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, October 20, 2016

Morning Reflections

It's not that early, but the stars and planets are still out. Slowly they turn and shimmer in the predawn sky outside my bedroom window as I listen to music and write letters. I'm not sure there are many better ways to start a day than with music, and maybe writing to those I love. (Well, I also find my religion when baking muffins, but not now, not while I'm being good and living mostly on whole foods as my insides catch up with my outside.)
I'm not sure what I was thinking back in May when I returned home from the hospital. I guess everything back then was about the necessities. How was I going to stand up? How was Atticus doing? When was I going to make it through a day without falling? I certainly didn't think this far ahead, and I never knew how long the trail would be to finding some physical semblance of myself. Because of that, I worked on my body, but more on my soul. I paid attention to the nuances of how I was feeling, and always . . . Always saying prayers of gratitude. 
I think that's how I survived, even when Atticus didn't. I prayed not in the hopes that something would come into my life but instead for what I was grateful for. No matter how small. 
"Thank you, God, for allowing me to wash the dishes without getting dizzy."
"Thank you for letting me hurt, because when I'm hurting at least I know I'm alive."
"Thank you for Cassie, my editor, who understands that when we talk on the phone about "Will's Red Coat" that I break down once in a while for no apparent reason and sob until I cannot breathe."
"Thank you for David and Lisa for allowing me to use the downstairs so that I don't have to go to a rehab facility."
"Thank you for my friends who are always within reach, whether it's Carrie and Gray taking me to the store, or Virginia to a doctor's appointment, or Roy for so much, or everyone else who is kind to me."
Then, when Atticus died, I still prayed, even through my grief. 
"Thank you for giving me a love that was something worth filling a book with."
"Thank you for allowing me to breathe today, to laugh, to cry, to remember. Thank you for letting me live, although I'm not sure why you did."
"Thank you for allowing me to start anew, but with everything I know now."
Hell, I even prayed thanks for having almost died numerous times because I knew that even in my weakness it made me stronger, and contributed to my story. 
There was much to be grateful for. 
Six months ago today I couldn't ride in a wheelchair from my hospital room to dialysis because I'd fall out of it whenever I fainted. They'd have to wheel me down a few floors in my bed or send a technician to my room for four hours of kidney cleaning on the days that were the worst. Six days a week I went through the drain of dialysis, and they were preparing me for a lifetime of treatments. The doctors would come by and try to smile and fail miserably, but I didn't. 
Six months ago, I couldn't lay flat in my hospital bed because I couldn't breathe and my lungs were drowning. I had to take oxygen through a hose. I could barely stand, and that was only with the help of a couple of nurses and a walker. Even then, when I couldn't read, or watch television because I couldn't concentrate, I'd look out the window, and I'd pray. Sometimes it was just two words, "Thank you."
One of my many nurses said to me, "Why are you so happy every day?"
"I have a lot to be happy about." 
When I wasn't praying, I replayed memories over and over. Always of mountain hikes with Atticus. On the worst of days, when the pain was the deepest, I'd think of our most arduous trips - those marathon treks through weather that turned bad, or up the steepest trails in the Whites at twenty-five below zero, silently pushing step after step with Atti. 
Yesterday, a chilling breeze came up when we were at Thorne Pond. I wasn't dressed for it. It ripped through my clothing and I shivered. Then I remembered all of those days in winter when it was just he and me and we'd emerge above treeline to dangerous winds and frostbite conditions. I'd feel the brutal cold and  I'd will myself to be warm. 
It's now the middle of October, and the sun is rising, and the sky is a slate gray. Samwise is eleven months old and being patient about going outside. The same crows that called to Atticus and me, and then Atticus, Will, and me, now call from the black ash tree outside our window for us to come out. I remind myself that I have to dig out my gloves and soon I'll have to start wearing my hiking shoes instead of my Keens. Is my phone charged so that I can take photos on our walk? What am I supposed to pick up at the grocery store?
Life is different these days. I have always lived in miracles, but the difference is today, while I still say my prayers of gratitude in a most basic manner, my heart is fuller than it's ever been. Life is more complete. I'm aware of all that has been taken from me, but more so of what I have gained. I have come to understand you have to lose almost everything to realize how much you have. Life, like the seasons, renews itself...and so have I.
I thank the Universe for friendship, love, and new adventures. 
What will the world show me today? I ask this knowing that I will be ready for whatever it is. 

46 comments:

Mari Smirh said...

Thank You.
Two of the most profound words in our language.

Jack Welsh said...

Good morning Tom,
You have brought tears to my eyes once again. i wish I was up there near you so I could be of some help to you. Please know that many many thousands of your readers and followers are there with you in loving spirit.
Be well and thank you for all that you write and share. I wish you a beautiful day.
Peace & Love
Jack

Christine Ambrose said...

Thank you Tom for your words of wisdom, for making me realize that my life however much I don't like it isn't that bad. Thank you for reminding me of Atticus and Will and the bond that you shared. And lastly thank you for Samwise and all of your new adventures that make my heart happy.

Katherine Beach said...

You are such a blessing...a much needed teacher. Thank you so much.

Pamela said...

Thank you......I get up every morning grateful and say....thank you.
I have come through 2 strokes and a heart attack and today I will rake leaves, walk my dog, turn my face to the sun and say thank you.
Thank you for putting it so eloquently.
XXXOOO

baltznoah said...

Tom, I think of the beautiful video of your walk yesterday. I thank you and all for those memories new and all

Richie said...

I love your big heart Tom.

Ellen01gw said...

There are no other words...thank you!

dennis said...

Dear Tom,

Thank you for sharing your life and your loves. I am enriched by your writing.To me, you are America's Paulo Coelho.

Liz Webster said...

Thank YOU, Tom, for sharing. Your graceful and grateful heart have been in concert with your healing every step of the way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tom.

Gloria Linnertz said...

Thanks Tom!

Isa said...

I'm going through so much hardship these days. I lost my beloved horse of 23 years 3 weeks ago and I stand to lose my last beloved pet Tucker my sweet rabbit perhaps as soon as a few days... your posts keep me going and remind me to stay positive. Isabelle

k kelly said...

You were left to say things to people that we need to hear. Thank you!

Jill Cooper said...

I needed this wonderful post today. Thank YOU!

Terie Christmas Davis said...

Thank you, as always, for those eloquent words that touch us all and reminding us how much we have to be thankful for. Sometimes it is so hard to see through the dark places that we have to walk through to come to a place of gratitude to see what God has in store for us. Your writing about thankfulness, after all you've been through, is like ripples through the water that effect the hearts of those who they touch. Thank you Tom for sharing your thoughts and heart.

Pam Bouquin said...

Thank you, Tom for your words. they are so profound and give me hope everyday

Coni E said...

There are so many that need to learn what you describe, mainly gratefulness. Thank you for the reminder.

Marilyn said...

I am an 80 year old, who takes care of her husband full time, so really appreciate the feeling of gratitude that helps our lives be so much better. I agree that being thankful for all in our lives makes it so worthwhile. I have been blessed with helpers in my daily life. I am grateful for my family, for all of my friends that help make each day joyful...
I love the connection with nature that you bring to us, as I have enjoyed a garden for the 57 years of our marriage, and since we can't do it ourselves that have garden helpers makes it so great.
So thank you for all of the times I have watched you out and about, and the enjoyment of reading your story...

Putman Lake Designs said...

Thank you Tom for speaking so eloquently about the journey you experienced. Somehow I had the feeling that things were extremely serious as soon as you entered the hospital. I am so very thankful that you are here to carry on.

Pam Noble said...

Thank you and bless you and all you touch with your words

Donna Heichel said...

To meet with God in the valley of our lives gives us strength to climb to the summits.

mlaiuppa said...

Thank you, Tom.

Thank you for sharing the beauty of your part of the country in both your photos and your words.

Thank you, for sharing Atticus, and then Will and now Samwise with us.

Thank you, for sharing yourself with us, a very personal and I'm sure sometimes painful thing to do.

My personal thank you? I'm going to Yosemite in May. I have a cabin reserved and a downpayment on a watercolor class. It's a six hour drive but I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it because of you. You inspired me. You motivated me.

So thank you so much. For sharing. For everything.

Linda Jane Rehwinkel said...

Thank You & Bless You.
God gave You life....as he KNOWS Your Beautiful Heart....and How much of a Blessing You are to ALL that are fortunate enough, to read your enriching words....Sending Love and wishing You Good Health....Linda

Missymia said...

As always Tom warm words filled with so much emotion and faith. Your outlook on life even at its darkest level is filled with thankfulness for all you have accomplished but also the strength and faith to strive to continue your life story with so much gratitude! Keep it up!! Onward my dear Tom!!

Betty and Lenny said...

Hi Tom,

As you continue to say prayers of gratefulness please know that we, too, are grateful that you made the choice to be brave, fight, and remain here with us.

Onward, dear friend, as you enjoy the beautiful days of Autumn.

oxox to you and Samwise.

Cay said...

I needed to read this today. Perhaps you are an answered prayer.

Candy said...

Thank you for keeping a blog.

Ruby Milam said...

Thank you Tom! I went through a very similar journey. Life will never be the same. I had plenty of time to reflect as I tried to gain my strength mental and physical back! I'm still not sure what the Lord has planned for me but I will carry on! I lost my boy Peetey after fourteen years and I am still grieving he was my friend! Your blogs and Facebook page helps me! Thank you again! Carry On!!!!

Bethany Osborne said...

Beautiful, Tom.

Beth Schell said...

Hi Tom...
I am so glad that I read your words this evening. They are just what I needed. I am so very grateful...



Donna Safford said...

Yes, we all have so much to be thankful for. Thank you for the personal and profound reminder. Have a great day, Tom. :)

Joan T. said...

Thank you, Tom for sharing so much of your personal life. You make us all realize the importance of the little things in life, the wonders we see each day and how they affect our relationships with each other. You write what so many of us experience each day but can never put down in words. Just last week I spent a few days up in your beautiful mountains. I was in such awe of what I was seeing as I walked and climbed that tears were flowing down my cheeks. There were no words to describe the beauty except "thank you". Onward, Tom!

Cathy P said...

I need to express my gratitude to you Tom. I live with PTSD/depression. For most of my life I have pushed forward while battling with my demons; it's exhausting to say the least. Society has gotten so loud, chaotic - the pace is break speed and cutting. My survival depends on the respite of solitude, reflection, nature and prayer. I love my nucleus family which include several furry creatures as well. Reading your words, whether in book form, blog post or Facebook soothes my soul. They make me reconnect to the values that are important and comforting. You restore my faith in humanity in such a disconnected world. Thank you Tom <3

Pam James said...

most people have thanked you Tom for your beautiful words laid out in this blog but I want to say Thank you God for bringing Tom through all the adversity he has experienced so he may pass on to others his gift of writing in such a vivid glorious way that it heals your soul

Helen Marie said...

Thank you Tom for reminding us to be gentle & kind ! Thank you for reminding us to be grateful ! Thank you for reminding us to cherish this life we have & to find our own way to be spiritual ! Have a wonderful day !

Sandy Kellams said...

Thank you for the inspiration you have given me today.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Tom, for the link to the beautiful music you were
listening to but also for the beautiful music of your words of
thankfulness to and acknowledgement of God, Who will always be
our best friend.

jd

Paul Ilmer said...

Thanks for having shared this post, these thoughts, and all that you do, Tom. It's amazing to see the reactions in the comments from your readers and followers. So much support for their trials and journeys seems to be garnered from your shares. I myself find mixed reaction to your thoughts. This is not a judgement on you. It says far more about me. About my own conflict. But thank you for sharing and being a catalyst in my struggle down the "pathway". All the best to you and Samwise! Onwards, onwards...

Marilyn Pelletier said...

Dear Tom,

Thank you!! The two most important words. Love is not always what we say but love it what we do for others along life's journey.

Marilyn Pelletier

Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

Every time I read your blog, or a post, I feel such blessings to be able to have another day to read your stories. Yes, we all miss Atticus and precious Sweet Will, but you have shown us that the sun still shines and we still have this day. We must learn how to walk through the grief and move ONWARD.

Your stories remind me of how close I felt to my precious Prince Marmaduke Shamus. Losing him due to internal bleeding, I wasn't prepared to let go over four years ago. A tsunami of tears rushed from my face, almost like I am crying now. Yes, we have to move forward -- ONWARD - to breath the fresh air. To say Thank You. ONWARD!

Linda Gregory said...

AMEN 😇

JPinVA said...

"Thank you for giving me a love that was something worth filling a book with". Absolutely lovely.

Linda said...

Such a beautiful and touching post.

JHMater1 said...

Thank you for bringing into focus the need to be thankful.
I too have layed in hospital beds and all I could do was pray that I would live for one more day. I too couldn't watch tv or read. Not being able to read just about drove me crazy as I am addicted to reading. I couldn't carry on a conversation.. I was on 4 iv antibiotics and 2 orally daily. This was back in 2013.A total of 30 days in the hospital. I recently spent another 15 days in the same hospital. Not knowing what the final diagnosis would be. So I knew if I didn't pray, make people smile, laugh and lighten their day for a few minutes with the staff then I'd end up crying all the time.
My diagnosis's are many.
At last count it was like 14 disorders or diseases. 23 surgeries so far in my 63 years of life.this time in the hospital I could tell that life was going to be completely different then before I was taken across the street from my doctor's office in a wheelchair to our top 100 hospital. So keep blogging. Keep seeing the positive in your life even though it's not life as you knew it. I got 2 more diagnosis's last week .Mayo clinic finally sent the
Lung biopsy report. Not sure exactly how long I have on this planet. I do know the diagnosis is a death sentence. There is little that can be done. So I intend to have fun when I can. Pray in my own words for guidance. Laugh and smile as often as I can. Make others laugh and smile too, because humor makes life enjoyable. Trying to understand others and learning make life interesting. If we don't have those concepts in our lives the in my opinion we haven't truely lived.
So thank you Tom. This is my first time reading your blog. The timing was perfect. Your words are so true, so heartfelt and so very human. Keep on keeping on. You light the way for the rest of us in this journey we are all on.

Ms M said...

Thank you for being such an inspiration on doing the seemingly impossible but still did them. Most importantly, Thanks for Sharing your story on you and Atticus. It moves me and helps me to remember my animal friends that i had forgotten cos i missed them too much so i chose to forget. Animal friends are really amazing and so are you. Stay Blessed and May Happiness and Good Health follow you always!