My Heart is Broken.


Tack  2001 – 2015

I have to put my dog to sleep today, and that is exactly as rotten as it sounds.

Tack is 14. There is cancer and there’s a chance he won’t even make it until the vet arrives at noon. Yes, Sam and I are the people who pay the farm call to have the vet come here. Tack is wrapped in a blanket in front of the fire and Sam has gone out to hire some guys. He needs his barn cleaned, new sand in the stalls and a hole dug behind the shop, right where we always watch the moon rise.

This is terrible.

September 2004 trip to Brookie Lake 036

Colorado high country. Sam, Tyler and Tack.

In a recent post about Christmas, I said that openly inhabiting joy and sorrow at the same time is a courageous gift you can give the people around you. So this morning, I didn’t go to work and Sam and I went out to feed the cows together. Every morning for the last 14 years, Tack has ridden shotgun with Sam to go feed the cows. He’s a cattle dog. It’s his job. Today, I went instead. Sam has hands like anvils, but a heart like goose down – especially when it comes to his animals.

january 2010 048Even though it is raining and cold, or perhaps for that reason, when we got to the far side of the ranch, the calves were running around playing. Watching them, it’s hard not to laugh. When calves run, they stick their tails in the air and they look like monkeys. Ever heard the expression high tailing it? Well, I think this is where it comes from. Sam knew this would make me laugh.

Then he reminded me of the time in Colorado the dogs chased a marmot into a twenty foot culvert. Tack stood at one end and barked into the hole, and was delighted to discover he’d invented a dog megaphone. I swear you could hear him barking for miles. Sam had to take a knee he was laughing so hard. If we’d filmed it, we could have won money on the funny home video show.

Our high country neighbors have equally funny stories because if Sam was ever around for drinks or dinner, Tack, Kota and Gracie were there too. One morning, just after sunrise, neighbor Deann came hauling down our driveway. She had Tack, smiling, ears flapping, in the back of her truck. Evidently he’d stayed over at her house, under her bedroom window, courting her girl dog all night. Of course, Deann thought this was awesome and stopped just long enough to boot his ass out of her truck.

We laughed about that later, after she got some sleep.

Making Hay 2010 270

He can never nap alone.

Flannery O’Connor said, “I write, because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” and that’s probably the reason for this post. Also, if you see me a little low tomorrow you’ll already know why. I know some of you are praying for us. We feel it, and we’re grateful.

On Cattle Dogs and Impossible Prayers

IMG_2638Look who’s back to work.

My dog Gracie, the one with the floppy left ear who nearly died last week, is back in action.

Last Sunday, after her head had swollen to twice its normal size for mysterious reasons and the vet said we might have “some decisions” to make, I laid in my bed and cried, praying for my dog.

Meanwhile, one of my best friends in California is fighting for her life against ovarian cancer. Tear gas and revolution are blowing through Turkey for desperately important reasons and, officially, 70,000 people have been killed in Syria.

And I’m praying for my dog? How parochial, how selfish.

Then I remembered what my darling friend Lisa Long said to me at the Love Does Conference last month.

“Don’t compare yourself to other people, it’s a losing proposition.”

Life is hard for everybody in totally different ways because this world is broken.

Yet, there are protestors wrapping their arms around Turkish cops in riot gear; cops who perhaps moments before were firing water cannons into the crowd. Do they deserve hugging? Hardly. Are people still doing it? Yes. What an amazing impulse – where does it come from?

I can do very little about encroaching authoritarianism in Turkey, or the war in Syria, or Karen’s cancer, but rather than feel helpless and bitter, I have learned to pray and say thank you.

Like so many biblical mandates, that one seems irrational with water cannons firing, but when I do it, I feel unburdened, clean and stalwart, like I’m contributing to a war effort I can’t see. I imagine tethers snapping just on the other side of my awareness as I pour my heart into unfathomable places, exercising my faith for people I’ll never meet.

It doesn’t always happen, but when my heartbroken prayers get a yes, like they did with Gracie, my confidence grows and I begin to pray for increasingly impossible things, like a peaceable, common-sense solution in Turkey, an end to the fighting in Syria and that my sweet friend Karen and I will celebrate together at her son’s graduation. For all of this, I’m saying thank you ahead of time.

It reminds me of a poem by W. S. Merwin


with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out

in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame

living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the back door

and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable

unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like  the earth

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is