An Obsession

with childhood

Here is a confession: although I wear an adult face and adult credentials on the outside, I never really grew up inside. That may make me immature and prone to laughing at bathroom humor, but I think it keeps me honest and grounded. My strong attachment to the child inside stems from nostalgia. I love remembering the simplicity of innocence especially as I consider the complex world that I must now digest as a forty-something grown up. But then I also remember knowing that this age of innocence was fleeting, that I would eventually grow up and lose it. I was nostalgic for my childhood while I was a child. It is almost as if I was this adult inside a child’s body.

I think my hyper existential awareness was due to the turbulence around me. I was especially sensitive to my unpredictable home life despite having a family that looked pretty normal from the outside. The surrounding mood could change on a dime, and I needed to be ready to deal with it. It would move from extremely happy to frigid and icy in a short period of time, and there was no way to know in advance. It was perhaps the eggshells I walked on that helped me to realize just how fragile the concept of innocence was.

Fast-forward to my mid-twenties, and I found myself writing a doctoral thesis on Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. And guess what the topic was within Mahler’s work? Childhood irony. What would I find in the fourth symphony? Turbulence and darkness of reality juxtaposed to the snow-white innocence of a child. I wasn’t even aware of it as I started working on it. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized why I obsessed over this document, slaved away at it for a few years, and actually… liked it. The thesis reflected my own childhood. I could identify with the piece from a very deep place. It was almost as if Mahler was describing my own life, nearly a century before I was born.

Mahler himself had a tough childhood. It was filled with the hardships that one would find in a regular mid-19th century life. Babies/siblings that do not survive infancy, difficult father, and the racial tensions that existed in Europe (and frankly still exist all over the world)… He himself said that he felt like a stranger in what should be his home. Perhaps that is why he was fixated on the poem “Das himmlische Leben” (the heavenly life) by Peter Sturm, because heaven itself and the innocence that is required to believe in it, to be in it (heaven on earth) sometimes feel like an unattainable goal. So he writes the third symphony based on the poem, and because it takes on a life of its own, he has to move on to the fourth symphony to finally include the poem as a song to his symphonic work.

And I fixated on this topic, too. Can innocence survive the harsh reality of this life? Can heavenly life exist here on earth? Does that heavenly life require the innocence of a child? As I think about my personal experiences, I know why I hold innocence in such high regard. I am fortunate that I understood the fleeting nature of innocence at such a young age… because that awareness helped me to preserve it into adulthood. And look at me now – decades later, I thrive with internal stability no matter how turbulent my surroundings, and the child inside still sings.

A little blurry… but I like this photo because it catches me in a moment of bliss.

The dog fix

there is nothing like a dog’s love

Last Saturday evening, I was coming back home from a week in Tucson. While on the second plane that headed from Chicago to Cleveland, I saw a long golden fur stuck on my jean. I smiled because it was evidence of my blissful visit to my sister- and brother-in-law’s house where two large balls of pure love reside: a golden doodle named Riley and a pure golden retriever named Resa. I was in dog heaven.

I had arrived at their house on Thursday morning already sleep deprived. My body was certainly tired, but my mind was also jumbled and my spirit battered. My line of work requires focus on the global economy, and lately, that has meant paying attention to the ongoing war and geopolitical tensions. With age, I have gotten better at leaving work at work, but the tensions can sometimes creep into my psyche before I am aware of it. And of course, the loss of my dear Maris has been a thing that has been hanging over me. There are days I miss her so much that it feels like I lost her just yesterday. It has already been almost 4 months, but now I believe what my friends have told me… the pain and longing last a lifetime. So here I was, broken and tired, and that is how Riley and Resa found me.

These dogs are around 75 pounds each. Yes… EACH. They have the power to knock me over, all of 110 pounds, but I wouldn’t care. I had been there just a few minutes, and they were already all over me, as if we had been best friends all our lives. Riley, the golden doodle, put my entire wool jacket in his mouth and walked around the house. Did I care about the dog slobber? Nah! I just loved that he liked my scent enough to do it! As I always say… everything is replaceable… except for us and those we love.

While I was at Rose’s house, I got licked all over by Resa who is a golden retriever extraordinaire… honestly, I think she licked me more in the two and half days I was there than all 11 years of Maris’s life with me (Maris wasn’t really a licker… she was very stingy about kisses, even with me). Perhaps one adventure that sticks out was our 5:30am walk in the desert. I tagged along with Robert (brother-in-law), Riley, and Resa on their morning walk, saw the constellation Orion very clearly for the first time in a really long time, witnessed the moon setting behind the Tucson mountains, and the sunrise painting the sky in various hues of red and orange. The desert is a beautiful place, and even better with loved ones and terrific canine company.

Jeff and I are waiting for our little Australian Shepherd puppy to grow enough to come home with us. He is currently 2.5 weeks old and still at the farm with his dog-mother. While I am so excited with anticipation for our little Lucas (yes, that’s going to be his name), this is the time for me heal by spending quality time with my Maris memories. And I was so blessed to have Riley and Resa’s love and giving energy to help me get through this difficult time.

Thank you, Maris, for leading us to Lucas. I know that you made me a better dog-mommy in the last 11 years, and that you’ll continue to guide me with the next little puppy. Don’t worry, little Lucas, I am working on healing and will be ready to be your mommy in a few weeks. I can’t wait to see you, little buddy. And thank you, Riley and Resa, for giving me the love and the desert warmth I needed along the bridge between Maris and Lucas…

So many kisses…

Desert morning

A second chance

when it calls you, finds you

Do I believe in fate? I’m not sure. I believe in providence, and I don’t know if the two are the same. Coming from a spiritual place, I believe that things happen for a reason, and that when things are meant to be in my life, things that are out of my control fall into place. Doors open. There is ease in the process. And when things are not meant to be… well, I have had doors shut on my face a few times in my life, so I know when certain things were not meant for me.

In a similar way, I felt that Maris was a gift to us, that she was meant to become a part of our family. She was God’s gift to us because we had so much to learn about life. Initially, she was supposed to go to another family, but they couldn’t take her at the last minute. So we received the call. Coincidence? I don’t think of life’s blessings as coincidences!

After Maris’s passing, my readers know that there has been a gigantic hole in my heart, in my routine, in my life. It has been so bad that I physically hurt… and have resorted to calling Jeff “my puppy.” One time, he came back from a concert and said, “the puppy’s home!” Clearly, I am discovering that I cannot live without a dog. Maris has changed the course of my life forever!

So it is no wonder that Jeff and I have been thinking about getting another dog. And honestly, after our European trip where I bonded with all the dogs of Europe, I realized that I needed one sooner than later. When we first started talking about adopting another dog, it was noncommittal. No real timeline, just thinking or dreaming about what our next dog will be, when might be the right time, etc. But one does not just casually talk about getting a dog. It becomes a real thing very quickly. The issue was that it wasn’t simple for me. This would be a dog that would take the place of Maris in our hearts… It would be sitting on a very special dog throne. It had to feel right.

I looked at rescue websites (that would be the quickest way to find the next dog love), discussed various breeds with Jeff, and asked our neighbors about their dogs. It was so confusing – nothing felt right. I probably had Maris on such a high pedestal. We discussed corgis, Bernedoodles, doodles and oodles, hypoallergenic, small dogs, etc. Do I want a small dog that I would be able to travel with? Or do I want a dog that will go to the Metropark trails with me? Maris’s legacy loomed large, my mind would change every other minute, and nothing would feel right to me.

Until this week. Just this Thursday, we found a good breeder for Australian Shepherds south of where we live. We thought that we would start the process of meeting the parents, the way we did when we adopted Maris. I had a good feeling about it, so Jeff and I took a short day trip on a beautiful October morning. There is nothing like an October sky in Ohio… We stopped in the Amish country at our favorite cafe (Salt Creek Cafe) and ate our favorite breakfast sandwich ever… honestly, we go back to the Amish country for this sandwich, haha! We walked around and bought a few mums. And then we drove to the farm where the dogs were. Two Australian Shepherds greeted us, Angel and Jake, and I just fell in love with the breed. As we conversed, the breeder learned more about us – and the fact that we love dogs more than words can say. She suddenly told us that she had a litter. Wait, what? She didn’t mention that when we called – we thought we were just meeting the adults to get to know the breed. The look on our faces must have been comical. She smiled and asked if we wanted to see the litter. Yes, yes, yes, of course, yes!

The puppies were born exactly a week ago on October 8th. They were so little!! The one girl was already spoken for, but a few of the boys were still available. I held several of them in my hands – they were soooo precious! Their eyes were closed, but you could already kind of tell that they were different (other than the fur colors). The very first one I held started talking to me so loudly! He was so vocal and so funny… I kept asking him, “do you want me to be your mommy?” Wah wah wah!! (Jeff later said, “maybe we should call him ‘Squeaky’!”) While I was in another universe with the puppies, Jeff asked the breeder when the puppies would be available to go to the new families. Early December… no way! That was exactly the ideal timeline I had in my mind because December is relatively quiet for my job. Really? are things really aligning? Perchance, fate?

After holding a few others, we decided to adopt the very first one that I held, the one that was singing to me. And the thing is that it feels right. I feel at peace. And I think it is also no coincidence that this new little one is also a cattle herder, just like Maris was. I am at peace that this little animal is the right one to continue Maris’s legacy of herding me through life.

Early morning drive to Salt Creek Cafe… not quite awake yet
A goofy photo, pretending to be surprised.

The world through my eyes

in which I am the dog whisperer

Our family had a dog while I was an adolescent. Her name was Joy. She was a German Shepherd mix that we rescued. I remember that I was in middle school when the opportunity to adopt her presented itself. I was vehemently against it. I made my case to the family: owning a dog is a huge responsibility, and I don’t have the time to do it because of my academics. You might be asking, why was I putting all that responsibility on myself? Because I knew, even as a 12 year old, that I would be the one to take the duty seriously, but I simply did not have the time. But I was outvoted, we got the dog, and no one had time for her. Honestly, it is still traumatic for me to think about it. I have one photo of Joy from the early 1990’s, and I can’t even really look at it because I get so sad.

Can we make up for our past sins (no matter if collective) in the present? I sometimes thought of that during the 11 years Maris was in our lives. I treated her with respect for life I would have for any person I knew. She was my priority – I rearranged my social life, my schedule, finances, etc. around her happiness and fulfillment as a canine. I worried about her exercise routine, about her food… and during our walks, I let her sniff as many things for as long as possible because I knew that it would keep her canine brain active. I aimed for a fulfilled life for Maris. And sometimes when I looked at Maris’s face, I saw Joy. They were similar in some ways… the black-tan-white combo, and the big, kind eyes that would see through to your soul. It wasn’t too often, but I thought of Joy from 2011 to 2022 and hoped that my love for Maris would somehow make up for the love that Joy did not receive.

My young experience with Joy changed the way I interact with dogs as an adult. When I see a dog, I feel an immediate affinity to it… and I like to think that most dogs recognize this, too. Most dogs look right back and me and stare. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for why dogs do this, but in my eyes, they are connecting with me. In my world, they look back at me because they recognize that I am their ally, that I am communicating my deep love for animals to them. “Yes, dawg, I see that you are a beautiful soul… I know, I know… I get you. I love you, too.” That’s the conversation that takes place in my head. And this happens with most dogs – perhaps not the German Shepherd police dog I saw in Philadelphia airport who was all business and didn’t respond to me at all.

You might be thinking that I’m crazy, but from a psychological standpoint I think that my strong connection to dogs stems from my early trauma with Joy. Joyful her life was not, and her name was cruel irony. But it didn’t matter to her perhaps that she didn’t live a joyful life – to the end, she remained all loving and giving because that is what dogs do. It is the closest thing to unconditional love I have found in this world.

Happy together

Simple is beautiful

back to the basics

At heart, I am an analyst. My attention to detail is useful in my line of work (investments), where I am often in a sea of numbers. It also comes in handy for me as a musician. I love being surrounded by sound and enjoy identifying the minute differences in shades of colors embedded in a beautiful tone. It’s the detail-oriented mind that allows me to appreciate the complexities in life, but it is also a hurdle to appreciating the simple truths. In short, I tend to make things complicated.

Jeff’s survival in March of 2022 was such a dramatic event in our lives, that we are, or at least I am still reeling from it. A stupefied and speechless face with jaw dropped to the floor describes how I spent the 6 months since the emergency surgery. “I can’t believe you’re still here,” “I can’t believe you are here to tell me that lame joke,” “I can’t believe that I am hearing this lame joke right now and laughing at it…” I am still speechless. But out of sheer gratitude for the blessing we have been given, for a second chance at life for Jeff, and for another chance to fall in love again, I have been thinking about why this happened to us, and what we are supposed to do with this undeserved gift. A good friend, who went through an ordeal similar to ours told me that it takes time to process it. So I am taking my time, and trying not to make things complicated.

The first thing I felt was the unmistakable thumbprint of God on how the events unfolded. Because I tend to make everything complicated (and therefore, am prone to rationalizations), God made it so clear and simple for me to see: everything was out of our control, and only God was in control. God knew that I would otherwise go down the rabbit hole of “well, in actuality, there is an “x” probability that yada yada could happen, and blah blah blah.” Yeah, I am really that annoying. (For details on everything that contributed to Jeff’s survival, please visit What is a miracle). I have always believed in God, but for some reason in March of 2022, He decided to make himself known to us in this way.

Since then, I have been praying “please help me figure out what we are supposed to do with this blessing.” The first step was to share this incredible story. Then what else? What else am I supposed to do? Six months later, I still have no idea. I have such strong conviction, and I am fired up. Isn’t there something we are supposed to do with this second chance?

On Labor Day weekend, I went to church alone because Jeff was already in Europe, touring with the orchestra. That day, it hit me that perhaps God simply desired to be closer to us. That He wanted a closer, more meaningful relationship with us. Like a parent to His children. Shepherd to His flock. Maybe it’s not about what we are supposed to do, but about the nature of our relationship with God. Isn’t that why anyone would make himself known, loud and clear? Hello! I am here, right in front of you… unmistakably. The profound simplicity hit me like a ton of bricks. Duh! Isn’t that supposed to be the basics of Christianity? I was making it too complicated all along.

In my life’s timeline, the year 2022 is an absolute pivot in my faith… it is the year when I learned what it means to have conviction. So I think we will spend many years peeling this onion. But the place to start, the foundation of meaning behind our experience was not about something I should do. The cornerstone is a stronger, closer relationship with God. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). I just need to be still. How simple and beautiful.

Jeff with his Miro tie. Celebrating our friend’s wedding.

The withdrawal stage

missing xoxoxo

At first, the grief was overwhelming. I never wanted another dog again. How could I love something so much for so long, only to have to say good bye? A friend at work told me that I will be able to love again. That I would get there in time. It seemed impossible, but I believed her because time can do anything, I suppose. But even if I believed that I could love another, it felt like a betrayal to imagine loving another dog. Maris was my world for 11 years. I could never replace her!

Even if time healed my wounds and another dog came into my life, I might always compare the new dog to Maris… because Maris really was the perfect dog. She never chewed on anything other than her own toys. She was so well-potty-trained. She understood English (and some German words I taught her), even though she didn’t want you to know just how much. I could walk her without a leash, if I really wanted to because her focus was always on me. And she knew how to protect me. If I get another dog and it chews up my shoes, how could I not compare it to Maris? Then a good friend of mine told me that she had all the confidence in the world that I would love the new dog for what it is. Okay, maybe she is right.

You might be thinking that I am writing this post because I got another dog. Not quite. After the various stages of grief, I am experiencing a real withdrawal. I don’t think that’s a technical stage of grief, but here you have it. A real desire to connect with a canine. I can’t watch commercials with dogs in them without feeling a real pang in my heart for a dog’s love. It is difficult to watch people walking their dogs without feeling a bit of envy… what is a daily routine to them feels like a dream to me now. I guess I am a dog person through and through.

I like to think that it is more than just my love for dogs – you might think I’m crazy, but I think that dogs sense a connection with me. Just ask Jeff. Dogs somehow flock to me, or stop and look at me as if to say, “wait, I know you… and I think I might love you.” or “I want to lick your face” is more like it! When we were in Prague, we met a man and his dog, a Leonberger. It is a very large dog, similar coloring to a German Shepherd. When he and I saw each other, we just knew. Within a blink of an eye, I was sitting on the floor of the elevator bank with the dog licking my face all over, having a moment with this dog as if we had known each other all our lives. I never wanted it to end. And then there is the Shorkie that belongs to a new family in our neighborhood. I met the dog once before my trip, and apparently, she sat on our driveway waiting for me to come out to greet her everyday while I was in Europe. And honestly, I say hello to every dog I see. I am telling you… I think I might be part-canine.

There is an undeniable yearning for a dog’s love. Maybe it is sort of a rebound need… perhaps. After losing Maris, a dog’s love that had partially defined my 11 years had suddenly been snatched away from me. Whatever the case, the withdrawal symptoms are real. Emptiness, heartache, longing… for those indescribable moments of connection that dogs gift to us when we let them love us… all of it. Now I know that I will be able to love again, and I will be able to love another dog as our next family member. Not now, but some day.

December 2021. Last Christmas with Maris.

Something new

and yet familiar

It has been almost six months since Jeff’s surgery in late March, and we reached another milestone… the European tour. For the musicians, it is three weeks of being on the road, jumping from city to city, while still performing at the world class level that the audience around the world expects of The Cleveland Orchestra. It’s taxing, and the obvious jet lag is the least of the challenges! The late summer tour was the first time the orchestra toured Europe since before the pandemic (!), and it was the first tour for Jeff after the surgery.

The group started in Hamburg, Germany, hopped around other German cities, and then performed in Amsterdam. The thing about me and Jeff is that we talk every day, no matter where we are on the planet. Even if just to say hello, “I love you,” and good night. We started the tradition in February of 2008 when we began dating, and have only skipped one day – I was in the U.S., and Jeff was in Serbia, giving a concert. The hotel where he was staying was an older building, and every time the front desk transferred me to his room, the line got disconnected. After trying about 7 times, I gave up (this was the days before “TravelPass” on Verizon). Anyway, our phone conversations while Jeff was in Germany and the Netherlands gave me confidence that he was adjusting to the tour life without any problems. You know, because international travel is stressful on the body, and I was just worried…

On September 7th, the group flew to Lucerne, Switzerland, and that is when I joined the tour to be with Jeff. The way that day unfolded was a little like a romance movie. Jeff was flying in to Zurich from Amsterdam, and I was flying in from Philadelphia. I arrived first, took the train to Lucerne, left my bags at the hotel, and then wandered through the city. When Jeff called me to let me know that he had arrived, we were in the same city, but in different locations, trying to find each other. He was getting his usual iced latte at Starbucks, so I walked over to the coffee shop. And even though he repeatedly complained that it was the worst iced latte he had ever gotten at a Starbuck, everything he did was endearing because he was a sight for sore eyes! To me, we were like two lovers in a movie, finding their way to each other in some European city. And he looked good. Healthy. Thriving. Just a little tired.

The next ten days felt like any tour. Day rehearsals, acoustic rehearsals, concerts, travel. Rinse and repeat. There were only two free days, and we made the best of it. In Switzerland, we took a train out to Interlaken to be among the Swiss Alps and the beautiful Swiss lakes. On the map, we found a town called “Entlebuch,” the name sake of the breed of our late dog-love, Maris. In fact, I wore my necklace with the image of Maris (Jeff had gotten it for me one Christmas) because I knew she would be happy in Switzerland (you know, the whole Swiss Mountain Dog thing). We did not go to Entlebuch because our time was limited, but I felt like I could picture Maris herding sheep in one of those foothills of the Swiss Alps.

In Prague, I was really wistful. It was the last European city I visited before the Pandemic in 2019, and being back there felt like some sort of a triumph over COVID-19. Jeff and I have musician friends in Prague, and we were able to see them. With Jiri, it was a short visit, but so great to see his face. Vladya gave us his lunch hour between two rehearsals, and honestly, it was too short… he is such a sweet soul. And we ended our Prague experience with our friend Vilem, who gifted us the experience of authentic Czech cuisine. We felt like honorary Czechs that night, feasting on beef tartare, port tongue, rabbit leg, washing them down with our Pilsner Urquell, and finishing the meal with a homemade drink!

The rest of the tour was spent in Austria. The orchestra jumped back and forth between Vienna and Linz, but I stayed put in Vienna (can you blame me?). The first night, I was alone and found a Korean restaurant. Ha!! Being Asian, I needed to cut the enormous amount of grease I had been consuming with something super spicy. You can take the girl out of Korea, but you can’t… you get the drift! While alone, I spent my time soaking up the special Viennese lyrical lilt in the air, going to museums and shopping. Yes, I did go to the Belvedere, and yes, I saw The Kiss (Klimt), but not surprisingly, my favorite was called “Caesar at the Rubicon” by Wilhelm Truebner. You’ll see why when you scroll down to the photo section. Let’s just say that I am very predictable!

We also have friends in Vienna, Carolyn and Roland. They have been friends of the family for a very long time, and two of the most wonderful and generous people. We ate together, walked together, and they also came to the concert (the one I went to) at the Musikverein. When Jeff went to Linz for a concert, they came out and kept me company with tea at the Dorotheum and ice cream on a bench under a random Viennese tree. We talked about everything from family, arts, music, love, to um… commodities (like oil, natural gas, and copper). Don’t make me explain that last one. Shop talk.

I realized something during this trip. Normally, I am a very independent person who loves to explore what seems interesting to me at any given moment. So I am good at being alone. During past tours, I didn’t mind when Jeff was at rehearsal/concert because I could do what I wanted to do. But this time was different. I realized that I really wanted to be with Jeff. Europe is more fun with Jeff than without him. When he was at rehearsals or running out to Linz, I felt lonely. And when we were reunited, I felt my heart flutter from excitement of being together again. Behold, what is this? I realized that after all that we went through in the last few months, I had fallen in love all over again with my husband of 12 years.

Jeff is the one smiling with an oboe. After a successful concert at the Musikverein in Vienna. Five curtain calls and a standing ovation.
Post concert happiness
“Caesar at the Rubicon” by Wilhelm Truebner. I told you I am predictable!

This, too, shall pass

when?

Today, I had lunch with a friend. I will call him John in this post. About a year ago, he and his wife went through the unthinkable tragedy of losing their baby twins through an illness. It was one of those situations where there was truly nothing they could have done to change the outcome. And the probability of that outcome, that they would lose both babies, was so slim. It was a one-in-a-million event, and it happened to my friend.

When John and his wife lost their twins, I went to the wake and saw that many people had come to pay respects and to support them. Such a large family… and so many friends because the couple had been both born and raised in northeast Ohio. And it’s like that often – when tragedy strikes, your community rallies around you. But as time passes, all that energy and attention taper off, and you are left alone to deal with the grief.

I reached out to John a few month later around January to check in on him and invited him out to lunch. He was still the friendly guy I knew, but the events from last fall had changed him. I could see him trying to live out day to day, struggling, but what could I say to the person who lost his twins? We ate, caught up on a few community items, and then I went into listening mode for most of the conversation.

As you know, things have been topsy turvy in my life for the last few months, so I didn’t have a chance to really take care of anyone around me. Now that things are calming down a bit, I reached out to John again and asked him to lunch. We started out talking shop about investments and our jobs, but the topic of John’s grief hung over our heads. During an appropriate pause in the conversation, I asked him about how he has been doing. He wore the same expression as he did back in January… one of sorrow and resignation. “I have to live with it,” he said. And again, there was nothing I could say. Only listen.

He asked me what’s been going on in my life. I caught him up on what happened to Jeff, losing Jeff’s mother, and losing Maris. I told him the story of how unlikely Jeff’s survival was for a situation where the aorta had already started to rupture. All the things that had to be in the right place for him to be alive today. How it felt like a one-in-a-million event. And then for a moment there, we looked at each other and I felt the cruel irony of our lunch. Both of us had experienced a one-in-a-million event with completely different outcomes. Mine was happy, his was devastating. I couldn’t tell him that things will get better because I no longer felt like it was my place to. Being on the receiving end of an improbable blessing, what could I tell a person who was on the receiving end of an improbable tragedy? He knew what I was thinking the moment I thought it. He caught the irony of it, too. John is such a nice guy – he just smiled and looked down at his plate.

Through all the troughs of my life, I had told myself, “this, too, shall pass” and rode the waves. Up and down, up and down. Sometimes that trough could last a long time… a while back when I was younger, I thought maybe there was a streak of shadow that I could never get rid of, and that I would have to live with it for the rest of the my life. In those days, you can’t fathom that there would be an ‘up.’ And you wonder when shall this pass? John’s grief is so deep and the experience so tragic that he must not be able to fathom a day when he wouldn’t think of the twins. The grief must stretch as far as the eye can see at this point in time. I couldn’t really tell him that this, too, shall pass.

I wanted this blog to be about joy because that is what my marriage to Jeff has brought into my life. And joy is also Maris’s legacy. But for my friend, I dare not speak of joy because it is the furthest thing from his mind. The best I could say was “take your time. A year is not a long period of time. Take all the time you need. And in the meantime, I will be praying for you.”

At thirty-thousand feet

life becomes clear

There is something about flying in a plane that helps me to focus. I get some of the best work and reading done during travel. On my trip to Minneapolis and back last week, I read up on the news, research papers, and did uninterrupted thinking at thirty-thousand feet up in the air. But sometimes the loud hum of the airplane ride becomes a shield between my thoughts and the outside world, noises and conversations feel distant on the other side of that border, and I am trapped within my own existence. During the flight to Minneapolis, I let my mind wander inward, and I was confronted with unresolved dissonance that has been lingering now for a while.

Thinking about all the things that happened in the last 1-year period, there has been a message of life and death that has been staring at me in the face. It all began with a breast cancer scare in August of 2021, and while it turned out to be high-risk benign, it still meant that I had to spend about 5 days with the possibility that I was a cancer patient. I was in Dallas with my brother’s family who had just welcomed a tiny boy. I had flown to Dallas with this weight of cancer on my shoulders, and wondered while holding this new life whether or not I would see him grow up and fulfill the potential that was brewing inside his little body and mind. I was so thankful that it was not malignant, but the lumpectomy that was done out of precaution and the post surgical complications gave me a glimpse into the middle-aged life that I was now living.

After the turn of the year, there has been Jeff’s abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery, Maris’s cancer diagnosis, losing Jeff’s mother (and the sorrow of not being able to see her to say good bye due to Jeff’s inability to travel), and then of course, eventually saying good bye to Maris. It has been a year of existential emergencies, and we were so busy handling all of it that I do not believe we have processed them. It will take me a long time to understand and articulate the impact of these events holistically, but perhaps the first of these have come to me during the plane ride to Minneapolis.

The dissonance that has been ringing in my ears pertains to innocence. The loss of Maris has been a loss of my innocence, perhaps the type of growing up that most people learn much earlier in life. A piece of me departed to the Rainbow Bridge with Maris, and that change feels permanent to me. But then Jeff’s second chance at life through a series of miracles was an event that helped to reclaim a vintage of innocence that feels familiar to me from a distant past. Holding him in my arms everyday after an event that statistically would have taken him away from me breeds a sense of gratitude that is too grand for words… because this life is not ours to plan. Anything can happen at any moment, and if you are a religious person like me, it is really in God’s control. And when you can acknowledge that you’re not actually driving the overarching trajectory of your life, you can let go. And letting go means you can live fearlessly. And that’s where innocence comes in… the fearlessness of youth. It is the excitement that lies ahead for what God may have in store, it is the courage to do/say the right thing for its own moral sake, and the optimism that comes with knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

Innocence lost, innocence regained… the dissonance has not yet quite resolved and I still feel that I need to explore these topics a bit more. What did I really lose? and how have I been restored? At this time, I feel a bit like a Picasso painting where I’ve been stitched back together but not in my previous form. Maybe I love Picasso so much because he paints how most of us feel – that life is a patchwork of events that alter us as time passes, and that the dissonance we live with can linger and resonate for a while. But my goal is to resolve that tension so that something good can come out of it. I do not intend to be a Picasso painting forever.

A print of a Picasso painting at the Rosengart Collection in Lucerne, Switzerland (I don’t remember the name, sorry).

Loss has a long tail

little good-bye’s

Yesterday, I bought a new car. I ordered the car back in June because of course, with all the post-pandemic issues there was no inventory at that time. After weeks of silence, they called me the day before to let me know that the car was arriving yesterday. Would I like to come in and pick it up?

My immediate internal reaction was ‘what’s the hurry?’ which is funny because I’ve wanted to swap in my current car (a plug-in hybrid Volvo) for the entire 4+ years I had it (sorry Jeff – the Volvo was his idea, haha). The reason behind my hesitation was simple… my Volvo had memories of Maris. She loved going through the car wash together, barked at all the attendants, usually young men who loved dogs, because she knew she was getting their attention! We had countless trips to the Metro Parks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails, pit stops at Starbucks for pup-cups filled with whip cream. There were numerous rides to doggy day care, where I would sing “Doggy School” in certain pitches, and she knew exactly where we were going. I would tell her what time I would pick her up (haha, like she understood!), and then when I returned in the evening, she would bound toward me for a sweet reunion. She knew to hop back into that car for a drive to the place we both called home.

Trading in this car, I felt like yet another piece of Maris was being torn away from me. I had very little time to get the car ready because the new car had arrived so suddenly. As I emptied the Volvo, I felt my throat tighten – there were little pieces of Maris all over that car because I actually couldn’t bring myself to clean it after letting her go. The blankets that had lined the back of the car during the last ride to the Richfield Animal Clinic were still lying there… I couldn’t get myself to take them out for the last month. The bag of treats I kept in the car just because she was such a good dog was still in the pocket of the driver’s side door. Her fur was still around the passenger side seat as evidence that she was my most frequent passenger. And I removed the doggy harness that I had installed on the passenger seat belt, the very item that I had fiercely negotiated to be thrown into the deal for free when we bought the Volvo (haha, yeah, I am a tough negotiator!). I had to say good bye to Maris all over again yesterday afternoon.

And it has been this way for the last month. There are so many little good byes after the big one. The first floor cleaning after her departure meant that my vacuum would suck up most of her fur for the last time. I had a difficult time emptying the bin full of her fur. But I had to do it and say good bye. The first mopping of the floors meant that I was erasing her little paw prints and drool, forever on our floors. Confession: there is a little spot of drool that I have not yet cleaned up… I see it when I go to that part of the house and think of Maris. Once in a while, I will find little dog food bits, and when I throw them out, I have to say good bye again. And there are the dog treats in our pantry that I have not yet been able to discard… and I know that that will be another moment of sorrow for me.

Slowly, due to passage of time and the regular routine of life, the hard evidence of Maris in our lives is disappearing. The more time passes, the more she will become a memory. Soon, the only thing I will have left in the house will be the beautiful cedar box with her name on it, her fur clippings in an envelop, and the paw print in a heart-shaped clay. No one warned me about the little good byes that come after the big loss, and they are devastating each time. But we have to move on and live happily because I know that that is what Maris would want us to do.

I will live joyfully as you taught me. And I will always love you and remember you, Little One.

Maris’s forever home with us
A pit stop at Starbucks for a treat after a long exploration session in the parks!
Maris loved Mr. Cheese and brought him to our rides in the car… yuck.
Maris had to ride in the back when Jeff was in the car. The poor puppy!
Car Wash!
She knew she was about to get a pup-cup!