The long way around

How Helo makes me a better person, part the infinity.

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A little over a week ago, my fuzzy little partner and I passed our certification test to allow us to be deployable as a human remains detection unit with our SAR team. I’m already a SARTech II, or a certified “ground pounder”, so I have been searching and backing up our other K9 units for a few years. But now, as my nephew put it, someone will do that for me.

Those of you who know me, or follow this space, know this has not been the easiest of journeys. I do not have one of those dogs who is strong enough, or who functions in such high drive that he is immune to my weaknesses as a handler. I have a dog who is in tune with me, always, for good or for bad. As I struggled, he struggled. As I failed, he floundered. As I grew, he grew. When I sorted it out, he settled in. It took a while, much longer than I would have liked or could have dreamed, but we got there.

And I am grateful.

It took me eight years to get through college, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t settle into my career until I was 26. And I didn’t get married until I was almost 40. For whatever reason, it takes me longer. I find the longer, circuitous route and that’s the one I choose to travel, or the one the universe picks for me.

This one could have looked a little different, if we’d gone out and picked up another dog, found a creature so independent of me, my anxieties, my lack of knowledge, my need to control would have been overshadowed by its drives and its gifts. But we didn’t do that. The boss in The Job That Doesn’t Pay didn’t give up on the dog, and didn’t give up on the partnership.

Helo and I remained tethered together for the duration.

He did everything I asked him to do. He learned how to show commitment to the target odor. He barked when he found it. He pushed through heavy brush, stuck his head in thorns, hollow tree trunks and ran his little nose along the thresholds of the doors. He worked.

And he waited for me to change. He waited for me to get myself together. So I did more work on myself. I learned how to study dogs. I learned what his different ear positions meant, what his footsteps looked like when he was in scent. I found ways to manage my anxieties, my cursed need for perfection and control. I got my poop in a group.

I’m not sure why I don’t get to take the easier way. And I know that every single person knows that their ways aren’t easy either. Our journeys are always unique. Their distances and their clocks vary. Sometimes that has nothing to do with us, or any lesson we are to learn. Sometimes it is just difficult. It just sucks.

But this one was about learning and about growth. And it is on me to fight to maintain it, to keep the cobwebs out of our partnership, to keep him engaged and comfortable and safe with me as his handler.

And now we get to go to work.

No job that pays

Tomorrow is the first Monday in forever I won’t have anywhere to go. Nowhere to be. Nothing to do for anyone higher up the pay scale.

Last week I was fired when the non-profit job-that-paid eliminated its entire communications/marketing department. Conveniently, they let me come into work Monday morning (45-minute commute) and work for a couple hours before they did it. My coworker and I were unceremoniously tossed out, putting the contents of our desks in whatever bag or box we could find. I felt like I’d did something wrong, and still do, in spite of the lovely letter swearing to the contrary in my severance packet.

I understand the business decision, and in fact believe it was probably the right one for the organization at this current moment. And I wasn’t in love with the job. After a career, it was just that– a job. I was grateful for it, however it didn’t scratch any itch for creativity or exploration. It is also the height of irony since I left newspapers because of the increasing risk of having my job disappear. Life is hi-lar-eee-ous.

So now I sit here on a Sunday night, not sure what to do with my planner, my to-do-lists and my time. I have at least a few weeks and then whatever or whenever something presents itself that pays the bills. I am fortunate in that we are financially stable because my husband is good at that kind of stuff. And we have health. That makes all the difference and has nothing to do with us.

At 2 a.m. the morning after I got fired, the SAR pager went off. I was out the door in five minutes and a few miles up the road when the disregard came through. But it was enough of a reminder that with The Job That Doesn’t Pay I am beyond blessed for meaning and raison d’être.

I’ll be fine. But it is weird. I expect the house will be cleaner than it has been in years, I’ll plague you a bit more here. Say a prayer for my coworker and dear friend who was marched out of the building with me. She has kids and pre-existing conditions and all of that. Things are scarier always with kids.

All ya’ll going off to punch the time-cards in the a.m., good luck, have a great week and I’ll be thinking of you. 2017-02-20 10.06.01.jpg

I’ll be looking around for a job for a professional badger because that’s what I am to my core.

And I need a new place for this kick-ass mouse pad.

I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Remembering

Some Saturday mornings, you really should be packing for your SAR overnight training, but you find yourself at your husband’s volunteer fire department, wiping wax off the rescue truck.

And when a 9/11 Memorial truck pulls into the bay, you stop what you’re doing and you struggle to hold back tears, right alongside the husband-who wouldn’t cry if you dropped a Halligan bar on his toe.

So you stand there, surprised by all the emotions you feel as you read the names on the doors, the men who knew they could die that day, as they knew everyday, but probably didn’t think they would. The FDNY baseball hat the lieutenant tossed onto the seat as he geared up and left the cab is now encased in glass, a monument to a moment long ago.

You back up and watch the guys, and girls, of the Albion Fire Department, all volunteers, wash and wax that dented truck with greater care than you could imagine. You watch a young guy, who was probably about 5 when the towers came down, climb underneath it with a brush, and hand-scrub the road grime from the mudflaps, covering himself with it. You swallow the lump in your throat as you watch your husband, who spent last Sunday on a roof at a house fire, go over the chrome and the steel with a soft cloth. You can’t imagine what is inside his head.

But you know what’s inside yours, as your search dog lays obediently in an empty bay next to the truck. You know that this rescue truck, FDNY Rescue 4, was put back together with pieces and parts from other trucks, like Rescue 3 from Harlem, which also didn’t make it back that day.  You know that this is not just your legacy as an American, as a human, but as a search professional.

And you know that you are on holy ground, so you pray the Orthodox prayer for the departed, you make the sign of the cross and you venerate the shield on the door.

You pray too, that we could one day understand that we are all the same, we bleed when we die, we cry for our dead and our souls live forever.

When you go home to pack for your overnight, gathering your SAR ready pack and your kits, your ropes and your PFDs, you take a little more care than normal.

Because everything matters.

2016-06-11 09.14.09

Thankful thoughts

For my peeps, whom I love. The extended version.

 

I posted Wednesday night on Facebook about how grateful I am for the people in my life. I meant it, and I want to expand a bit on it here.

Believe it or not, I am an introvert. I behave like an extrovert for TJTP, but I do not find big groups of people enjoyable or energizing. However, I really do love people on a personal level. I love hearing their stories, seeing their scars, learning from them and watching them grow.

And I have been richly blessed by the people in my life, with genuine connections to so many people. It makes me tear up sometimes when I think about it. (shhh don’t tell)

The main difference between Orthodoxy and all other strains of Christianity I had explored is literally “Communion,” the sharing in the Sacraments. The Mysteries of God really do connect us in a way that is mystical and sturdy. I find an instant connection with those in the Church.

I often say that training Helo is working for my salvation. I believe that quite wholeheartedly. Training dogs is humbling work. Admitting you don’t know how to communicate in a way that’s understandable is embarrassing to a professional communicator. It’s humbling to fail so much at something into which you are putting so much. It is always very hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard to put yourself out there, with your dog, in testing, or competition or work. It’s even harder when you fail.

Helo and I have failed. Many many times. But we’re getting better. We’re growing.

I know that I have had the support of my Church people, through prayer and encouragement. Thank you all for that. Thank you for asking me at coffee hour how training is going, for listening to me talk about the joys of human remains detection over donuts, for praying for our safety in our work, and for praying for me and asking about the TJTP. That job gets a bit lonely at times and I know I have your love there. It means a lot.

My family and non-dog/SAR friends have been pretty awesome as well. I have been a total chatterbox for two years now on the miracles and wonders of lying in the woods and waiting for a dog to come and bark at me. I have badgered many about coming to hide in holes and boxes, regardless of weather or conditions. I have moaned about our latest struggle and babbled like a brook about any success we have had. Please know I am trying not to take you all for granted. We can’t do this without you and your patience. Thank you. Thank you.

At some level too, not the Mystical one of actual Communion, but at a very deep and meaningful human level– a way that I think it should be for everyone somewhere in their lives– my dog people have saved me this year too. There has been a true communion of connection and support.

When you are passionate about something, and you find others who share that passion and that drive; and who are committed to helping you cultivate it more in yourself, it’s just extraordinary.

New friends whose paths I crossed at seminars or elsewhere, for whom I felt an instant “THIS PERSON needs to be in my life”; Facebook friends who have trained and worked for years, who are quick to answer questions, to offer tips and patience; my teammates who deal with me with unfailing patience and humor, for you all I am so thankful.

Such connections are a gift. To those reading this for whom this is true, thank you. Thank you for investing in my life, in my skills, in my dog. Thank you for caring enough to check on us, spur us on, pull us up when we’ve been down.

I light candles in the back of the Church for those whom I love and who are on my mind. It’s been a veritable forest quite frequently in recent months for all of you.

Love,

Me.

A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

An icon in the ditch

Our team had a good week. We kept a search a “rescue” instead of “recovery.” Our dogs did what humans couldn’t. Thank God for that. Early Friday morning, two of our dogs and two of our handlers pushed law enforcement to extend the search for just one more run, one more time. And they brought an elderly man, suffering from dementia, to his family, to a warm and comfortable house in suburban Fort Wayne. The place he belongs was just a few thousand yards from where he would have probably died, had a handsome rescued German Shepherd named Tick not pushed through the brush, scampered down a ravine and found the man, in the dead, cold middle of the night, and told all the humans in the vicinity “he’s here!”

That’s what I wanted to write about yesterday and this morning. I thought about all the times I hide for Tick, how much fun I have with him, regardless of how tired I am, or how cold or hot it is, so that he believes that humans in random places in rubble piles or forests or buildings are the absolute bees knees.  I wanted to write about how Tick’s handler is one helping to turn my Helo into a fierce, feisty little search-beast.

That’s what I was going to tell you.

But as we had our de-brief this morning, and the handlers talked about how they walked and walked, through deep mud and brambles, and how they felt when they got to him, I realized this is a different story.

SAR is about humanity. It’s about icons. It’s about the image of God, what makes us of infinite value. It’s about our souls. It’s about helping, bringing home, about restoration, and hope.

It’s about taking great care, covering the wounds, warming cold limbs, bundling up, and touching softly. It’s about removing your own coat, taking your own time, expending your own effort. It’s about asking a name, looking in eyes, holding a hand and making one safe.

It’s about Mercy. Grace. Hope. Love. And it might not even matter why a person does this, but in that moment, it is about that connection. It is about human. It is about the Image. It is about Love.

It is about all of us.

 

(But K9 SAR is also about puppies. Here’s Tick.)

tick