(How Are You?) Are You Okay?

[Hello from July 2, 2023. This one sat in my drafts for a long time and I just saw it tonight. I am eminently more “okay” today than I was when I wrote it. We aren’t post-pandemic but I just went to the crowded Market Basket today and while I was masked, I wasn’t anxious. I am living in between the world that has moved on and the world of awareness that there are many for whom “moving on” will never be an option. But personally, I am greatly healed from all of my losses and I can tell that I am by my dreams, by my ability to enter the day without feeling in a soul-fog, and by my sense of wholeness. I hope you are also doing well. I hope this post will encourage to share the story of how the pandemic is/was for you. I feel that I am in a process of integrating it all, and maybe you are too. – PB ]

This blog was locked up for awhile due to tech issues, and that’s not a bad thing. Writing is not something I can not do; it has always been my primary way of making sense of my life and feelings. Even if writing doesn’t explain or resolve anything, it always feels valuable to me to respect my life enough to record some of it. The same goes for our shared lives; I write my impressions and reactions to the times we’re living in as often as I record my own much smaller concerns.

And we sure as heck have been living through some times. We talk all the time now about trauma, which I appreciate for its clinical clarity: trauma is psychological and physiological. The more we know about it, the better we can address healing. It helps to know about the vagus nerve and brain chemistry and how our bodies manifest shock and loss. It is also important to address the soul in pain — how do we accompany the soul in is own underworld experience? I can’t answer that but I have a lot more experience in doing it now.

In November of 2019 I started a sabbatical. I traveled to England, France and Spain. While in London I attended three operas based on the Orpheus myth. I felt drawn to the Orpheus and Eurydice as related to my earlier passion for the Persephone myth. I wrote my master’s thesis at Harvard Divinity School on Persephone and Jesus as twin avatars of resurrection and the use of the Persephone story in pastoral care to women.  When I saw the Anais Mitchell’s genius work, “Hadestown” on Broadway in July of 2019 it re-activated a fascination with these mystery religions and the Queen of the Underworld. Get the Original Broadway Cast recording! It’s amazing!

After I tracked Orpheus across London and France and spent some time in Spain (Monserrat! Girona! Barcelona!) I spent Advent of 2019 at home in Massachusetts, worshiping with a monastic community and attending holiday concerts and outings; a real treat for a parish minister who is usually too busy that time of year to attend services.  A dear friend stayed with me and my beloved beagle Max for a month. Early into the new year of 2020, I flew to Arizona to attend an intensive training to become a certified spiritual director. While out West I road-tripped out to California to see the opera “Eurydice” and then came back to Phoenix after a brief stop at the Grand Canyon.

I flew home on February 20 or so, went to visit my sister in Connecticut, and then life went kaflooey. My mom had had a health crisis but she was stable, so we thought, and I was planning on going down to visit. But you remember what happened. The weird cancellations and closures. I followed the news and announcements from our governor and thought, “Wow, I can’t fly to North Carolina? I mean, I guess I can drive!” But no. Then it was no driving. You might touch the gas pump and die coughing the next day. The next day it was don’t leave the house. It was don’t touch anything.

On March 25, my mom died. I almost want to say she “up and died,” because that was what it felt like.  My siblings and I had a group conversation with her on the phone from the hospital. We sang “Bushel And A Peck” (a song she had always sung to us).  On a private call a few hours later I told her I loved her and her last words to me were “I don’t trust you.” She was lucid, believe me. It was a very intentional dig, consistent with her treatment of me for years.  What can you say to a dying woman? Certainly not, “Mom, you don’t trust ME because you’re chronically dishonest yourself. It’s called projection.”  Did I mention that we had been estranged? 

I told her to be at peace, I would always hold her love with me and hoped she would know she went with mine. You know why I did that? Because my mama raised me to be gracious, to understand that people’s nastiness is their problem, not mine. Oh, the irony.

During my mom’s last days, I saw a Tshirt that said, “It ran in the family until it ran into you.”  It has become a motto. I broke many generational patterns of abuse, but even as that was hard and painful, I was able to do so largely because of the loving mothering Shirley was able to give me during the years she was emotionally healthy, committed to recovery and sobriety. And my childhood, during which she suffered with substance abuse disorder, depression, eating disorders and a terrible marriage, she also made a valiant effort to be a good and loving mom. She was sad and scary but also magical and wonderful and gave us some really good stuff for our life backpacks.

Shirley had a hard time aging. A really hard time.  Not my story to tell, but it was hard to watch. It is hard to watch someone who has worked so hard to heal their wounds and to befriend their demons slide into bitterness and dishonesty. I am glad that she did not have to endure a drawn-out decline; she wanted more than anything to avoid that, and perhaps that is why she did not share medical information with us. Children are wont to push parents to do everything possible to ensure maximum longevity, but that was not my mother’s goal. I respect that. Here’s my girl. We were in NYC. I took her to see three Broadway shows. We had a blast. Here she is at a bistro in Union Square showing me her lipstick.

Shirley Lesko Weinstein Mole, 1939-2021

Almost simultaneously with mom dying, I returned six weeks early from my sabbatical to help my congregation cope with the shut-down. A time of utter madness for all industries and when we wanted to complain, we just thought of the essential workers and health care sector and the educators and zipped our lips.

 I hope I will never forget the wild experience of bringing a church program online. Only my music director will ever know the true chaos we managed on multiple devices while producing a beautiful worship service over Zoom. We were up until 3AM learning new technology, editing videos, scrambling along with the rest of the world to try to figure out how to function under bizarre and unprecedented circumstances. 

Two people I will always remember who cared for me in those first weeks of fear and loss: my dear friend Michael who drove up to Lynn from the South Shore just to hug me. We put a big fleece blanket over him and one over me to protect ourselves. It was so scary but he knew that my heart was broken and I needed human contact.

And Jim, my gum-chewing neighbor who has lived in the triple-decker next to me for thirty years or so, texted me a day or two after mom died. This is what he wrote, “Hi Victoria, I will be getting your groceries so get a list to me by Thursday. I will be going to Market Basket, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, so feel free to let me know what brands of items you prefer.” 

“I WILL BE GETTING YOUR GROCERIES.” He was informing me, not asking me.  Listen, I was in such a daze of sorrow and discombobulation, I went with it! This was a genius tactic, because if he had said the usual, “Do you need anything,” I would have responded with the usual, “Oh no, I’m just fine, thank you.” I wasn’t fine at all, and Jim got my groceries for weeks. When I went to square up with him financially, he waved me off, chewing gum. “Naw, we’re good.”  He didn’t give me a choice! So he gets muffins (I’m a bad baker but I really make an effort for him) and my eternal thanks.

I should also mention that I have an amazing neighborhood and that we did, and still do, a brisk front porch Tupperware trade. Soups, casseroles, bottles of wine, bags of bagels, borscht (me), and yes, the traditional cup of sugar when requested. 

Continue reading “(How Are You?) Are You Okay?”

Condolences in the Time Of COVID-19

A word from a mourner in sequester.  Don’t know why YouTube isn’t allowing me to embed this video but since everyone and their dog is online right now in quarantine and shelter-in-place and hunker-down and such, there are all kinds of glitchy gremlins afoot. My internet connection has been really slow and people’s phones are cutting out all the time. We are overloading the grid, I guess.

This is KA-WHITE the experience, isn’t it. I’m kind of staggering around lately, how about you?

Oh, and here’s the video I made from the depths of early April’s inherent dreariness. Daffodils are out and we saw some sun today, but it’s a play-Chopin-and-wrap–up-in-a-fleece-blankie kind of time.

Wishing you well!

How (Not) To Train A Beagle

Please click on the photos to enlarge them. – PB

Please do not get a beagle if you don’t believe that dogs have real feelings. Beagles are truly sensitive and they most certainly get their feelings hurt. They mope when over-corrected and when treated with severe discipline, their hearts break. You cannot “break” a beagle, nor should you ever try to. Humiliating them, spraying them in the face with water, shocking them, abusing them for barking, or in any other way applying cruel measures to their normal behavior will destroy their spirits. Those of us who love beagles beg you to consider carefully before bringing one of these brown-eyed darlings home. They are the cutest dogs in the world, among the smartest (hey, just because we don’t know what it’s like to millions of scent receptors doesn’t mean beagles are dumb — it means WE are dumb for expecting them to listen when they have an interesting smell up their snouts!), and incredibly loyal.

There is a reason that this breed is used for almost all of the laboratory experiments done on dogs. It is because they are so sweet, cheerful, trusting and responsive to human attention, they do not become aggressive even when kept under the horrible conditions in labs, and tortured in the name of science or product safety. Beagle people support The Beagle Freedom Project, a group that will figure prominently in the story I am about to tell. But before I tell you that story (which really is about training, I promise), let me tell you about my own beagle, Maxfield.

Max was one of the lucky ones. He was raised from a puppy by a family that loved him a lot and provided him with everything he needed. Unfortunately, they had to surrender him to the shelter when they faced a housing transition and could not take him with them to their new home. Although he had known great love and was treated very well and with lots of affection by the great folks at the Scituate Animal Shelter in Massachusetts, Max’s heart was broken. He was nervous, skinny, and skittish, with stressed-out bloodshot eyes and an air of deep insecurity.

Max Comes Home 030

When my then boyfriend and I filled out an application to adopt Max, the shelter director really grilled us. Did we have a fenced in yard? Beagles can climb chain link fence. Beagles can — and will — dig to escape enclosures. Did I own my own home? Beagles can be destructive! Beagles can chew through floors! My eyes got bigger and bigger and I looked at Greg like, “Do we WANT this dog? Are you nuts?” Greg stood stoically while the director continued on. Are we prepared to love a dog who barks, who “counter-surfs” for food and steals every bit he can get his paws on? Beagles are stubborn, they’re willful, and “you’re going to need an obedience trainer.” She asked us to sign up for obedience training right then and there! Greg and I looked at each other and at Max, the small, smooth guy who was sitting at our feet pressed against Greg’s leg in a position we dubbed “The Max Melt-In.” We politely declined the obedience training and took our beagle home. The shelter required a one week foster period to make sure the adoption would work out.

Given all the warnings we had received, we were very nervous about our new beagle addition to the family. We expected him to howl and bay a lot.

He never howled and bayed. He just cried and cried when we put him in his crate at night.

We expected him to chew everything.

He never chewed anything but the pads we put in his crate.

We never let him off leash because we had been sternly instructed to NEVER do that. EVER, as beagles are scent hounds and if we let a beagle off the leash, he would immediately run off and get lost or killed.

He didn’t get let off leash for over a year.

Eventually I tried traning Max with treats, and to my great delight he proved responsive to training. Food, my friends. I never leave the house with him without snacks on hand. I use a special whistle and a hand signal to alert him that I have a snack for him. He runs right to me.

Of course I am taking a risk, the way any dog guardian takes a risk in letting her dog off leash. Some beagles cannot be trained this way. You have to get to know your own dog.

2014-02-11 09.42.09

Eventually, although we had been told by everyone in the dog world that dogs LOVE crates and that Max would grow to LOVE his crate, we had to listen to him and respect his sincere, insistent crying message that he did not LOVE his crate and felt very hurt that we were making him sleep in a crate, and so we had a long talk about it. We told him that he could sleep with us but that we were worried that he was going to destroy everything in the house if we didnt’ crate him when we left.

He was so much happier sleeping with us. That’s all he wanted.DSC02188

Please don’t get a beagle if you’re not prepared to cheerfully lose many the typical dog-person arguments. Beagles will persist. You have to love their persistence and give them a chance to be who they are or they’ll become hurt, bewildered and miserable, and probably act out.

Beagles are obsessed with food. They’re never NOT going to be obsessed with food. As I said, they have more scent receptors than the other breeds, so if your childhood golden retriever was notorious for occasionally snitching the roast beef off the counter, prepare to guard all of your food all the time with a beagle.  You’ll get used to it, and to commanding DOWN or OFF a thousand times a day. If you can’t love an animal who will watch you eat with huge, pleading eyes, pre-clean the dishes while they’re stacked in the washer, tremble and moan when there’s a chicken roasting (the first time Max did this I thought he was having a seizure), and counter-surf, please do not adopt a beagle.

He’s not counter-surfing yet, but he’s thinking about it.

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I belong to a Facebook group called I Love Beagles (I know), and we regularly hear about beagles being rejected by — to put it bluntly — unkind and stupid humans. Recently, in early February of 2015, a member of our community found a Craiglist ad by a woman who said she was giving away her beagle because she was incorrigible.

First of all, please — no matter what — please don’t ever give away a dog on Craigslist. They will mostly likely meet a terrible, torturous fate. Please for the love of God, find a local shelter and leave them there. Even if they’re euthanized the dog won’t suffer in a lab or be used as bait in a fight dog. Beagles are mostly submissive and get stolen for these two purposes. The best thing you can do is get in touch with a regional beagle rescue organization or a no-kill shelter, of course.

Continue reading “How (Not) To Train A Beagle”