Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Last year brought loss and recovery


By JOELLEN COLLINS

At first 2008 began propitiously. I returned from three months in England, happy to be home and amongst friends and family. I looked forward to sorting out my life and returning to a semblance of normality. However, as 2009 approaches, I am looking back on an extraordinarily surprising year, unexpected events signifying the full range of experiences life offers, from grief to joy, from despair to optimism.

Someone asked me recently what this column concerned. I actually had to pause a minute; I wanted to say it dwelled on important issues, perhaps providing a commentary of profound import. Alas, I remembered that my column is titled "On Life's Terms" and really just represents the views of a woman of some years who lived in cities before she settled in Idaho, who loves relating stories from her travels, who left her life as a teacher and, although there are still many opportunities to teach, has had to discover other avenues of expression. I'm afraid that little from this column is newsworthy.

Today I remember a year of loss and recovery. While I always hope for the best (the cockeyed optimist refuses to abandon my soul), I understand that I must often face sadness and even occasionally suffer bouts of pessimism. So I accepted the immediate pain shortly after my return from Europe as part of the price of living intensely. From January to May, I experienced a deep personal loss and mourned the passing of several friends and acquaintances in this valley. Bob Doyle, Marilyn Teitge, Gary Hunt, Mark Oliver and Julie Holmquist, among others, departed from this life too early and left a hole in our town. I could hardly bear to hear another version of "Amazing Grace" or attend another memorial service. Then I had to put to sleep my beloved Olivia, the terrier mix I adopted from the shelter who brightened my life for 10 years. That is not an experience I would wish on anyone.

After the final blow of Olivia's death I felt absolutely bereft, wanting only to escape into some kind of hibernation. Thank God some of my old survival instincts emerged. I published my novel, "A Roof Against the Rain," had the joy of teaching ninth-grade English in summer school and, the last day of the session, embarked on one of the most meaningful episodes of my life, volunteering at Theresa Grant's orphanage in Tanzania. This last adventure was, I thought, all I needed to channel my energies and passions into a productive late-life pursuit.

More awaited, however. In October I flew to L.A. for a book-signing and found a rescue puppy who has since filled the emotional void left by Olivia and her Jack Russell buddy, Oscar, a beloved pet who preceded her in a fairly early doggie death. Then, and this is profound, Americans elected Obama, spurring what I think is a resurgence of hope here and around the world.

Now, with tutoring, substitute teaching, the promotion of my book, and commissions for pieces of my stitchery, my life was full, but I was in for another positive surprise: My younger daughter is engaged and will marry in February. The prospect could not make me happier.

Albeit this chronicle of a year's events in one woman's life might not be relevant to all my readers, I hope it serves as a reminder of the joys that heal the vicissitudes of existence. Everything passes, including debilitating grief, and, yes, bliss, but I love the journey even so.

I conclude my little tome with a story that may tickle some of you. My frisky Lhasa apso mix, Newman, eats anything he can find. After discovering he had swallowed a three-quarter-inch bolt and enough string to cause his poop to look like a poorly-strung necklace, I have Newman-proofed my house. Unbeknownst to me, however, he got into a hidden treasure at a friend's house, a stuffed animal wearing a small shirt.

When he developed digestive problems, my vet suggested I check his leavings. This time I found an almost-intact piece of red silk woven through his droppings like a banner. When I removed and washed it, I discovered undigested words still displayed on the 3-by-1-inch remnant. They announce "I LOVE YOU." I must say I have never received that message in that manner!

So I present a similar thought in my own and probably easier-to-discern way: May you have a surprisingly rich and loving holiday season.






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