Monthly Archives: February 2017

Pet Sitting

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops her furry houseguests she is pet sitting for, grief distraction.Oh, you poor-sweet-babies missing your mamas, I croon to the extra sets of eyes that keep constant watch over me. One friend’s dog and another friend’s cat are houseguests for a good part of February. It’s like having a houseful of kids again, I tell myself. I fill the fridge and hunker down for Pet Camp.

Oh babies, you’re gonna exhaust yourselves, I tell them. Together with my dog, they follow me as I flit from room to room, from manuscript to mail pile, from computer to kitchen counter. They close in tighter anytime I approach the kitchen. The cat peeks out from her polyester cat-house parked on my desk when she’s not playing in the dripping bathroom sink. The houseguest-dog grunts at the extensive barricade system enclosing the carpeted living room. My own dog merrily tests out each of the extra nests lovingly installed around the house, distributing her chew toys among the various bedding options, like they might hold her place. The houseguest-dog has his own way of marking his places.

Babies, it’s TV-time, I announce turning on the news, and they follow me to the couch where we rotate who gets my lap. It’s potty-time, I sing. Time for bed everyone. Who wants dinner? Major rush to the kitchen.

Pet sitting is a great distraction from grief and worries. The more critters, the busier you can keep yourself. But sooner or later, when the pets are all piled into bed with you, and you’ve covered them up in your polar fleece jackets to keep them cozy through the night, you find grief is still there waiting. All the persons and things you lost come back to haunt you. The world is passing you by. Time’s disappearing faster than dog-chow. Other than visiting your mother, when did you last take a long trip? You think of your friends having fun times in exotic places, drinking strawberry margaritas on sunny beaches.

Halfway into the middle of my pet-sitting weeks I call a tour company to book a vacation for myself. Three sets of eyes watch me hug the phone. Oh babies, I’m going to Australia!


Grief and Glory at the Opera

Late, past my bedtime, I am dancing with the dog in the driveway. With arms stretched out to hug the universe, I sing to reach the stars. My head is filled with a melody that clings, wrapping itself around every thought. And my heart bursts with love. For everyone and everything in the world. It’s growing greater than my little frame can contain. All this emotion and energy ricochets too wildly back and forth off the walls in my house, so I take myself outside where I can twirl it off into the still night air. This is what it looks like when I come home on Opera Night.

Opera is meant to move us, give us goosebumps. Some think opera is boring. Irrelevant. Silly even, as every human emotion is expressed in song. Imagine though: people get poisoned or stabbed, they crave power or revenge, they die or drown in despair, in desperate love, sometimes forbidden love. There is war, rage, jealousy, fear, hope, joy, … an explosion of passion, all conveyed through a wide range of the human voice. Howling, whimpering, roaring … trilling to tunes that tell a story that is timeless and universal. Always, there’s grief and glory to be found at the opera.

And opera is not just singing. It is a combination of music, drama, visual design and movement. It’s like the Ironman triathlon of the arts, only all the action is taking place at once. In costume, with stunning stage sets. It captivates and thrills us; it drains us. For performers and audience alike, opera is a workout.

Throughout my daughter’s cancer, come Opera Night, wherever we were, I took a break to attend the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts offered several Saturday afternoons and Wednesday evenings at local movie theaters worldwide. I could sit through every tragedy known to man, and witness on the large screen all the churning I felt inside myself. Sometimes the story ended badly. I’d be in tears. But there was comfort in watching the sadness of the larger-than-life characters. Their grief was amplified by the intensity of the music. Magnificence. Even in the midst of catastrophe. Every pain I felt was validated, and became more bearable.

So meet me at the opera. We’ll hike the highest peaks and deepest pits of our emotions. We’ll witness the truth of what it is to be human in this world. And when we laugh or cry at the opera, we’ll know we’re not alone.


What does opera mean to you? What makes you feel like singing and dancing your heart out?


In the Eye of the Beholder

In the Eye of the BeholderThe sign on the gate said Chef’s Garden. The place looked abandoned. No one was looking so she entered, and right away was drawn to a patch of blue. Fresh, frosty, mentholated blue.

Oh, that color. An icy, almost iridescent blue that could thaw into green or purple with the passing of a cloud. A blue you could fly in. Or float in. Like the color of snow at twilight, a ghostly pale blue that defied reality. And petals with ridged edges, like the gnawed ears of tomcats. Leaves that opened to the sun, yet wrapped the flower’s core tightly in shadow.

Blue roses, she thought. How beautiful. For an hour she photographed them up and down, zooming in and out.

She knew her roses. Roses were a symbol of love: Pink roses showed appreciation and gratitude. Yellow roses said Remember Me. White was the bridal rose, and orange meant excitement and desire. Peach-colored roses extended sympathy. The darkest crimson was for sorrow and grief. Over the course of her life she’d given and gotten them all.

But a blue rose. That was special. A rarity in nature, a blue rose symbolized the impossible, the unattainable. An unrealizable dream, a never-to-be-fulfilled wish. Or it could mean starting all over again but on a different path, and triumphing against all odds. A blue rose could represent immortality. Or the death of hope.

She considered her situation, her life. All the changes. The sorrows. Worries. Things she was grateful for. Things regretted. She thought of the manuscript she’d written and was returning to, her dreams of traveling, her yearning to discover who and where she was meant to be. Now, finding a whole patch of these roses, was this a blessing? Or –

Later, when she viewed all the photos she’d taken in the garden, it was the ones of the blue roses she kept coming back to. The camera had almost perfectly captured the moonshadow-blue color. Her eyes danced over each image with something like joy.

People told her, that’s just a rotting cabbage riddled with wormholes. But she knew better.


Walking a Labyrinth

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops multiple images of her sister walking a labyrinth in Tucson, Arizona.You put one foot in front of the other. And you keep going. That’s how you Walk a Labyrinth. That’s kind of what I told my sister as we approached the labyrinth off a desert nature trail in Tucson.

A labyrinth is not a maze. It is an organized design, a circuitous winding path that leads to a center and back. Some say it’s like a map of your life’s journey. They say the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out to the world, to know who you are. Or maybe it’s a path to meet with God. Whatever, labyrinths are supposed to help you find your way.

People walk labyrinths for growth and for healing, to meditate, to clear and expand their focus, to reduce stress, to seek answers, find guidance, or to simply walk in wonder. You can walk a labyrinth in a group ritual or as a private meditation. It can bring rest, order, comfort, and harmony. Like meditating, it’s a process of letting go. You let go of trying to see what’s ahead and simply follow the path.

In a labyrinth you can only go forward. There’s only one path, into the center and out again. Where you are is where you are meant to be. You cannot get lost in a labyrinth. The path is meandering but purposeful. You will arrive. And you will return. Eventually.

There is only one choice to make: to enter the labyrinth or not.

Many lives are more like mazes. A maze is designed to trick you, make you lose your way. There are choices, several paths to choose from. They branch off, twist, and turn. Blind alleys, dead-ends, potholes, unmarked trails that split unexpectedly, stream-crossings over thin ice, snakes suddenly slithering out of nowhere, rough rocky paths….

It was only one simple little choice: to enter or not. But I’m always complicating things. The labyrinth in the Tucson desert became a symbol for all the things that skirt the edges of my life in possibility: the desert beckoning me to venture into its mysterious harsh beauty, religion and spirituality, belief in an afterlife, belief in my own self and my potential.

I did not walk the labyrinth. Instead, I stood outside the sacred space, taking pictures of my sister as she stepped serenely through the meandering trail, losing track of direction and the outside world, quieting her mind. One foot in front of the other. Smiling, mostly.


Is your walk through life a labyrinth or a maze?