The King of Sadness

“There is so little to remember of anyone – an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the peGander Dogrished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.”

― Marilynne Robinson

 

My wife calls me the King of Sadness. She won’t read anything I write if she is not in a place where she can safely cry. While she sees the need for me to be cathartic and to give others permission to grieve the losses in their life by being honest about my own, she begs me to write more stories of joy and celebration. I think I do. Let me explain….

Today in the lobby of the hotel where we stay while I am receiving care at the VA, a long-term resident overheard me imploring the desk clerk and manager to look out the back door. There, autumn had gently pushed aside summer, the temperature was a perfect 65 degrees and the sun was burning away a sweet fog that had been gently communing with the pond around which Gander walks every morning.

The resident, who for as long as I have known him, has been full of anger and is known for being disgruntled and volatile and feared as mentally unstable. He has more than one sadly descriptive nickname. We parted ways after he once reached down in an attempt to strike Gander when he thought Gander might brush against him. He hates dogs and has fabricated stories to management in an attempt to get them banned from the hotel. If I thought he could be trusted with an animal, I think there is no human more in desperate need of a pet than this man.

Another guest asked our hotel curmudgeon today what everyone was going to look at outside. His reply: “Nothing. Just a little fog on the pond.” His disconnection from the beauty, only a few steps away, refreshed in me an understanding of things I had desperately needed to comprehend.

That “little fog” today, surrendered itself to a beautiful day, and took with it some of the pain and confusion I had been feeling. At the BMW Golf Championships yesterday, Gander and I were both emotionally and physically bruised when a crush of people eager to get an autograph from Tiger Woods pinned us against a retention fence. We were collecting the autographs on a flag to donate to Freedom Service Dogs to auction at their fund raiser this coming weekend. Tiger, afraid of the consequences of staying much longer stopped signing one person short of our position which we had staked out for almost two hours. We left the course almost immediately. On the way home I thought through my day. A few hours earlier, Phil Mickelson’s press agent had responded to my request to take a pic of him and Gander for an upcoming article about the PGA and wounded warriors by saying that Phil felt if he couldn’t take pictures with all vets he would take pictures with no vets. I was licking my pride induced wounds when I heard the news of the shooting in Washington. I quickly wrote a Facebook update: “The more I am around people, the more I love my dog.” My wife reported to me today that I kept her awake as I fought the demons of the day through a fitful night.

There was a book on the market several years ago entitled, The One Minute Meditator. At first glance you might react cynically and believe it to be a cheap pop culture attempt at mindfulness. Not so. In a country where TV news hopes to consume the better parts of our day with polarizing and demoralizing information; where we have lowered our heads six inches, below where it could be in appreciation of the beauty around us, in order to search for “likes” or another SMS; where a Phil Michelson, who makes more in a week than my father, a decorated hero who gave his life for his country made in a lifetime cut short by war, hasn’t time for a picture; where I have seen my government lower the flags to half-mast more in the last 13 years to honor those lost to mass murder than I saw it lowered the whole of the rest of my life in celebration of those who served us, it is important for us to start finding the pleasure in simple acts…

We would do well to drop what we are doing for a moment of silence, or to savor the taste of something delicious in our mouths, or to close our eyes for sixty seconds and let music translate the words our hearts desperately want everyone to understand, to watch a sunrise, or to stroke the fur of an appreciative pet….

How many suicides could be averted? How many could we lift out of depression? How many innocent souls could remain here on earth instead of being violently sent early on their journey to whatever awaits us beyond this life? To how many could we give a moment of pleasure before they are caught up again in the din and roar of a hurried, harried day of trivial pursuits we have come to believe are important?

This year I have watched closely as Gander created thousands of those kinds of meditative minutes. He was a conduit to all that is good in the here and now and to everything in need of remembering. He has provided a spiritual firewire, for me and hundreds of others he has not even met, needed to access the divine. He has facilitated smiles and goodwill in people worldwide. He has started the healing of many a broken spirit. How he has nurtured health in me and others is important: Often it starts with a memory and a moment of shared grief or loss. He reminds us of the dog that made their lives whole and the times and people that surrounded that period; he joins people with memories of a better time by taking them back to that place before somehow guiding them into the present and a celebration of what once was, maybe with the wag of a tail or an understanding kiss on the hand or cheek. Saul Bellow said, “Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” We remember a time when we felt wanted, needed and important.

Grief and the sadness that goes with it are part and parcel of appreciating all that is good. They are travel companions much more comfortable with each other than we know. I have long thought that monsters willing to strike an innocent animal or discharge a lethal bullet in the direction of a stranger must have a monstrous sorrow so tightly constrained that there is little room in their hearts for anything but anger or rage.

I may well be the King of Sadness with Gander as my advisor: Some Merlinesque wizard who can summon the past and cast a spell that empties us of sorrow so we might appreciate, if only for a minute, the joys around us that never really left. I just provide food and shelter for this magical character. He makes us wise by example and allows us to sleep better at night, to be better to all creatures we will meet in our short lives. He helps stretch those meditative minutes into hours, days, weeks…..

I’ll sleep better tonight…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS:

IN DOGS WE TRUST has an e-book option and it is ready for publication!

There are 25 incredible stories by some of America’s best writers in the print edition.
We have four days left!!!
Please help make it happen. Profits on publication go to Veteran and Service Dog Charities.
http://ow.ly/oXZy2

 

PTSD: Post Traumatic Sarcasm Display

I went through another evaluation this week at the VA. The exams themselves are pretty stressful and could aid or assassinate your disability rating.My diagnosis is older than the cavalry and I figure that telling the truth gives me less to to remember and then stress over….The VA uses a Global Assessment of Functioning Scale (GAF) in part to determine your disability level. The real scale goes like this:

91 – 100
Person has no problems OR has superior functioning in several areas OR is admired and sought after by others due to positive qualities

81 – 90
Person has few or no symptoms. Good functioning in several areas. No more than “everyday” problems or concerns.
71 – 80
Person has symptoms/problems, but they are temporary, expectable reactions to stressors. There is no more than slight impairment in any area of psychological functioning.
61 – 70
Mild symptoms in one area OR difficulty in one of the following: social, occupational, or school functioning. BUT, the person is generally functioning pretty well and has some meaningful interpersonal relationships.
51 – 60
Moderate symptoms OR moderate difficulty in one of the following: social, occupational, or school functioning.
41 – 50
Serious symptoms OR serious impairment in one of the following: social, occupational, or school functioning.
31 – 40
Some impairment in reality testing OR impairment in speech and communication OR serious impairment in several of the following: occupational or school functioning, interpersonal relationships, judgment, thinking, or mood.
21 – 30
Presence of hallucinations or delusions which influence behavior OR serious impairment in ability to communicate with others OR serious impairment in judgment OR inability to function in almost all areas.
11 – 20
There is some danger of harm to self or others OR occasional failure to maintain personal hygiene OR the person is virtually unable to communicate with others due to being incoherent or mute.
1 – 10
Persistent danger of harming self or others OR persistent inability to maintain personal hygiene OR person has made a serious attempt at suicide.

I checked with several vets and found that GAF corresponds loosely to disability rating as follows:

1-20 = 100% or $2,527 a month and free medical care at the VA

30-50 = 50-70% or $356 to $1,161 a month and free medical care at the VA

60 might rate you at 30% if other factors are an issue. That would give you 30% disability and $356 a month and limited care at the VA

So, you can see that the VA leprechauns guard the golden gates of Brigadoon pretty well…

So, time for a little fun…

I stumbled across several spoofs of the GAF as it relates to the VA and I decided to modify one for you. It is not to make light of the disorder, but to spoof a broken system. Like my mom used to say: You have to laugh to keep from crying…

VA GAF

91 – 100 Not much happening and you can tolerate most stress very easily. Your spouse is away for a couple of days and you sneak your dog into the bedroom. One of your kids is wearing his pants below his underwear, but still talks about going to Brown University.

81 – 90 Some minor setbacks. You are late with your AT&T bill but, screw ’em, they have turned into a monopoly again anyway. You have spent $300 more in overages on hold with the VA about your claim. You think Siri is beginning to understand your needs. The dog has wet on the bedroom carpet, but it is dark enough she’ll never notice.

71 -80 AT&T is texting you. You dictate replies to them through Siri. The teachers strike has the kids at home 24/7 and you tell them that if you hear Gotye one more time they will just be somebody that you used to know.

61 – 70 AT&T has discontinued service. Your artillery ears can barely hear the high pitched ringtone on your Cricket phone. The dog has hemorrhoids and drags his butt all the time. The kids duct-taped the neighbor boy to a stolen shopping cart, pushed him into the forest preserve pond and uploaded their Jackass spoof to Youtube. The police are trying to call your old number. You miss Siri: You wanted to ask her why a boxing ring is square.

51 – 60 Your kids have decided to enlist in the military in lieu of jail time. You and the dog howl in harmony. You’d play drinking games if there was any booze left. Cooking distracts you from NCIS and just isn’t worth the effort. The VA has told Homeland Security about your threats.

41 – 50 Your wife has decided to move back in with her dysfunctional family. The VA Homeless program will not accept you as long as you have 3 more months before your bank actually evicts you. You think you can teach the dog to dance and audition for America’s Got Talent. The sun is getting noisier every morning.

31 – 40 The only thing that gets you off the couch is chest pains. You are sure the dog is talking to the cat about you. You asked the cute activist next door to occupy your underpants. The police have your new number.

21 – 30 You siphoned gas from the neighbor’s leaf blower and are going to fix this problem once and for all. The ungrateful dog criticizes you on Twitter and your Klout score hits an all time low.

11 – 20 They move you to a facility where the WWII vets keep trying to get you to surrender. The VA finally approved your claim, but appointed your ex-wife as custodian of your affairs. She promises to give you money for Bingo. You start a blog, because the voices in your head NEED TO BE HEARD. They don’t change your diapers nearly as often as before.

0 – 10 The nurses refuse to take you to the bathroom until you stop yelling, “FIRE IN THE HOLE” and your kids have no more room in their closets for your Afghans sweaters. Your VA claims adjudicator is promoted to regional director for his efficiency. You and reality dissolve your civil union.