Friday, December 16, 2011

Good-bye to a friend

December 15, 2011.

Today I said good-bye to a part of my everyday.

Almost 17 years ago a friend told me that a stray cat had given birth to kittens on his back porch and they were old enough to find new homes.  He asked if I wanted one before he took the others to the shelter, so I went over to see them.  We watched them playing together for some time, laughing as people do at the antics of baby animals.  One of the cream colored furballs seemed to stand back a bit more and just watch and observe.  That seemed like me, like my behavior.  But there was another cream colored kitten and I felt that it would be better to have two, so that they would have a buddy around, and I had read that they are easier to manage when not alone.
            I had been thinking at that time about getting a dog, and when I suddenly had two kittens, I thought it would be funny to give them “dog” names.  So I named them “Pepe”  (instead of “puppy”) and "Diogi" (in reference to the letters D-O-G.)  And for the past 16 plus years, they have been part of my personal tribe.  Anyone who develops true relationships with pets will realize that animals have very distinct and individual personalities.  Some scientists will warn against the practice of “anthropomorphism”  when it comes to dealing with the animal kingdom.  That basically means not attributing “human type” emotions when explaining their behavior.  But I find that unnecessarily reactive.  Its too far in the opposite direction.  I do not think animals experience feelings of “revenge” or “animosity” but I firmly believe that they feel joy, sadness, guilt, loss and most importantly, affection.  (I would further suggest anyone interested in considering this behavioral and philosophical question to read “When Elephants Weep” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.)
            About a year and a half ago, a stray cat had gotten into the garage and Pepe, while an “indoor” cat, defended his territory and came out of the encounter injured to the point of almost dying.  I had never declawed my cats as part of me felt that having claws was part of what it was to “be” a cat.  And while he was able to defend himself, he never fully recovered to his pre-fight self.  He lost a lot of weight and never regained it all.  I identified with this as a few years ago I developed a very severe and chronic condition that prevented me from being able to properly ingest and digest food for about a year, and I had dropped down to about 120 pounds.  I’m at the point now of needing to be more disciplined to tone up as I am back to 185 pounds, but that’s another story.
            In the past few months, Pepe had lost even more weight and even most recently he had started to have trouble walking sometimes.  He was regurgitating sometimes and had begun to not practice what most pet owners will agree is the EASIEST thing about having a cat which was using his own litter box.  I began to fear the inevitable, but Pepe still enjoyed sitting by me in the chair, purring loudly while I petted him.  He enjoyed being petted from head to tail and even a gentle tug on his tail as I did.  He was a bit stand-offish with most people, especially kids, but he was always my buddy.  I am grateful that he never lost that desire, to sit beside me, content and at ease.
            Just a few days ago, after meowing loudly to wake me for his morning meal, he just sat by the bowl and looked at the food for the longest time.  He didn’t dive right in.  So I took a few pieces of chicken that I cooked as his treats and put it on the food.  Even still it took him a while to get interested.  I resolved that I would at least take him to the vet to see if there was an issue of which I was unaware and unable to determine on my own.  I was also preparing myself for the vet to say that he was indeed nearing the end of a domestic cats life expectancy.  In my mind, I sometimes dreaded feeling that I would come home from work and find him expired, or waking up and not having him in the room and having to find him hidden somewhere, gone off to pass as animals may do in the wild.
            When I took him into the vet, he got the requisite “what a nice cat” and “what a sweet face” that he normally got, but his overall demeanor was very subdued.  And the vets kind but resolute findings.  Pepe’s weight was less than 6 pounds (down from an all time high of 13 pounds and a steady 8-9 pounds since the altercation.)  Even more disturbing, his kidneys had shrunk to a precarious point which indicated imminent failure, and then the final, sobering finding, multiple, irregularly shaped tumors throughout his abdomen.  The vet seemed to think that Pepe would soon waste away.  His recommendation, while expected at some point, was suddenly before me.  Now seemed to be the time.  Pepe was laying quietly in my lap and I felt myself consciously trying to imprint into my mind the feel of his fur under my hand as I petted him from head to tail.  As much as possible, I committed to memory the feel of his tail as it curled around my hand in response to the petting.  I looked at him hoping to decipher some sense of what he must be thinking, knowing he did not like being in the exam room, but he seemed calm as he tucked his head into the crook of my arm.  Yet, I knew that I had to make this decision.  The vet felt that his little body was already shutting down.  I felt no shame, even as a grown man, when I felt large, warm tears stream down my face.  He was a friend and it was up to me to make this decision.  So I did.
            As the vet administered the final injection of meds that would quiet Pepe’s life, I thought my mind would be filled with corny repetitions of “good-bye” or “I love you little guy” but instead the words that kept ringing through my mind were “Thank you.”  I realized how blessed I had been that this little piece of the infinite, disguised in cat form, had spent almost 17 years being part of my every day.  A small fragment of the universe, developed its own consciousness, and was part of my tribe.  As a 46 year old man, I have certainly lost pets and people before.  But to realize such a sense of gratitude was a gift that I had not received before.  And I find it fitting that it was being taught by a life-being that would never plan to hurt me, never hold onto feelings of anger or resentment, and would always just look to me for a simple act of gentle kindness and would offer simple company and a reason to smile from time to time.  Again, all I can say and all I feel is  “Thank you.”    We should all be so grateful.
            I want to take this lesson as far as I can in my life.  To commit to memory the look of the faces of my friends and family.  The sound of their laughter.  The smells associated with the seasons and the environment surrounding me.  Everything I think I love, I want to experience more fully.  That is quite something to learn from a 17 year old cat.  I couldn’t’ feel luckier.  I know that the pain of losing a beloved pet is personal.  I will not strive to make it more or less than it is.  It does hurt.  It hurts as much as it should.  And that is ok.  I do not ask that it hurt less, as I know it will eventually hurt "sweeter."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Today is my birthday.....

April 5, one day more…..        

Today is my birthday.  Sigh.  Normally I do not get overly excited about my birthdays.  I really haven’t since I was in high school.  I enjoy when other people celebrate theirs, but for some reason I have always been more introspective and alone on my birthdays.  I do not dislike them, I just tend to want to quietly observe.  But of course, one has to allow others in their life the obligatory “you’re OLDER” remarks and jokes which get more frequent and less funny the older you get.  Oh well.

However, there is much about this birthday that seems special to me.  Very few of my friends know the extent of the hardship and challenges that I have faced over the past few years.  I have shared bits and pieces with a few, but only to the extent that I am able to give a brief description when they ask “WHAT have you been up to?”  But even in those short conversations, I am buoyed by how people just want to know that I am “ok now.”

This year I have realized even more how very blessed I am.  I have much to be grateful for.  Since moving here to NC, I rededicated myself to writing and today, on my birthday, I get the preview copy of my first book.  It’s personally overwhelming, and it IS a watershed moment for me and a confirmation that when we commit ourselves to being authentic, the angels are able to show off and the universe lines things up in such a way that we can relax into the flow as long as we exercise that faith. 

My family has proven over and over again that, for whatever reason, our souls who chose this family into which we incarnated, would support each other even though there is much we do not understand about each other.  We support each other despite differences, despite rough history, despite petty disagreements.  One thing my family has consistently done is show they care to the absolute best of their capacity. 

Also, I am reminded that so many people I have been privileged to meet, are worthy of so much affection and admiration.  Many I “chat” with through social media have seen me at my worst and yet have the best things to say to me.  Truly rich indeed am I in friendship.  Though my phone may not ring as often as it used to, and though I do not get to meet at Starbucks as often as I would like, my heart does lift when I catch glimpses into the lives of so many that I hold dear.  And I am thankful.  And yes, I am older.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A bit more sun...

Ah, SPRING is here.  Today is the first day of spring according to the calendar.  Every year I feel so great during this time.  Some days cool, some days warm.  Some days still downright COLD.  But each day beautiful with promise.  

In the front yard are three dogwood trees.  They are spaced about 15 to 20 feet from each other in and amongst azalea bushes, butterfly bush, and a few other small landscape plants.  What amazes me about the dogwood trees as I watch them for my second coming of spring back in North Carolina is how much difference is reflected in where they stand in the yard.  The tree at the farthest north-east section of the yard gets about half an hour more sunlight than the one in the middle of the yard, and about an hour more than the tree at the other side of the yard.  But the one with the most sunlight is practically in full bloom where as the middle is just budding and the one with only an hour less sun is still tight in the bud.  Just an hours difference of sun and warmth.

Are we not just like these trees?  If we had received just a BIT more attention and warmth during our formative season, would we have been much different?  For one season perhaps not, but cumulatively over time, season after season, just a wee bit more light may have made all the difference for some of us.  An extra kind word here and there.  Just a bit more encouragement from those we admired.  A few more minutes with people we loved who loved us in return.  Taken in sum total, these precious minutes would add significantly to the bottom line of our self image, our idea of what caring and concern could look like.  A bit more sun, a bit more warmth, a bit more love. 

I will strive to offer a bit more each day to those I love.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

As above, so below. As within, so without.

My heart goes out to the people of Japan as they struggle to adjust after the devastating earthquake and tsunamis that followed.  The damage to their lives are made more challenging by the resulting damage to their power plants and the infrastructure.  So many of us debate the readiness any of us would have should this or anything like it happen to us.  While Japan and in particular Tokyo are among the MOST “ready” places on Earth to deal with earthquakes, it seems that the thresh hold for readiness is never enough.  And the coastal areas really cannot withstand the damage caused by the tsunamis.  But through it all, many reporters covered how ready the Japanese people are to remain gracious to their neighbors and even to the visiting news teams.

Still many scientists race to offer their takes on the “whys” and “hows” of natural disasters.  Sure the tetonic plates shift, and the energy carried along the floor of the sea increases the power of the waves as they near shore.  And we would believe that it is the natural occurrence on a planet with a volatile molten core.  While it WILL happen from time to time, part of me wonders about the spiritual principles that could be at play.  For those who exist trans-the-physical body and may believe that the earth and our physical existence on it mirrors what occurs between every one of us on the metaphysical plane. 

All of the strife that has begun to boil over in the Middle East lately, all of the political strife in our own country and even in miniscule amounts in the television we watch, like “Celebrity Apprentice,”  “Bad Girls Club,” “The Real Housewives of ANYwhere,” and “Survivor” just to name a few are rife with conflict, argument, back-stabbing and all manner of ill tempered folk who become celebrities and popular heroes JUST for being mean and vindictive.  Just add a daily over-dose of caffeine and a long line in the market and our lives can quickly seem to be filled with an inner calamity that will seek an  outward expression.  I firmly believe that the physical world around us rises up to manifest our inner creation.  The destruction of the rain forest may be an outward example of the damage we do to our own bodies with poor choices in diet and habit.  The global climate changes are caused by out disrespect of the balance needed in resources and consumption and pollution but it may also by exacerbated by the lack of patience and grace we offer each other on a daily basis. 

A well known spiritual principle is “As above, so below.  As within, so without.”  We affect our surroundings, our lives and our experience of this world with our thoughts and actions.  But the good news may be that it doesn’t necessarily take a majority to turn it back.  It has been postulated that as few as one tenth of one percent of us agreeing on something is enough to cause a shift in our world.  And most spiritual leaders believe and teach that “good thoughts” are much stronger than “bad” ones.  Buckminster Fuller and other very forward thinkers have talked of a “critical mass” of the population that so inclined and of same mind can indeed alter the fabric of what we term “reality.”   What this magic number of aligned souls might be we may never know.  How do we divide any particular group to the point of being able to accurately identify the “one tenth of one percent” of us required to tilt the balance back toward our good?  All I can really be concerned with is MY own effort to be part of that magic number.  And if I can make a positive affect on one tenth of one percent of the people with whom I interact, it may have an exponential effect all on its own. 

I have been lucky enough to meet many people who strive to be the best people they can be.  If I gave the “one tenth of one percent” a name for clarity, I would call it the “light effect.”  And many people have bestowed upon me their “light” and it is incumbent upon me to pass it forward and help reach for that critical mass.  The more I recognize when someone is giving me ill will, being rude, mean or critical, maybe all I need to do is consciously choose to treat the next people I encounter with just a little extra kindness.  I may not change the person who was mean to me, but I can certainly put my energy toward being a light in someone else’s day.  Now that may not ward off earthquakes or stop the ice caps from melting, but I feel certain it can still help create a better world.

Monday, February 28, 2011


In the first picture I want to tell you about is an actual “Jeannie” bottle that I got when I was eight years old.  There was a very small curio shop in Melbourne Beach, Florida and it cost $8.  Many don’t know that the bottle from the TV series “Jeannie” was actually not created especially as a prop for the show, but they repurposed a collectible Jim Beam whiskey bottle, which later became simply iconic.  I have had mine since my eighth birthday and I recall my grandmother thinking that I “ruined” its value because I scraped off the Jim Beam decals.  Oh well.  Also, I remember growing up so close to Cocoa Beach that once or twice I had asked my mother to drive around neighborhoods to see if I could find Major Nelson’s house.  That was until I was watching “Bewitched” and realized that Samantha and Darrin’s house was also Major Bellow’s house, and Tony’s house was actually NEXT DOOR to the Stephen’s house.  Again, “oh well.”
The second pic I want to talk about is the McCoy Smiley Face mug. When I was really young, my mother bought for me a McCoy Smiley Face bank and it stayed with me all the way through college.  My only wish at this point was that it would have taught me to be better at saving money.  I am not sure how it was lost.  Maybe it was sold off in a garage sale.  But it was such a big “memory” for me that I found a replacement on Ebay and also started collecting these matching mugs.  And they make me smile.  The original “Smiley Face” has been credited to a graphics designer named Harvey Ball who in 1963 was just challenged to help create a button to be worn to help boost worker morale for an insurance company.  He never put a patent on it and for many years it simply belonged to the world at large.  It was perhaps one of the most generous gifts in contemporary history.
The third pic I want to explain is part of a ceramic menagerie that I had collected growing up.  I think I got this one when I was in third grade when we first moved to North Carolina.  There were a few tables set up at the Capitol department store during the Easter holiday and it was laden with enough small ceramic animals to rival the Ark.  Along with a new Christmas ornament every year, it was almost a ritual that I would get a new addition every spring.  My favorite had been a small yellow bird with gray eyes that lasted up until last year when it finally broke.  The only surviving member of my small zoo is this red fox, and it still holds a great deal of nostalgia for me.
Now, WHY exactly am I talking about these small nick-nacks?  Well, to begin with, they represent who I was at certain points in time.  Recently I had been having a disagreement (argument) with a family member and was also witness to a similar disagreement (argument) between two others, and what struck me was that during these stressful discussions (arguments) we all seemed to somehow revert back to seeing each other in a way that had been formed in our minds during some point in our past.  We do not take into account that essentially we are different people each day we walk out of our doors and return at the end of the day.  Every morning we wake up, we are intrinsically different that we had been the day before.  Some small event, some seemingly insignificant occurrence, much less the truly life-altering ones change us in at least incremental ways.  Yet, when we argue (fight) we tend to treat each other as prisoners in some unrecognized emotional stockade that not only prevents our awareness that our loved ones and friends are NOT the same people they were years ago, or really even days ago, but prevents us as being seen for the somewhat wiser persons that we would rather be viewed as ourselves.   I do not wish for family and friends to treat me like I was as an eight year old or even a 32 year old.  In fact, the life changes I have experienced recently make me feel like an entirely different person than I was JUST three short years ago.  And that’s a good thing.  But then, I DO owe that same honor to others in my life.  I will now try and remind myself to take an assessment the next time an encounter becomes emotional.  I will strive to see others as more fully enlightened and developed than I would normally give them credit for.  Even without a reason, I will endeavor to consciously view people in my life with a new perspective.  I want to learn how they are different even on very small levels on a more consistent basis. I will celebrate these changes.  If you ever find yourself wishing that someone would just LISTEN to you and respect your point of view, do yourself the favor of making sure that you see those around you with a fresh new perspective and not just through your memories of who they used to be.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


“It is what it is.”

How many of us have heard this time and again?  How many of us have SAID it time and again?  In its most basic translation, it is a very profound statement.  If you think of the NOW in an existential sense, “it is what it is” seems like a great truth.  But I have begun to hear it more and more in off-handed ways that seem to dismiss a person’s own liability regarding their circumstances.  I feel like it has become a statement someone makes when they just give up any responsibility for something that they are unhappy with in their lives.  Lets face it, something only “is what it is” because “we’ve done what we’ve done.”  Einstein is very famously credited as defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result.”  Should we wish a different outcome to a recurring problem, or even grander, should we wish a different LIFE, we need to DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.  I have talked about this before as I am trying to train myself to recognize when I am in maladaptive patterns.  I know that I cannot offer enlightenment to anyone other than myself, but I do think we more easily recognize things in others that we actually do not like in ourselves.  Others are the mirror in which we see ourselves.  So when someone says “well, you know, it is what it is”  I try and ascertain if they are actually saying, “I don’t want to look at what I may have done to actually CAUSE this situation.”  Then I ask myself if there is something that I am trying to change or an event or circumstance in my life that I am hoping will be different.

In the same way, I often hear people say “I believe that everything happens for a reason.”  And its as if this is to excuse any manner of situations that they may or may not like, but more often than not, it comes as a way of trying to explain away why they have suffered some kind of injustice, accident, or negativity in their life.  Things happen for a reason.  Yeah, you crashed your car because you were driving drunk.  Your wife left you because you were emotionally abusive.  You were fired because you never did your best at your job.  Yes, things happen for a reason.  That doesn’t mean to me that God WANTED that particular outcome, but it was the most LIKELY outcome given our participation in the events leading up to it.   It doesn’t propose to be the BEST outcome or the most desired but it is logical. Again, at its core, the existential truth is profound.  But operationally, there is ALWAYS cause and effect.  To make the most of such a truth, we must then activate within ourselves the greatest gift we have.  Free will.  Free will to do something DIFFERENTLY the next time.  CHANGE who we are by refusing to stay the same as we were yesterday.

I do believe we can and should LEARN from every situation.  I bless these universal truths and I am very thankful that SO many people are there to remind me of them on a daily basis.  Whether on a bumper sticker, on a wall hanging, or in casual conversation, these truths jump out at me.  How I process and demonstrate them is up to me.  And I am ready for a change.

Monday, February 14, 2011

a Valentine's Day poem for you...


Your picture by my bedside
to hold your memory
So if I should pass in slumber
'tis the last face I see

Brian Barnette

Monday, January 24, 2011

opening up my heart

"Brian, hey its Tim.  Listen, I just wanted to let you know that Zach passed away this past weekend."
"WHAT?"  I was floored.  "What happened?"
Tim's voice was cracking and obviously even making the call was difficult.  He wasn't able to carry on the conversation very long.
"I know it has been a long time since you guys spoke, but Zach has been sick for about a year and he took a turn for the worse.  He went into the hospital and was gone just a day or so later."
My mind was blank.  Zach and I had been friends for several years and really only saw each other on random social occasions but we always got along like we had been friends all of our lives.  I even introduced him to the love of his life, which they always thanked me for.
"Zach did ask me to make sure I gave you a call and let you know.  I really need to go.  The memorial service will be actually in Virginia.  Do know that we always appreciated your friendship."

Thats how i learned about the passing of a friend.  I guess it's never easy.  I don't know why its on my mind now, but I would like to share something I wrote just after this phone call so many years ago.  I do turn to writing when I need to process emotion.  I always wished I had learned to journal on a daily basis.  But I do suggest writing your feelings whenever you can.  Namastè.

Life of a Friend

Please hold my hand as you leave
before the darkness, before the light
tell me with your eyes that this is how it must be
tell me there is no further need of fight

I could not have been there then
when time for you was all brand new
as you came walking into this world as from an angel
walking a path that only love knew

I may still need you every once in a while
I may think back on days gone so far away
days that still course through my system as much as life
helping to be exactly who I am each day

I could never help you more than I could
though all would have been given that I own
yet you go to a place where you may ever help me
in ways that only the innocent have shown

I can only hold your hand as you let go this world
and you take from your soul these garments you’ve worn
let me send you on this journey holding my love
and holding your hand as in Heaven you’re born

Brian Barnette