dogs, lessons learned, psychology

What are the odds?

Last night, I read an article about elderly people who suddenly find themselves homeless since the advent of COVID-19. The piece, which appeared in The New York Times, featured the story of a man named Miles Oliver who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally from Chicago, Oliver came to Arizona by way of the Army over thirty years ago, when he was a new recruit assigned to Fort Huachuca. He liked Arizona and decided to stay there once his stint with the Army was finished.

According to The New York Times article, Mr. Oliver had been able to make a life for himself in Arizona by working day labor jobs and delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. But then COVID-19 struck and Oliver was soon out of work. To make matters worse, work had already been slow in February, before things really started to get bleak in terms of the virus. Oliver was soon face with the difficult decision of either paying his rent or paying his car note, $230 for a 2007 Ford Fusion. He decided to pay the car note, since it was a source of shelter and transportation. By the end of April, he was kicked out of his home, forced to grab just a few necessary items– reading glasses, socks and underwear, and Metformin for his blood sugar, before he hit the streets in his car. By late June, his car quit working.

Oliver has an ex wife and two children. His older son is estranged and hasn’t spoken to him in years. His younger son is a student and in no position to help him. He doesn’t speak to his ex wife. He has diabetes and sleep apnea, and although he is a veteran and qualifies for some benefits, his future looks dim.

As I read about Mr. Oliver’s plight, it occurred to me that he’s about Bill’s age. Once again, I was reminded of how quickly and drastically things can change. I’ve been doing what I can to mitigate the risks that someday, I’ll find myself homeless. I looked at Bill and said, “You know what? I think if I were in that situation, I’d be tempted to just check out.” I said this mainly because although I am not necessarily estranged from my family, neither am I particularly close to them. I don’t have children, and although I am well-educated and privileged, I was never able to parlay that into a job that paid me enough to live on. If I couldn’t do it 20 years ago, how can I do it now? And why would I want to? Without Bill, I’m not sure why I’d stick around this hellhole we call Earth, which is swirling with plagues, natural disasters, and selfish, shitty politicians like Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Bill, who is eternally optimistic and has survived some pretty dim odds himself, gave me a pained look. Although he knows I suffer from depression and that makes me look on the dark side of things, I don’t think he’s ever gotten used to that unfailingly pragmatic aspect of my personality. It’s also kind of anti-American to “give up” on life. Bill has never felt the urge to off himself, despite his brush with death when he was a teenager. I, on the other hand, used to feel suicidal somewhat often. I’ve often felt ambivalent and apathetic about life. I was told more than once that I wasn’t wanted by the people who were responsible for creating me. They later came to appreciate me, but those comments left a deep scar that has affected my self-worth. And I just feel like if I were in a situation as an old woman without a home, family, or friends, I wouldn’t want to bother going on. But then I started thinking about it some more and realized that maybe I was wrong to think that way.

I thought about all of the challenges facing Mr. Oliver. He’s an older Black man, with no family able to help him and, it appears, few friends. He’s got health problems, but no money or resources to take care of them. There’s a pandemic raging, and we have a president who doesn’t care about people. And yet he is clearly a survivor. He has reached out for assistance. His story was told in The New York Times. Maybe I got the wrong message.

After I told Bill about why I felt it would be more expedient to “check out” than try to rebuild life as a homeless person, I looked behind me at Noizy. He’s still stuck in the corner of our living room, slowly getting braver by the day. I started to think about how he’d once been a homeless puppy, weaned too early from his mother, and left to die in a country where dogs aren’t appreciated. It’s kind of a miracle that he’s here with us in Germany. What are the odds?

Noizy was brought to his American rescuer, Meg, by a young man in Kosovo who had seen him in the street, screaming for help. He brought the puppy to Meg because he didn’t know where else to take him. Kosovo has a big problem with street dogs, but the culture doesn’t support animal rescue too well. Many people in Kosovo are Muslim and many Muslims consider dogs impure and unclean. Meg didn’t need another puppy to take care of, but she decided to keep Noizy anyway. She watched him grow from tiny puppy to gigantic adult. I’m sure she wondered what his future would hold.

And then, Bill and I came along, looking for a new canine friend. We had just tragically lost a dog we’d tried to adopt, one who was much closer to the type of dog we usually take into our home. It took some time for us to decide we really wanted another dog, and it was definitely not our plan to adopt a big dog– especially one as large as Noizy is. But once I saw Noizy’s face, I was hooked. There was something about his eyes that touched my heart. I have never been sorry when I’ve taken in a dog, and every single one we’ve adopted touched me through a photograph.

I started thinking about all of the people who came together to see that Noizy found a home. He spent 18 months living on a farm in Kosovo, one of many dogs living there, cared for by a farmer who has a soft spot for dogs and was willing to help Meg, who had moved from Kosovo to Germany and couldn’t take her rescues with her. She had paid for the dogs to be taken care of on the farm while she looked afar for potential rescuers. Most of these dogs haven’t lived as pets in a home.

I just happened to have a friend who knew Meg and introduced us. I met this friend in Stuttgart a few years ago, again by chance. We’ve only seen each other in person once, but our mutual friend is very involved in dog rescue herself and has a couple of exotic dogs from far flung countries like Thailand and Afghanistan. She told Meg that one of her dogs would be very lucky to be placed with us. It was like the stars aligned.

I just met Meg in person the other day. She is very impressive. Somehow, she has managed to develop a powerful network of people in Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia who have helped her on her mission to save some street dogs. What are the odds that a tiny puppy like Noizy would end up in Meg’s care? What are the odds that she would be found by a local young man who cared about the puppy’s life enough to seek her out? It was much more likely that the noisy puppy would have languished and died.

Even once we’d decided when to pick up Noizy, there were challenges. First, there was the whole COVID-19 situation, which is causing countries to shut their borders again. Fortunately, that didn’t affect us during our trip, although it as definitely a concern. And then, when Meg was bringing Noizy and two other dogs up to Slovenia to hand off to Bill and me, her car broke down. Another American couple (younger and able to take another day to travel) drove an extra 400 kilometers to help Meg get the dogs to Slovenia. They drove all night, very slowly, to make it happen.

Soon Noizy was in the back of our Volvo, with our other dog, Arran, looking pissy in the back seat. On his first night in our home, Noizy was obsessed with going outside. It’s what he knew. He hugged the door to our yard, taking every opportunity to go out. He bumped his head on the glass, apparently because he’d never seen a glass door before. Within 24 hours, he clearly preferred being indoors rather than outdoors. He’s staked out a part of our living room and won’t venture beyond that area. But every time he sees me, he looks delighted and wags his tail excitedly. He rolls on his back for a belly rub. He’s learned how to drink from a water bowl and eat from a dish. He’s even been pretty good (but not perfect) with peeing and pooping outside. Noizy is clearly game for the challenge of learning how to be a pet.

A few days ago, Bill had an epiphany about Noizy. In 2012, when we were vacationing in Scotland in honor of our tenth wedding anniversary, we got the devastating news that our beagle/basset hound mix, MacGregor, had a spinal tumor. At the time, we lived in North Carolina. Vets had told us before we left for our trip that they thought MacGregor had disk disease. If we had known it was a tumor (which they only discovered after he had a MRI), we probably would have made other choices about our vacation.

The night we found out about the cancer and the vet’s suggestion that we euthanize MacGregor, Bill had a nightmare. He dreamt he was being chased by many dogs. He thought they wanted to hurt him, so he initially threw rocks at them. But then he realized they weren’t trying to attack him at all. They all needed help. One dog in particular was kind of eerie looking. He had gleaming eyes, but he wasn’t menacing.

The next morning, we got off the Hebridean Princess and took a taxi to Edinburgh. As we were passing the lovely town of Stirling, Bill considered his dream and what it meant. He knew it meant we were going to be helping dogs… perhaps even a lot of them. As he thought more about his dream while we rode toward Edinburgh, Bill came to assume that the gleaming eyed dog represented death, which will always be there whenever there’s a living creature involved in a situation. The dream has stuck with him almost eight years later. This past Sunday, as we were driving to Germany with Noizy and Arran, Bill said “You know what? That dog in my dream looked a lot like Noizy.”

Later, Bill told Meg about his dream. Meg, who studies Jungian psychology, offered her take on it. Then she told us about what Noizy meant to her and how he came to be in her care. I hope Meg doesn’t mind that I share this one bit from her explanation… because I have been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. She wrote that to her, Noizy represents hope for the future. He should have died on the street, but he screamed for help (hence his name). A young man, native to a country that doesn’t necessarily appreciate dogs, came to his rescue and gave him to Meg, a woman who rescues dogs.

Why did the young man give Noizy to Meg? Because he had hope that Meg could save the puppy and give him a future. The alternative was to let him die. Meg told us that a lot of the young people of Kosovo don’t have a lot of hope. They are in a country that isn’t recognized everywhere yet. Their country is troubled, and the young people wonder if anyone cares about them.

Why did Meg give Noizy to us? She said it was hard for her. I could tell she was very emotional when we took him. He’s a big, powerful dog, though, and Meg has many dogs who need homes. Meg is also retired and has physical and financial limitations that may preclude taking care of Noizy the way we can. Even though we’re doing fine so far, I wonder what the future holds for us. I’m no spring chicken myself. 😉 But I do have plenty of time, and Bill and I– at least for now– have a secure home and money for food, vet care, and anything else Noizy needs. So we’re going to do our best to make sure that young man’s hope for Noizy will not be unfulfilled.

And maybe I can learn a lesson from Noizy, too. Against all odds, he’s up here in Germany, about to live his best life… to the best of our ability to give it to him. We’re an unlikely match. Bill and I have always had beagle mixes, after all… and we’re renters with a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. But I think I can teach Noizy a thing or two, and he can teach me even more than that. At the very least, he can teach me that maybe “checking out” isn’t the best thing to do when one is suddenly homeless or facing another major adversity.

I hope Miles Oliver finds what he needs to start over and live his best life with whatever time he has left. And I thank him for his story, which affected me more than I realized when I read it last night.

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LDS, musings, religion

The edge of Heaven…

No, I’m not referring to the 1986 pop song by Wham!, which I used to love when I was 14 years old. I’m referring to the place commonly referred to as Heaven. But if you’re curious about the song by Wham!, here’s a link.

You would think a song about the edge of Heaven would be less bouncy and sassy.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t care about Wham! or already know this song, I’ll get on with today’s topic of near death experiences (NDEs).

Many years ago, I read a book called Life After Life. It was written by Raymond A. Moody Jr., MD. I don’t know who brought it into my parents’ house, but I found it in a handsome antique bookshelf my mom had. The book, which was originally published in 1975, is about near death experiences. Dr. Moody had noticed that he had many patients who had experienced “life after death”. They had seen themselves being operated on or watched as other people tended to them, as if they were witnesses in a room. They had floated above their physical bodies and, in many cases, drifted toward whatever waits for us after we die.

A lot of people don’t believe in NDEs. For instance, I have learned never to bring them up or respond to threads about NDEs on the Recovery from Mormonism message board, because there is a vocal, persistent, and obnoxious posse of people there who have no tolerance for discussion of life after death. Many of the people who are against NDEs are atheists. They don’t believe in God and don’t like discussions about what happens to a person who dies temporarily. They often dismiss these phenomenons as a release of endorphins that make dying more tolerable.

Honestly, I don’t know where the truth lies. I am not a particularly religious person myself. I do think I’m kind of spiritual. I’m not quite at the point at which I would call myself an atheist, though, because I have experienced some things that make me wonder if there really is a “hand of the almighty”.

For instance, about 21 years ago, I had an extremely close call while driving to work one afternoon. I was in my Toyota Corolla on a two lane road. I came upon an intersection where there was just a stop sign. Someone was at the stop sign and had pulled slightly out into the road. I had to swerve to miss the front end of the car at the stop sign. As I was swerving, another car approached in the opposite direction on the two lane road. I hadn’t seen the oncoming car because of some trees that obscured the view ahead.

Somehow, I managed to maneuver perfectly, with very precise timing, and missed the car at the intersection as well as the oncoming car. I could have very easily hit them head on, but somehow I didn’t. I think this might have been the day that John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash with his wife, Caroline Bessette Kennedy, and her sister. I seem to remember thinking about how they had so suddenly died on their way to a wedding.

I can’t explain how my reflexes worked so fast. I am certainly not a terrible driver, but I’ve never been particularly gifted physically. Still, I somehow managed to avoid what would have been a terrible accident. And yes, it really did seem like there was a guiding hand that did the steering for me. It just wasn’t time for me to have a car accident that took me or the other driver out of the world. I should also mention that in 1998 and 1999, I regularly considered suicide because I was crippled by depression and anxiety. I never made any truly serious attempts, but I did think about it a lot. I suppose that a head on collision would have been one way to end it, if I’d really wanted to or it was my time to go.

Bill, on the other hand, has experienced a car accident that could have killed him. I have written about this before, but here’s a repeat for those who missed the story the first time. In 1980, when Bill was about 16 years old, he was in Houston partying with some of his teenaged buddies. They were drinking beer in a parking lot.

One of Bill’s friends had a Subaru Brat. See today’s featured photo for reference to what they looked like. Basically, they were like a car mixed with a pickup truck, and they were really ugly. Back in the 1980s, we also had Pontiac El Caminos, which were equally ugly car/pickup truck hybrids kind of similar to Subaru Brats. I guess El Caminos were for people who liked that style of vehicle, but wanted to buy American. Just imagine! That Subaru Brat truly could have been the vehicle that literally delivered Bill to the edge of Heaven!

Anyway, the guy who owned the Brat had a girlfriend who was angsty about something, which is customary for most teenaged girls. She threw a tantrum of some sort and decided that she wanted to leave the beer drinking festivities. Bill had gotten a ride to the parking lot with them, so when he noticed his friend was about to drive off, he made a move to hop into the “bed” of the Subaru Brat. As he was mounting the car’s rear bumper, Bill’s completely oblivious and preoccupied pal started to back up the vehicle. He didn’t know that Bill was trying to get into the back of the car. Consequently, the teenaged brat driving the Subaru Brat backed over the sixteen year old version of my husband as if he was a speed bump.

Bill has told me the story about his car accident many times. He’s said he was extremely frightened as the car’s rear tire rolled over his chest, thankfully still somewhat protected by cartilage. He felt the gravel beneath him give slightly, which was probably one reason why he didn’t die. Then he blacked out and found himself in a very still expanse of nothingness that was absolutely peaceful and comforting. Bill said he somehow knew that if he gave into the peacefulness, he would be okay… but he would cease to exist. However, he was completely fine with no longer existing. He was in a place where there was no suffering or stress. It was just calm and devoid of any negativity.

Of course, Bill didn’t end up going toward the bright light at the end of the tunnel. He soon found himself back in his own body. He was terrified and racked with pain, and he had a collapsed lung and eyes filled with blood. He spent a week in the hospital and the doctor told him that he probably survived because he was so young and his chest cavity hadn’t yet hardened into bone. He also told him that he would have arthritis in his chest to look forward to as he aged. That prediction has, in fact, come to pass.

I have often marveled at how kind, mature, unselfish, and gentle Bill is. He doesn’t like religion, but he is very much in tune with God, in a way that isn’t annoying or obnoxious. One other thing I’ve noticed about Bill is that he has an amazing ability to find pain in me. When I have a sore muscle or painful trigger point, he can somehow find it within seconds. He knows exactly where to touch me to relieve the ache. It’s like he has a healing quality. I don’t know if that is related to his experience with near death, but I sometimes wonder if it is. All I know is that he’s a very unique and interesting person. I don’t know anyone else like him.

So why is this topic coming up today? It’s because this morning, as I was thinking about what to write about, I happened to see a video about a man who had a near death experience. This video is about Scott Drummond, who had a NDE when he was 28 years old.

I’m getting strong Mormon vibes from this guy. Maybe it’s his accent, or it could be the cheesy background music.

And… sure enough, I looked up this video and see it’s associated with a LDS Web site… The channel affiliated with the above video only has two videos on it, but it has a lot of subscribers. Scott Drummond does mention skiing in Park City, Utah, but that doesn’t necessarily make a person LDS.

Well, whether or not Scott Drummond is Mormon, I am interested in hearing his story. Bill was not LDS when he had his experience, although he did later convert for awhile. He joined the church in 1997 and officially left it in 2006, so he was Mormon for nine years. I have read a lot of stories about NDEs and they seem to have a universal theme, regardless of a person’s religious beliefs. I find these stories fascinating. Even if there’s nothing once the brain and body are totally dead, it’s comforting to think that the process of dying isn’t horrible. Once the lights go out for good, you won’t know the difference, anyway. I don’t remember what it was like to be pre-born, after all.

Bill is the only person I have known personally who has experienced a near death event, although I first read about them sometime in the 1980s. I believe him when he tells me that he’s had a near death experience. I know him very well, and he doesn’t routinely lie about things. I consider all of the other difficult situations he’s been in that he’s survived, like being in the Pentagon on 9/11, having just had his office moved from the section that was hit… like being married to a hateful woman who once told him she should just “cut his throat” when she thought he was sleeping… like going to war with a narcissistic asswipe who took delight in playing head games with Soldiers while they were in a war zone… like having an abusive transgendered stepfather at a time when no one had any understanding of what being transgendered meant– a man who blew smoke in Bill’s face and told him that talking to him was like talking to a wall (it’s definitely not)… like being separated from his beloved children and knowing that they were told many lies about the kind of person he is… and even like meeting and marrying me. I could have been a lot more psycho than I am. I’m not a dangerous person, but I certainly could have been.

Despite all he’d been through before we met, he still chose to meet me offline and later marry me. It’s amazing how it’s all worked out so perfectly. There were many instances in which a wrench could have been thrown into the mix and completely fucked up everything. If I had chosen to go to grad school in Illinois instead of South Carolina… if he had not been sent to Virginia in 2001 instead of 2002, when he’d expected to go there… if he had not run into my aunt’s brother, Ralph, who assured me that Bill isn’t a psycho… if I had started grad school a different year or had done just one degree instead of two… if he hadn’t separated from his ex at the time I started school and we hadn’t both ventured to the same adult oriented site at the same time…

Any of those things would have derailed the conditions that have put us together for the last twenty years. Maybe it was just luck or kismet or whatever. But the longer I live with Bill, the more I think our life together was meant to happen. In fact, I think a lot of things we’ve encountered in life were meant to happen. Maybe there’s no real truth to that belief, but it does make the concept of life more intriguing for me.

It makes things more interesting to think that maybe there’s a reason I ran into abusive landladies who made outrageous and false claims against my character. Maybe it was a sign that I needed to fight back… and help Bill fight back against people who don’t treat him right. I did have that bad experience in Armenia before I met Bill. I was successful in my bid not to be ripped off by that woman. Sometimes, I think the world puts certain people in your life to teach you valuable lessons.

On the other hand… it’s just as likely that we’re all here as a cosmic accident and there’s really no meaning in anything. Perhaps we’ll learn the secret of life someday when we each inevitably perish. When I die, will I see a beautiful Alpine or Rocky Mountain landscape with vividly beautiful flowers and amazing trees? Or will there be a beautiful white light and silhouettes of my loved ones who have passed on before me? Personally, I think my idea of Heaven is being greeted by all of the wonderful pets I’ve had who have loved me unconditionally. I’d like to be in that place, with rolling fields, rainbows, brooks, and no need to clean up any residual piles of crap.

I guess I think that believing in a higher power is a good thing, if you don’t rely on the higher power to do specific things for you. I don’t think it’s a good thing to live life thinking that there’s a God above who watches and judges every single thing you do. I don’t think God cares if you curse, for instance. I don’t believe God, who is supposed to be perfect, gets offended by things like cuss words… or really by anything. Why would God be “offended”? That’s the emotion of an imperfect being, like man. But I do like to think there is something bigger out there… and that being is not concerned about trivial issues like whether or not your collarbone is visible when you wear your favorite shirt or how long your hair is… or even where you spend your Sundays, Saturdays, or Fridays.

Anyway, those are my deep thoughts for today. I felt kind of compelled to write them. Maybe someone out there can use them for something good. It beats my usual profanity laced snark, right?

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