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.