Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pay It Forward

Today is Pay it Forward Day. If you're unfamiliar with the concept what that means is that you go out into the world and do three random good deeds for perfect strangers while encouraging them to do the same as "payment" for your generosity. Not only does it benefit the person receiving your good will, it also fosters a stronger sense of community and connectedness. The deeds can be anything, large or small. The first time I received a Pay it Forward gift was at a toll booth in Chicago when I was informed that the person in the car in front of me had paid my toll. I was so touched that from that point on I always paid for the car behind me. That one simple gesture spawned years of gratitude returned to others.

Here are the three things I did today:

First, through Facebook I learned about a friend of a friend, a good woman who through no fault of her own (if we're looking to blame anyone we can blame the health care industry!) is on the verge of losing the home she has lived in for twenty years. The single mother of a nine year old son, she has struggled to stay ahead, but because of a car accident her insurance company refused to cover, has fallen behind. Having no other place to turn she used Facebook as a resource, asking if 100 people could donate $45 to help her stop foreclosure on her home. You can read more about her story here. Even though I struggle myself I decided that even I could spare the money and support her cause. I urge each of you to do the same. You don't have to donate $45, but any amount would be greatly appreciated.

Second, I stopped by Hero's Pets, my home away from home, and told Kathy, Chelsea's mother, that I wanted to buy the next person in line's food, explaining that she needed to tell them that they were the recipient of a Pay It Forward gift. Not long thereafter a woman who's dog was ill approached the counter with three cans of a special diet formula and a bottle of tummy tamer. Kathy explained that she owed nothing and had only to do three good deeds for other people in payment. The woman had no idea I was responsible but she was incredibly grateful and couldn't stop thanking Kathy for the gift, promising to play her part in the process.

Third, while at the park with Duncan, we stopped by Starbucks where I purchased a gift card for $10. When the clerk handed it back to me I told him to keep it and give it to the next person in line, telling them that they needed to do something kind for three other people. As I explained it to him, his face lit up and I could see his mind racing. I didn't buy a drink but simply left the store and walked Duncan down to the place where the bunnies roost and watched his little leg quiver with anticipation at the sight of them.

These were simple things and incredibly easy to do. And after I completed each I walked away feeling proud of myself and happy to live in a world where such concepts exist. A free latte does not change anyone's life, but it can change how people look at each other and, hopefully, bring about a change that even I cannot imagine.

You can play Pay it Forward any day, not just April 29th. If you've come to this blog the day or week or month after, it's not too late to take part in the movement. What change can your small gesture bring about? Tell me what will you do when you're done reading?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Despite the fact that nearly all of them have had their limbs removed, and most lack faces, Duncan is quite gentle with his toys. I keep a drawer full of them, a sort of asylum for friends loved nearly to death, and switch them out every few weeks so that he doesn't get bored and restless. But when I wait too long he wastes no time in letting me know that the time has come to mix things up.

Percy, the first of his friends whose name did not start with a "B," joined our clan a few months back and quickly became a favorite. A terrycloth penguin with a bright yellow beak, eyelid-soft wings and two awkward little feet, Percy went wherever Roo went, and whenever he wasn't being tenderly carried back and forth across the apartment in Duncan's mouth, he was tucked protectively under a paw where he received a nearly constant bath. And because he was vaguely football-shaped I enjoyed him because he could be thrown with a nice spin, black and white whirling through the air hypnotically. Each night Dunc took him to bed, pulling his blanket over him to keep him safe and warm and each morning it became more and more difficult to take Percy away and put him up until I returned from work.

I don't know why exactly he fell out of favor but this evening after our walk, while I tended first to Facebook, then to dinner and a small glass of wine, Duncan made it perfectly clear that Percy had somehow offended and needed to be relocated into the witness protection program, replaced by Leon, the plush fuzzy red bone our friend Nik sent to us. I discovered the hapless penguin dismembered on the floor not far from the water dish, his wings and flappy feet forcibly removed from his body and missing entirely, his belly torn open, stuffing spilling out onto the carpet like cottage cheese. I quickly re-stuffed him and placed him on a high shelf where he will be safe until I can sew him up and tuck him into the asylum for a few months, at least until Dunc has forgiven him his crimes.

Until then he has Bah-Bah, his legless lamb, and Leon to see him through. Here's hoping no further infractions have been committed and Duncan won't be preoccupied with punishing the conspirators.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moon and Glass

The moon is a crescent and the stars are hardly visible behind the light foggy clouds which have hovered over us all day. The night is low and our walk was a quiet one. For such a cold day the air was surprisingly warm and smelled sweet, like the new white flowers appearing in thick, popcorn clumps on the trees.

Duncan was restless but I was aimless, meandering wherever he led, alternately watching my feet strike the pavement or looking up at the sky for a quick glimpse of our fickle moon, pointed on both ends and as sharp as a cartoon smile.

I have been feeling lonely and have noticed I have been distancing myself from my friends, content instead to come home and lay on the bed with the cats curled around me while Duncan gnaws on a tennis ball at my feet. I've been making dinner late and falling asleep on the couch, the windows and patio door forgotten and left open, waking only after I was so cold I had no choice but to get up and crawl under the covers in bed for the last hour of the night. Philip Glass' "Mad Rush" has been on a nearly constant loop, the piano notes rising and falling, the repetition as soothing as balm. I have not been sad, just living alone and making one long note of it.

And so tonight, on our last walk, while Duncan watched for rabbits, I watched for the moon, and when she finally peeked out, along with a single star, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be guided by Roo, the rhythm of our steps a soft voice saying, "This way, this way, this way." I made a wish, softly, under my breath so that not even Duncan heard it. But the smiling moon must have and a moment later there was a whoosh above our heads as an enormous owl swept down low, perhaps only fifteen feet above us, the soft white of its chest illuminated and clear, each feather a thing of crystalline beauty. It alighted at the top of a pine like a dark Christmas star and swiveled its head all the way around to watch us and perhaps a mouse scuttling through the newly green grass.

A moment later my eye caught the shape of something else, something moving across the low night sky toward us, something slow and dark, round and glimmering at its edge, a rain cloud bearing a silver lining. It danced around a building, slowed and hovered above us for just a moment before finally sinking downward, landing soundless and bounceless at my feet. I bent forward and picked up a silver foil balloon with the words "Happy birthday" written across its shimmering surface.

The moon rarely sends us messages when wished upon and when it does we should not ask questions Today is not my birthday but I think I know what it means. And it makes Philip Glass sound less lonely.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


The morning after our snowfall last week there was not a car or road or building in Denver that was not covered in a thick rain-dappled red dust. Although it has dried my windows still bear the marks, as though someone doused us with cocoa powder.

It seems that while we slept the clouds moved in and opened up, spilling a muddy rain down upon the Front Range. After the temperatures dropped the snow began to fall and only after it melted did we see what the rain had delivered all the way from Asia. A windstorm in Mongolia had pulled sand from the Gobi desert high into the atmosphere, carrying it across the Pacific, over the western United States to the Rocky Mountains, were it finally was released.

Duncan and I have walked many miles in the days since, and while we have not left the city I cannot help but marvel that in a strange way our path has taken us across the sands of the Gobi. We have breathed it in and carried it with us up our three flights of stairs, tracking it across the tile in the doorway, all without trying very hard at all. But that sand has traveled high and far to find us and douse us like pixie dust. Whose footsteps were imprinted upon before ours? How long did it blow across Asia before settling here and what has it seen on its strange pilgrimage?

How odd to be reminded once again, in such a bizarre way, that it's not the destination but the journey that matters most.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Change in the Weather

It's never easy to tell here in The Rockies––and I certainly don't want to jump the gun––but I think Spring may be dipping its toes in the DenverLand pool. It's never easy to tell as March and April are typically our snowiest months, and the flowers don't really bloom until mid to late May. Several years ago on my birthday (February 1st), Mom and Kevin came down from Idaho to visit. We awoke to a spectacular morning and spent the day at the zoo with the temperatures firmly resting in the low 80s. The next morning, though, we had a terrific blizzard. and they had to leave a day earlier than planned. It's par for the course here and while we relish our occasional warm winter blessings, we also view Spring with a cautious and suspicious eye. After all, Colorado is where we golf in January and ski until June.

For instance, even though Tuesday night was warm with a luscious breeze drifting through the windows, we awoke Wednesday morning to four inches of snow. Duncan was overjoyed, rolling and playing in the stuff while I scraped the windows and pushed heavy pounds of it off my car. The skies were low and white and the snow was thick and blinding. Walking through it was bitter and wet and we were both soaked within minutes. I left for work and spent the day in my windowless office dreading the long drive home, but by the time I stepped outside at 5 PM, the sun was out, the snow was completely gone and three little dandelions had sprung up along the edge of the sidewalk. While the mountains were still white, the skies were smooth and blue and the air smelled sweet and rich.

Duncan was waiting for me in the window, his tail wagging, a wide grin spread across his face. When we ventured outside he pranced and danced and pulled me across the greening grass to each of the trees, where small buds were beginning to appear. He was proud, as though he'd somehow arranged it himself as a gift for me. So we went to the park, where the ground was dry but still springy and soft and returned Roo's tennis ball with a satisfying and solid bounce. The lake, which had been cloudy and turbulent only that morning was smooth and clear and covered with a battalion of scrawny, squawking gulls and fat pelicans so big they looked like paddle boats. The little birds had invaded the trees and were content darting from green bud to green bud, chirping with each hop. It was miraculous and exactly what my spirit needed after a winter that began three weeks before Halloween. We grilled tilapia outside and slept with the windows open, the cool, candied air greeting us in the morning when we woke.

I am not convinced but remain hopeful.