Thursday, May 7, 2015

I never put much stock in reincarnation. Fooled around with it a little when I was in high school—made uneducated guesses about what I was “in my former life.” Always flattering, naturally. Princess in England. Avant garde writer in Paris. Celebrated musician/painter/sculptor in a civilized country like Italy, or Austria.

The truth was never to be found; hard to “prove” what you once were, if you indeed once were. But—I secretly suspected my former life was less than exemplary, exciting, or celebrated. A boulder, perhaps. Or a stump. When I managed to convince myself I’d been a mammal, I could picture myself as a rabbit. You know, running like a scared rabbit? That was me.

Recently I’ve had another look at reincarnation. It came about like this:

In 2007 my daughter came to live with me, bringing her cat and dog. When she moved away in 2009 to go to graduate school, she took the cat. The cat was smaller, easier to handle on a plane, and would more likely adapt to Arizona’s desert climate.

The dog stayed with me.

During the two years we were a household of four, the dog, whose name is Joy, became attached to me. Well, who wouldn’t? I was the source of all that makes dog life good: Walks! Food! Treats! Games! Snuggles on the sofa! We bonded well.

Daughter and cat departed. Joy and I took up a life a deux. Then came the revelations.

While I hunched over the keyboard to write, Joy sat in the hall and looked at me. I spoke to her, smiled at her, petted her if she comes by. This was repeated many times if I stayed too long at the computer. I explained that writing is work. I’m choosing words, making sentences, trying to follow a more-or-less logical thread to make a point. I’m working.

Clearly, in canine lexicon, writing does not equal work.

By accident I discovered that when I set up the sewing machine in the living room (where the TV lives and I can watch old movies while I sew), Joy approved. She'd lie in a chair directly in my sight—which means I was directly in her sight. She liked to watch me work.

Sewing was approved. So was cutting out pieces for a quilt. And ironing fabrics or table linens (or shirts when I get ambitious and want to look pressed). Running the sweeper was not quite at the top of the list, but it qualified as work. Putting up the Christmas tree. Taking down the Christmas tree. Cooking.

This scenario seemed quite familiar. Couldn’t think why. Then one day, when I had the Joy Seal of Approval for working, the light bulb over my head clicked on. Aha! I thought. Who does Joy remind me of? My mother!

“Put that book away and come dry dishes.”

“Why aren’t you dusting? You’re supposed to be dusting the living room.”

“You’re daydreaming again. Stop daydreaming and do something worthwhile.” (Like dusting, I suppose.)

Yes, Joy was on the same wavelength as my mother, who died many years ago.

Once I made that connection, I began to look for other characteristics. And I found them.

Besides Work Is Good, there’s The Look.

When I was about to leave the house and couldn’t take the dog (grocery store, library, lunching out), Joy stood in the living room, four-footed—rooted—spine straight, head up, chin forward, eyes never wavering from mine. Why aren’t you taking me? Or maybe, What do you think you’re doing?

That’s The Look.

I told her where I’m going, who I’d be with, and about when I’d be back. And I slunk out the door.

I took to calling Joy by my mother’s name—Doris Jenkins. A silly joke at first, but then I grew uneasy.

Doris Jenkins, my mother, wasn’t just a slave driver. Wasn’t only a nosy parker.

Doris Jenkins, like my dog Joy, loved me with all her heart.

Whenever I experienced the unconditional love of my dog, I was reminded: love was part and parcel of my mother’s life. She died too young, of a now treatable disease, but she loved as long as she lived. She loved people. All people. All ages. All kinds and colors. She would have been a wonderful worker for volunteer organizations that help folks in trouble. She’d seen trouble all her life and knew how it felt to be down and out. She knew the meaning of compassion.

Joy, a dog who came in out of the cold one autumn day, had been living rough. When she allowed herself to love my daughter and accept food and help, she turned into the dog who gave love from her heart.
Sadly, Joy is also no longer with us; but her legacy of love remains, and will always, in my mind, be entwined with my mother's love for me.

Reincarnation? Who knows? It doesn’t matter, really, does it? So long as the love keeps going around.