Thursday, June 24, 2010

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it. ~Daniel Webster

One of the most enjoyable pleasures I have during the sweet summer days in Maine is walking my dog, Mackenzie, into town. Mackenzie is a 125 pound long haired German Shepherd. In her own mind, she belongs in a purse, preferably carried by me wherever I would go. She loves to sleep on my bed, and in general, prefers to remain as close to me as possible. Mackenzie will bark when there is a knock on the door, but other than that, she's not particularly territorial. As long as her human Mom is with her, she's completely content. Unfortunately during our daily walks we have encountered all kinds of preconceived notions about how Mackenzie 'appears' to be: an enormous, powerful looking "police dog". We have had some very negative experiences over the years. Strangers will try to provoke her into barking, or even attacking them, by taking predatory and threatening steps towards me. (I don't believe this was the brightest action...would you really want to provoke a dog this big?). Others have growled at her, barked at her or tried to grab her tail. Still others have gone in the opposite direction: screaming in fear when they see us coming, and making a run across to the other side of the road, regardless of traffic. Mackenzie has been attacked by very small dogs, and I've been yelled at by these petite Cujo's owners to 'call my dog off' when their own are hanging from her throat. During these moments of dog walking drama, both my dog and I have learned to roll our eyes, to try to ignore the ignorance of the people who don't understand us. I have had my feelings hurt when I've heard one person remark to another; "What a stupid, irresponsible woman for owning such a dangerous beast!".

The fact is, Mackenzie is an incredibly gentle dog. She's a bit of a diva, and likes her food "just so". But, other than that, she is a remarkably loving, exceptionally intelligent and very well meaning dog. She prefers my own company to that of others, but she likes meeting new people, and new dogs, too. No matter how pretty her collar is, how well groomed I've combed her out and how well she listens to me, Mackenzie will always be judged by people by her appearance. She will not be judged by her kind eyes or how well she responds to my commands. Mackenzie will be perceived as vicious, aggressive and combative, simply because of her breed. People have seen "Cops" on television, and think all German Shepherds are ready to strike at a moment's notice. The irony? Most police dogs are also incredibly well behaved. They have a deeply connected relationship with their handler, and usually live with his family. Like "Helping" dogs, they are trained to do a job when they are 'working', and they understand the difference between being at work with their police officer handler, and being at home with his family....chasing a ball with the officer's children after hours.

Because of my experience with my dog, I've learned to move away from judging people, situations or experiences based upon appearances. It's my own humble opinion that all of us, not just those who are afraid of big dogs, take one look at a scene, and make a snap decision as to how we will place this scenario in our level of thought. Most people tend to subconsciously categorize others as soon as they meet them. We all have internal sensors for an evolutionary reason: to stay safe! If those internal 'something's not right' meters sound off in our minds, we usually snap to action in terms of self-preservation. It happens even before we're aware of it. On the other hand, there are times we make rash decisions about people when we don't have all the facts, or we don't give another person a chance. We may walk away from a potentially wonderful friendship because of the way that person looks, or where they live, or what their religious beliefs may be. We may limit our social circle to only people who are 'just like us'. In the long run, we may stay extremely safe. Or, we may find that those people, whose appearances seemed to be similar to our own, couldn't be further from being like-minded, or even kind- hearted. We may base a friendship strictly on appearances, but for the wrong reasons...a person may have "seemed" to have everything in common with us, may even have been attractive and interesting. But, after we get to know them, or worse, been hurt by them, we come to discover that agreeable appearances aren't necessarily the best way to choose a friend.

It's my own personal opinion that we need to look beyond mere appearances, and look into the heart of another person as we are getting to know them. We may discover that they're simply not as lovely on the inside as they are on the out. Or, we may just find that someone who appears to be our polar opposite is, in all actuality, a soul mate of a friend. We need to look past age, height and other defining features, and get to the meat of that individual's beliefs. Additionally, it's fabulous to have friends who have very different backgrounds,and it's delightful to learn about other cultures. My daughter's best friends are Indian (and) Egyptian and Korean. The three of them have more fun together than any girls I've ever met. Their hearts beat in unison. And yet, they couldn't come from three more different parts of the world. Their friendships have been a tremendous joy to all three families, and we've all been enriched by the love they share. Could Caroline have made friends with other New England girls? Of course...and she has. But, her soul sisters happen to be originally from Asia and the Middle East. My most recent friends, in my own life, are all considerably older than I am. I have learned that having friends, closer in age to my late grandmother than myself, is a beautiful experience. They have shared so much wisdom with me, and I continually pinch myself to remind myself that these wonderful ladies would be interested my limited experience.I feel honored to have them call me "friend".

My entreaty to Preppy Yogini readers is this: give everyone, including German Shepherds, a chance. Don't dismiss a friendship because someone is different from you, and don't get too excited about someone who 'appears' to be your personal twin. Take time. Slow down. Get to know people before making a conclusion. Even then, keep an open mind and an open heart. You may find yourself in the midst of a beautiful friendship....and one you never imagined would be possible. As Charles Kettering wrote, " The open minded see the truth in things; the narrow minded see the differences."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Surprises on the Beach

love builds up the broken wall and straightens the crooked keeps the stars in the firmament and imposes rhythm on the ocean tides each of us is created of it and i suspect each of us was created for it”-- Dr. Maya Angelou

I feel incredibly blessed to have lived at the beach in coastal Maine for the past 19 years. Despite the fact that I spent summers here in Maine growing up, I never thought I'd be a year 'round resident as an adult. I can remember playing on Maine's rocky coast with my cousins from the moment the sun would come up each morning, until long after it had set in the evening. The three of us would play never ending games of tag, we'd build forts using drift wood, we would have contests to see who could find the most sea glass and we would play endless games of "pretend". The beach would be a castle, being attacked by a dragon one moment, and a campground for pirates the next. It would transform into a house, a ship and an airplane within our imaginary world. Maine beaches are, for the most part, not like beaches most people imagine....they're craggy inlets bearing thousands of stones, with tidal pools holding their own miniature ecosystems. They aren't the same sand beaches one would see in California, Florida or Hawaii. They're more rugged, more austere and more remote. They're romantic, ever changing and full of surprises. My own children have found sea whelks, crabs, mussels, clams, rocks from every possible classification, and even bits of Maine life...a lobster buoy that floated away from its mooring, a perfectly polished mother of pearl shell, a bit of old shard pottery. They've watched the progress of a small hermit crab moving out of one shell and into another. The Maine beaches are always filled with the unexpected.

Our neighborhood is fairly new one, by New England standards. Once part of a much larger estate, the lots were subdivided and the ring surrounding our private cove was build slowly over a thirty year period. None of the houses are similar to one another, and each one has its own flavor and style. Over time, the houses have often changed hands and become summer homes for people who want to escape the humidity in Boston, Philadelphia and New York. It's not a 'tight' neighborhood in which everyone knows one another well. People tend to come and go with the seasons and have specific agendas for their homes and their own priorities. As a result, many of us simply aren't familiar with our neighbors. As the only house that currently has children on the street, I have often felt the need to 'shush' my kids when they've played outside, trying to respect the privacy of our retired neighbors. It hasn't always been easy to keep street hockey balls, and various toys, from sailing over the fence line into another yard. I have had to apologize for pink trees, due to my son's paint ball gun. It has been a constant challenge to find the balance between neighborhood peace and allowing my kids to 'be kids'.

The one aspect of neighborhood life in our cove that we all share is a mutual passion for our beach. We all enjoy it, and as it's so often deserted, we tend to feel very protective of our little slice of Maine heaven. Because I walk my dogs on the beach almost every day, I have come to know every boulder, every inlet, every landmark stone and every crevice quite well. I even have come to know where the best rocks for stepping on happen to be, so I don't twist my ankle as I walk. About a year ago, one large boulder, near the edge of the beach began to have mysterious designs on it that changed every few days. One day there might be a heart, created using bits of seaweed and drift wood. The next time I checked, I might have seen "Thanks" designed using mussel shells and tiny pebbles. Using materials found on our beach, I have spied the words "Faith", "Joy", "Hope", "Care" and simply a jolly "Hi!". Now, as I traverse my neighborhood on my daily dog walk, I smile more broadly at each of my neighbors. I can't help but wonder who the artistic communicator is with every "Good morning" I say. Is it the woman whose extraordinary garden has been photographed for many magazines? Is it the cranky gentleman who never smiles or says "hello" back...does he hide a secret soft side? Could it possibly be the elegant, but elderly, southern belle, who takes her constitutional strolls in heels and pearls daily? Since the words of blessing and greeting have begun appearing on the boulder at the beach edge, I've looked at my neighbors in an entirely new light. It has made me more patient, more understanding and more tolerant. I can't help but be fascinated by my speculation. It makes me think more gently of the neighbors who might complain about our dog getting out or our kids laughing outside at the bonfire at 10 PM. I can't help but speculate if the gruff exterior of one of these people hides the soul of a poet.

Yesterday, on Father's Day, I was missing my own father deeply. Though he passed away in 1998, I feel his presence with me. The feeling of mourning hasn't gone away. It's only been channeled into a way that I have learned to live with. It was because of my father, and his own love of Maine, that our family began summering here. Later, despite living in my mother's and my home state of California, we would continue to come to Maine as much as we possibly could. In all fairness, Mom and I weren't thrilled initially, but over time, we began to love Maine for all its beauty and solitude. When my father retired and my parents moved to Maine full time, it was natural for my husband and me to want to settle here too. In the years before my father's death, we had wonderful memories together, as he taught my own children about the magic of the Maine coast. As I was missing him yesterday, I took my German Shepherd for a stroll along the cove he loved so much. I sat down, and letting Mackenzie play in the waves, I looked out over the bay towards the islands we used to visit every summer. I felt closer to my dad that I had in a long time. With every breath in of the salty air, I could feel his spirit merge with my own. And yet, this being Maine, the sky grew black in a matter of moments and the rumble of distant thunder came rolling in over the mountains. I knew it was time to head back up to my house.

But, as I walked past the 'Message Boulder', I realized that it was blank for the first time in weeks. Without a thought of the impending storm, I methodically gathered my materials. Using a bit of crab shell, broken mussels and periwinkles, finding pebbles in an array of colors, as well as some pieces of driftwood and sea glass, I wrote I LOVE YOU DAD on the stone. The raindrops were just beginning to fall I finished up. Snapping the leash back on my dog, she and I raced up the path and down the street to the sanctuary of our house, myself laughing the whole way, and Mackenzie giving her excited Shepherd "Yip".

I can't help but wonder if my father could see my message to him...and if my imaginative word writing neighbor will appreciate my contribution. I can only hope so on both counts.