Sick, heartbroken, anchored in safe harbor after a period of being lost, I got the message — from that little voice in my head/heart — go to the shelter and see who's there.
The minute I spotted her, clinging to one side of the wire kennel, face and ears akin to a fruit bat, every fiber screaming “pick me," I knew she was the one. Coco, they'd named her, a stray found wandering in Kapaa. Koko, I called her, and took her home.
We were both sick a lot that first year — even the taro that grew alongside my bedroom wall was listless, languid — but we all kept pulling through. Her company brought comfort on those long, feverish afternoons, watching the strawberry guava leaves tremble in the breeze, wondering when I'd feel like lying beneath them on the grass again.
She'd been abused, and was afraid of everything, except children and local men. The rustle of a newspaper, the clang of a pan, the snap-snap of ti leaves plucked from their stem, sent her running, cowering. But I just kept on being loving, gentle, calm, until one day I saw the smallest smile at the corner of her lips. She was coming out of her shell, and I knew then she'd be OK. Ten years later, she still is.
Paele grew up in a meth house, where he was liked, even loved, but seriously messed with by a boy who had a number of developmental disabilities. Paele was un-neutered, aggressive, not house trained, a little barbarian with no manners who operated on the premise that the best defense is a good offense. But something about him called out to me the day I saw him running alone through a parking lot in Lihue, and as sometimes happens in this inexplicable process called life, a series of events unfolded that found his mom in jail, the boy with relatives and Paele riding home with me.
Little macho man, my neighbor called him. Psycho chimp, declared a friend. Lawsuit waiting to happen, said another. Fierce little temple dog, was the description from the vet. The canine version of your bad-boy boyfriends, one sister opined. Neophobe, diagnosed the dog trainer who taught me how to understand and help this troubled, but deeply loving, being find peace.
These little poi dogs, cast-offs from society, have taught me so much about myself, imparted the gifts of acceptance, compassion, patience and unconditional love.
We never know what we're signing up for when we open our hearts to love. But though it often hurts, and inevitably shifts, even ends, it pulls us out of ourselves, makes us bigger, better, richer.
I'd like to share a sonnet from one of my favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
Happy Valentine's Day. May love bloom in your hearts today and every day.