book reviews

Repost: A review of Dave Itzkoff’s Robin

I posted this review on my original Blogspot version of this blog on August 30, 2018. It appears here exactly as it was posted then.

Sorry about the lengthy intro to this review.  If you just want the review, skip down a few paragraphs.

In August 2014, Bill and I had just returned to Germany so he could start a new job as a government contractor.  That summer was one of the most stressful and horrifying of my life so far.  Weeks before our international move, my father died somewhat suddenly.  And just after our return to Germany, I got the news that my mom had breast cancer (she had surgery and is fine now). 

Robin Williams’ suicide on August 11, 2014 was just one of many traumas during the summer of 2014.  I remember being absolutely shocked to hear about this man, who had been such a big part of my young life, had suddenly killed himself.  From his time as Mork, the gentle alien, on Mork & Mindy to his standup routines featured on HBO, to his many wonderful movies, I had so many memories of watching Williams be a genius.  And now he was suddenly gone.  He was 63 years old.

Robin Williams as Mork.

I seem to have a knack for being in Europe when legends die.  I was in Europe when Princess Diana was killed.  I was also here when Michael Jackson died.  I lived in Europe during 2016, which was when a whole host of legends passed away, and last week, we lost Aretha Franklin.  Still, I was pretty blown away when I heard about Williams’ suicide.  At the time of the announcement, many people thought he had simply been an addict suffering from depression.  Quite a few people were angry about the suicide; some even went as far as to call Williams a coward.  They didn’t know the truth.  Robin Williams suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, the same neurological disease my father suffered from during his final years.  Having seen it firsthand, I really can’t blame Williams for what he did.  It’s a horrible way to live, and ultimately die.

When I saw that Dave Itzkoff had written an exhaustive biography about Robin Williams, I decided I wanted to read it.  I downloaded Robin in May of 2018 and just finished it last night.  It’s taken me a few weeks to get through Itzkoff’s book, mainly because it’s quite long and detailed.  Also, I don’t have the attention span I used to have.  Back when I read real books, I’d whiz through them in a matter of days.  Now, I read most things on my iPad and get distracted by social media, games, or email.  Add in the fact that I usually read in bed and you might guess that sleep often also interrupts my reading sessions.

I see that I bought Robin just five days after it was released.  It was also just weeks before celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain killed himself.  When Bourdain died, many people compared his situation to Williams’ situation.  Although they may seem similar on the surface, I truly believe Robin Williams’ decision to commit suicide was caused by a very real neurological illness.  I have seen Lewy Body Dementia in person.  It really brings the “crazy”.  Not only do sufferers lose their physical faculties, they also have hallucinations, experience paranoia, and lose the ability to articulate their memories, even though they still have access to them.  It really is a special kind of hell. 

I don’t know if Williams killed himself because of acute symptoms of the disease or because he got a glimpse of what was coming.  What I do know is that I can hardly blame him.  In fact, his death was probably a blessing, not just for him, but also for those who love him.  I can speak firsthand about how hard it is to see someone you love turn into a stranger who has lost all ability to take care of themselves.

Anyway… about the book

Robin is an extremely detailed accounting of Robin Williams’ life.  Itzkoff knew Williams, having interviewed him for the New York Times.  I get the sense that they were friendly, if not outright friends.  At the end of the book, Itzkoff reveals that he and Williams shared a love of comics and Williams had even invited him to go shopping for collectibles.  The author notes that many celebrities, hoping that the reporter will be kind to them, will try to ingratiate themselves.  In Williams’ case, the offer to go shopping was genuine and based on a real desire to get to know the man who shared his love for comics.

In Robin, Itzkoff starts at the very beginning, detailing Williams upper class but lonely lifestyle.  His parents each had sons from other relationships– two half brothers, with whom Robin was close.  However, Williams himself grew up by himself, playing in attics in empty mansions and attending private schools.  It was during those years that Williams found his voice as a comedian, which he later parlayed into standup routines at open mics in the San Francisco area.

Williams’ big break came in the form of Mork & Mindy, an adorable sitcom that aired in the late 70s and early 80s.  I was a young child in those days and I loved that show, which also starred Pam Dawber.  Williams played Mork from Ork, a kind-hearted, gentle alien who had come to Earth to learn about the ways of mortals.  Every week, at the end of each episode, Mork would communicate with Orson, his boss on Ork.  He’d deliver that week’s theme mallet/moral, often with witty aplomb. 

During and after Mork & Mindy, Williams started making films.  The first one I remember seeing him in was Popeye, which was released in 1980.  I actually remember seeing that one, probably in the theater.  Itzkoff writes that Popeye was one of a number of films Williams did that wasn’t all that popular.  But when Williams hit the right project, there was magic.  I want to say it started with 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society, which was a huge hit.  He went on to make a string of other good movies, as well as a few that flopped.  Itzkoff offers some good analysis about the vehicles that worked, as well as the ones that were less successful.

Williams had three wives.  His first wife, Valerie Velardi, bore their son, Zak.  While Williams was married to Valerie, he hired Marsha Garces as a personal assistant.  They ended up falling in love and Williams divorced Velardi and married Garces in 1989.  Garces had a knack for helping Williams pick out projects.  She kept him stimulated and organized his life.  She also had his daughter, Zelda, and son, Cody.  Twenty years after he married Garces, the marriage fell apart.  Williams’ last wife was Susan Schneider, an artist and fellow alcoholic who had sort of a healing effect on Williams.  He married her in October 2011. 

As lovable as Robin Williams was to so many of his fans, he did suffer from many demons.  Williams struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety.  When he was sober, Williams was unstoppable.  When he was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or mental illness, he crashed into misery.  Williams would use his experiences in his comedy routines and characters, making him likable and relatable to many more ordinary people who had struggled with the same things.  I appreciated that Itzkoff took the time to explain Williams’ demons and why they helped make him a better performer, even if they also tortured him.

Another important message from Mork…  I have to admit, Mork was probably my favorite incarnation of Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was also a good friend.  Itzkoff includes a very informative section on Williams’ relationship with the late Christopher Reeve, who was his roommate at Juilliard.  The two made a pact that they would always be there for each other.  When Reeves had his horseback riding accident in May 1995, Robin and his second wife, Marsha, where there for him immediately.  Robin even dressed up like a Russian doctor and made Reeves laugh at a time when laughter seemed impossible. Williams was also friends with Billy Crystal, who would call him on the phone impersonating people like Ronald Reagan.  He was friends with Bobcat Goldthwait, too, and appeared in a couple of Goldthwait’s movies.  Williams would go to open mics, even when he was very famous, and hang out with young comedians just getting their start.  He’d be one of the guys.

Robin is basically well written and loaded with details and information, as well as pictures and an extensive reading list.  I really think Itzkoff did a good job capturing who Robin Williams was, reminding me that Williams was a warm, funny, real person who was incredibly unique and irreplaceable.  But he also reminded me that Williams was fallible and did have his disappointments and failures.  As amazing as Williams’ talent was, he was still a man. 

Some readers have pointed out that this book has some factual errors.  I’m sure an obsessive Williams fan would be able to point these out better than I can.  I liked Robin Williams, but I wasn’t someone who studied his life on that level. 

A criticism I could personally make is that this book is very long– to the point of being exhaustive.  It took me considerable time and effort to finish this book, and I’m usually a pretty speedy reader.  If you prefer brevity, Robin may not be the best book for you.  I see on Amazon.com, many people had the same complaint I have.  This book could have used a talented editor to help pare it down just a bit.  440 pages is a long haul, even if a book is enormously fascinating.  On the other hand, as a writer myself, I can understand how easy it is to get bogged down in minutiae.

Overall, I liked Robin.  I learned new things reading this book and got an appreciation for who Robin Williams was.  If I were going to assign a rating, I’d probably give it 3.5 stars out of five.  If it had been maybe 100 pages less, I’d bump it to four stars.

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tragedies, true crime

Death of a coward…

At about this time last year, I was reading and reviewing a lot of books about the state of U.S. women’s gymnastics. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might know that about three years ago, former U.S. gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was outed for the abusive pervert he is. He’s currently sitting in a prison cell for sexually abusing hundreds of female athletes over the course of his career.

Yesterday, I became aware that high powered elite gymnastics coach, 63 year old John Geddert, who had once called Larry Nassar a friend and a colleague, was charged with a couple dozen felonies. Mr. Geddert was supposed to turn himself in for arraignment at a sheriff’s office yesterday. When he failed to show up for his 2:15pm appointment, police went looking for him. They found his dead body at 3:24pm ET at a rest stop in Grand Ledge, Michigan. The cause of death was suicide.

I guess he couldn’t face the music.

John Geddert was a successful coach, having been the coach of the 2012 women’s gymnastics Olympic team. But he was also notoriously abusive to his athletes. According to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel:

“John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him,”

And,

“The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault. Many of these victims still carry these scars from his behavior to this day.”

Indeed, in a number of the books I read about Larry Nassar and the huge sex abuse bombshell that was dropped on U.S. women’s gymnastics, John Geddert’s name came up frequently. He was described as the type of coach who would scream, throw things, and punish his gymnasts. Larry Nassar, by contrast, was described as quiet, gentle, and caring. The two men were said to be best friends, and Larry Nassar worked out of Geddert’s Twistars gym where he would minister to the injured girls. They would come to him looking for kindness and caring, having been beaten down by Geddert’s physically abusive tactics. It created the perfect storm for Nassar’s sexual abuse, which went under the radar for decades.

As the abuse was made public, attention shifted to John Geddert, who lied to police when he was questioned about Larry Nassar. Michigan Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark said, “Mr. Geddert knew that Nassar was sexually abusing these patients and that he failed to take action. And that when he was asked about it by police officers during the 2016 investigation into Nassar, he lied about that.”

I’m not all that surprised that Geddert killed himself. He no doubt paid close attention to what happened to Larry Nassar. He probably also paid attention to what happened to Jeffrey Epstein, the fabulously wealthy bastard who victimized and trafficked scores of girls for the pleasures of wealthy and perverted men. Epstein was about to go on trial for his crimes when he was found dead of suicide in his jail cell. There was speculation that Epstein was murdered by those who didn’t want him to talk, but the official cause of death was suicide. I think either scenario is plausible, and I’m sure Epstein felt suicide was better than a lifetime in prison. John Geddert clearly felt the same way.

Gymnasts thought of Geddert and Nassar as a “dynamic duo”.

I’m sure there’s a lot of sadness regarding this death. Many of Geddert’s victims no doubt wanted to testify in court about what happened to them. Geddert cheated them out of justice. But Geddert probably also had friends and loved ones who are legitimately shocked by all of this. I feel sad for all of them. I’ve noticed a lot of comments chastising people who express empathy for Geddert’s friends and loved ones. I won’t do that, because I think those people deserve consideration, too. As awful as abusers can be, they usually do have some people in their lives who have no idea or love them regardless… and when the abuse does come to light, they suffer, but get little empathy. So I want to go on record that I empathize with everyone personally affected by Geddert’s suicide, regardless of how and why they are affected.

I feel sad for all of the parents, too. They no doubt thought they were doing a great thing for their daughters, enrolling them in gymnastics. They put their trust in John Geddert and Larry Nassar, paying them a lot of money for the training and medical care… only to find out that they abused their gymnasts, using them for their own pleasure. I know that I would be extremely pissed off if I had a child who was abused by someone. But then to realize that I spent thousands of dollars for my child to be abused and permanently harmed– I think it would send me over the edge.

So… I send my good thoughts out to those who are upset by Geddert’s cowardly decision to take himself out. I think it’s pretty clear that he was guilty as hell. At least he won’t be hurting anyone else. But that may be small comfort for those who were hoping to see him held accountable.

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psychology, social media

“We’re at war with the virus, not each other”

Yesterday, I ran across an article in the Washington Post about “Friendsgiving”, a trendy holiday that developed pre-pandemic involving young people gathering for a potluck meal. The article was about how canceling Friendsgiving was “hitting some young people hard”.

For some reason, it seems that a lot of people have lost the ability to empathize with others. Based on the comments for the Friendsgiving article, many folks are very grouchy and heartless. Here’s a quote from the article, which I think sums up its main idea:

The coronavirus pandemic has spoiled Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving’s younger and cooler cousin famous for potluck-style meals among friends. While it is a wise public health decision to cancel Friendsgiving, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, experts worry that its absence may exacerbate loneliness among young people already isolated from classmates, separated from co-workers and longing for touchstones of burgeoning adulthood.

Nowhere in that paragraph is there any mention of people gathering anyway. I’m sure some people did get together, against all advice, but I’ll bet more people than not decided to skip it. But that’s apparently not good enough for some people. I read comment after comment from people who wrote things like “Cry me a freakin’ river” and “Get over it”. Or they pointed out that some people, like medical staff or military, have it much worse.

These were the most recent comments on the Washington Post’s article.

I don’t understand why people can’t acknowledge the pain that some people are dealing with during the pandemic. A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog post that mentioned how some young people are having trouble coping with being so isolated. People are actually committing suicide because they’ve lost hope and the will to live during the pandemic. Some people may think that’s stupid, but what right do they have to discount other people’s legitimate pain? Why not just be kind and understanding?

Is it really helpful to call someone a “snowflake” when they’re struggling? Is it really necessary to be snarky and nasty to people who feel hopeless and depressed? Would these eye rolling assholes like to see people killing themselves because they’ve lost hope? Do they like it when they experience loneliness and someone discounts their pain?

I’m sure a lot of these unsympathetic attitudes come from the fact that 2020 has been an unusually difficult year for many people. People are angry, and anger causes grumpiness and lashing out at others. I’m not immune to it myself, although I haven’t suffered as much this year as a lot of other people have. I have, however, been young, scared, anxious, lonely, depressed, and wondering if it was worthwhile to go on living. I experienced those feelings years ago, when I suffered from clinical depression. Fortunately, I had a good therapist and effective antidepressants, as well as good friends and a weekly voice class. With time and effort, I overcame depression, but I didn’t do it alone.

Today’s young people are denied even a face to face conversation or a gentle hug from a loved one. Telling them to “get over it” seems especially unkind right now. In fact, it’s cruel. And yes, I get that many people have it “worse”– but one person’s version of worse might be different than another person’s is. No one person gets to tell another person what should or should not be painful for them. How hard is it to simply acknowledge that someone is having a tough time and wishing them well?

More “get over it” comments.

I get that we’re all suffering to some extent and it’s good to be tough and upbeat in the face of difficulties. But why is it necessary to be so shitty? Are people really incapable of stopping to consider, for just a minute, that everyone has a different pain threshold? It costs nothing to be nice, and show some understanding toward other people. There’s no need to engage in “whataboutism”. Acknowledging a person’s specific struggle takes nothing away from someone who is supposedly suffering “worse”. Who really decides who’s got it “worse”, anyway? Someone who dies of COVID-19 (which they hopefully picked up innocently while fully masked and socially distanced, lest they not be worthy of any sympathy) is no better off than someone who dies of suicide caused by depression. Both people are gone and will likely be missed by others, right? Both deaths are ultimately tragic.

Depression is a real thing. It can be deadly. Being bored, lonely, and cut off from support can push someone to the brink. As President-elect Joe Biden has said, “We’re at war with the virus, not each other…” These are wise, welcome words from someone who wants to be a leader. He’s shown more leadership in two and a half weeks than Trump has shown in his entire lifetime. And I’m going to listen to Mr. Biden and have a heart for those who feel lonely, anxious, and isolated right now. Those are valid concerns.

Just be kind. Show some decency and basic humanity. If someone is feeling sad or lonely and dares to express it, don’t invalidate them by telling them to “get over it” or “stop being such a snowflake.” If you were hurting, you’d want the same consideration, wouldn’t you?

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family, mental health, silliness

Poophoria… and phooey on the mean among us.

I’m experiencing it right now. Basically, it’s how you feel so much better after you’ve taken an especially large, messy, and uncomfortable dump. You get a rush of endorphins that makes you feel pretty good and a little bit “high” for a short while…

I first saw this term coined in a book I read called What’s Your Poo Telling You? I read it the first time we lived in Germany. In those days, I wrote a lot of book reviews for a site called Epinions.com, and I went through a shit phase. I read and reviews many books about shit… as well as all of the other substances that come from body functions. I left What’s Your Poo Telling You? in storage. It was a clever little book, though, along with its follow up, What’s My Pee Telling Me? Both books were co-written by a doctor named Anish Sheth, who explained all of the interesting phenomenons that happen as your body makes waste.

I own all three of these books, as well as a few others! Too bad I didn’t bring them with me to Germany.

Anyway… the poophoria feeling was fun, but it’s now passed. I wish everything passed so quickly and easily.

I’m now sitting here thinking about a story I read last night about a large family gathering in Texas. The family group of fifteen is close-knit and before all of this COVID-19 shit started, used to get together a lot for fajitas and birthday cake. On November 1, they had an impromptu birthday gathering. They meant to do it outside, but I guess the familiarity of being together again lulled them into a false sense of security. Before they knew it, they were all inside, sitting on the couch maskless. And, you guessed it, they all tested positive for COVID-19. Every single last one of them. Their 57 year old mother ended up in the hospital.

This family thought they’d be okay because they had been very cautious since the beginning of the pandemic. They tried to stay home, avoiding gatherings with people who weren’t in their households. They didn’t go to churches, bars, or theaters. They cut down on their family visits and held them outside. And they worked from home as much as possible. Still, in an unguarded moment, they relaxed their vigilance and got together. Unfortunately, someone in the group had the virus and passed it on.

So the family decided to make a video about their experiences with COVID-19. They did so in an attempt to spare other people their experiences with the virus by confirming that it’s real. In doing so, they put themselves out there for public derision and rude comments from the masses. Sure enough, that’s what they got.

A screenshot of the nice family from Texas who all got COVID.

As I was reading about this family, I just felt bad for them. I wish them a speedy and full recovery. But apparently, I was in the minority, because I read a lot of really nasty comments from people. Many people were sarcastic, and quite a few others wrote that they’re “sick” of stories like this one. More than a few wrote, “They didn’t listen when others have shared their stories, why would they think anyone would listen to them?” The overall sentiment was one of “no sympathy” whatsoever, and “I told you so.”

A small sampling of the comments on the Washington Post.

I do feel sorry for this family. They’re a loving group of people who just want to be together– with their loved ones. And, like every other human being on the planet, they’re fallible. They thought they’d get away with a get-together. A year ago, a gathering for birthday cake and fajitas would have been perfectly fine. I don’t see the need to judge them for getting sick. Everybody gets sick eventually. It’s not their fault there’s a deadly virus and, though they should have been more careful, they’re only human. I commend them for trying to help by sharing their story and I hope they get well soon.

Although I’ve not been a big fan of face masks and I still fervently hope we can eventually ditch them, I have always taken the virus seriously. That’s why I’ve done my best to avoid people. I don’t remember the last time I went to downtown Wiesbaden. It’s been many months. I haven’t been in the car since October 4th, which was when we brought Noyzi home. I haven’t left the neighborhood at all since then, and it sucks. Fortunately, the virus is not as out of control in Europe as it is in the United States. I suspect that most people will eventually be exposed to it, although hopefully the upcoming vaccines will make the inevitable exposure less dangerous.

I wish people would be kinder. We’re all tired of this shit. We can’t stay locked down forever… much of what makes life worth living is being denied by the presence of the virus. I read another sad story last night about a young man who killed himself because he couldn’t take the isolation caused by the pandemic. His father knew his son struggled with depression and did what he could to help him. But his son’s therapist had to shut down her practice, and he could no longer hang out with his friends, who, in the past, had helped him through his depressive episodes. So, despite his father’s efforts to keep his son’s demons at bay, the boy purchased a weapon and killed himself. Which brings to mind another question… why in the HELL are gun stores considered “essential” businesses right now?

In the same story, a different bereaved father went to his son’s grave after the sixteen year old committed suicide. He encountered a couple of the boy’s classmates– two girls– one of whom was sobbing. And one of them said that she also thought of suicide a lot. She’d tried to get help by calling a hotline, but the local psychiatric hospital only had sixteen beds and they were all full. She said that almost everyone she knew had considered suicide.

Frankly, having suffered from depression and suicidal ideation myself, I understand how these girls feel. I would not want to be young right now. The future must look very grim to today’s adolescents, who have grown up in an era during which they can’t even enjoy feeling safe at school, thanks to all the school shooters. Now there’s a pandemic, which makes going to school even more dangerous. They’ve lost support from their friends and the ability to have carefree fun. A lot of them have seen their parents lose their jobs and their homes. Some of them feel like a burden and that the future is hopeless. It kind of makes one wonder what the purpose of living is.

From the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve been afraid for people’s mental health. Most people are meant to socialize. They crave human touch and conversation. They love live music and drama. They like to share things like meals and celebrations. The virus has made a lot of what makes life worthwhile forbidden. I don’t begrudge people who are looking for relief. They’re only human, as we all are. And the smug, self-righteous, unempathetic twits out there who think people “deserve” to get sick and judge them for it are headed for a fall. Karma has a way of dealing with those types.

So… while I can be cranky sometimes and vent a bit in my blogs, I also try to have empathy. This is a crisis that has touched every single one of us. People are just trying to get by.

And… when I get a touch of Poophoria after a glorious dump, I feel even more appreciative of the euphoric rush than I did a year ago, when I could sit in a restaurant and enjoy the company of others without having to worry about a deadly virus making me sick. You gotta take your thrills where you can find them.

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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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