Mayan skull from Mayan Museum of Cancun, Mexico
Photo by Meg Jerrard / Unsplash

Some notes on the journey. Kindly, let's make count, shall we?

Melissa and I traded phone calls about eight times yesterday. I was on my way to and back from a day at the Oregon Coast, a much-needed vacay from returning to Oregon and a slew of responsibilities. Those drag at me like hooks bringing down the great bear Iorek Byrnison in Golden Compass.

Hump Days keep me sane, and in every way the time at my five or six favorite beaches helps me remember what is truly important to me: animals, in this case dogs, which allow me to talk to their owners, and their owners, who allow me to explore their lives as a result of my working on their dogs.

But I digress a little. I'll come back to this, for it's relevant.

It was important to connect with Melissa for she is my truth-teller. Above all, we have developed a relationship of extreme honesty. This means that when I call her with a complaint, a point of pain or whatever ails me, and vice versa, she and I call out the lies, call out the dishonesties, call out what isn't working and where the responsibility lies (always and forever, inside us).

Yes, of course that's painful. However, the beauty is that we welcome such honesty. It is done out of pure love, and the absolute faith that the person on the receiving end trusts us completely, and the intentions behind that feedback are to always invite each other to be our best selves.

Being our best selves can sometimes draw a little emotional blood. Sometimes a lot.

We should all have such friends. Melissa, in particular, is helping me in certain ways right now because of the work she loves to do: elder concierge. Such work places her with the very elderly and infirm, often in their final days and moments.

As a woman turning 65 this year, such work forces her, and through her, me, to face our own impending transition.

I sent her this article yesterday morning:

An end-of-life doula’s advice on how to make the most of your time on earth
Life is short. Here’s how to cherish every day of it.

One of Melissa's clients had a terrible stroke recently. Her only child is what can probably described as a parasitic gay man who is only waiting for his mother to hurry up and die so that he can get his hands on her money. Melissa, who is a lesbian, thought that because they shared that aspect, there might be a connection, and she could be of service to the young man as his mother dealt with her dying body.


So Melissa has taken on more roles with this woman, a matriarch of considerable power, but who is struggling right now. Her story brought up a few things for me.

First, Melissa's client found herself utterly helpless after the stroke. As a determined, isolated woman, she raged at the fact that her life was not her own. In her inimitable way, Melissa pointed out that the illusion of control was the culprit. To the woman's credit, she got the message.

Then, apparently, the woman began walking the halls where she is currently recovering, and talking to people. She reported to Melissa that oh my god, the stories she was hearing.

Melissa laughed as she recounted this. She is writing some of the stories of these people, often left to die alone. That is sacred work, recording the stories of the dying. As she does it, she is faced with what to do about her own life.

How does she make it count?

Sunrise breaking into the forest
Photo by Kristine Weilert / Unsplash

While she and I both believe that something of us goes on, this magnificent opportunity to be and do something of value and note becomes achingly more essential as we slide into home. Before the waters carry us away, what indeed shall we do, how shall we treat people? The world, its creatures?

How shall our lives count in the end?

Other people's stories, those that Melissa gathers, those that I gather, all speak to us about our humanity. They offer insights into what's possible. The reason that my Hump Days are so joyful are that they allow me windows into people's lives.

Yesterday I went from the Tugboat Rottie in Yachats (a 200 lb dog attached to a mental health counselor) to the Bluey on Ocean Beach (an ACD attached to a couple from Klamath Falls) to the Lab and the Chihuahua on Heceta Lighthouse Beach (attached to various happy owners enjoying the seagulls) to the Lab and the aged Golden whose tumor-covered body badly needed work, so she gave me belly (who were attached to a young father also watching his two toddlers in the sand and fog at Heceta Beach in Florence).

Each person gave me permission to touch their dogs and their lives, and their lives touched mine. Some more than others, but their permission is what opens the door. As people see how you touch their dogs, they see how you are willing to touch their lives. We are very obvious in our intentions. Dogs allow me to start conversations, and those conversations have, on occasions, led to ongoing friendships.

Those people, just like the people who share their stories with me on Walkabout Saga, change my life. They often serve as inspiration, guides and motivation when I hit a rough spot or the pain I am feeling feels overwhelming.

Other people, other creatures, all of them are what make life worth living. The more we isolate, the greater the cost not only to us, but to the world at large.

Melissa's client, rich and ridiculously smart, is learning empathy and engagement at the end of her long life. A recluse, protective of her privacy, she is learning that by forfeiting the appearance of control and allowing herself to be open, soft and curious, her life is taking on a whole other level of meaning.

She is transforming people by listening to their stories. By listening to their stories she is transforming herself.

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I don't doubt at all that Melissa, whose hands are magical, is as much the author of that as she is a doula, in effect, to this woman's slow but terribly important transformation.

My life is twisting and turning faster than a snake with a serious purpose. Each day, each week something new turns up which guides or pushes me in a new direction. As that happens, other opportunities open up, each with a gift and the promise of some hard damned work. That is ever the way of it.

Melissa is dealing with the late-in-life challenges of a love relationship which has some issues, but is teaching her again and again how to set boundaries. I am dealing with the late-in-life challenges of having a life plan (okay, okay, PLANS) blow up in my face, and learning to navigate the hundred pieces heading in all directions to where I need to be next. There is no map.

Before I left Denver, I saw Melissa for my Thai massages once or twice a week. Since I left, we have spoken far more often, which reveals how powerfully we need each other's viewpoint, the stark honesty that we offer each other, and the absolute support for becoming our best selves.

She said to me yesterday after a week in  Michigan with her partner's family that she can't shake the feeling of not belonging anywhere. I have that too. When you choose, and Nalini and others will relate to this, to live a very different kind of life, you find yourself kinda accepted in many places, where people are also kinda uncomfortable with your truth.

That's why we speak so often. Her truth is what I need most. My truth for her is what she needs from me. We are preparing for the end of our lives, as are we all. How we do that is very different, but what is very clear is that we both wish to give back as much as we get as time grows short.

No matter where I go or what kind of life I end up creating, the connection to animals and to the people who own or work with them forms for me one of the lifelines to a life well-lived. The stories of those people kind enough to follow me here and elsewhere form the basis of how I can share what meager learnings I glean from a life lived out loud, the mistakes I make daily and the utter, untrammeled joy I have in simply waking up each day.

Sometimes we stumble onto a better life. Often, we are already living our best life, but are so focused on what we don't have that we are missing it. Or, we are so busy, so obsessed with social media, that we are letting the waters of our lives flow by that we don't even register the landscape or the breezes which are caressing our careless faces.

One of my favorite Robin Williams movies is Hook, which cast him perfectly as a corporate takeover shark who had lost his magic. His wife, Wendy's granddaughter Moira, during a Christmas trip to London to visit Granny Wendy, sets a pivotal scene.

She points out to him that there is only so much time that his children are children:

I spent years and years missing it. It doesn't matter why.

In 2011, in a tiny town in the southeastern part of Thailand, I walked away from what had cost me so much. I ended my eating disorders forever. I chose life.

I am no longer missing it. In two weeks I return to Thailand, untethered, grateful, and very, very willing to stumble, fail, fall, flail and live most outgrageously.

Penny Nelson is no longer missing it, limited by an aging body. She took her body in hand and is enjoying the benefits and options that greater fitness offers her.

Randy Roig isn't missing it. He is in Italy climbing the Dolomites after months of training for his own aging body.

Melissa's client is finally no longer missing it, discovering in her wanderings at her facility that it is full of people, life and stories.

Melissa isn't missing it, either, helping clients like her find their way. And we help each other when life closes in on us and threatens to steal away the threads of what we have left to enjoy, and to fill with all that life can offer as best we can.

Being so fearful of missing it, or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is such a thing that people force themselves into so many activities that they are, indeed, missing it because they are so busy doing they miss being.

It's not about cramming our lives into brag-worthy, dangerous activities for which we are not trained and which can lead to disaster just to prove we're not missing it. In that case, we're missing it-the point, that is- is to be fully in life. That has eight billion different versions. Living fully means something very different for each of us. The point is to live, not to avoid life, with all its pain and vicissitudes.

For the payoff is well worth it, however you decide to NOT miss it.

the author on her favorite horse in Argentina Julia Hubbel

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