SCATTERED

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Don’t Panic (Coldplay)

https://janahaertl.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/01-dont-panic.m4a

 

My car was totaled and towed to the scrap yard. Our home is dismantled, cabinets torn out and emptied of family memories. The baby grand piano I’ve cherished for 24 years is gone. My children are spread across the globe in various stages of transition. This country is heartachingly fragmented beyond belief. And worst of all – my mystical mala necklace broke, beads scattered and lost forever!

The demise of my talisman is a metaphor in this disheveled, shambles of a summer. Clearly it’s time for change.

Some of these changes are of my own doing, but the most disconcerting ones are not. People often say, “Things happen for a reason.” It’s a nice philosophy to try to make sense of the insanity and the unimaginable, but all too often that seems like a little too much sweetness and light. What on earth could the reason be for the atrocities that mankind brings upon each other or the unbearable sorrows that people somehow endure? Reason or not, the important thing for us to do is to try to make reason out of the things that happen by doing something with it in the aftermath. We can analyze the reasons until the polar caps melt, but it’s not until we focus on results that we can truly transition and move forward.

On the 8/20/17 edition of Meet the Press, the panel discussed the questionable moral compass of our great country. Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and political analyst conveyed a reassuring perspective: “For moral leadership, people look the way they looked in Charlotte, South Carolina two years ago when that bible study group was shot up. The great moral moment the day afterwards was during the bonding hearing of the shooter because the families of the dead showed up and showed who they were as Americans, and said it was heartbreaking [but] I forgive you.” Former Democratic Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland responded, “There are more Americans who don’t engage in hate than there are others, and that is our moral authority.” We look to each other.

There is hope and goodness in this unsettling time of transition. Even in the midst of our stark divisions, the vast majority is striving for ways to find unity in the heart of the matter. And I am finding reasons, results, and most of all peace in the paring down of minimalism and what actually matters in my heart.

  • My eleven-year-old car was slammed by an eight-ton truck, but amazingly we walked away relatively unscathed. My trusty old Lexus served us well right until the end, but it’s time for a new eco-friendly hybrid version.
  • Rather than move from the place we’ve called home for 25 years, we decided to switch it up to accommodate our shifting family. Turning the forgotten living room into a spacious dining room, the cramped dining room into a cozy study, and the tucked away game room into a more open great room may have thrown us into dusty turmoil for a while, but it should wind up just the right size for an empty nest with lots of visitors.
  • There was no room for my piano in our home’s new footprint, but truth be told I hadn’t played it much in years. Serendipitously, an adorable family with two toddlers and another on the way – in fact, our exact family 26 years ago – bought the piano, which made the letting go much gentler. Selfish of me to hang on when others will enjoy it more.
  • Mothers are only as happy as their least happy kid, so they say, and only as settled as the most unsettled one. So I suppose I’m grateful that my children are all happily unsettled, of their own choosing. A baby-on-the-way in Chicago, farming in Italy, studying yoga and meditation in Sweden and India… what’s not to be excited yet slightly off kilter about?
  • Etsy.com is an artistic mecca, and it was there I found a jewelry maker to re-string my scattered mala beads, mixing the leftover magical old with some beautiful new crystals. Maybe it will infuse my sagging mojo with inspiration and vitality. What this tired old chickie could do with some fresh energy…
  • As for our confused country and edgy world, I’m struggling to find reason but taking heart in the overwhelming fact that beauty and morality far outweigh the pervading ugly and iniquity. Focusing on the Good and pushing aside the Bad simply feels better. Loving one another is truly the overriding purpose of living, and the results are mindblowing.

If all else fails, I’mma sheetcake like Tina Fey.

CRUSHIN’ ON HAMI

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The Tiger Beat centerfolds of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy did not grace the walls of my teeny-bopper bedroom. Nor did Davy Jones and Steve McQueen strike my adolescent fancy. Ok maybe torn-out pictures of Robert Redford and Jim Palmer might have been tacked up on my bulletin board. But what really plastered my walls back in the day were posters of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hair – even though I had never set foot in a Broadway theater. Talented actors who could bring captivating stories and soul-stirring songs to life were the stuff of my youthful imagination.

When my children were fifth graders, it was with giddy excitement that they performed in America Rock, a musical about the early days of our country. To this day they can recite the Preamble to the Constitution because of one of the tunes in the show. There is something about words weaving a tale set to catchy music that sticks in your head and lodges in your heart, especially when it’s about something as passionate as patriotism.

So of course when the early buzz hit on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, my mind started humming. And then came All The Hype.

The New Yorker: “An achievement of historical and cultural reimagining.”

Ben Brantley of the New York Times: “A show about young rebels grabbing and shaping the future of an unformed country, Hamilton is making its own resonant history by changing the language of musicals… Hamilton makes us feel the unstoppable, urgent rhythm of a nation being born.”

Chris Jones of The Chicago Tribune: “It was inspired by Ron Chernow’s masterwork of a biography, but Hamilton is many things. A reinvention of the musical. An overdue diversification of a stolid form. A loving tribute to the empty chairs and empty tables of the shows that have gone before. A reminder that America was built by young risk-takers, not serious old white men who stare out at us from currency about to become obsolete. But it is most of all a meditation on that most American of debates — the rewards and limits of ambition and an exploration of what gives us all our best shot at happiness.”

Alex Gale of Billboard: “Hamilton’s stage production should be required viewing for every American citizen…”

With raves like this, I did the only thing possible. Like a kid who once bought the Stevie Wonder album she coveted to give to her brother for his birthday (he was decidedly unappreciative), I scored two Hamilton tickets for the Chicago production and gave them to my husband for Christmas. Fortunately it was something that he wanted as well, and we certainly were not disappointed – it blew our expectations through the roof of the Private Bank Theater. Hamilton is brilliant, in-your-face, and nuanced on so many levels.

Enough said, because dozens of glowing reviews have seemingly said it all, and so eloquently. All I’m saying is that I’ve been crushing on Hamilton from the moment I heard Wayne Brady belt the first note of the show as Aaron Burr. Obsessed. I’ve read the books and reviews, watched the documentaries, and listened to the soundtrack til the songs reverberate in my sleep. I wake up several times each night with Thomas Jefferson and the Schuyler sisters warbling in my brain on a zany continual loop. There is only one remedy for this neurotic malady: I must see Hamilton again, if only to get him out of my system. Especially now that he’s come to San Francisco to see me.

I paid a pretty pence for our first set of tickets to the show, so it’s ridiculous to once again shell out the cost of a little vacation, a new sofa, or a mortgage payment for a mere three hours of song and dance. My mind whirled through possibilities. I scoured the web and willed down the price of tickets – well that was foolish folly. I considered buying another set of tickets to give to Tony for our anniversary, but that probably wouldn’t go over as well as the Christmas gift. I started playing the daily Broadway lottery, but that became an addictive crapshoot. I finally just chilled and “put it out to the universe” – come what may. Lo and behold, a few days later I received a call from a dear, generous friend who ended up with an extra ticket and offered to sell it to me at face value, along with the possibility of another one for my husband. As Hami would say, “Chick-a-plao!”

It’s quite fortunate to have such a big-hearted friend who knows I’ve been pining for Hami and understands that one show is a necessity for everyone but definitely not enough for devotees. My heart and revolutionary gratitude go to her. But there is also a bit of magic in the woo-woo concept of putting something out to the universe to manifest the miracle or desired outcome. Of course it does take more than hoping and dreaming – there’s a great deal of thought process and sweat equity involved in manifestation. Despite the nights of Hamilton lyrics disrupting my sleep, it was far easier to manifest a ticket than to conjure up the book I’ve been yearning to write. These past two months I’ve spent inordinately more time on Hamilton than on writing. So now that my ticket is secure, perhaps I can will myself back to my little desk for some truly productive manifesting.

* If you want to conjure up your own tickets to see Hamilton in San Francisco without starving yourself for a month or two, try playing the daily digital lottery. Go to hamilton.shnsf.com and scroll down to Hamilton Lottery for a link to the digital entry. You can enter once a day for the next day’s performance, and winning allows you to buy two tickets for $10 each.

* If you manage to secure tickets, do yourself a favor and prep for the show. Hamilton is a jam-packed, fast-paced mash-up of history and pop culture, so you’ll get much more out of it if you are familiar with the music, the characters, and the story.

  • Watch the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America”.
  • Watch the CBS 60 Minutes shows “The Making of the Hamilton Cast Album” and “Hamilton: The Backstage Tour”.
  • Read Hamilton The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life by Jeff Wilser, and – if you’re really ambitious – Ron Chernow’s hefty biography Alexander Hamilton.
  • Read the Hamilton reviews online.
  • Listen to the soundtrack. Betcha can’t listen just once.

The late 1700’s were a contentious time in our early nation – in many ways not so different from today. Hamilton is a hopeful antidote to the frustrations of our unhinged modern day political system, and I truly wish every American citizen could manifest a ticket. Hopefully Hollywood will turn it into a movie for all to see – none too soon.

 

My Shot (Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast)

 

The Schuyler Sisters (Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast)

 

The Room Where It Happens (Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast)

TWO-MINUTE CHALLENGE

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Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman https://janahaertl.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/01-something-in-the-air.m4a

Get Together by The Youngbloods https://janahaertl.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/01-get-together.m4a

It’s been nearly 50 years since “Something in the Air” and “Get Together” were recorded, but here they are today – every bit as relevant. Can I just say WTF? What is wrong with all of us, acting like petulant toddlers who always have to get their way? At the risk of sounding chastisingly obvious, life doesn’t work like that, people. No one is right all the time, we couldn’t possibly agree on everything, and as Mick Jagger admonished us, “You can’t always get what you want.” Let’s get over ourselves and move on already.

Hatred, misunderstanding, prejudice, and provocations abound… it seems to be all about winning these days. The diplomatic blessing and wishy-washy curse of being a Libra is that I really don’t see what’s so difficult about listening to one another, respecting opinions that contradict our own, and working to find compromises that everyone can live with. At the baseline of humanity, we all want the same thing: a safe, happy environment in which to thrive and enjoy life. If we could simply follow the rules we learned in Kindergarten, the world would be far more peaceable. A Pollyannaish perspective indeed. It’s a complicated, deeply divided world, but somehow we need to shake it up and streamline things.

At the same time, no one should have to sacrifice their personal integrity and values – so long as they’re not mean-spirited or violent. In The Death of Outrage, William Bennett wrote, “In a self-governing and law-abiding nation, we must never allow ourselves to be lulled into passive disgust or indifference, the civic equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. We must never lose our sense, when appropriate, of outrage.” Thankfully there are (mostly) devoted politicians who are willing to serve our country. There are (mainly) peaceful activists who take to the streets and town halls to make our voices heard. And there are (a few) wise diplomats who have the strength to pull entire nations together. Me, I’m more of an apolitical, behind-the-scenes, reluctant revolutionist, taking action in one of the few ways my simplistic mind can wrap itself around the whole convoluted mess. OM.

Neuroscience is proving that health, wellbeing, and mental function improve with regular meditation. The concept that our thoughts can also affect the world at large sounds wacky, but quantum physics is beginning to prove that this is no farce either. If meditation works so well for individuals, it stands to reason that this power is amplified with many individuals. It’s the same principle as the power of prayer – a group of people focusing their intentions on a single ideal or wish to manifest the desired outcome.

An experiment was conducted in 1993 to demonstrate the effect of group meditation on crime levels in Washington, D.C. The results of this collective meditation over an 8-week period showed that the violent crime rate decreased by 23% during this time. It was a carefully controlled study of 4,000 meditators and was analyzed by a review board of 27 scientists and civic leaders. According to the Global Love Project, “The implications of this are exciting yet not surprising. Meditation does not just serve you; it serves your world, assisting in raising the overall frequency and consciousness level on the planet.” (This better not be fake news…)

My personal meditations have become increasingly dominated by my frustrations experienced while watching and reading the news. After banging my head against the wall, I’ve been concentrating on the big conundrums of our country rather than wallowing in my own little life. There’s something in the air that feels like a two-minute warning. It doesn’t matter what “side” you’re on or what you believe. It takes every one of us doing our own bit parts to harmonically converge as one. Let’s synchronize our alpha brain waves on the concept of collaboration, cooperation, and compromise for the greater good. Kick our united intention onto higher ground.

Meditation – easy it sounds – is tough, so I challenge you to a mere 2 minutes a day. Whether or not you believe in quantum physics and the power of the collective whole, just humor me for a few weeks. If it feels like good things are happening – to you or to the world around you – keep it going and maybe even bump up to 5 or 10 minutes a day. It helps to have a “mantra”, which is simply a single word or phrase to center your thoughts on. Here are some mantras to mix it up with:

  • Collaboration
  • Cooperation
  • Compromise
  • Listen
  • Respect
  • Peace
  • United
  • No fear
  • Work it out
  • Come on people now
  • Smile on your brother/sister
  • Everybody get together
  • Love one another
  • Right now
  • Get our sh*t together

My Two Minute Challenge: Set your timer for 2 minutes. Close your eyes. Think about your mantra until the chimes ring. Even a 5-year-old Pollyanna can do that. Come on people now. Let’s will togetherness.

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(Photo from Huffington Post)

 

The Global Love Project:

http://www.globalloveproject.com/power-of-group-meditation/

The Global Conciousness Project:

http://noosphere.princeton.edu

REGRETS… I HAVE BUT FEW

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To borrow a phrase from my poetic daughter-in-law, “When a day was made for you…”

 

https://janahaertl.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/07-no-regrets.m4a

No Regrets (Mike Love)

 

My Bambi-esque eyelashes are falling off, one by one, just as surely as the euphoria of my son’s wedding is dissipating, day by day. Friends warned me that I might feel weepy or slightly blue after marrying off my firstborn, but au contraire! Partly because I’ve been letting him go, bit by bit, for the past ten years that he’s lived in Chicago – partly because he married the most perfect woman for him – partly because the wedding festivities went off without a hitch – and partly because I was simply too exhausted afterwards to feel anything but unadulterated joy.

During the growing up years when my kids worried about things large and small, I would always tell them that the anticipation is worse than the reality… provided that you prepare ahead of time. That belief held true for my son’s recent wedding. Oh, not that he was worried about anything – far from it. He pulled the florist out of his back pocket, provided many spot-on suggestions and key actions, was the voice of reason and the calming balance throughout the engagement, and really stepped up his game the last couple of weeks before the big day. But for the most part, his lovely bride and I hashed out every minute detail down to the minutia. Nevertheless, there are always those things beyond our control, especially in a bustling city like Chicago.

My natural worry from the moment they decided to have a January wedding was the prospect of an epic blizzard that would storm away our out-of-towners. As it turned out, the days preceding the wedding were cloudy yet unseasonably warm, and the big day ushered in a bright blue sky and a balmy 60 degrees – most certainly a gift from above. January 21st was the birthday of the bride’s beloved mother, and she sent a heavenly day in her stead – that’s just the sort of way she would make her presence be known. I need never have worried with such an angelic ally.

Another concern was the Inauguration Day protest scheduled to commence at Trump Tower, adjacent to our hotel where we were hosting a welcome cocktail party for the out-of-town guests. Of course my mind raced ahead to the possibilities of black-clad anarchists firebombing the streets and creating mayhem… although my daughter-in-law assured me that nothing could rain on her parade, not even Trump. He didn’t dare. The peaceful protesters ended up being great entertainment as they marched past the windows of our happy hour, and the worry morphed into a blessing.

My third concern was that the nationwide Protest March planned for the wedding day would shut down the streets around the hotel and prevent the buses from transporting our guests. Instead, marching was an unforgettable adventure for some of our friends. That glorious Chicago day was a perfect setting for 250,000 protesters to show their unity, and it was over and done with in plenty of time for the streets to fling open for our wedding parade.

Regrets are few in my life, but mostly what I rue are the words I didn’t say and the photos I didn’t take. There were anecdotes and blessings I wanted to convey to my son and his bride, but I almost chickened out for fear of choking up. Fortunately, all of the wedding preparations helped me to savor rather than angst the anticipation, and I allowed myself to feel the emotions for months so I wasn’t all teary on the day or blue in the aftermath. My toasts at the welcome party and the wedding weren’t as soul-stirring as my husband and son’s, orators that they are. But I will never regret that my words were spoken, not left unsaid and stuck like the lump in my throat. When a day is made for you – seize it and leave no regrets.

 

(Photo by Colin Lyons Photography)

RESTORING PEACE TO THE GALAXY

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Desiderata https://youtu.be/PNq_DTmVCWs

Democrats, Republicans, Children of the Universe – we’re all united in the unsettled muck of Election 2016. What began months ago like an exhilarating horse race with thoroughbreds busting out of the starting gates has devolved into a haze of vitriolic trumpery, and now here we are staring in disbelief at two lame mares slogging their way to the finish line in the worn-out muddy track.

I could scarcely watch the Republican debates without storming out of the room, lashing out at my perplexed husband halfway through each debacle. What is wrong with these people who can’t stick to the issues? Why do the flounders who take the bait rise to the top, hook line and sinker? But that anger has gradually morphed into a sickening resignation that this is truly what it has all come down to. The only way I could get through the third presidential debate was by frantically coloring away in the Color Me Calm book a friend gave me. My blue pencil literally colored a rip right through the paper during one gnarly exchange, and my hand cramped up before the debate was finished. Apparently zen coloring doesn’t apply to political issues.

The majority of  citizens seem dispassionate about the voting dilemma – claiming that we don’t want to vote for either presidential candidate – because really, how else can we feel without blowing a gasket and losing our minds along with our integrity? We all may be dispirited, disillusioned, disenfranchised, disturbed, disappointed and thoroughly disgusted by the whole damn mess, but the one glimmer off in the distance is the realization that everybody actually DOES care. It seems we care so much that Washington, D.C. therapist Steven Stosny coined the term “election stress disorder” to describe what many of his patients are currently experiencing. Hopefully this syndrome of epidemic proportions can be cured with an election outcome, win or lose.

Peggy Noonan’s WSJ editorial entitled A World in Crisis, and No Genius in Sight aptly pointed out that “An old order is being swept away, and political leaders everywhere seem lost.” What the world needs now isn’t love – it’s a genius along the lines of Gandhi, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, or better yet a “genius cluster” a la Washington-Jefferson-Franklin-Adams-Madison-Monroe-Hamilton. Heroism and brilliance show up in the midst of trial and tribulation… so how much more turbulence must our world suffer before we are again gifted with a glorious hero to save us all?

Chuck Todd of Meet the Press has tried to bring some perspective and sensibility to this divisive arena through journalism like his interview with conservative pundit Glenn Beck who said, “We have to change our course as individuals now. We’re losing ourselves, we’re losing our civility, we’re losing our decency. We have to stop winning and we have to start reconciling with each other. There’s no leader to do that nationally, so it’s going to require each of us in our own communities to actually stand and do it.”

My fellow children of the 60’s and 70’s might remember the DESIDERATA that gained popularity during that decade of war, protests and social unrest. Somehow we survived that upheaval, and I trust that somehow our world will survive this turmoil as well. Let’s bring back the Desiderata. Perhaps YOU – Child of the Universe – are the true genius the galaxy is waiting for.

FRESH OUT OF KINDNESS

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Try a Little Kindness by Glen Campbell

 

Kindness must be out of vogue. In the contentious political climate, it seems that the nastiest candidates get the most kudos. In this increasingly dangerous world, it feels like gun-toting thugs are taking over. Even in our day-to-day lives, angry disgruntlers honk at drivers, snarl at store clerks, and file lawsuits against neighbors. Negative energy pervades.

The other night I was watching the news, absently flipping through a clothing catalog when I stumbled upon a groovy looking t-shirt emblazoned with “KINDNESS MATTERS”. The shirt struck me as particularly poignant at that moment because a reporter was narrating a video of a man who was punched out in front of a convenience store in Chicago. As the man splayed unconscious on the street, a few bystanders picked his pockets and walked away. Then a taxi ran over the man without stopping, and it took several minutes for someone to call 911. The whole ordeal was painful to watch. How can people be so heartless? Granted, the incident took place at 4:00 in the morning – when nothing good ever happens – but still. Mean is mean, inebriation be damned.

Suddenly I really needed that t-shirt to spread the kindness message! I went on the website but was informed that my tee was no longer available. Curses. Well at least there are other geeks out there who also believe in kindness. And yet – I want that shirt! I checked the website for a couple of days hoping someone returned one, making it magically available again – to no avail. It was silly how disappointed I was about a t-shirt; it felt strangely important to wear that message. But of course it couldn’t be just any old “Kindness Matters” tee – it had to be chic, especially since kindness seems to be so unfashionable lately.

All that changed today as I was waiting at the dentist office. A pretty woman walked in wearing a t-shirt that said “Kindness is always in style.” Nice – maybe kindness will be like the new black. I watched her as she checked in for her appointment, which turned out to be next week instead of today. Upon hearing this, the woman began to berate the receptionist for making a mistake. Her prettiness twisted into a sneer while her shirt morphed into a mockery. And just like that, I was so over my covetous desire for that groovy tee in the catalog. What’s the point of wearing a mantra if you can’t be a shining example of it?

The notion of kindness – at first blush – comes off as a Polyanna antiquation in this competitive world. But look past the blush, and you’ll see it’s the truly confident individuals who bestow niceties. It’s the strongest people who can respond to insults with a compassionate turn of the cheek. It’s brave to be kind. Feeding malice with love and mercy is far more powerful than strong-arming.

And living the message is infinitely grander than wearing it.

 

 

BLIND DEVOTION

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 I Think of You  by Rodriguez

 

Bella is a neurotic diva, the byproduct of would-be show dog training. Happily, six years after we rescued her from rejection she has settled into a typical sunny golden who loves to frolic on the hillsides, roll in cow patties on the trails, and carry slippers around on our heels.

And then there’s Edgar.

Eddie is a soulful retriever who howls at the Downton Abbey theme song and croons along with Rodriguez and Eddie Vedder ballads. He’s a conundrum, the Benjamin Button of canines, a wizened old man who suddenly found himself in a puppy’s body saying, “What the hell – I’m a dog?” At times he romps around like a goofy pup sporting a red rocket and other times he frumps along a la Eeyore. He charges into the dog park with relish, then proceeds to stand on the sidelines, a wallflower curiously eyeing the frivolous dog play. Eddie is certainly not an alpha dog, but neither is he submissive. You’ll never see him roll over to expose his belly, except when he thinks no one is watching him scratch his back on a sunny patch of grass. He’s a bit cautious and slightly aloof, unless a treat-bearing human is within sniffing distance, at which he turns on his “I’m a good boy” charm. He’s always been a perfectly healthy, quirky old-soul-of -a-dog.

But now that our kids are grown and the coast should be clear for freedom, Eddie has become the bane of our nighttime existence and travel dreams. Our seven-year-old goldie is suddenly going blind on us. In truth, his blindness wasn’t sudden at all. For a few years we noticed that he had trouble seeing in dim light. We started leaving on a chandelier in the hall so he could find his way upstairs at night. Then we flipped on the light outside the kitchen door every night so he could wander in and out of the doggie door. We felt slightly sheepish when we bought a little lamp for his downstairs bedside and named it Eduardo’s Light, but hey – anything for a good night’s sleep. We’ve finally resorted to leaving on the kitchen lights when we go to bed to give him a little extra oomph. The neighbors must think we’re paranoid insomniacs with our house lit up like the Las Vegas strip all night long.

Looking back on Eddie’s quirkiness, it’s apparent that much of it can be attributed to his waning vision. His depth perception was one of the first things to go, so stairs and inclines have long been daunting for him. What looked like sheer laziness on hilly hikes was actually his way of maneuvering along the trails with limited eyesight. The comical gait that he’s always run with – a bit like a prancing filly – developed into a head-wagging toddle up the driveway with the morning newspaper in his mouth as his peripheral vision narrowed.

And then the dogshit hit the windmill in a hurricane.

Eddie banged his head into a hard, rough obstacle that gave him an infected lump on his snout. A week later he accompanied me to friend’s party but had to be carried out at the end by my friend and I because he was immobilized in the darkness, whimpering with the emasculating shame of it all. Two days later we were out of town and received the following text at 3:00 am from our daughter who was house sitting for us:

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Problem is, Eddie hates the pool – a most unretrieverish trait – and never so much as pokes a paw in the water. Sammi heard his frantic barks in the middle of the night and found him poolside, soaking wet and shaking with fear. It was somewhat comforting to discover that he actually knows how to swim and more importantly can find his way out of the pool. But something drastic would need to be done to prevent a tragic outcome the next time.

Shortly after that stormy week, I ran into our trusty dog sitter on a walk and was bemoaning how unhelpful the vet had been in figuring out what Eddie’s problem was. “You know there’s a good animal ophthalmologist about 7 miles away,” she said. “Whoa – doggie eye doctors? I never heard of such a thing except in Doctor Doolittle. How does that even work?” I wondered.

Pretty simply as it turns out. I took Eddie to see Dr. Deborah Friedman, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Animal Eye Care in Pleasant Hill. After setting Eddie at ease, she explained how dogs’ eyes work. There are many facets of vision: perception of light and color, visual acuity, depth perception, the ability to detect motion, and the visual field of view. Dr. Friedman tested his side vision startle reaction and found there was virtually no response. She checked his visual tracking by dropping cotton balls in front of his face – again, no response. The pupillary reflex test to measure his pupils’ responses to light indicated a limited change. Finally, the vet conducted a visual inspection of Eddie’s eyes using a direct ophthalmoscope, a hand-held instrument that magnifies the eye up to fifteen times to evaluate the structures of the eye, and an indirect scope to give a wider view of the eye, enabling her to see deep in the posterior inner portion of the eye.

The diagnosis: Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is an inherited disease that causes degeneration of the retina  and leads to blindness. The retina is located in the back of the eye and is lined with photoreceptors, which are nerve cells that respond to light – hence, the loss of night vision is the first indication of the disease. The retina is like the film in the camera of the eye – the photos will be faulty if the film is damaged.

The prognosis: No Cure

Those two words incite tears and a brave face. “What can be done?” I asked with a trembly chin. “There’s always something to do, right? Does it hurt? How will Eddie feel? Do dogs get depressed? Can he still go for walks?” So many questions.

“Unfortunately, there is no treatment for any form of retinal degeneration,” Dr. Friedman informed me. “But I can assure you that this condition is painless and usually gradual, so dogs adjust to this handicap quite well.” We discussed how animals feel emotion, and she gently teased me that I will probably feel more depressed about this than Eddie. Dogs pick up on our emotions, so I didn’t want to get all weepy and dramatic about his encroaching blindness. Since pets are already dependent on their owners, loss of vision for them is not as much of a hindrance as it is for us humans. The best thing we can do as Eddie’s family is to make his living environment as safe as possible and help him live the same quality of life as his vision fades.

But I wanted specifics! After many conversations and much research, our game plan began to unfold.

  • Slow the progression of the disease. All the vet could recommend was Ocu-Glo, a canine supplement targeting eye health. But Sammi works for a holistic health company and was able to give us some other valuable directives. First thing she said is that Eddie needs to get raw. What? Most dog food has been baked over 500 degrees, which saps the nutrients. Instead, choose grain-free organic kibble that is prepared at a lower heat. Better yet, put our dogs on a raw, whole-food diet full of hormone-free antibiotic-free animal  proteins, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, cod liver oil, coconut oil, flaxseed, kelp and sea salt – formed and quick-frozen into patties and nuggets. Primal Pet Foods and Steve’s Real Food are two great raw diet dog food companies. For simplicity sake (and because they are dogs, for god sakes) we chose Acana dry dog food with lamb and apple. Standard Process offers hundreds of organic, plant-based whole food supplements for humans with amazing results, and many of them work wonders for canines too. We started Eddie on Canine Whole Body Support and I-Plex to enhance his eye health. These nutritious powders make a rich gravy when mixed into the kibble with warm water. And instead of prescribing anti-anxiety drugs for a dog who is stressed by failing eyesight, there is an SP supplement with calming properties that are highly effective for canines as well as humans. Lucky for us, Eddie is already pretty chill – aside from the barking he insists on using to communicate with us.
  • Keep Eddie away from the pool. We enjoy our backyard too much to erect a kiddie fence around the pool and hot tub, so we needed to get creative. Because our goldies aren’t jumpers or diggers, we were able to block off the pool with low, unobstrusive pet fencing. A portion of the fence is free-standing, so we can remove it in 5 seconds. We’re also teaching Eddie to hug the house and grass as he mosies around the yard.
  • Guard Eddie’s safety. The long walks we have been taking for years are now fraught with unseen perils, so we’re training ourselves to be Eddie’s seeing eye humans to help him navigate curbs and dodge potholes, sewer grates and light poles. Verbal cues are key: Step Up – Step Down for curbs, Up Up Up – Down Down Down for stairs, Right – Left, Back, Slow, Ready, Come, All Clear, and Leave It have become the commanding words that work for us. It’s all about teaching Eddie to completely trust us and to tap into his own natural instincts. But keeping him on-leash in unfamiliar surroundings is vital.
  • Protect others’ safety. Fortunately Eddie is The Duardo, the chillest dog in the world. I simply can’t imagine him attacking a person or another dog, but what if he is startled by sudden contact in his blindness? Someone recommended tying an “I AM BLIND” bandana around his neck to warn strangers, but that seems superfluous to our unflappable Eduardo. We’ll just have to be conscious of telling those around him about his eyesight before they approach him.
  • Preserve Eddie’s dignity. Our first inclination was to get rid of the doggie door to limit his mobility for safety’s safe, but we ultimately decided to keep it to maintain his sense of freedom and independence. Wandering around the yard is one of Eddie’s favorite things in life, and we’d hate to deprive him. Eddie also loves to be upstairs with us, but since the stairs are daunting, we have resorted to pushing his booty upstairs in a most undignifying manner – yet his wildly wagging tail shows us that he feels pride in making it up. Another inclination is to treat him with extra goodies out of sympathy, or use treats as a blind training tool. But he is far too food driven, so that would just be scurrilous with Eddie. He’d be blind AND fat.
  • Learn a new way of communicating. With a blind dog, it’s all about touch and sound. I’ve always been a crazy dog lady who talks to her dogs like they’re people, but now it’s justified. Our voices help him keep his bearings, and snapping fingers is a good technique for pointing him in the right direction. Touch is vital – not only to show him where to go but also to reassure him and share the love.
  • Create a comfortable home life for Eddie. They say scented oils help blind dogs find their way around – lemon for their food and water dishes, eucalyptus for the stairs, lavender for their dog bed, pine for the doggie door – although there hasn’t been a real need since Eddie seems to have mapped out his territory pretty well. They also say that aromatherapy can positively affect dogs’ moods. Doterra makes a great little diffuser that lightly emits a calming lavender scent. Another thing I learned is that music is great therapy for canine  anxiety (felines too, but Gilbert the Cat is a whole different story). “Through a Dog’s Ears” has created BioAcoustic music: psychoacoustically designed classical arrangements with simple sounds that appeal to animals and sooth their nerves. iCalmDog 2.0 is a portable blue tooth player that provides up to 45 hours of continuous tranquil music. Maybe we’ll just turn our downstairs into a doggie spa.
  • Restore our sleep and our freedom. Life with Eddie these days is like having a baby – up every few hours, not for feeding but for reassurance and a boost upstairs. I suspect that he has been training US – but we are finally turning the tables. He’s down to once a night now, around a civilized 5:00 am wakeup call. Life with a blind dog is a work in progress and a celebration of ordinary things often taken for granted.

While seeking bright spots in a darkening world, I came up with my list of The Ten Best Things About Having a Blind Dog:

#10  Eddie has simplified our life – we can’t mess up his mental territorial map by re-decorating or buying a new home.

#9  There has been plenty of time to adjust with the gradual onset of PRA, and it’s opened our eyes to a variety of things to make our pets’ lives more healthy and comfortable.

#8  Our patience has blossomed.

#7  We have become more compassionate humans.

#6  There is now a genetic test to determine if breeding dogs are carriers of the disease. But I can scarcely imagine life without Eddie, so I’m strangely grateful the test wasn’t around when he was conceived.

#5  Our bond with Eddie has strengthened as his reliance and trust in us grows.

#4  We’ve had a lot of laughs and entertaining stories at Eddie’s expense. It’s a balancing tradeoff for all the angst he’s given us.

#3  Eddie and Bella have always been good buddies, but it’s heartwarming to watch Bella’s devoted support and genuine companionship. She too has become more patient and compassionate.

#2  Once he’s fully blind, we can turn off all the lights and save on electricity.

#1  There’s hope that we might be able to sleep through the night again!

The doggie eye doc said that Eddie should be considered “low vision” until he becomes blind. And just how will we know when that happens? We thought it would be when he stopped barking for us to turn on the light. But now he barks even more, as if to ask, “What time is it? Day or night? Where is everyone? Is anybody home?” Lately we’ve witnessed Eddie bumping into all sorts of large obstacles, so for all intents and purposes our sweet Eddie is blind as blind can be, and we are learning to be his seeing eye humans.

Eddie’s world has changed, and yet it’s surprisingly the same. He still loves to bring in the morning newspaper – and even though he has to be led to the paper, shreds the front page picking it up, drops it rounding the corner, and knocks over a pot or two on the way in he feels the same sense of pride in doing his job. It’s rewarding to watch his confidence grow even as his sight fades away. As long as he can do the things he’s always loved to do, then of course his life is well worth living and there is brightness in the blinding darkness.

There have been exasperating times when Eddie’s piercing bark has tried my patience to the point of tears and yelling, which of course only caused him to bark more incessantly. Eddie’s blindness has made us better people as we tap into our humorous zen mode to deal with his confusion, frustration, and safety. The least we can give our loyal companion who showers us with his unconditional love is our clear-eyed devotion.

And maybe a crash helmet.

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