Barking at Fearsome Things


"It's what we don't say that weighs the most."


- For Elizabeth -


On the night before heading home after a long road trip in July, our dog Teddy and I jumped awake at the simultaneous flash of lightning and the ear-splitting thunder above our camper roof. After his initial barking, Teddy snuggled close, both of us trying to stop shaking. The storm circled overhead for over thirty minutes. Teddy barked furiously at each glaring bolt of light and deafening noise. We'd cuddle together and just as we were settling down, another flash and roar would make us jump. Barry hardly stirred.


A few nights after the New Mexico thunderstorm, a monsoon blew in over our section of the desert. At first Teddy sat on the sofa, barking. Then he ran to the front door, jumping up at the glass, his way of saying, "Let me out...let me out." The opened door let in the full force of the storm—gusts of wind, the sky alight with lightning strikes, the subsequent crashes of thunder.


All four paws planted right on the edge of the covered patio, Teddy raised his head and scanned the sky, barking continuously. Suddenly the rain began, a hard pelting of drops blowing in on us. Teddy didn't stop with his sharp barks, his determined stance.


"Whoever or whatever is up there, I am loud too. I have a voice."


Anthropomorphic as my interpretation of his behavior is, I remember how it feels to speak up and stand my ground when faced with the noisy threat of things unsaid and the fearsome feelings that always arise.


I wrote draft upon draft of my book from 2009 to 2016, until finally moving on from the first five chapters, I sat at my desk ready to write the rest of the book. Staring at the computer screen, I realized I was about to leave out the most important story—I'd even forgotten to include it on my outline. The entire narrative of "The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice" drastically unraveled as I sat there in disbelief, the weight of my father's death pressing my thumb on the space bar as the story of the Mexican robbery was moved line by line to reveal three blank pages. I forget how much time passed until the new opening of the first chapter was set down in words.


"Sorry ma'am. But there's been an accident."


I have never regretted that moment. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron encourages us to "...not spin off"—that a true difference will be made on this earth when enough of us can stay with the tight feelings in our gut and hold hands with all the "no, no, no" messages bombarding us as we let go of the contradictions "of pleasant and unpleasant." What remains after such effort is an enriching, personal peace unique to each of us, the weight we've carried transformed — a peace to be owned, and then shared with others when our inner voice says it is time.


Teddy also barks when he hears us outside, when it's time for food or a car ride, or runs with the big dogs at the dog park. His lightness is a marvel, and his lopsided grin is the most welcome sight in the world, his refusal to "spin off" inspiring awesome.

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