Picking up the pieces

I had the good fortune recently to speak with a woman who is both profoundly kind and deeply wise. She told me a story of working with troubled youth in a previous chapter of her career, and an exercise she would do with them. She would buy a few mismatched plates from the thrift store and hold one up for the group to admire before dashing it to the floor and shattering it.

What can you do with the pieces of this plate now, she would ask the kids. You cannot make it whole again, so what other choices do you have? Some options to consider:

Sweep up the pieces, throw them away as garbage, and never own another plate.

Sit and cry about no longer having a plate

Get angry and demand that the world give you another plate that is not broken. Fight anyone who tells you that you can’t have it.

Use the shards as weapons against yourself and others.

Try to put the pieces back together as they were and try to return the plate as closely as possible to its original condition.

Reassemble the pieces into a new plate that you like even better—perhaps in a different order than they were originally.

Or you could go out and buy, beg, borrow, steal, or make another plate.

All of us have our broken plates. Maybe we threw them to the ground ourselves by making bad choices. Or maybe somebody else, by abusing or neglecting or shaming us when we could not defend ourselves, shattered our plates for us. Or maybe it was just life that did it, through loss and change and the stuff that happens when you’re busy making other plans. We try to repair the damage done with wire and glue and string, tears and prayers, imprecations and negotiations. We eat, or drink, or party, or fight, or withdraw, or cry, in our attempts to cover up and cope with the pain. Internally or externally, and sometimes both, we scar ourselves as we brush against the broken pieces.

My plate—several of my plates—were broken by other people when I was very young, and I’ve been walking barefoot across the shards ever since. I have learned how to go forward in spite of it, but the pain and rage that have resulted have leached away so much of my energy and potential in this life. The way I have responded to the losses has been, mostly, to pout and cry that the world owes me an unbroken plate. I want my original plate back, made whole again. I want to be, in a word, made innocent again.

This is not a productive position and it has surely done me no good. What’s true is that I was born innocent and I still am, despite all my flaws and all the mistakes I have made. I refuse to see myself as damned any longer because of other people’s choices.

With the help of the woman who told me the story, I am reconsidering my options with regard to broken pieces in my life, wondering what I can make with them using what I have now, where I am now, knowing what I know now that I did not know when the shattering was done.

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~ Leonard Cohen, “Anthem

What I hope to do is take the materials I have at hand—including the love of all the good people (and dogs) I know—and forge myself an unbreakable heart into which the light of the universe shines and from which my own light shines back out to the world.


One less toe

I removed Rudy’s bandage this afternoon, which was a trust exercise for both of us. It was pretty tightly wrapped: a non-adhesive absorbent pad directly on the wound, covered by rolled cotton, then non-adhesive elastic wrap, then adhesive cotton elastic wrap. I had to pull and twist and cut it loose, while Rudy’s lips twitched uncontrollably as he stifled his urge to bite me if I tweaked him too hard. Finally I got the whole shebang cleared away to reveal a clean, dry, neatly stitched wound.


Of course, Rudy is frantic to lick his newly revealed appendage, poor thing, and if he stretches his neck and his foot out to the very edge of the e-collar at the same time, he can just graze the tops of his toes. He’s able to put weight on it intermittently and seems to be in no pain. I’ve been careful to keep him fairly quiet, keep the bandage dry, and make sure he takes his pain meds every 12 hours, so his recovery has been smooth. I don’t think having one less toe is going to slow him down at all once the stitches absorb.

I won’t make you look at his foot if you don’t want to, but for those who appreciate a close-up of a tidy bit of surgery, here it is.



Rudy’s foot surgery on Thursday went well and he came home the same day in fine fettle. I am really surprised how quickly he can move on three legs! Here he is in his Cape of Awesomeness™ (otherwise known as an ElizaSoft Recovery Collar) looking like a hero.


That bandage stays on his foot until Tuesday, and we have to keep it clean and dry in the meantime. The clinic gave me this improvised bandage cover made from a cut-down IV fluid bag and gauze, but I found it much too bulky.


Instead, I got a sandwich bag and secured it with a silicone kitchen tie. Works great.


I’m pleased to see Rudy eating, sleeping, alarm barking, eliminating, and in all other respects behaving perfectly normally. He certainly doesn’t look thrilled about having to wear this cool blue cape, but he’s going to be just fine.



Merry and bright

As another Christmas draws to a close, it’s finally quiet enough in the house that I can hear myself think long enough to write something. We’ve had a busy week with a lot going on for everyone. Here’s the news, in four parts.

First, an update on my dog. He had to go to the emergency vet four times this week and ended up having to take four different medications to help his face, but finally he turned the corner and is on his way back to normal.

Here’s how his face looked on Friday night, after I clipped his beard off to help visualize the muzzle and keep it clean:


Here’s how it looked Monday night with drier skin and significantly reduced swelling:


I gave him a bath today and washed off some of the scabbing around his mouth. He still has a course of antibiotics and steroids to finish, but he should be fine in a few more days. He’s always been a remarkably healthy dog in the time I’ve had him, so this has been quite an ordeal for both of us.

Second, my sister and her family came to visit from Friday through Monday, and we had a nice low-key Christmas celebration on Sunday night before they had to get home for work commitments. I woke up early Sunday morning and fully appreciated the fact that everyone I love most was under one roof at that moment: my dogs under the covers beside me, my parents down the hall, my sister’s family upstairs. It warmed my heart.

Third, my mother’s recovery has advanced by leaps and bounds since I last saw her in September. At that time, when she first got out of rehab, I helped her take her first shower at home, which took a good 45 minutes and had me sweaty and aching from the exertion of doing most of the work for her. Now, I just help her onto the shower chair and pull off her shoes (although she doesn’t even need help with the shoes, really), and she takes it from there with no assistance at all from me. She’s in and out of the tub in about 10 minutes. She does let me dry her hair afterward because I want to do that, but otherwise she’s recovered a lot of her independence in the bathroom. Also, she can walk a short distance using only a cane now, and we’re hopeful that she will be out of the wheelchair all together in another month or two. Here she is practicing unassisted standing on a foam mat to help fine-tune her balance.


Go, mama, go!

And finally, some parting thoughts on Christmas …

It occurred to me a few days ago as I was making yet another trip to the grocery store and listening to Christmas carols on the car radio, that for most of us, one day is much like the next no matter what the calendar says. So if you want to have a merry and bright and blessed and happy holiday season or Christmas (as all the carols and ad jingles exhort us to have), the best way to do so is to cultivate a merry and bright and blessed and happy life the other 364 days of the year. How you do anything is how you do everything, and it’s hard to bring to the holidays what you don’t have in everyday life.

So my wish for all of you is that you might enjoy the blessings of the Christmas season—peace, goodwill, generosity of spirit—all through the year. May all your days be merry and bright.