After I’ve taken Clara with me to grocery shop or graded papers for awhile, Aaron might tease and ask me if I enjoyed my “me time.” We have a bad habit of adopting clichéd phrases or accents until the adoption process is complete and they belong to us. Still, the idea of “me time” is a serious one, and there was a time when Clara was just born and cried for reasons I couldn’t understand that I would sit in the driveway a few extra minutes and listen to the quiet I made for myself. Presently, when asked what I might do with fifty bucks and forty-five minutes, the answer would likely be lay on a heated table and receive a massage from someone who doesn’t talk.
During a short-lived Thich Nhat Hanh phase, I read that he found what he was looking for by doing one thing at a time. If you’re going to take a bath, for example, don’t try to have a glass of wine, read the latest Harper’s, and dig your fingernail at some film in the soap holder. Take the bath. Feel the heat and water without distraction. For him, he found something like salvation in the simplicity of washing dishes by hand in one instance and drinking tea in another. Likewise, Annie Dillard said in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that she was on the prowl for more present tense. My understanding and experience say that what they’re talking about is actively not trying to do or think anything, but to feel and sense instead. I think in solitude we learn how this works.
But, solitude is for Saturday mornings and love is for a lifetime. In way of explanation, I have thought more than once—when they bark and wake Clara from her nap, when they eat her food and make her cry, when I pay $150 to board them for a weekend, when I have to vacuum once a day in the spring, when they’ve left scratches on furniture that isn’t ours—that many things would be significantly easier without . . . and I am ashamed to even finish the thought. This thought, however, was finished a week ago when I grudgingly took Dakota and Delilah to the vet where we would spend more on their health care in one hour than we have on Aaron’s in the last ten years. I was not happy about quelling their inevitable barks at the sight of other dogs nor about paying the bill. I was dreading the visit to the vet, but when we got there, the strangest thing happened. The secretary, the outgoing client with two Jack Russells, the vet assistant, and the vet herself loved my dogs. Dakota and Delilah took their three shots with smiles and happy gobbles of biscuits. Staring through the pain, Dakota nobly let the vet test the tenderness of his hip joints. Delilah snuggled against her while she shot my sweet dog up with some diluted bordetella. When we were leaving, the vet gave them each a gentle pet and told me with full eye contact, “These are good dogs.”
They are. I love them always but not all the time, and as I felt pride melt into affection, I thought, I often carry my love like a spark that I need others to light.
The next day, Clara and I had our appointment at the birth center where one of the midwives sat on the couch with her fresh one-month-old. We weren’t in a hurry; Clara loved that baby for at least twenty minutes. She touched his cheek with the back of her hand, like we learned in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge class how to do with animal fur. She hugged him. She covered him with a blanket. She looked at him and fed him toys. For Clara, babies are a bath or hot tea. They are her effortlessness. She likes to sit and watch them. The midwife asked me if she was an only child and said that for such, she’d never seen a two-year-old take so much care. By that time, it was 4:30 p.m. and it had been a long day. Earlier that morning, we opened almost three shiny packages in the grocery store to keep the baby whisperer from losing it before the checkout aisle. Then, there was some unhappiness on the way home. But, watching Clara love and be loved brought me out of the morning and evening to come and into a moment that felt wonderfully like the present, filled with the stillness and ease that happens when everyone in the room is feeling the same thing. In solitude, love deepens but with others, it spreads.