Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Morning After


It’s early in the morning and I was awakened by the cackling of the crows outside our bedroom window.  They make a racket, but not a bad racket.  I often wonder what they are chortling about as they go one with one another, never in soft voices, always cawing out with passion and self-assurance.  It’s clear they don’t care what anyone thinks of them.  I like that about them. 

The other thing that woke me up was Will’s grumbling.  He wakes up in the middle of the night, or really early in the morning, before the sun is up, and stumbles out of his bed like a soldier still drunk from the night before, bumping into things as he makes his way into the living room to get a drink of water.  Perhaps a snack from last night’s dinner, as well, which he never quite finishes.  This last part drives Atticus a bit nuts, to see food being left for later.  Fortunately, Atticus is good about leaving it even though I know he is tempted by it.  When Will comes back into the bedroom he’s still a bit wobbly, but not nearly as much.  He flops down, always touching his bed but at least half out of it.  He grumbles because he’s cold.  I wake up, cover him with a blanket or two again, and he grumbles two or three more times before the snores take over and he’s goes somewhere else for a few hours and we hear little else from him.

Will sleeps well the day after an event.  He’s a fellow who likes routine and when out of it, he doesn’t sleep as much.  He slept in the car on the way to last night’s event, and again on the way home, but while there he walks around non-stop unless he’s being held.  Just like the early morning crows he doesn’t seem to care much about what else is around him.  He’s not bowed by perception.  He simply is who he is, but I think he misses his bed. 

Last night he spent half of the event with Kathy Lanigan, a Following Atticus member who met him in Concord at an event the first week Will came to live with us, and again in Hopkinton, NH at another where she was kind enough to spend much of the event with him while Atticus and I did our thing. 

Atticus is next to me, lying perpendicular; we are connected at the hips.  When not in bed, however, we connect through the eyes.  We don’t have to be physically touching, just through a silent and watchful gaze.  Last night he wasn’t all that impressed. He stretched his body on the blanket on top of a table and looked like he was sleeping, but he didn’t miss a thing. Always the eyes follow me. 

On the way home from Bethlehem, on a night with clouds carrying today’s rain, there were still a few stars to be seen so we stopped to clear our heads.  We were at the crown of Crawford Notch, a place Nathaniel Hawthorne likened to the gates to Dante’s underworld.  I brought a couple of headlamps along and we entered the trail that leads to Mount Jackson.  We weren’t heading to the summit, but to a lookout just off the trail soon after the beginning.  It’s called Elephant’s Head, and from the road that’s exactly what this rock formation looks like, ears and trunk included.  It’s a twisting little climb and took us a bit of time since I carried Will in my arms and took care over the rough rocks that make up most of our trails here in the White Mountains.  When we spilled out onto the flat ledge on top we looked down into the darkness and up at the shadowy and dramatic rock formations on either side of us.  We were dwarfed in the pitch by the silent behemoth of mountains and by the bottomless pit. 

Atticus sat and seemed to be interacting with those mountains rising above us and the few stars looking down on us. He sighed and sat.  He did what he does when we get to a viewpoint, even on a night when there wasn’t much to see. 

Will sat on my lap.  He didn’t sleep. I supported his head which dangles from a loose neck like an old flower, and he also seemed to be taking in the quiet and shared solitude of this natural cathedral. 

After an event it’s good to get out for a few minutes of quiet.  They really are exciting and fun, the crowd is ebullient and the exchange between speaker and audience is palpable.  But afterward we three seek out a space where there is nothing but nature. 

Sitting on top of Elephant’s Head last night, and here in bed this morning, I pick up pieces of the talk and think about the faces we met.  I never remember what I say after a talk, and sometimes I think that’s a good thing.  It just rolls out there and I laugh and sometimes people laugh along with me.  But what I enjoy the most, and is the most fleeting of a public event, is meeting people after the talk.  I always have to keep an eye on Atticus and Will to make sure they are comfortable, but the other eye and both my ears go to the conversations I’m having as people come up to get a book signed. 

I’m one of those authors who considers himself very fortunate to hear the stories I do from many of you.  I like to know where people are from, look into their eyes, even if just for a second, feel a connection between two strangers who don’t feel quite like strangers, and listen.  I’m moved by how far some folks travel from to see us, and moved by some of the stories.  Often I hear about cancer or the death of someone they loved and how our story was shared with the person before they died or maybe it’s how it was read as a family or how the person is finishing (or starting) the four thousand footers.  But the one that gets to me the most, and I think I hear this at nearly every event, and sometimes more than once, are the number of people who have left behind unhappy situations because of what they read in Following Atticus. Many times it’s women leaving behind abuse and this catches me to the quick.  They’ve been beaten, controlled, their freedom smothered, their dignity robbed from them – but not completely, because somehow they found a way to get out and move on and put the pieces back together.  Sometimes it’s about leaving behind a job or a career or a marriage that wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t what love is supposed to be about.  These stories of change and transformation are the ones I enjoy the most. 

Last night I met an elderly couple.  He was excited and going on, she lovingly looked at him and the line of people behind them, and softly redirected him, “We’re getting married this weekend. Please write something about that in our book.”  They had both been married for years but had lost their beloved spouses in the last few years only to find each other to start anew.  I told them about Will’s story a bit more.  The part about it’s never too late to love or be loved again.  They smiled and went on their way, ready to get married, ready to trust in love again. 

Another woman last spoke softly.  So softly I had to put my hand on her shoulder and lean in with my ear.  At first she looked at my hand and then warmed to it and smiled and leaned into me. She was gentle, both in demeanor and in voice.  “He used to hit me,” she said.  She stopped. Gathered herself and began again. “I left.  I left when I read about you changing your life. I’m happier.  I have a ways to go but I belong to me again. Thank you.”  She pecked me on the cheek and she was gone. 

I don’t always remember the names of everyone, but I don’t forget the faces, especially the expressions, and I never forget the stories. 

It will be a slow day for us. The morning after is always slow. We pace ourselves.  We’re worn out, but filled up at the same time, looking to move forward. Inspired by what I’ve heard.  Events are draining but uplifting.  It’s one of the reasons I’m careful about which ones to accept.  But in the day after I pick up the pieces of what I’ve heard and think about those who shared a small but important piece of their life with me.  And I’m grateful.
   

18 comments:

Tim M. said...

Always enjoy reading your blog. I am only sorry that I live here in Ohio and am unable to attend any of your personal appearances. So I follow your blog and your Facebook postings and imagine that I am there vicariously.

adrian klitenick-hashai said...

a beautiful blog today. thank you for sharing such moving stories.

Linda English said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing these beautiful vignettes.

Shannon said...

Thank you so much for sharing these stories. You never know what someone will latch on to and make the change they've needed for so long. I know how your book affected me, and it is wonderful to hear how it affects others. Have a great day!!

SILVIA SOOS-KAZEL said...

Your Blog today does confirm that extending to others, be they unknown to oneself definitely becomes a beautiful returned gratitude gift experienced many times over. Pleased for you, Atticus and Will for another successful audience exchange. Your portrayal of your respite within the comforts of an evening in nature is enticingly inviting.

Kim Hampton said...

Thank you for the post, a wonderful visit with friends…the nicest way to start a day :) While I have never had the opportunity to tell you this in person I, too, found courage and inspiration to make significant life changes from Following Atticus. I left behind a big salary attached to a miserable job, became a vegetarian, and went off in pursuit of work that I love. Life is an adventure, a blessing, a chance to pay it forward to those who are ready to take a risk and make a change.

I treasure you all, and while we may never meet I hold you close to my heart always.
Blessings and thanks,
Kim

Janice Hummel said...

What I so love is that you never take for granted the impact that the weight of your words have. That is a true gift. Thank you, Tom.

Arline Cochrane said...

In the last month I have had the pleasure of meeting with 2 authors, one just starting in her career and one very well established. I like the fact that they share the quality of humbleness and enjoy their readers and what they think and feel. Thank you, Tom for your wonderful blog & for sharing with so many so much of your life.

Sharron Restivo said...

How wonderful your event must have been last night ...only wished I could have been there too... But listening to you and recalling all the stories and the life changing events in peoples lives is so very heartwarming .... Your life with Atticus, and Will has been so inspiring to so many people all over the world , that just saying Thank You never seems to be enough !!! Sharing your world is The world to many of us on a daily basis .... Giving hope and promise that life will sustain us ...what a gift from you always !!!❤️❤️❤️

Anonymous said...

Tom, another wonderful blog! Always enjoy living through the life you, Atticus & Will have with your gifted writing. The three of you are truly an inspiration! I will always be so grateful to Maxwell Garrison Gillis for opening up your heart!

Unknown said...

After reading your post, this one, another one, doesn't matter~ I always have that *morning after* feeling. You impart so much hope, wisdom, strength and above all, love! I also have dogs, 3 elderly, and through you I have come to feel different about their thoughts, desires and feelings. Same for my husband, who has Alzheimer's and needs special attention as well. We are all different~ We all smile more~
I thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this rather intimate snapshot of your thoughts.
Lori

Laura D. said...

Thank you for sharing Tom. Always makes my hectic day a little calmer to read of your family and escapades.

Carter W Rae said...

Enjoyed your blog here Tom you captured the feelings and event just right you all three of you are like book ends plus one!!! Looked like a fine event and enjoyed the story about the older couple too so touching and true ... Always enjoy Following Atticus with you .. all the best and looking forward to the next book I cannot begin to tell you how pleased we are with the large group of "Followers" we did and do enjoy the connection a slice of life and joy with you guys.. Always knew this form the beginning hugs for Will and treats for Atti Stacy and Carter long time Followers enjoying the ride !!! Onward by all means ;-)

Anonymous said...

I saw you three last night and enjoyed the event very much. I read your book when it first came out and follow your Facebook...this is the first blog I've read. I can relate to your relationship with Will...my husband is ill and some of the feelings you express about loving and living with him are the same ones I feel and you help me sometimes when I'm afraid of what is happening or sorry for myself...sometimes just nothing you can do but sit and be quiet and be patient and reflect and pray. Thank you...onward by all means...

nancy gualtieri said...

Every day you inspire us in so many ways, not just your words, but, more in the paths you have chosen. Meeting you, Atticus and Will last night will be a night I will never forget. I must confess when I am 90ish and in a nursing home I hope to gaud they have someone like you there ;) May the forest be forever with you and your family. Thank you so very much <3 <3 <3

Ursula R said...

I'm so envious of the people who get the chance to meet you, Atticus and Will. Your book and blog are very inspiring, but seeing the three of you in person would be the icing on the cake. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I just read in this blog, yet another of your special phases " I supported his head which dangles from a loose neck like an old flower" and hope that you never use up all your words and ideas and thoughts. May your wonderful gift continue to gift us all for many years to come!