There’s a smell in the countryside of western Pennsylvania that I’ve never smelled anywhere else (and it’s not the smell of fracking…yet). It’s the smell of hardwoods and evergreens, lichens and fungus, and leaves rotting on the forest floor. On summer mornings, whether I’m taking a walk or riding on the back of the Irishman’s Harley, I want to continually inhale as it blows through my hair and bathes my skin in its cool familiarity.
That smell is as grounding as a cleansing breath in meditation. It reminds me that home exists inside myself and that it’s possible – and preferable – to be comforted with something as simple as a smell.
Strangely enough, I am also comforted by the truth of impermanence, the Buddhist teaching that – put simply – everything organic and emotional will change, decay, and die. Understanding that truth and, more importantly, reminding myself of it (I have a really bad memory sometimes), I am better able to accept and live within painful body states and emotions.
This understanding didn’t come easy. For most of my life, I’ve clung to the hope of permanence and rebelled against change I didn’t create or welcome. I’ve moved so many times in almost 50 years that when I moved into the duplex I live in now, I promised myself I’d never plant another perennial. I’d never again leave a piece of me behind. Then, after growing tired of looking at the empty space between two day lilies, I bought two coreopsis plants, something I grew in my most recent former gardens in my most recent former house. They make me smile now, in this moment, and one day I hope they make the people who will live here after me happy, too.
It is my trust in the teachings of impermanence that I have decided it is time for another change, one
|Al, left, with her sister, Willow
that I don’t like, but is in Alice’s best interest. The precarious nature of my knee means I don’t know when it will go out next, and I’ve been struggling lately to give her adequate exercise. Alice can’t live with me for a few months after my knee replacement surgery in September anyway, and so her sister Willow’s family has generously offered to foster Al while I attend to my knee now and after the surgery.
Of course, Alice doesn’t understand impermanence, and that’s what grieves me most. My sweet dog, with whom I’ve worked so hard these last four months – who walks perfectly on a lead, understands “No jump!” and runs like the wind (especially when fetch is involved), stands patiently while I bathe her and clean her ears, and earns her “good girl” treats every single day – will not understand why I’m not there to walk her or feed her or play with her or scratch her belly and call her Alice Tiberious Dog. She won’t be able to find me when it storms. I’m pretty sure I’m her best friend. She’s definitely mine. And letting her go is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
But…this, too, is impermanent. Her feelings, my feelings, my physical challenges…they will morph and change and mutate into something different, most likely better, because I’ve put the best people in place to give these transactions their best shot at success: Willow’s family, my family, my doctor, and my friends.
I will not bury the sadness I feel today. I am allowing it to bathe me with its urgency, just as I let the smell of the Pennsylvania countryside wash over me this morning when I took Al on her last (for a while) walk around our neighborhood. I am comforted by the hope of impermanence, that this, too, shall pass.