• R.D. Kardon

Updated: May 2

immersion

/ɪˈməːʃ(ə)n/

noun deep mental involvement in something

”Her immersion in everyday Italian culture.”


I am writing this from a hotel room in Capri, Italy on the Amalfi Coast. My view is the one you see in the photo above of the Gulf of Napoli. Across the gulf is Naples itself, where I will return by boat tomorrow before taking a bus to Rome and from there, home.


This is my fourth time in Italy, each visit to a different region. I am beginning to understand the culture a little, just a little, as I slow down, look around, and smell the scent that is everywhere on this island—the luscious fragrance of wisteria.


On a quiet morning walk, I wound my way through narrow paths away from the tourist areas and hotels, up weathered stone steps and uncut paths, to where the water is clam and the boats look like oblong leaves floating on various shades of blue, I tried to image what it must be like to live in this peace every day.


On the path, I came across a stone bench built into the wall. Ahead was the Gulf of Napoli, and below, the beautiful village of Capri. Surrounding homes, set back far from the walkway, up steep inclines that discourage all but the heartiest visitors to homes inset in solid rock, are creatures of intent. Like my own. The spaces around them are the blank canvases their inhabitants paint to suit.





The villas themselves were simple, rustic structures that all look like they’ve weathered many storms. Being around them, sitting on the stone benches in little alcoves up the winding inclines they’re perched on, is where I felt like I knew the people of this island. A friendly dog sniffed my leg. A workman smiled. A delivery man driving a narrow electric cart waved and called out, “Ciao!”


Just like at home.


I am a piece of Italy.






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  • R.D. Kardon

Updated: Sep 5, 2021





To love is to do, to feel, to become. Love is not passive, or still. Love is continual movement and change and growth—continual choice, continual promise...


- Marisa Donnelly, "Love is a Verb," Thought Catalog



For the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched my foster dog’s quality of life decline. Cornbread, a tiny Miniature Pinscher, was found wandering the streets of Julian, California in the August 2020 heat. Only nine pounds, blind, in kidney failure and with two deformed front paws, he was desperately bouncing from barrier to barrier seeking food, water and shelter.


When Frosted Faces Foundation agreed to rescue him, I volunteered to drive to the shelter and transport him to safety. I found him confused, but energetic, racing around despite his physical limitations. He had no tag or chip, so the shelter named him Cornbread.


“Really? Why?” I asked.


The officer smiled. “When they brought him into the lunchroom, someone was eating cornbread.”


Three weeks went by after I dropped him safely at Frosted Faces, and I couldn’t get Cornbread out of my mind. He was considered a hospice dog, one with a short time to live. His kidneys were failing, which required a special treatment that I knew how to administer. I raised my hand and said I’d take him and keep him for the rest of his few remaining days.


Well, this dog decided early on that he wasn’t going anywhere. He learned the placement of objects in my house so quickly, by one week in he could navigate to and from his outdoor potty spot- which he chose himself- to his food and water bowl and his favorite bed. He ate voraciously, slept a lot, and entertained himself by basking in the sun.


It was odd how he never showed or demanded affection. Never nuzzled against my leg, licked me. He rarely wagged his tail. He kept to himself, occasionally joining my two other dogs under the dining room table while I ate, hoping for scraps.


As what we thought would be simply weeks of life stretched into a year, Little by little, he slowed, stumbled more, and fell victim to that horrific curse of all living things—dementia. He’d cry when he couldn’t find his favorite blanket, which sat in front of him at his feet. He’d circle around and around, bumping into things he’d always avoided before. And his kidney disease marched on.


On August 26th, a trusted at-home euthanasia vet visited my house, not for the first time, sadly, and concurred that it was time for Cornbread to rest. Crying, I told the vet how I had no idea if he’d felt my love, knew how treasured he was. When I stroked his head, did he feel something? Did belly rubs, ear nibbles, chin scratches tell him how much I cared? Pressing his little head against mine so we could dance to music cheek-to-cheek-- did that say "love" to him?


She sighed. “We don’t know his history. If his past was full of being hit, or yelled at, or bullied, he would never have learned how to give and receive love. Maybe love to him was just not being abused.”


Never learned how to give or receive love.


As the vet injected the solution that would stop his heart, I lay down next to Cornbread, who was all tucked into his favorite bed, and I quietly felt his soul leave his body. When he was gone, I saw a look on his face I had not ever seen before, not once in my year of loving him.


Peace.


The greatest act of love I could perform didn't involve pets, or treats or toys, changing his diaper or giving him his meds.


I let him go.





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  • R.D. Kardon

best

/best/

adjective

of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.

"Be the best you can be"

noun

that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable.

"Do your best every day"


From the moment we pop out of the womb, we're inspired to do our best. Sometimes, the prompt is a motivation: "You'll win if you do your best!" Sometimes it's meant to console: "Don't feel bad, you did your best."


Best = success. Didn't do your best? That's failure.


Your best what exactly?


I've heard this word in my head all my life. If I succeeded, well, then I must have done my best. If I failed, I didn't. And then there's Yoda, who reminds us, "Do or do not. There is no try."


Isn't there, though?


I've "tried" lots of times. And failed. And sometimes I pick myself up and try again, and sometimes I walk away, deciding that some challenges simply aren't worth the effort.


And that's ok. Now, my parents and grandparents are likely rolling around in their graves, since 'work ethic' was the style in which I was raised. Like Jurgus Rudkus in Upton Sinclair's classic The Jungle, and my own main character Tris Miles in Flygirl and Angel Flight, the solution to any situation where failure looms like a dagger hanging over one's head by a very thin thread, is to simply work harder.


I watched this Puritanistic way of thinking ebb mightily after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, where thousands of people woke to a regular Tuesday morning, never imaging it would be their last. Time is short, we realized. We became less judgmental of people who simply walked away from situations that didn't serve them. We wanted more love in our lives, not more things.


That stuck. For a while. Old habits, traditional, ingrained ways of thinking don't vanish without repetition, and belief.


We moved forward. Maybe we lost some belief.


Creeping back into our old grooves, we became more and more frustrated, and then, just a few years later BAM! The housing bubble burst and there we were again, in crisis. The needle moved again...just a little...toward the simpler things that actually made the corners of our mouths trend up. Toward it being ok to try, and not succeed. Or realize that trying, in and of itself, is a measure of success.


Why, though, does this slow march toward the softer measures of success tend to peter out so quickly? Maybe because of another old chestnut, the erroneous belief that true balance is possible?


Is it?


We'll explore that next time.





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