Soul work is house work. These words came to me at 4:30 this morning while scrubbing the kitchen floor with vinegar-water, and the dog soaked in the warm bath to wash away the stench of urine. This is soul work, I thought. I love her, but man… this is tough. I miss the days when I can bounce out of bed and grab the leash while Chloe eagerly waited for me at the door, running to and fro in her excitement to play outside in the crisp cold morning and explore the canyon. Now she’s fifteen years old.
Some mornings, like today, I’m happily relieved that she is aroused by the sound of my voice calling her name, “Chloe?” It’s the last day of 2012, and I wonder if she’ll be with me next year. I hate myself for asking this question. To ask it, seems like a betrayal. I swish the water around her back legs and kiss her nose. She looks at me, perhaps wondering if she’s being a burden. Or is it me projecting my thoughts and feelings on her? I love you I tell her and kiss her again. You’ve been a wonderful friend. I don’t mind.
I’m thankful that I have clean water to do this work. The water is the medium between the spirit and the soul. There’s a line in the movie “The Company” that goes like this, “My mother said that rain is the tears of God cleansing away the sins of the world.” I feel guilty on the days (and some of the days are strung along like paper lamps that I long to come home to a clean home. Then I remind myself to be patient and loving, because the dog can’t help her condition. She’s incontinent. I don’t know when the right time will come to let her go. I’ve decided that she’ll decide and let me know.
This phase of my relationship with an old friend has been soul work. What I mean by soul work is getting to the grit and dirt of my frustration, my sadness, my fatigue and everything else that I would label as unkind and ugly about my attitude to the situation. I cannot shun the work, because the only way through it is to work through it. Soul work is akin to housework. Eventually, I or someone I pay to do it, will need to apply the elbow grease to clean up the mess. But it is the act of applying myself to the work that will absolve me of my “guilt” for my unworthy feelings.
This past year has been my hunger year for anything “soul” related. I hunted down the thrift store for psychology and self-help books on the soul. I read “Soul Stories” by Gary Zukov, and also his other book, “Seat of the Soul”. These were good. I found a treasure in Thomas Moore’s “Care of The Soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life.” Thomas Moore uses mythology and archetypes to describe the reflections of the soul like the lights of a crystal spinning on an axis. In his book, I found the reasoning to accept my feelings.
There are many events that I question, “Why?”. Some things just do not make sense despite my best intentions. The challenge is how I choose to think and react to the circumstances. In the beginning I didn’t understand the change happening to the dog a couple of years ago. Then, slowly I began to open my eyes that the happy, limber puppy was suddenly an old dog. She was suddenly a dog with arthritis and a heart that still bore the spirit of a loyal and trusting friend.
My experience with Chloe is one of other soul stories I am sharing with you. It has been a very challenging couple of years. I know a few in our own circle that have had their share of soulful experiences. What keeps us going is that spirit of aspiring to be a better person. It is a matter of awareness and choice. I don’t mean to seem dogmatic like I’ve got it figured out, because I feel I’m so far away from that.
But I really want to forgive myself for feeling unkind sometimes. The body is a perfect machine. The organs work synchronously to sustain life. When we cut our finger the systems works as a team and sends chemicals to the injury so that the blood will clot, and the immune system is activated to kill germs and bacteria.The body perfectly designed to expire after some wear and tear, or when the timing was just right for the body to be at rest.
Our society is obsessed with prolonging life and capturing timeless beauty. I begin to open my eyes to the perfect-imperfect design of life and death.
After I drain the bath water and hoist Chloe over the lip of the tub, I tease her, “How did you get so big?! How did you do it?” I coo the words to her in a tone of loving humor. At 5 o’clock I take a reprieve from the task. I know that in a few hours I will be doing the same thing over again.