There is a proverb from the Crow Nation that says “One must face fear, or forever run from it”. Of course, many other cultures have their own variation of this same wisdom.
I know a few things about fear, as I have spent a great deal of my life running from it. It is no secret that an artist’s life is anything but easy and mine has certainly been no exception. For me, fear has come in all shapes, sizes and colors -I will spare you the details, but let’s just say if you name it, I have probably been afraid of it. Fear is an excellent tool for motivation sometimes. It is also quite effective in manipulation; Parents, teachers, religions and governments all have been known to use fear to their benefit. I think it is fair to say that we are taught about fear from a very young age.
Recently, my fears have manifested themselves around loss. In this chapter of life, my greyhound, Olive, became a senior citizen. Of course, she had been aging all along, but her years never really registered with me before. Her face had become white, eyes cloudy, and the day to day routines were becoming somewhat challenging. Still, Olive remained a happy dog and always did her very best to please. For more than eleven years, Olive was by my side. She was part of every major event in my life, and of course, the small ones too. She was the first consideration in just about every decision my wife and I made together. Few people realize this, but adopting Olive was actually the final deciding factor, in leaving the security of my day job of twelve years (I was a studio artist for an industrial design firm). I had a great deal of fear during this transition, and Olive helped me get through. Whenever I would go shooting in the rail yards, Olive always had my back. She would also keep a close eye on me in the studio, making sure all was in order while I worked away on my canvases. I think I will always find great joy in the thought that, long after I’m gone, my paintings will be authenticated by the greyhound fur stuck to the varnish. In my off hours, Olive always stayed close by, quite literally. She would even follow me into the bathroom! In large part, this sort of thing is consistent with typical greyhound behavior. They are known to bond very strongly with their humans. Still, it always felt more personal with Olive somehow. I had very quickly come to rely upon her support in my life. How could I not? She was absolutely delightful, and her presence felt like a promise of strength. With her help, indeed, I managed to face a lot of my fears.
When Olive turned 12, it became very apparent to me that the end was near. Some greyhounds live longer, but for the most part, 12 is a pretty good life span. As much as I tried to deny it, Olive’s body was gradually slowing, and starting to fail. I looked for any excuse I could find, to dismiss her symptoms. Ultimately though, there is just no escape from truth or time …really, for any of us. Still, and no matter what may have been ailing her, Olive knew exactly what I needed and never failed to bring ease to my concerns. Towards the end, I think Olive was more worried about me, than the other way around. I suppose she just sensed my anxiety, and acted accordingly. More than ever, Olive stayed closer to my side, even though getting around wasn’t so easy anymore. During this time, fear weighed very heavy upon me. I was afraid for Olive. I was afraid that she would need me, and I couldn’t be there to help her, as she had always done for me. I found it near impossible to leave our home, since Olive had difficulty maintaining traction on our concrete floors. Just walking around the loft could be treacherous. What if she slipped and needed help getting up? -or worse? Of course, we added rugs, blankets and anything else we could think of doing to make life easier for her. But, I became somewhat of a recluse anyway. I just couldn’t enjoy being out with friends, with all the worry I felt for my girl at home. It didn’t matter to me that she would just be sleeping for the most part. It is only now with hindsight, that I realize how much I was consumed by fear in this chapter. It also never occurred to me that Olive had absolutely no fear whatsoever. Now that I think of it, she was actually very happy-go-lucky! Perhaps, Olive just understood that death is a natural part of life. She knew her time was coming to an end, and she intended to make the most of every moment she had left. Olive so clearly expressed her love for us and appreciated all the love she received in return. She also didn’t hesitate to soak in all the wonderful things in her life that she could still enjoy. In her final moments, Olive seemed to understand exactly what was happening. In the most sweet and gentle manner, Olive let us know that she was happy and at peace. What a gift. It was in this moment, that I realized something for the very first time and will never forget: Time is truly precious and love is forever.
Suddenly, I was afraid no more.