Death Is

The Tao Te Ching was the first religious text I ever read that made real sense to me. It hit home so hard, in fact, that I cried the first time I read it, which was a particularly huge feat at the time (~20 years ago), when I tended to cry on an annual basis.

One theme that runs throughout the Tao is that people erroneously judge and weigh the realities of life. What should be perceived as simple, we complicate. What is truly complicated, we consider simple. And therefore, as we attempt to navigate existence, we spend much of our time completely off course.

In the counseling, reading, and thinking I’ve done on grief over the past six months, I’ve realized my conception of death, and how to respond to it, have been filtered through the very lens described in the Tao. I always viewed death as complicated, but it’s not. Death is simple – neither malevolent nor kind, as plain as it is absolute. There’s no point railing against its wrath, injustice, or unseemly coldness. Death doesn’t answer for itself. It just is.

Many years ago, a friend of mine lost both parents within months of each other, and because I had no idea what to say in the wake of such tragedy, I didn’t say anything. I avoided her, and we drifted apart. I now realize I needlessly complicated the situation. All my friend needed at that time was a benevolent witness – someone to acknowledge the raw pain of her loss. Death is simple, and so is the most meaningful response to it:

“I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting. I’m here.”

And that’s all. It’s not complicated. I suppose that’s the good news. When faced with another’s suffering, we don’t need to offer advice, redirection, cheer, or distraction, conjure up magical words or devise brilliant strategies to try and salve their pain. All they really want to hear is:

“I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting. I’m here.”

Simple.

That’s What Happens on Monkey Island

At this time twenty years ago, I was just getting to know JR, my new housemate. We’d come to live together via a mutual friend, Kyoko, who had lived with JR previously and assured me, when proposing the three of us share a home, that not only would I love JR, but he would prove to be entirely unlike anyone I’d ever met.

A few weeks after we moved into our new house, I told Kyoko the story of Coconut Harry, a Golden Retriever in the Florida Keys who’d been swept off a sailboat and lost at sea, only to turn up over a week later on a remote island inhabited only by monkeys. At some point in the telling (I can’t remember the context) I said, “That’s what happens when you put a bunch of monkeys on an island!”

After a momentary, thoughtful pause, Kyoko said, “The next time we’re with JR, one of us should randomly drop that sentence into the conversation. Whatever we’re talking about, whenever there’s a pause, just drop it in. No explanation. I’m telling you, he’ll go with it like it’s totally normal.”

We got our chance that night, while chatting in the front room after dinner. Out of absolutely nowhere, Kyoko turned to JR and declared, “That’s what happens when you put a bunch of monkeys on an island!”

“I know!” JR enthusiastically replied.

Kyoko stared at him, her look incredulous. I sat on the couch, watching like a spectator at a tennis match.

Kyoko: “Wait. What? What do you know?”

JR: “That that’s what happens.”

Kyoko: “What’s what happens?”

JR: “That’s what happens when you put a bunch of monkeys on an island!”

Kyoko: “But what are you talking about?”

JR: “I don’t know. What are you talking about?”

It was perfect.

I’ve recalled that exchange a lot over the past ten months, as I’ve tried to channel JR’s bottomless ability to shift gears and adapt. These days, I consider “monkeys on an island” as a battle cry of sorts. New COVID variants? Monkeys on an island! Insurrection at the Capitol? Monkeys on an island! Jewish space laser conspiracies? Monkeys on an island! Yet another month of quarantine? Monkeys on an island!

This all-purpose declaration serves me in the same way “It is what it is” served my dad during times of unwelcome, jarring change. However, it’s much more fun to say. Also, it really takes the sting out of stressful events to picture a Golden Retriever, having just escaped the jaws of a watery death, joyously bounding around an island full of monkeys.

Oh, Coconut Harry. You must’ve thought you’d died and gone to Dog Heaven.

A Year of Challenge

Back in January, I wrote about the 52-week gratitude challenge my mom, sister and I had embarked on three months earlier. Last week, we arrived at our final topic: Lessons Learned/Did this challenge change you? Though we should’ve finished back in October, we had to hit pause on a few occasions, namely:

  • My sister’s hospitalization, cancer diagnosis, and beginning of treatment (March-April)
  • Dad’s sudden death (September)
  • My sister’s stem cell transplant and recovery process (October-November)

Quite a year. I think there might’ve been a plague, as well. And a bunch of other gruesome shit.

🤬

As it turns out, choosing that particular challenge was eerily timely. Given all the trauma and tragedy of the past year, it was a true blessing to have a designated time each week to focus exclusively on gratitude.

Here are the final emails we sent each other:

My Response:

To be perfectly honest, when I look at this week’s subject, part of me is like: Barf! Screw you, Gratitude Challenge, my lesson learned is that everything sucks! 

😭
👿

Ahem.

Okay, so really what I learned over the course of this challenge is that it is always an option to be grateful, rather than focusing on struggles and suffering. Concentrating on points of gratitude is best for my mental health, physical health, and general state of well being.  

The past year has certainly provided its share of challenges, and having this weekly exercise has provided a consistent reminder to shine the light on gratitude. Choosing to prioritize gratitude is the wisest choice. It feels better and is more beneficial, so why not do it?

I am grateful to both of you for hanging on over the last year+ to complete the challenge. It hurts my heart to think back on the breaks we’ve had to take over the past year, but I am grateful we’ve come through it together, and I am grateful for the honor of having you both in my life.

Love, Kelly

Mom’s Reply:

So beautifully stated, Kel…. particularly the disclaimer at the beginning!  

😄

But I think that that is what we’ve all learned in a nutshell: Even though everything sucks, there’s always something to be grateful for, and looking for those things helps to keep us calm(er), happier and sane. It’s quite remarkable that we chose to do a gratitude challenge during what turned out to be the worst year of our lives; and it certainly turned out to be a timely and beneficial choice.

Katy’s little sign in her kitchen says it so well: “Every day is not good, but there’s something good in every day.”  Another expression I love is: “Keep your head where your feet are”. Focus on where  you are, not where you’ve been or where you might go. My tendency has always been to spend a lot of time ruminating ….regretting things that did or didn’t happen in the past; worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future. But this challenge has helped me to stay focused on today and what is good about today. And there’s always so much to be grateful for.

I’m grateful for having made this journey with you, and for all I learned about you. Something I didn’t learn because I already knew: There’s nothing in this world I’m more grateful for than both of you.

Love,
Mom

My Sister’s Conclusion:

I’ve taken so long to respond because I don’t really have much to add to all the beautiful things you both wrote! 

☺

It really has helped me get through this godforsaken year having these weekly emails to look forward to and to keep my focus on what is good and positive in our worlds. I learned that gratitude really is a mindset that can be cultivated.

I’m grateful to the children’s book club meeting I went to where I learned about this challenge, and I’m grateful that you both were willing to take on the challenge with me!

I’m grateful that we didn’t let misfortune and long breaks derail us and that we persevered together.

Now, what’s next?

Love you both so much!

💕

And…scene. Challenge completed. As my sister said, it’s time to pick the next one. I’ve done a little online digging and haven’t been inspired thus far, having found mostly kill-joy self-improvement projects focused on crap like budgeting strategies and home organization. Snore. I did see one about sending a personal piece of mail each week and may try that. I mean, who doesn’t love getting mail?

I know we’re all anxiously awaiting the end of 2020 while faced with the reality that nothing will be different as of 1/1/2021. That being said, I encourage everyone to try the gratitude challenge. I truly believe it saved Mom, my sister and me over the past year. Despite everything that happened, we were still inspired to send each other Bitmojis like this:

And who knows, maybe when you reach the final topic 52 weeks from now, life will be a little more normal. Maybe we’ll even get to see the bottom half of people’s faces again! Can you imagine?

Dichotomous Heart

When Dad saw the photos from my 2018 falconry adventure, he asked if I’d ever heard about the little owl he found, back in his sailing days. I hadn’t, and given my newfound interest in birds of prey, I eagerly listened while he shared the tale.

Dad was Chief Mate on the container ship SS Detroit as it sailed from New Jersey to Puerto Rico. One morning, he discovered a tiny owl with its talons entangled in the ship’s rigging. The poor thing had been blown out to sea in a big storm the night before and was well and truly stuck. After freeing the terrified owl, Dad prevailed upon the ship’s cook to provide him with hamburger to feed his new charge. Trust-building was a challenge, and Dad described his huge sense of relief the first time the owl accepted food from his hand. When the ship docked in San Juan, he transferred the little survivor to the Audubon Society.

On November 1st, my mom, husband and I set up an altar to honor our departed loved ones. Mom thought it would be a good time to sift through piles of family photos she’d been given over the years, and in the process, we discovered this:

What a gift to find an image of Dad with his tiny rescued owl. Seeing him here reminds me of the countless times he offered care and comfort with sincerity and love, and without question.

My dad was a man of two hearts. The physical heart, with its valves, ventricles, aorta and atriums, was weak and fragile. It failed and took him from the world. But the heart he shared with others was fierce and mighty, radiating kindness, protection and generosity. That’s the heart he gave to those who crossed his path. That’s the heart that remains with us.

Inappropriate Joke Time

A dear friend told me this joke many years ago. I usually forget jokes, but this one has stuck in my head for decades, likely due to its stellar first line.

[Disclaimer: This joke is downright inappropriate. Over its relatively brief span, it manages to cover child molestation, infidelity, and the intentional spreading of infectious diseases. Is it gross? Yes. Does it make light of truly heinous acts? Absolutely. But I don’t care. I still like it. Are you easily offended? Then don’t read this. Click away and save yourself.]

Okay, here it is:

A little boy walks into a whorehouse with a dead frog on a leash.

“Hello, little boy,” the madam says. “May I help you?”

“Yes,” the little boy replies. “I want an hour with your dirtiest whore.”

The madam gives him a strange look. “All right,” she says, “but we do have clean whores here. May I ask why you want a dirty one?”

With a nod, the little boy replies, “From what I’ve heard, dirty whores have lots of diseases. If I have sex with one, then I’ll get all the diseases, and when I go home and have sex with the babysitter, I’ll give her all the diseases. The next time the babysitter has sex with my dad, she’ll give him all the diseases. Then Dad will have sex with Mom and give her all the diseases, and the next time Mom has sex with the postman, she’ll give him all the diseases. AND HE’S THE ONE WHO RAN OVER MY FROG!!”

😁

Back in March, when my sister was in the hospital and the country was shutting down in response to the plague, my parents and I congregated at my sister’s house, fretting about her health, her two little sons, COVID, and the general state of the world. To break the tension, we decided to share jokes, and this one really cracked my parents up. In the face of despair, brash inappropriateness can work wonders. And now that Dad has departed the world, I think back with a smile at how much he appreciated the dead frog joke. The night after he heard it, Mom told him something funny had just happened, and he asked, “Is it as funny as a little boy walking into a whorehouse with a dead frog on a leash?”

[P.S.: If you have a joke of your own that you’d like to share to cut the tension of our current times, please do. It doesn’t even have to be grossly offensive. Also, if you’re a fan of the dead frog theme, here’s an unfortunately true story that you’ll probably like.]

Memory Stream

~ How my thoughts are running these days ~

Dad’s explosive sneezes would scare the shit out of all of us. They came out of nowhere and were unspeakably loud. Even the pets would jump.

When I was little, he called me Tiger Lily. As I grew up, he switched to Kelly-My-Darlin’. He’d wanted to name me Sioux, but my maternal grandfather put the kibash on that.

Years ago, on what was meant to be a catch-and-release fishing excursion, dozens of enormous barracuda surrounded Dad’s boat as soon as we anchored. Each time I hooked a fish, a barracuda struck. After I pulled in my third or fourth fish head, Dad – who knew how horrified I was to be an accomplice to this slaughter – glanced at me with a mischievous half-smile and grumbled, “Kelly, stop getting blood in my boat.”

His oft-repeated lessons:

  • Do your best at all times in all things.
  • If you say you’re going to do something, do it. You’re only as good as your word.
  • Don’t hate. It takes too much energy.

He would calm fussy babies by placing them on his chest. We have so many photos of him like that – on the couch, eyes closed, with a tiny, sleeping bundle nestled right below his chin.

During a family road trip, after my sister, mom and I had played the alphabet game, I Packed My Grandmother’s Trunk, and who knows what else to pass the time, Dad suggested, “How about we play a game that’s absolutely silent?”

Last fall, he asked my husband and me to grab buckets and get in the car. Mom gave us a wide-eyed look like: Oh, just you wait and see! He drove us to the lot where his boat and trailer were parked. The boat cover had been weighted down by a recent rainstorm, and in the resultant pool were thousands of tiny tadpoles. Dad explained that he’d come by earlier to dump out the water, but when he saw the tadpoles, he had to change plans. Mom, Dad, JR and I spent the next half hour gathering tadpoles in buckets and relocating them to a nearby lake. Our little field trip didn’t surprise me at all. There’s no way in hell Dad would’ve dumped all those tadpoles onto the asphalt to die. He never would’ve even considered such a thing.

Dad once told me, “Life may be shit, but death is nothing.” I’m usually grateful to have been raised without religion or afterlife ideas, but not now. I wish I could believe we’d be reunited one day. Sometimes, when I remember he’s dead, it’s hard to breathe. I have to sit down. The pain roars through me like my blood is on fire.

He loved to dance. He used to take me to the father-daughter square dances when I was in Brownies. I adored those events. He loved Elvis, oldies, jukeboxes, and sharing the story of my grandfather telling him, after they’d traveled together in the car for a few hours, “Your music makes me puke.”

He was a brutal editor of my first book. “Why is everyone in this book always smirking and exiting? Why can’t they just smile and leave?” I was appreciative for the candid critique, but not so much for all the times he’d describe a critically-acclaimed book he’d disliked, proclaiming, “It was even worse than yours.” Each time, Mom would implore him to stop saying that, and he’d reply, “What? I’m saying this guy’s published and got all these great reviews, and his book is even worse than hers. So there’s hope!”

When I was in high school, he’d leave work early to come watch my tennis matches. There were all these people around the court in athletic clothing and this one tall, intimidating guy in a suit. His presence made me feel nervous and important at the same time.

On my dresser, there’s a photo of him from his Merchant Marine days. Hanging off the side of the frame is a slingshot he made when he was a boy. When I first set that up, I realized it would be a memorial someday. Now it is. I hate that.

He got to teach his grandson to ride a bike last summer. He was so thrilled. Mom has a video of him whooping with excitement as the new bicyclist goes whizzing by.

I hear his voice. I see his shimmering fingers as he explains something he’s excited about. I feel his hand holding mine. As a child, I would lay on his chest and listen to his heart – that stupid, broken heart that quit and stole my father from me. From all of us.

Sometimes I think I might get through a whole day without crying, then I cry at the very thought. It would’ve hurt Dad so much to see me this way. He wanted his loved ones to be happy. He would want us to be laughing.

Years ago, I told my sister that when our parents died, I would never get over it. I know that’s true. Losing Dad will be a lifelong sorrow. Still, I look forward to a time when memories of him bring comfort rather than pain. That’s what people say, right? Find comfort in your memories. So I have to believe that time will come. For now, though, I just remember, and cry, and remember, and cry, and remember.

[While I still can’t believe the words “obituary” or “funeral home” have anything to do with my father, Mom did write a beautiful obituary for him that is now posted on the funeral home’s website. You can find it here.]

The Grief Tornado

“They’re called the Stages of Grief, but don’t expect them to march along in a logical, predictable order. Their arrival may seem more like a swirling tornado.”

Mirroring this state of emotional chaos, the presenter whirled his arms through the air while I doodled row upon row of tiny circles in my notebook. Though his style was dynamic, it’s hard for lecturers to capture my attention for long, especially when I’m seated in a frigid banquet room under anemic lighting with hundreds of other whispering, coughing, fidgeting attendees.

His arms continued to spiral while he pantomimed a wild ride through the stages of grief: a sudden crash into depression, swift slide over to bargaining, explosion of anger, dip of a toe in acceptance, then a graceless stumble back to denial. As he said, “Sometimes that’s all in an hour!” and the audience laughed, I wrote Stages of Grief = Emotional Tornado below a row of tiny circles.

The trainer’s whirling arms were brought to mind a few days after my father’s sudden death two weeks ago, when Mom described a dream she’d had the night before in which she and Dad watched a huge tornado bearing down on them. These days, I’m caught squarely in the center of my own grief tornado, and I don’t need anywhere near an hour to spiral erratically through the stages. In a span of five minutes, I’ll sob my head off, narrow my eyes at a photo of him and mutter, “Thanks for bailing on us,” sob again, convince myself that this is just part of the relentless nightmare that is 2020 and he’ll be back at any moment, sob some more, tell God that I will totally start believing in him/her/them if this situation can be undone (please and thank you, amen), sob sob sob, then decide that staying in bed forever is probably the best idea. Clearly, acceptance has not yet found its place in my tornado. The pain is still so raw that acceptance seems like a betrayal to his memory. I know (hope/trust) that this will change with time.

When I arrived at my parents’ house the morning after Dad’s death, I found his to-do list on the kitchen table, his pill case beside his bed, filled up for the week to come, his day-to-day toiletries in the bathroom, his clothes piled on the dryer, and a pair of his shoes by every door. His watch, placed on the table next to his usual spot on the couch, still tracked the seconds, minutes, and hours in which he no longer existed. Packages of fishing supplies he’d recently ordered arrived at the house alongside floral arrangements and sympathy cards.

Dad was yanked away so quickly that it’s hard to stop reeling from the shock. I hugged him and said goodbye just hours before he died. He was expected at my sister’s later that week to look after his grandsons for a few days. He and Mom had planned to take the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit my husband, sister, and me at our campsite that weekend. When we’d made the plan, he’d pulled out one of his trusty paper maps to plan the route and said, “It’s good to have something to look forward to.”

I’ve dreaded my father’s passing ever since his first major cardiac event in 1985, when I was ten years old. Despite the fervent protests of his loved ones, he was always cavalier about his death, replying to each, “Good night – see you in the morning!” with, “I certainly hope so,” and reminding us ad nauseam that he wouldn’t be around forever. But nothing could’ve prepared me for this abrupt loss. The finality. The permanent state of absence. As I told my mom the other day, “He just keeps being gone.” She said she’d been thinking the same thing – that he’d been away plenty of times before, but he’d always come back. And we took a step away from our separate tornados to hold each other and cry.

I know that my family, and everyone who loved Dad, will find a way to get through this. We’re huddling close and holding onto one another. In my journal, I’m writing a list of all the things he loved, and while it makes me break down now, someday it will make me smile. I’ve discovered two good grief strategies: the shower is a good place to cry, and the car is a good place to scream. And I’m not fighting the tornado. Like all forces of nature, even the most vicious, it will run its course, and in the wake of its destructive path, there will be opportunities for rebirth. While that future is unforeseeable today, I trust that it will come.

Another Week of Blursdays

When I started to see photos of ash raining down on my friends in California, I was so confused. Wait. It’s not wildfire season. I mean it’s…what, spring? Winter? 1992? When is it again?

Oh, right. It’s late August.

It’s late August, y’all. As ridiculous as it seems, after weeks and months of consecutive Blursdays, we’ve arrived at the end of summer.

As we all know, things we used to take for granted (e.g., time passing in a familiar way; basic neurological functioning) have been warped by the pandemic. I’ve been at a new job for four months, but my internal clock tells me that it started yesterday, or never. My ability to concentrate lasts anywhere from zero to three seconds. And my baseline emotional state is the unpleasant combination of tension and boredom that I normally associate with watching baseball. The problem is that this game has lasted for 5 months. It’s been well over ten thousand innings, and it just keeps going.

For a mental health worker, it’s a particularly troublesome time. Ordinarily, folks in my field help people identify the disconnect between their anxious/depressed moods and reality, but these days, extreme anxiety and depression are perfectly rational. Pretty much all I can tell people is: Try meditation. There’s a lot to be said for giving yourself permission to think about nothing.

On the upside, my husband and I fell victim to the lure of the Pandemic Puppy, and this little guy has been added to our family:

Say hello to tiny Titus. We’re thinking he’s a Mastiff/Great Dane/Horse/Godzilla mix.

Here’s how he looks on a paddleboard:

And here’s how he looks upside down:

As difficult and annoying as puppies are (and oh, they really are), Titus provides a spark of joy to our stupid, quarantined lives, and for that I am truly grateful.

There have been a few other sparks of joy during this utterly craptastic era. Alicia Bognanno, lead singer of Bully, livestreamed a few shows from her home, and they were amazing. We get to access The Moth’s storytelling events via Zoom. And I’ve seen some really cool mask designs. So there ya go! Three good things. But goddammit, I sure do miss hugging my friends.

In conclusion, I offer the same advice I give myself every day ~

Keep breathing. Drink water. Maintain hope. Be kind to yourself and others.

If you haven’t already, try meditation. It really does help.

And to all of you out in Cali ~ stay safe. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

Virtual hugs to you all. 🤗

Back to Aret

For the past couple years, I’ve worked on a book of interlocking stories, all of which follow the lives of four siblings as they travel through the foster care system. Each chapter is told from a different point of view: the police officer who removes the kids; foster parents; the birth mom; social workers; the kids themselves; etc. In February, sixteen chapters in, I decided to go back to the beginning and work on revisions before moving forward. And then the world collapsed, and I stopped working on it altogether.

When I opened the document last week, I found myself reading about a cop sitting in a bar, drinking a beer and listening to a woman nearby talk to her friends. In the next scene, he waits in his patrol car while three kids step off a school bus. Well, shit, I thought. This is a pre-COVID world. And since I have no idea what a post-COVID world will look like, and I don’t feel like rewriting the whole book with the characters in masks and physically distancing, I decided the project needs to be shelved.

The upside of this is that I’m returning to Aret.

Book cover design by Fian Arroyo

Book Three has been sitting around tapping its foot for years, and it’s time to give it some attention. Besides, spending time on a world with multiple wars and man-eating dragons seems like a pretty decent option right about now.

That Time Jasper and I Almost Fell Off a Cliff

The last few months have been utter bullshit on both global and personal scales. While the world shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, my dear sister was diagnosed with blood cancer. As protests erupted in response to police officers murdering people of color, our next door neighbor overdosed, requiring CPR at 5 a.m. from my husband and me. (Giving chest compressions when you’re not sure whether or not the person is already dead is not something I would wish on anyone. It is haunting.)

Also, somewhere in the midst of all this crap, our sweet cat Shmee died.

We are not amused.

Others have written about the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement far more eloquently than I could ever hope to, and right now I could use a distraction from current horrors, if only for a few minutes. So I am going to tell a story about the day my dog and I almost fell off a cliff.

This was back in 2006, soon after we adopted Jasper as a goofy, big-headed, 1-year-old pup. We headed out on a hike with a couple of friends, intending to find a waterfall none of us had seen before. One of the friends was a paramedic and had a shift scheduled later that afternoon, but we figured we’d have plenty of time to complete the 8-mile loop before she was due to arrive at work.

About four miles into our journey, we saw a Trail Closed Ahead sign and merrily stomped past it. “How can the trail be closed?” we joked to one another. “Caution tape? A stop sign? This is the forest! It can’t be closed.”

Two miles later, however, we came to an abrupt halt as the trail dropped straight into a fathomless abyss. To our right, a cliff rose into the sky. To our left, the cliff plummeted into a ravine. About ten yards ahead, we could see where the trail picked up again, but in between our feet and the trail’s continuance was an insurmountable void. “Well…shit,” we said. We were a couple miles from the end of our loop. If we had to backtrack, we’d have six miles left, and our paramedic friend had an ambulance waiting for her.

I looked back the way we’d come. “Okay,” I said, “we’re not the first people to hit this point. Someone’s figured out how to get around it.” We searched along the cliff beside the trail until, sure enough, we found a rope. I tugged, and it held fast. Handing Jasper’s leash to my husband, I said, “I’ll climb up. If there’s a rope leading down the other side, I’ll let you know.”

I pulled myself up the cliff about fifty feet to discover – hooray! – another rope dangling down the other side. I called to my friends, then lowered myself down the rope to land victoriously on the trail at the other side of the ravine. After doing a little happy dance, I called to my husband, who was now at the top of the first rope. “I’m back on the trail!” Knowing it would be impossible for him to repel down the rope while holding a leashed dog, I added, “Go ahead and let Jasper go!”

What I didn’t consider as these words left my mouth were the ramifications of a 60-pound dog running free down a steep, 50-foot slope. That reality became clear, however, as I heard the amplifying thunder of a high-velocity canine hurtling my way.

Hmm, I thought. I looked over my shoulder to confirm what I already knew: directly behind the thin ridge trail on which I now stood was that cavernous ravine we’d been so careful to avoid. Hmm, I thought again. Jasper and I are about to fly off a cliff.

As Jasper’s stampede grew ever louder, I took a deep breath, assumed as wide a stance as possible on the 18-inch trail, put all my weight on my back foot, and waited. The moment my flappy-eared, happy-as-could-be dog burst into view, I pitched forward and threw myself at him with full force, smashing us both into the cliff side in a shower of sweat, drool, and terror.

We lived. Our paramedic friend made it to her shift on time. And although I’ve been known to say I didn’t learn much of any value in high school, as I look back on that experience, I’ve gotta admit:

Physics saved the day.