I am not always a very good person. In fact, I would go so far as to say that sometimes I can be downright petty and mean-spirited, vengeful and bitter. More often than not my rashness leads me to overreact. Most of the time I'm able to quell my initial instinct but the fact remains that I am capable of some very nasty and treacherous thoughts that teeter on the very fine edge of becoming actions. It's always been something I've despised about myself because such things lead me to question whether I'm a good person at heart.
For instance, there is this woman who lives midway down The Run, a strange little thing with silver hair she tries to conceal behind a gloss of maroon dye. She has eclectic tastes and decorates her patio with odd trinkets, bizarre art rendered in bright, almost garish primary colors, things with eyes and many arms, or shapes unknown to the natural world, invented entirely by the mind of Man. When she first moved in last fall, shortly after the departure of The Wretched Hyenas, I was intrigued and wondered if we'd strike up a conversation as Duncan and I passed by two or three times daily. I wondered if, like Jeffrey, we'd develop a routine and if she'd ever confess the secrets of her strange taste in decor. But that never happened. Shortly after our first pass-by, she appeared on the patio to lecture me about cleaning up after Duncan after he took care of business. The odd thing was that I was already carrying a bright green bag filled with his inner goodness. And anyone who knows me here on the property knows that I am a tireless advocate for cleaning up after your pet. It infuriates me to discover someone is not. And here was this woman––this stranger––accusing me of doing the very thing I have fought so hard against. I politely assured her that I was very mindful of cleaning up after Roo and held up my bag as proof, but the next day and nearly every day after that she appeared on her patio, arms folded across her chest, a scowl scratched across her face, to watch us and make sure I didn't leave anything behind, which, of course, I hadn't.
We were blessedly free of her for most of the winter months, but she has appeared again recently. This morning I noticed she's planted a patch of tulips in the red-tinted mulch at the edge of her patio. Duncan noticed them, too, and as he trotted among the shrubs, he stopped to sniff each in turn and then move along to the trees where the squirrels crouch. She was sitting at her couch watching us, her back straight and tense as though ready to spring forward and scold me. But Duncan, intrigued briefly, ambled away, his tail wagging happily behind him, his curiosity leading the way.
She was waiting for us on our evening walk. I was whistling an Indigo Girls song about the joys of being out in the world in the glow of the sunshine while Dunc jogged here and there, pausing to sniff or just raise his curious eyebrows at the discovery of something new. She practically careened through her screen and called after me. Before I could even speak she began to lecture me about her delicate flowers and how Duncan was destroying them and how she'd worked hard to plant them and wasn't about "to let some dog run them under." My mouth snapped shut and I felt my cheeks redden as my heart rate picked up. "Do we agree?" she asked. There was nothing I could say except, "I'll try."
But, oh, what I was thinking. And if my eyes were capable of melting her with those thoughts she'd be little more than a puddle, dusted over with the sad maroon remnants of her thinning, pink hair. We walked away, Duncan completely oblivious to the situation, but inside I was seething. I'd tolerated her scorn and suspicion for months and now she was practically accusing my dog of desecrating her precious tulips, which he clearly had not. My walk was ruined. Inside I had all sorts of thoughts, and each time Dunc paused at my side to nuzzle his nose against the cup of my hand where I hold his treats, I'd say, "She needs to move. I need to find a way to make her move." And then my mind would race with things I will never type out. I even went so far as to envision myself sneaking out in the dead of night and stomping all over her flowers, uprooting them, crushing the fat bulbs under my heels and leaving them on her patio. I had skipped anger and gone straight to evil.
After an hour of walking through the park, my anger spilled over into the soccer hoards and their parents, who crowded the park and will undoubtedly leave the remnants of their water bottles and fast food wrappers behind them when they depart. I seethed at the traffic on Bowles and the foul odor of the exhaust left behind in clouds along the edge of the road. The wind picked up and I raged internally at its presence and how after three weeks of enduring it I wished it would just blow itself straight to Hell.
There was no way Duncan could not notice my state of mind. Rather than walk this way and that he stayed close to my side, often leaning against me as though to say, "C'mon, she's a harmless, sad old woman. All she has is her flowers. It's not that big a deal." I patted his head absentmindedly and walked on, my steps sharp and quick, my thoughts and heart sharper. But finally he couldn't stand it any longer so he took control and led me across the park to a quiet, secluded spot where the crab apples blossoms have exploded into dazzling white, sweet-smelling clouds hovering in the low trees just above our heads. Days of wind had loosened the petals and a light downy bed of them coated the ground. He pulled against the leash and tossed himself onto his back into the short greening grass, only just beginning to take on the rich fragrance of Spring. He rolled and growled deep in his chest, snorting and huffing as he did, his thick red fur catching the grass and ivory petals and holding tight to them until he was covered. He paused, looked up at me a moment then rolled again.
I am smart enough to know when he is instructing me and offering up another of his life lessons, the ones I seem to constantly require. So I laid down next to him and rolled, the cold of the flowers igniting the nerves on the back of my arms and neck, the grass, still slightly damp from yesterday's morning snow. We rolled together and when we were done he rested his head against my ribs, breathing heavily, one paw pushing against the top of my head.
And then, like that, I understood. I had to let it go, and not just this anger but all of it. He was right. She is a sad, miserable old woman who lives alone and rarely, if ever, has company. All she wants to do is plant flowers and enjoy their blooming in this blessed time of year. Is it so wrong for her to want to protect them? They are simple things, but important nonetheless. Perhaps just as important to her as Duncan is to me.
And with that realization came shame. I hated my thoughts and the venomous places they'd led me. I had grandmothers once and it would kill me to think anyone had thought as ill of them as I had of her. Over flowers, which are beautiful and remarkable living things. Flowers.
Now don't laugh when I tell you that just last week I was ordained in the Universal Life Church, which believes that "we are all children of the same Universe" and "that every person has the natural right (and the responsibility) to peacefully determine what is right." I was "ordained" because my sister and her fiance, Christian, asked me to conduct their wedding this summer in Idaho. I have delivered three eulogies and have spoken at all sorts of events, delivered insightful stories and more than one killer toast, but this will be my first wedding. And as Duncan and I walked home I couldn't help but feel that perhaps I was the wrong person to do it, that maybe Dunc would be a better choice, with his big, open heart and patient and forgiving spirit. But we paused and he sat before me, watching me carefully before leaning forward to touch his nose to mine and to lick my cheek. In that instant I knew that all was good, that I'd forgiven and was forgiven and that flowers in Spring are a priceless thing and that even the best of us can sometimes go astray.
So this Spring, in preparation for Casey's wedding, I am going to make a concerted effort to control my anger, to see things for what they are and not just what I perceive them to be and to let Duncan lead me to the kinder places I sometimes forget exist within myself. I am going to protect the flowers.