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May 15, 2010
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November 25, 2010
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This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome, and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice
Go to the door laughing
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes
For each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

~Rumi

Saturday morning I was not laughing. I was in Charleston, South Carolina to hear Sue Monk Kidd speak on the craft of Writing with Soul. At 8 a.m. my unexpected visitor arrived by cell phone. It rang  loudly, waking me from a fitful dream. I answered to a tear stained voice telling me that Doobey, our beloved dachshund dog-child, had passed away. She was only six years old.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

After only 15 hours in Charleston, I packed my black canvas bag in the rented dodge and turned toward Atlanta. How could this have happened? Doobey was a rescue dog, a faithful companion who loved lap perching, blanket snuggling and riding with the windows down. She was healthy–never had so much as indigestion in six years. I didn’t get to say goodbye. Did she suffer? Was it peaceful? How could liver disease take her so quickly? My mind was pressed heavy with questions, my heart sinking with the weight of the void. I sped down the interstate, trees and wildflowers all a blur, needing to be with my family, to rejoin the pack as we mourned the passing of one of our own.

Welcome, and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.

Three hours into the drive home I needed coffee. My eyes and heart were drooping so I exited the highway in search of java. At the off-ramp intersection I looked to the left and to the right, wondering which direction would be more likely to yield an awakening elixir. As I gazed at the red light I noticed there, in front of me glowing like a green halo, was a Starbucks sign.(And why not? They are taking over the world, ya know.) As I pulled into the parking lot there were no spaces available, forcing me to park across the lot at a hotel.  A few minutes later, ice vanilla latte in hand, I crossed the parking lot toward my rented dodge to resume the journey home. Until…

I heard their voices before I could see them. A throng of voices–no. More than a throng. A bombastic hallelujah congregation–a Tabernacle Choir–of voices erupted into the air. I actually looked up. And around. Where was this coming from? It was all I could do to follow the sound. Every hair on my body stood up in holy reverence and beckoned me forward. It was coming from the lobby of the the hotel. What on earth…? I walked through the doors to see thirty or forty dark skinned, beautifully shining (beaming, actually) faces singing “Keep on Making a Way.” You wanna talk rapture? This was it, for me. I stood there, transfixed. Or perhaps transfigured.

Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

I put my car keys, cell phone and cafe latte on the lobby’s side table in front of a large decorative bowl of potpourri or some such thing, then turned my face back to the choir. The room was not large. 20’x30′ max with 9ft ceilings, which made the sound explode, reverberate and then tackle the sternum, the solar plexus, and the diaphragm. It entered my ears and blood stream simultaneously. The tears came effortlessly, before I even realized I was crying. It was the kind of crying motivated by sheer awe. My dog had died and there I was in the middle of Nowhere, Georgia, in the presence of Spirit. The side table, my alter. The choir, my angels. The song, my benediction.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice
Go to the door laughing
And invite them in.

Five paces behind me was bright sun beating on black asphalt, a few smokers sitting under the green umbrellas of Starbucks, traffic. Five paces in front of me: Glory. With a shudder I turned to look at the marquis of the hotel to get my bearings, to make sure it was all real. The Comfort Inn. I felt a disorienting moment of wooziness as I wondered if it was all real and reached out to steady myself on the side table. That’s when Doobey reached out her wet nose to nuzzle my hand. I looked down to see it was only my ice latte melting, condensation dripping from the plastic cup onto my hand. I giggled through the tears and reached for my latte. That’s when I noticed the sign. The potpourri bowl I had stacked my keys, phone and latte against was not a potpourri bowl at all. It was full of yellow, orange and green dog biscuits, with a sign that read “We at Comfort Inn welcome you and your dog. Your stay with us is a treat, so enjoy one with us.”

Be grateful for whoever comes
For each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

I grabbed a cookie and noticed it was in the shape of a dog. Short legs, squatty feet, long muzzle and upturned tail like Doobey. I clutched it to my heart and sank to the floor. I sobbed. And laughed. And sobbed again–all to the soundtrack of southern soul-piercing praise. An unusual eulogy: I’d come to Starbucks and found Comfort. I just needed refreshment and got Refreshed. I needed to stay awake, and found Awakening. An hour later the rehearsal was ending and by then the tears and laughter had passed into a trance-like breathing, a calm witness to the moment. When the last song ended, I grabbed my things, settled into the dodge and returned to I-20 as the sun was dipping low and red on the horizon. I placed the dog cookie on the seat for Doobey and rolled down the windows  so we could feel the wind in our hair. We drove the last miles home, together.