, but by its end I was ready to return with my son to our girl, home with a traumatic brain injury (because “concussion” just doesn’t do it justice). As I was leaving, I ran into that couple again, and decided to introduce myself and ask permission to distribute what I knew would be a photo I loved. Turns out they were at the parade with Peter Khalil, candidate for Congress, who very politely asked me to shoot a portrait. At first, what Peter got was the mental car crash that occurred when my urgency to return to my daughter met up with his request, which emerged as all my worry over her, shared sputteringly, with this complete stranger – definitely not my usual MO while I’m working.
I don’t know one thing about Peter Khalil’s politics, but I will tell you that if you ever need to appeal to a person in power for help, you want someone to listen with his depth of compassion. He was so kind, and so humble, and so backed off immediately from his request. So of course I brought him to a better background and shot the portrait.
Peter Khalil, candidate for Congress and one heck of an empathetic guy.
Here’s the serendipity.
But this was the really cool thing. The Miyazaki-tattoed woman with the flaming hair is named Lyann. Lyann shared that she, too, had a concussion that deeply affected her life. I have found precious few people who truly understand how our lives have been turned upside down by this. Lyann got it. And now I know two people who can illuminate what has taken over my vibrant, crazy active daughter’s life and … turned it off, basically. Put it on indefinite hold. These two people I know – one just met Saturday, remember – are the reason I have a clue what is going on, and that’s not for lack of seeking professional help for her. After all our little family has been through, to find that, right now, is like finding gold.
A few folks have observed with surprise that we still have a dog. I think it’s safe to go public, now.
Early on in this widowhood journey, I started posting about the God things on social media, as a way of keeping my focus on Him in the midst of missing … him. Over a year ago, I eased up on my public posts. While it seemed God was making His hand very visible in many aspects of our lives, in the Boaz-delivery department I imagined Him up there with popcorn, elbowing … I don’t know, Walter? My dad? Elbowing someone, anyway, in amusement. I needed to hush up and work on discernment.
Enter this furry guy last August. We met him when he was just a babe, nine weeks old, napping in a feed store customer’s arms – for sale, of course. It was an ambush. Ever looking for the God things, and having promised my son a dog for his birthday fully five months prior (with months of searching, no apparent matches found), I watched this placid puppy start to groom himself in Aslan’s arms and thought, “This is that feeling people talk about, when you know it’s right.” We took him home that afternoon. Aslan named him “Spotty.”
Earlier today, my friend told me how much I have changed since Walter flew to Heaven. “He was the responsible parent,” she remembered, and to a large extent, she was right. I was mired in depression and midwife-malpractice injury recovery for much of my kiddos’ early years. Aslan may have been accessorized in barrettes and a tutu, but Walter got him and his sister to church, dagnabit. Walter’s death forced me to change, and that change has been nothing short of miraculous. Yet there was an emptiness to this house that one significantly-more-kickass-than-she-used-to-be mama, two kids, one cat, one bunny and four chickens had yet to fill.
Nothing cures a control freak like the ultimate loss of control, death. But in time, that urge to at least try to control SOMEthing creeps back in, and having lost My Person, I was at least gonna control my space. A dog represented the ultimate threat to my control, but a quiet voice (do I trust it? Can I even discern whose voice it is?) told me I NEEDED to get Aslan a dog (strongly supported, of course, by Aslan himself). Thus began the battle: My control vs. growing puppy. And not just any puppy: 3/4 border collie, 1/4 blue heeler puppy. Once Mr. Fuzzy Pants was out of his nap-filled puppy stage, things got tough. I mean, TOUGH. Fully three times this pup had me at my breaking point. Have you ever seen photos of border collies herding cattle? They look like devil dogs. That’s what Spotty felt like, to me. I imagined him thinking, “Lady, I can herd cattle and I have the intelligence of a human toddler. You are no match for me!”
As for Aslan, “his puppy” decided he was going to be above at least one person in this pack, and poor Aslan was it. He was the first one of us to declare, “I’m done!” Elspeth was the holdout, gifted in animal whispering as she is, but eventually even she was done – done seeing Mama undone, so done with Spotty.
And me? I was a mess. For months I wrestled with this puppy. His needs plinked on my mind, falling to the ground, unrecognized. Not entirely, mind you – I took care of him, but I didn’t let him IN. And for one of the few times since Walter flew, I did not know my own mind. And it was driving me nuts.
In November, my gut told me it was time to be done, and I followed it. I did everything right: Found a caring placement service staffed by volunteers who know his breed (West Columbia Gorge Humane Society); they had room; we set the date. I breathed easier.
Now, in the interim, I had initiated Spotty’s neuter. It was the right thing to do, and Second Chance Companions makes it affordable (God bless them). Spotty spent many days wearing the cone of shame, in his crate, while he healed.
And then a funny thing happened. After days of recovery in confinement, off came the cone. Immediately, Elspeth decided to try some of the commands we’d worked on. “Sit.” He sat. “Lie down.” He lay down. “Turn around.” Around he went. We watched in amazement as he looked up at us, seeming to say, “Okay, I know what you guys are planning, I’m done messing around, I want to be your dog.”
But what happened the next morning, I will never forget. Spotty had a “resource guarding” issue. He growled at any threat to his food source (anyone near while he was eating), in spite of our attempts to train him through it. That morning, we fed him his breakfast in the kitchen. He growled loudly at us as we stood casually around him, just chatting. All three of us said “Ohhh …” altogether, disappointment in our voices as we stepped back and looked down at him. Silently, he looked up at us. He put his ears down. And, leaving his breakfast behind, he marched himself into his crate in the next room, punishing HIMSELF – and totally winning my heart.
Suddenly, my mind stopped crashing the idea of taking my dog to a dog park against “I’m a widowed-mama entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet, I can’t deal with the needs of a DOG!” The struggle gave way to, “We need to get you to the dog park!” And we need to get you challenging toys that meet your needs, and time and interaction to make you part of the family.
Spotty is learning my rhythms and my routines, and he is adapting to them. I am learning Spotty’s rhythms and routines and needs, and folding them into my life. Spotty is learning to respect Aslan and obey both him and Elspeth … but Spotty is, in spite of it all, MY dog. It took my friend seeing it over Christmas and reflecting it back to me (hi Melissa): I am His Person. Last night he sat in the kitchen as I comfort-cooked, just watching, just … keeping me company.
My kiddos still long for a daddy. I still long for my Boaz. But this house is missing significantly less, now. <3