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Loving Lenny

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

“Something is wrong.”

It was three years ago today on a bright, cold winter Saturday morning in February. I had popped out of bed early and hurriedly thrown on a pair of old jeans and a comfy sweatshirt, excited that this much-anticipated day had finally arrived. After six full days of this animal-lover’s pleading and begging on Facebook for someone to adopt a sweet, lonely pit bull mix that had found his way to our local animal shelter, my prayer had finally been answered. Little “Lenny” (the name I promptly bestowed upon him after observing his ‘gentle giant’ ways that mirrored his namesake in the classic Of Mice and Men) was going home! And who had adopted him?

Lenny’s shelter photo – Facebook, Feb 2015

You guessed it—me!

After seeing that there was no public interest in saving this sweet boy from his ever looming demise date, my big-hearted husband finally gave in. Lenny was coming home to join our family. Lenny would be pet number five.

The only problem we faced was timing. The shelter (which was unfortunately not a no-kill shelter) had scheduled sweet Lenny to be put to sleep on Friday. But because of mine and my husband’s out-of-town work schedules, neither of us could work it out to go pick up our sweet boy before closing time on Friday. So, the shelter graciously agreed to extend his date to Saturday—with our promise that we’d definitely show up by the time they closed at noon. No problem! I rose with the sun with my happy heart pounding out of my chest. Our baby was coming home!

And then I walked into the living room and everything changed.

There lied my precious fat calico kitty Patches on her little pet bed, struggling for air.

“Something is wrong.”

At first the words came out in a whisper, but as I realized the seriousness of the situation, they gained strength.

“Something is wrong!”

I called out to my husband, “Richard! Something is wrong with Patches!”

My husband came into the room and said, “Let’s get her to the vet. Hurry.”

I began scrambling for my shoes and for a large towel to wrap my sweet cat in. We rushed to the car and started the thirty minute drive to town, with me all the while holding my fluffy girl like a baby in my arms in the passenger seat. We made it to the emergency vet and while my husband ran to the counter to explain what was happening, my beautiful cat’s gentle sweet soul left her body as she lay in my arms in the waiting room.

My girl was gone.

The last photo of Patches – February 6, 2015

Just like that. This day that was supposed to be filled with such anticipated joy was just bombarded with a soul-crushing sadness that I couldn’t possibly have seen coming. I heard voices swirling around me, offering help–burial services, cremation–but all I could do was look at the lifeless eyes lying in my aching arms. My sweet girl had seen me through so much over the past few years. She had watched my children grow with me. She saw my marriage fall apart. She saw me fall in love again and welcomed this new, amazing man into our world. She had been my constant through all the changes swirling around me.

And now she was gone.

I looked up into my husband’s empathetic eyes and saw the pain I was feeling reflecting back at me. He gently took my arm and led me to the car. I wouldn’t let Patches go. I held onto her lifeless body and couldn’t bring myself to put her down.

“Honey. We have to get to the shelter.”

My husband’s sobering words pulled me out of my stupor and I glanced at the clock. 11:00 a.m. In the rush of the morning’s tragic events, time had slipped away from me. We lost my baby that morning but we still had work to do. We didn’t have time to take my sweet Patches home and bury her and come back to get Lenny. We had no choice. We had to go straight to the shelter or we’d be too late.

We pulled into the parking lot of the shelter and my strong, stable husband finally convinced me to turn my kitty over to him. He gently took her from my arms, covered her lifeless body with the towel, and placed her into a box. We had no choice but to lay her sweet body in the trunk until we could get her home to her proper burial. After we got her in place, my husband took my hand and walked me into the shelter. There, we found our Lenny.

And he was terrified.

My eyes locked onto his and I saw his fear of the unknown. I saw the uncertainty and questions that I was feeling too. Could I do this? Could I switch gears so suddenly? From the heartbreaking pain of loss straight into the joy of a new adoption?

No. I couldn’t. And my sweet Lenny didn’t expect me to.

Dragging our terrified new pet to our car, my husband placed him in the backseat. And, in a last minute mindless decision, I climbed back there with him. We both cried all the way home. Both of us were scared. Both of us were leaving what was familiar to us and embarking on a journey where nothing would ever be the same. Both of us were shaking, sad, and weak.

Lenny’s ride home from the shelter – 2/7/2015

We needed each other more than ever.

Now, three years later, here we are. We’ve adjusted. My sweet Lenny helped me through one of the hardest days of my life back then. And I think I helped him through his, too. We snuggled on the couch on that cold Saturday back in February until our pain began to subside. We held onto each other until we realized that our broken hearts had just enough room for each other. My gentle giant coaxed me back to happiness and taught me to open my heart to another furry soul. And I taught him that some people just won’t ever leave you.

They just won’t.

We’re a team now, sweet Lenny and me. We didn’t have the happiest of starts, but we’ve promised each other that we’ll have a happy ending. Instead of me saving him, he saved me.

Someone told me once that they believed that my precious Patches chose February 7, 2015 to leave me on purpose. She knew that this would be the day that I would be able to accept her departure. I don’t know about all that. But I do know this.

A whole big furry ball of gentleness and love immediately filled the spot that she left behind. Was that divine intervention? I don’t know.

But I certainly know who’s a good boy.  My Lenny, that’s who.

Lenny and mom. February 2018.

***

“When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”
– Bruce Cameron

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The Resistance: Naomi’s Story

As a writer, sometimes I see words from others that are so much more powerful than anything I could’ve come up with myself. This is one of those times. Read Naomi Johnson’s words below, and ask yourself: what will you do today to change the world?

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“Did you ever think as a child that you would have helped Jesus carry his cross? Did you ever pretend you would have taken in a Jewish family and shelter them at your own peril? When I read “The Diary of Ann Frank” as a child, I fantasized I would do just that. I was young during the Civil Rights era. I saw my mom and dad stand up to racism in the 50’s and 60’s, but I was too young to register to vote or stand in solidarity. But I was certain I would have.

The ensuing years were spent rearing a family, working, and being caught up in life. There wasn’t much opportunity to be brave. But now we are here, and a defining moral decision is facing us, each and every one.

As a financial advisor, you are ill-advised to discuss religion and politics and many other personal topics with clients and prospects. In the Spring of 2016, I made a decision. I was going to become as authentic as I could be in my life, and share my journey and my truth.

I decided to speak out about my past sexual abuse, in the context of Donald Trump and his mis-treatment of women. I began up speak openly about my struggle to rebuild my life after being filled with guilt, fear and shame as a result. I shared my struggle with using food to stuff emotions and hide my damaged sexuality under a layer of fat. No one is more invisible in society than a fat woman.

I spoke honestly about the effects of my issues on my children, and how I was trying to be a better mother to my adult children than I was when they were young. When it seemed appropriate, I would ask clients about their tender spots, their struggles, what kept them up at night, their regrets, their hopes and dreams.

Here is the truth, it was the bravest thing I have ever done. I began to speak out about what I saw happening. Those who have been my Facebook friends know that all to well! I shared my feelings of horror about many of the evangelical leaders supporting Donald Trump. I shared how disheartened I was when Franklin Graham got behind Donald Trump, and that is not a popular stance here in Boone, North Carolina, the home of Samaritan’s Purse.

I shared how my family was so split over the election and the pain that caused. I talked about racism, and other hot button issues, including gender issues. When a client ridiculed Caitlin Jenner, I asked him point blank, “Have you ever thought about how much emotional pain a man would have to be in to have the gender reassignment surgery? (Truth alert, I was a bit cruder than that). He flinched, but there was a long pause as he admitted that he had not thought about that.

I lost some clients. I knew I would when I made the decision. I will probably lose more. And I am okay with that. Because doing the hard thing is worth it. To be open and not have to hide what I believe is worth it. To integrate my work and my life is worth it. And I have learned so much more about my clients’ hopes and fears, for when I became more open, so did they.

I do not have the answers to the divisive issues of our day. But I know this, the issues are hard and the solutions are complex. I know this: There is no “secret plan to defeat ISIS in 30 days”; I know that health care is complex; I know that normalizing racism is wrong; I know that name calling and mocking people is unworthy of a president; I know that a lie is a lie; I know that The Bible says that even the very elect will be deceived.

When I decided to embrace a more authentic life, I believe that, in some mystical way, I am helping Jesus carry the cross, I am housing the refugees, I am more openly standing against racism. These blessings more than make up for some lost revenue. And I believe that there are people who will find me and my partner Seth because we will take a stand.

I know this. It may get much worse, much faster than we can imagine. There are Nazis marching openly in the street. My dad and mom served in WWII to stop this evil. There are white supremacists marching openly with assault rifles, in front of the police, beating and kicking those in the resistance. Imagine if those young men were black, carrying assault rifles and jostling the police? Resisting the rising tyranny will be the defining moral issue of this time.

Here is my challenge to each of you: do what is right. It is as simple as that. You intuitively knew as a child what that was. You know you dreamed of being brave. You know how hard it is to stand against a bully. You have the chance today to take a morally courageous stand against what is being normalized in America. Become the adult your child dreamed you would be. Be brave. Like my mom, who left Ashe County, North Carolina, to fight Hitler. Like my dad, who left high school in Vermont to enlist and fight Hitler.

Welcome to the resistance!”

– Naomi Johnson

Naomi Johnson’s brave and courageous mother who served her country in WWII.

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  “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.”
– Bob Marley