Archive | Joy

Love and Loss


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Kani with Rio and his band

Kani (center) with Rio and his band

I recently lost a friend. And that loss hit me harder than I expected.

I was sad when I got the email that Sidney, a beautiful 12-year-old buckskin mare, had died after a brief bout with colic. We weren’t particularly close, although I would say Hello when I saw her and she would greet me, and I always had the feeling she wanted me to call her Heidi instead of Sidney. I thought fondly of her, but I thought more about Kama Kani, who was powerfully bonded to Sidney. I wondered how he would do without her; she was his anchor, his bridge to the rest of the herd.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Less than a week later Kani passed as well. I read the email that morning and wept, with a profound sense of… a lot of things. Maybe I should say I felt many things, especially a sense of the profoundness of this particular moment.

For one thing, I realized in that moment not only how much I loved him, but how much I owed him. He was pretty wild and nervous when he arrived at the ranch yet, while I was cautious around him, I was never afraid of him. And he rewarded me by being the first horse to ask me for Reiki. He taught me what I could do by asking me to do it, and he taught me to recognize the Ask. We grew to trust each other. That story, and the journey it launched, became my first published article.

Kani gave me confidence.

Kani lived most of his life in isolation from other horses, so he came to the herd in a state of… arrested development. Socially retarded. Even though he was an adult, he was like a gangly teenager, learning how to be in the world. Like a teenager, he quickly fell for Sidney when he arrived, and they became a bonded pair. But since he didn’t know how to interact with a herd and didn’t have much confidence, he got pushed around and had low status in the herd… until Rio arrived and carved out a mini-herd-within-the-herd, one that included Sidney – and Kani. Because where Sidney went, Kani went. Rio accepted Kani as part of the package, and Kani’s status in the herd increased.

When Kani came to the ranch, he arrived with the information that he was 18. He also arrived with his ribs showing and an unhappy stomach – for which he asked me for Reiki. But a year later, a visiting dentist said that, based on the condition of his teeth, Kani was likely closer to 30 – making him one of the elders of the herd. It also meant that most of the grass and hay he ate wasn’t getting chewed well and was passing through him mostly undigested. He was immediately put on a routine of twice daily feedings of mash. He appreciated the food and the attention, and he quickly got in the habit of leaving his pals and coming in willingly. And as he started getting more nutrition and his gut felt better he calmed even more and asked me for Reiki less often.

One day I was visiting the herd and I watched as Kani realized he could move Rio and the others – and he did. And they let him. He moved them around the pasture, having a ball. Again he was like an awkward, gangly, blossoming teenager, realizing what he was capable of and discovering his power. Yet he was an old man. I watched him, and my heart filled with joy.

Kani gave me joy.

I will also never forget the day Sharon and I went out to the pasture to bring Kani in for his evening feeding. It was one of the rare occasions that he and Sidney were separated, as she was in the barn recovering from a deep cut on her leg. We found Kani grazing contentedly with Rio and his band, put a halter on him and coaxed him away. I led him down the hill, and we got across the tiny creek at the bottom with no trouble. We headed toward the barn, and then something spooked him and he started circling me while I held on to the lead rope. I saw the two newest members of the herd pass us, and I realized they must have goosed him as they passed.

I managed to calm him and we headed off again toward the barn… until we passed the two newbies. Enjoying the realization that they were higher in status than someone, they came up behind us and moved Kani again. He stayed with me and didn’t bolt back to his pals, but he left his body and started circling again. This time, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t stop him. I started to get dizzy, going around with him. Sharon stepped in and I handed her the lead and stepped out, like a couple of girls jumping rope. She was also unable to stop him. Suddenly Michele, another member of the ranch team, appeared and stepped in and took the lead rope. She stood stock still, passing the lead from hand to hand around her, not turning with him, talking calmly, and suddenly they were moving forward to the barn.

He could have hurt us, but he didn’t.

And just like that day in the paddock when he trusted me enough to ask for Reiki and I trusted him enough be in that paddock with him, Kani gave me his trust, and I gave him mine.

On one of my last visits with him, I saw him with Sidney, apart from the others. I headed over to them, and he came to greet me. He didn’t ask for Reiki; we just stood together, enjoying the sunshine while Sidney slowly moved away down the valley, grazing. I scratched the hollow above his eye, and then he turned and followed Sidney.

Many times in the week after Sidney died, I held Kani in my thoughts and scratched that hollow above his eye.

So I wasn’t surprised when I saw the email with just his name in the subject line. I read the story of his decline and peaceful passing, and I wept as I thought about all he gave me. I wept as I pondered this equine version of those human love stories about life partners who pass within months, weeks or days of each other.

It occurred to me that he was not unlike the clients I worked with as a Job Coach, all of them challenged in some way, many of them unsure of themselves when we met, all of them delightful and earnest and brilliant. I thought about going to work with them, learning their jobs just one step ahead of them, learning things from them, and being so proud of them as they kept showing up and made places for themselves.

As Kimberly Carlisle, co-founder of The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership, which had adopted Kani, wrote,

“Though I grieve them both deeply, unlike the raw, too early departure of Sidney, Kani’s passing was bittersweet. Though he had lived alone for most of his 30 years, in his 18 months with our herd he had become a complete horse — more confident, balanced, trusting and expressive.”

I pondered all of this, remembering my time with him, and suddenly Kani was here with me. He looked around my apartment, and sniffed at my collection of pictures of roads. Pictures of going places.

After years of being alone in one place, Kani, you got to go places. You are going places.


Life is full of mysteries, and this is one. Sidney went first, and quickly… one day after Kani’s health began to decline. He passed less than a week after Sidney. Did he go because he was pining for her? Did his compromised health make it hard to survive his grief? I think there is something else to consider. What if… knowing that Kani would linger here and refuse to pass when it was time rather than leave her, Sidney chose to go first so that Kani would be free to go?

We’ll never know.

What I do know is that theirs is one of the great love stories. Sidney was a miracle horse, fighting to recover from a malady that almost killed her, coming back to meet Kani and bond with him. And Kani’s is a story of second chances, proof positive that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.


That night I had a dream about a horse. I was standing in the elevator lobby at a hospital where I used to work, and a black and white tweed horse (yes, black tweed with light flecks, not Kani’s copper red hair) stood with me. The elevator door opened, he kissed me on the cheek, and got on the elevator to go find his beloved.


Good-bye, Kani and Sid. My life is better for having known you.

Happy Birthday, Bruce!


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Happy Brithday, Bruce! You would have been 65 today, and it would be a significant event.

You probably wouldn’t want a big party, but we would observe the day somehow… a drive through the country, a visit to a lake, the first eggnog of the year, orange cranberry muffins (you’d only eat the top – that’s what “muffin top” means to me). Breakfast for dinner, sushi for breakfast.

I remember one year Aunt Norma asked me what you’d like for your birthday. She told me she was thinking of getting you a shirt. I told her how you asked me early on in our relationship to promise I would NEVER buy you clothes for your birthday or Christmas. You had told me how you had gotten clothes as presents as a kid, and how you thought those were rotten gifts – you wanted TOYS. So I always made sure you got fun stuff. Aunt Norma was surprised – but she didn’t buy you a shirt. I helped her get you a juicer, and you loved it.

I also remember how you asked my mom to send you gift certificates from Lands End so you could pick out your own gifts – flannel shirts, turtlenecks, and so on. But the last few years you used those gift certificates to buy my Christmas presents: Shearling slippers, a monogrammed spa robe. You felt bad about being so disabled you couldn’t work and earn money to spend – to contribute, to spend on me – but the gift certificates were yours, so you used them on me. And you asked me to promise not to tell her. Oops, too late now.

I wish… I wish we had talked about death, dying. We didn’t. Not much, anyway. Even though we knew it was coming. I had my own baggage, and I stupidly feared that talking about your death would somehow damage your will to live.

I was wrong. I know that now.

You were always better about admitting you were wrong than I was. It took me a long time to learn that, and you were a good teacher.

I want you to know… I’m doing OK. Better than OK. It’s been a long process, with a lot of healing, a lot of choices. It took a long time for me to remember more than your last days. To remember the fun. The life.

To feel more than the searing loss. To feel your presence more than your absence.

The presence that made me laugh. That held me. That once wrote, “Remember my eyes, they’re just for you.”

Happy Birthday, Bruce. I hope, I believe, I know, you are out there. Dancing. Standing straight and tall. Helping people and animals. Watching over me as I learn to live. As I learn to love.

Happy Birthday, you awesome spirit. I wish more people had known you like I did.

Love,

Susan T.

Sweet Moments


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My aunt was the first to arrive for our combined Mother’s Day/Birthday Party. She began assembling a tray of appetizers, and I leaned over and whispered, “Did you forget to bring Uncle Jim?”

She straightened up and said, “Oh! He’s coming separately in the Austin Healey, so he can take you for a ride.”

Squeal!!!!!

My uncle has loved these feisty little British sports cars for as long as I can remember and, although he’s had one for years, I’ve lived elsewhere since he bought this one and I’ve only ever heard about it and the rallies he and my aunt go to, much less ridden in it. Ooooooh, the excitement!

We had a lovely family dinner – my mom, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins, their spouses and kids. I only get to see them once or twice a year when I come to town, and we just pick up where we left off with stories and catching-up and lots of silliness.

As dinner wound down and we heaved a collective sigh of contentment (except for six-year-old Daniel, who had asked several times to be excused from the table but hadn’t yet been released to his own devices), my uncle and I made eye contact across the table and said, “I’m ready.”

I leapt up and ran upstairs to get my jacket (the fastest I’d moved since hurting my foot three weeks earlier). We went outside into the evening and walked up to the little white roadster at the curb. He unbuttoned the leather cover and opened the door for me, and I lowered myself in and fastened my seat belt. He got in, and pushed the button to start the electric fuel pump and started the car. The engine roared to life, and we drove off into the sunset.

(Seriously, how often do you get to say that?)

He took me on a route I knew well, down a long winding road overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, which were backlit by a deep orange sunset. I knew the route, but it looked different from that little roadster with its tiny windscreen, close to the ground and with nothing between me and the evening sky.

We headed down toward the water, and he told me all about the little white Austin Healey. It was a 1957, the first year they made them with six cylinders instead of four. He told me the history of the Austin Healey in general, what type of fuel he uses, the different things he’s had done to the car, what’s on his wish list for future upgrades.

We drove down to the beach and cruised through the deepening orange-purple evening. I waved a Princess Wave at people in a restaurant facing the water, and they enthusiastically waved back.

I asked him when he knew he first wanted one of these, and he said, “I tell people I was standing at a bus stop when I was in high school and one drove by, and I fell in love.”

This is my uncle, who told me I looked pretty when my mom and my aunt were hemming my first formal gown for a big high school dance and my dad wasn’t around to tell me. My uncle who called to commiserate and make sure I was ok after my first (and, knock-wood, only) accident in the Corvette two years after Bruce died. My uncle who doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s good. He talked all the way around Alki Beach.

So I asked him, “What’s the best thing about driving this car?”

He didn’t answer at once, but different things came to him as we cruised along. Here is (in no particular order) Uncle Jim’s Top 5 List of The Best Things About Driving a 1957 Austin Healey:

  • Just driving it around, and having people look.
  • The stories people tell him: “I used to have one of those,” “My first boyfriend had one of those,” “I’ve always wanted one of those.” Not envy, just sharing stories.
  • Feeling the wind in your hair.
  • Being part of a group that has something in common. (They’re members of an Austin Healey club and go to several events a year.)
  • Driving the stick shift – it’s just fun.

In other words, Joy. Fun. Community. And Making a Dream Come True. And encouraging other people to make their dreams come true.

Pretty cool stuff.

By the time we got back, it was full dark. But I suspect the grin on my face lit up the neighborhood more brightly than the moon.

Thanks, Uncle Jim.

What do you love about your life? Where do you find joy, fun, community? Have you made your dreams come true? If not, what are you waiting for?

Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parkinson’s, Dance, Spasmodic Dysphonia, Singing – and Joy


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Friday night I luckily tripped over a story on the Newshour on PBS, which was rebroadcast from December 2010.

Watch this video. Substitute…

  • “Dance” for “Sing”
  • “Dance class” for “Choir practice”
  • “Look” for “Sound”
  • “Movement” for “Speech”
  • “Physical” for “Vocal”
  • “Parkinson’s” for “Spasmodic Dysphonia”

Yes.

This is vocalizing with Spasmodic Dysphonia, and it is one of the reasons I am so happy to have returned to singing. Dancing and singing bring joy under normal circumstances, but even more so under these circumstances. My voice works better when I sing, just like they move better when they dance. And it hopefully explains what I mean by learning to speak more like I sing.

I am reminded of something my brother told me, that his singing instructor said to him: “Good speech is half sung.”

And there’s that Joy thing again. It keeps coming up.

Thanks for listening.

A Place for Joy – in Business?


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I have pretty amazing friends

Not long ago I invited some friends to support me in making a long-time dream of mine come true. In my letter, I explained what I wanted them to do, and I suggested four things that were in it for them if they helped:

  • Joy.
  • Curiosity. (“Can she do it?” “What’s it like to learn a new instrument?”)
  • Regular updates.
  • Music! I promised them a concert at the end of six months.

I invited about 95 people. I expected four or five to respond.

35 people pledged their support.

That’s right, thirty-five.

In marketing terms, that’s a 37% conversion rate.

I was shocked and amazed. Blown away!

So, I’m learning to play the banjo. (So far I know eight chords, I’m on my way to mastering one finger-picking pattern, and I’ve already created my own lick.)

I started wondering…

Once I got over the shock and awe, I started wondering. What the heck had I said that inspired them to respond in such droves? Granted, I have pretty amazing friends, many of whom have supported me in a variety of ways for years. Others among this group I confess I don’t know as well.

What the heck had I done to get a 37% conversion rate? And could I apply it to my business?

Maybe I just have amazing friends

At first I chalked it up to their being my friends and generally cool people. But in the small-business marketing circles I’m in, there’s a lot of talk about finding your “right people” (which is even more targeted than “target audience”). In marketing terms, I clearly found my Right People – at least for this.

Was there more to it?

I tried to leave it at that. But being the curious person that I am, I couldn’t stop wondering: Was there more to it? So I asked some of the people who had stepped up: What was it that inspired them?

I got two main responses (from everyone I asked):

Joy.

And they get to help make a dream come true.

That they responded with “Joy” didn’t really surprise me, since I had put that in the letter. (Although I was really pleased that it so appealed to them.) But I didn’t really think that would help me much with my business; after all, Joy isn’t something you hear about that much in the business world.

That they leapt at the chance to help make a dream come true didn’t surprise me much either, because they are all extraordinary people. What is interesting is that I didn’t use those words in my letter. But I had written a compelling message, so that aspect came through.

How awesome is that? But I didn’t think that would help me much in my business either, because people aren’t going to give me their business so that they can make MY dreams come true.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it

I still couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I remembered how I had heard Rich Sheridan, the founder of Menlo Innovations, say that it was his goal to for his people to be joyful at work. Maybe, I thought, that isn’t such a foreign concept after all.

If it’s not about joy, what is it about?

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Curiosity, wonder, employee engagement, courage, drawing people out, bringing people together… if it’s not about joy, what is it about?

So when someone asked me a few days ago what business I’m in, I explained that I am a small business consultant and coach, and I work with individuals and small business to identify the obstacles that are holding them back and work over, under, around, or through them … (and I went out on a limb here) so they can get the joy back in what they do.

Wow! She started telling me all about her business and how she’s lost the joy and what her big struggle is. Amazing.

A few days later a gentleman asked me about my business, and I told him the same thing. He’d been taking notes, but he lit up and really started scribbling when I talked about getting the joy back.

And he hired me.

A place for joy in business

Maybe there is a place for talking about joy in business. There is certainly a place for joy in our lives, and small business people often pick their our businesses because what they we do gives them us joy. And when we lose that it’s a sad thing.

I get a lot of joy from talking to people about what they do, what they would like to do better, and working with them to do that. It’s not the only thing that brings me joy, but it sure is a part of my work. Joy is contagious. And working with people to bring back their joy – or to find it for the first time – now that’s a dream come true.

What brings you joy – in your life, or in your work? Is it missing? Let’s find it.

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