My Mom and I went to a nice lady’s room to tell her that we know why she was having fevers and the pain in her back. It’s because she has a kidney infection, but she will be alright because the antibiotics will help her.
This nice lady has so many problems in her life -- she had a spinal cord injury in a car accident when she was only 18 and so she can’t walk, and she has a large open wound on her back that goes all the way down to the bone. The wound has not healed for two years. She also has diabetes and heart problems and has had a stroke, and she recently lost vision in one of her eyes. To make things worse, she recently lost her job because of her vision problems, and so she lost her home too. But somehow, in spite of all of her problems, she is one of the nicest people we know. She always smiles and tries to make other people feel better. And she has a soft warm lap that I like to rest on.
Nice lady: “How do you know that I have a kidney infection?”
Mom: “Well, in your urine test we saw that there were quite a lot of white blood cells, which are there to fight infection."
Nice lady: “A lot? How many white cells is a lot?”
Mom: “The laboratory reports it as TOO NUMEROUS TO COUNT”.
Nice lady: “Wow. That does sound like a lot.”
The nice lady became quiet and looked thoughtfully outside the window. I turned over onto my side, and she took my cue to scratch my chest gently for a good long while.
My Mom waited silently. She smiled at me approvingly, because she could tell that the nice lady was enjoying me and that I was enjoying her too. I smiled back at my Mom with my eyes.
Then Mom asked what the nice lady was thinking about.
The nice lady answered, “I was just thinking how that is a new and unusual way to report a very large number that is beyond measure . . . And I was thinking, do you know what else is TOO NUMEROUS TO COUNT ? . . . All of my blessings.”
My Mom calls me a “healer” because I make people feel better. When I’m around, they focus on my cuteness and forget their worries for a little while. And they feel loved. One time a nice Chinese woman responded to me in the most curious way. She petted me then rubbed her head with the same hand. Petted me then rubbed her neck with the same hand. She kept repeating the actions. Pet. Rub. Pet. Rub. It’s like she was massaging a lotion or oil (“Essence of Shamzi”) in to her skin. All the time she murmured to me in Cantonese, which is not one of the many languages that I speak. I couldn’t understand what she was saying or doing, but I enjoyed her and remained mellow. That is, until she suddenly lifted me and tried to put me on her head like I was a hat. I couldn’t help it; I shrieked. She dropped me. She became upset and said something in Cantonese to one of the nurses, who translated for me and my Mom. “He doesn’t like me!” she wailed. My Mom reassured her, “No, no, of course he likes you. You probably squeezed him in a sensitive area.”
After some more discussion and translation, we realized that the nice woman thought I was an actual healer, you know, the lay-hands-on-me-and-make-me-walk-again kind of healer. She was trying to put me in contact with her head and neck, where she felt pain. When my Mom explained that I wasn’t that kind of healer (I’m good, but not that good), the nice woman quietly replied “Oh? But my head and my neck feel better now.” Then she went back to petting me, then rubbing her head and neck after petting me.
But she didn’t try to wear me like a hat anymore.
I wish I really could heal people just by touching them. All I can do is look deeply into their eyes, touch them gently with my paw, and let them know that I love them.
My sister, Pishy the Cat, passed away the day before yesterday. My Mom and I are very, very sad. We miss her very much. We loved her so much. So very, very much. I don’t really know how we are going to go on with life. Life in our home will never be the same again. We will never be the same. Mostly, we feel empty without her presence. Her Meow, Meow, Meow-ing as she would cheerfully run to the door to greet my Mom home every day. Her friendly “rrroooo!” sound she would make as she'd look straight into Mom’s eyes just before jumping onto her lap. Her cute white furry belly that she'd expose when she would run out ahead of Mom, stretch out on the floor, and expect a good old-fashioned tummy rub. How we both loved to take naps in the warm comforting sunshine. And the way she would just sit still and look at me like I was crazy, every time I would race up to her, get down on my front paws, wag my tail, and hope she would play with me. I will miss hearing Mom say, every day, “Shamzi she STILL doesn’t want to play with you!”
Life now feels empty. What will Mom and I do without her?
We are very sad now. But don’t get me wrong. We are very grateful, even though we are so sad. It is just that “sad” is pretty big right now. My Mom says that maybe, after enough time has passed for our broken hearts to heal, we might begin to feel less sad and empty. And more happy and full. Someday, we will be able to feel only grateful for our dear Pishy's life and for the blessing of getting to live our lives together with her for all these wonderful years. Someday, we will be able to focus only on the infinite every-day moments of simple joy and happiness that we shared together. And someday we will be elated that we carry Pishy in our hearts all the time, everywhere we go, everything we do.
My Mom read a poem by Mary Oliver to me last night, called “In Blackwater Woods,” and the part that sticks with me is this:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
That third thing is the hardest thing. I love you so very much, Pishy.
Sometimes I wish I could do more. Actually, I wish that a lot. It feels to me like I am not really doing enough to help people. Sure, I am very friendly, and I am kind of cute (they tell me), and I do give a lot of love to people in my own way. But is that enough? There are so many people I see who have big problems – serious health problems, emotional troubles, financial stress, spiritual despair, and much more. I don’t think that anyone – especially not a small beige dog like me – could make enough of a difference. It makes me sad to think this way sometimes, like maybe there is no point to do anything at all.
Whenever this feeling comes up, my Mom tells me that she used to think this way too, when she was younger. Until she read something which helped to change her perspective completely; it was something that Mother Teresa once said:
“We can do no great things—only small things with great love.”
Mom tells me that I might not change someone’s life in a huge way, but then again, who knows? Maybe a lot of small things—done with great love—can add up to a much bigger effect than we can imagine. The power is in the great love that goes into each small thing that we do.
So each morning, before we walk into the hospital to do our healing work, Mom looks to me and says, “Shamzi, let’s go in there and do our small things with great love!” And I look up at her, nod my head, and wag my tail very affirmatively.
Small things become great things, when they are done with great love.
I love poetry. My Mom does, too--I think she got that from me. Every night before I sleep, my Mom reads a poem to me, and then we are silent together for a while as we feel the meaning of the poem in our hearts. Some poems touch my heart and my spirit like nothing else can. I have even memorized a few of my favorites, and I like to recite them in my head when I feel the need.
One of my favorites is this one here, by Rilke. I love the idea that God gives us these instructions as we are being made. And that a big part of our job is sometimes to "flare up like flame", and at other times to “just keep going”. And that “no feeling is final.” And that we are not alone in the journey of life’s experiences, if we let ourselves feel connected to a larger and universal spirit of Love, which some people call God. The only thing I would change about this poem is that the last line should read “Give me your paw.”
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
People often talk to me, telling me how handsome I am, how sweet I am, and so on. I enjoy these talks very much. Sometimes though, people will talk to me, I mean really talk to me. I used to spend a lot of time with one nice man at the hospital, who really connected with me. He had a lot of problems, not just physical ones, and he was trying to put his broken life back together. Each day, after my Mom would visit and place me on his bed, I would get cozy and lie down in the space between his crossed legs, rest my chin on him, and he would stroke my head and talk quietly to me. He shared things about himself —dark secrets—that he had never told another soul. Bad things he had done in his life, people he had hurt, acts that he was very ashamed of. And he talked about how he was going to change and be a better man, starting now. Most times, tears leaked out of his eyes as he talked to me. One time, he sobbed. One day my Mom visited him alone, and he shared about our talking visits. He said that he talked to me because he felt that I actually listened, and that I actually understood, and (most importantly) that I actually loved him anyway. And the truth is, I actually did. I couldn’t tell him in words, but with my eyes and my touch, I expressed unconditional love and compassion to him.
My Mom believes that I was the best therapy for this nice man, who had many troubles weighing on his heart and his soul. And I think all of us animals can be good therapy for lots of humans. I think people like to talk to animals because we don’t—we can’t—talk back. And, even if we could talk, we wouldn’t say things like “how could you?” or “I told you so!” We don’t judge or disapprove or criticize. We don’t get bored or impatient. We only listen with quiet acceptance and forgiveness. And with unconditional love.
There is a nice lady who keeps forgetting things and people. I think this condition is called “dementia.”But she is not bothered by it, which is good. I am not bothered either. She sees me freshly every time. Each day that she sees me, she raises her arms up in the air and runs toward me, yelling “OH! There’s a doggie! Look, it’s a cute little puppy!” And each time, my Mom holds me up to her so she can pet my head, and then places me on her lap. She and my Mom have exactly the same conversation every day, while I sit on the nice lady’s lap, graciously receiving her compliments and love:
Nice lady:“What’s his name?!?” (pat, pat, pat)
Mom: “His name is Shamzi, or Shammy.”
Nicelady: “Shammy! That’s a great name! Is he a boy or a girl?”
Mom: “He’s a boy!”
Nice lady: “How old is he?”
Mom: “I think he’s about 2 or 3 years old.”
Nice lady: “Oh he is so handsome!(pat, pat, pat)I think he likes me!”
Mom: “Yes! I can tell that he likes you very much!”
I make myself comfortable on her lap, while the nice lady tells me and my Mom the same things each time: how she used to have a dog when she was younger and his name was Buddy; how she had 12 cats when she lived under the freeway and they kept her warm; and how she always feeds the pigeons half of any piece of bread she ever has because “little birds get hungry too.”I enjoy her exuberance when she talks about all of us animals with such love.I do like her very much. I find that her spirit is gentle and loving, even if her brain is forgetful. My Mom always smiles and nods affirmatively, as though it is the first time they are having this conversation. But the experience between them (and me) is exactly the same, every time she sees me. Word for word. Pat for pat.People feel sorry for her forgetfulness.But Mom told me that she thinks this nice lady might actually be such a happy person because of her forgetfulness—she forgets to be bored.She sees everything and everyone with fresh eyes and with enthusiasm.And wouldn’t life be much more fun for us all, if we didn’t take things and people for granted -- if we actually stopped to look, to notice, and to experience each one so happily, as if every time were the first time. This is what we dogs do, all the time. But it’s not because we are forgetful. We are just born with this kind of wisdom. Ask any dog.
Sometimes patients don’t want to talk to my Mom, even though she’s a really nice and caring doctor, because they’re not happy about being sick or being in the hospital. I don’t blame them. One nice man was so depressed he wouldn’t even look at my Mom, no matter how hard she tried to talk to him about his treatment. He was supposed to have physical rehabilitation to walk again, but he didn’t seem to care about anything. He just lay in bed all the time. Out of desperation Mom brought in the big guns. That’s right--me! She carried me into his room and asked if he liked dogs. That got his attention. He turned in his bed, and when he saw me, he cried out “Puppy!” and clapped his hands like a little boy. The change in him was amazing. I sat on his bed as he pet my head and hugged me. He told my Mom how much he loved dogs, and how much he missed his dog that had died. Every day my Mom brought me to visit him, and little by little he opened up about his life outside of the hospital. They talked a lot about dogs (my favorite subject, naturally). I guess I reminded him of the person he used to be, before he became sick. Pretty soon he said he needed to walk again, because he wanted a dog in his life. Mom promised him that when he was ready, she and I would take him to the SPCA to adopt a new friend. He did learn to walk again, and we went to the SPCA, though he didn’t go home with a dog on that first visit. After all, you can’t always be as lucky as my Mom, who found me on the first visit. Or should I say, I found her. (“Our eyes met across a crowded room”…but that’s a story for another day.) I know the nice man will find the right dog and when he does, they will be very happy, like my Mom and me.
My Mom is always looking for out for me and doing things that are “for my own good.” This includes clipping my nails and brushing my teeth. I don’t enjoy the torture, but afterwards she calls me an angel boy and feeds me a chicken snack. That’s worth a little discomfort. I think patients would like their medication better if someone called them sweet names and gave out rewards too. One of my Mom’s patients has glaucoma and needs eye drops several times a day. The nice lady always refuses because she doesn’t like the eye drops (cold and goopy, yuck). But she likes having me visit her. I jump on to her bed and snuggle into her blankets, while she and my Mom chat, mostly about things outside of the skilled nursing facility. The nice lady really likes dogs. When my Mom mentions the eye drops, the nice lady becomes upset and says she doesn’t want them. My Mom points out to the nice lady that her eye sight will get worse without the drops. This makes no difference. Then my Mom asks, “Don’t you want to be able to see Shamzi?” As if on cue, I flop on to my back and expose my tummy, ramping up the cuteness factor. Suddenly the importance of eye drops becomes ridiculously clear. The nice lady agrees. Blink, blink. All done! Then we play again. Sometimes patients just want to be treated like people first. Then they can be reminded about all the good things that medicine can do, and all of the beautiful sights in the world (like me!). Offering a chicken snack doesn’t hurt either.
My Mom’s office at the hospital is across from the Intensive Care Unit, or the ICU, as we medical professionals call it. When my Mom and I are done rounding on patients and staff on our ward, and we are headed back to her office, we often see people waiting outside the ICU. They are standing or sitting on the floor. They usually look worried and scared, because something bad has something happened to someone they love. I feel sad for them because they feel helpless, and there’s nothing they can do except wait and pray for their loved one to get better. So I stop to make my rounds on them too. First I sniff them because my Mom says I shouldn’t talk to strangers without sniffing them. Then I stand up on my hind legs, and put my front paws on their legs to get their attention. I’m awfully small, so the people don’t see me at first. When they feel my tap, they look around, startled. Then they see me and smile in surprise, as if they can’t believe someone as cute as I am is here at the hospital. (Not to brag, but my cuteness affects a lot of people that way.) They bend forward and coo at me, like I’m a baby. I don’t mind the baby talk because people become cuter themselves when they talk that way. They pet my head and for a little while, they forget their worries. Often they thank me and my Mom and say they feel better, like something is right in the world. They say that dogs remind them of lasting and unconditional love. I think that’s sweet, don’t you? I remember one man, who was crying. When my Mom and I walked down the hallway towards him, he saw me and smiled. He said that when our eyes met, he felt a sense of love and hope waking up in his heart. Sensing his need to hold me in his arms, I reached out my front paws to him and asked him to pick me up. He was a soft and gentle soul. Then I kissed him on the nose. Afterwards, he put me down and thanked me. He asked God to bless me and my Mom. I love him.
a few weeks ago, i was asked to accompany a very nice man to his appointment with some oncologists, to see if there was anything else to do for his cancer. i was happy to go along. He was very nervous, understandably. So i turned up my calming powers, as i sat on his lap in the examination room. i gave him my calming energy and prayers, while i let him rub my head. He and my Mom talked a while, about life and his reflections-- which is when i noticed that he started to leak water from his eyes. i felt sad with him, because he was sad--my Mom says that's called empathy. So as they were talking, i stood up on my hind legs and i put my hands on his chest and looked deeply into his eyes-- to tell him that i was sharing in his pain, and to tell him that i love him and want him to feel better. that's when he held me under my arms and looked back at me, and he smiled big and warm. He got my message. And he cried more, and then he laughed. So did my Mom. i think they were surprised that i understood the situation so well. thankfully, that little message from me turned the feelings around for this nice man, and he felt happier again, and he started to talk about how he wanted to be as loving a Being as i am. he decided he will finally go to visit his family that he's been apart from for 30 years, because life is short. and it is unpredictable. and it is so precious. he's right about all that. He said he thought there's something "divine" about my spirit. he thinks it's the love that i express, and just at the right time, which is pretty much all the time. it's true-- i am a loving creature. i was made that way. it's easy really, you just give love out and you always get love back. i guess humans have more complicated "issues" that can make that hard. but as for us dogs, we don't have "issues". just Love.