To spare yourself several paragraphs of navel-gazing [read: tedious] introspection, I strongly recommend you skip past the third “= = =” (that being the first).

= = =

This morning Mackey and Max and Roux and I went to Pony Pasture. We took Ivory’s ashes with us. I always put my pets’ ashes in the river. I like the symbolism. The river is always different, always perfect, always there, never stops, is a source of life. This is what the dogs looked like at our ritual first stop, Starbucks River Road 2, 5001 Huguenot Rd.:

The dogs are ready - I am schmoozing

Ever since I saw how Ivory greeted the girl with six fingers in the ICU at MCV ten years ago, I strive to emulate him. It was an example unlike any I’d witnessed. Sometimes I get close, other times not so much. It’s a process. So this morning we’re all at the river, doing our little ceremony, which is mostly unceremonious. I described the morning to a friend as “flawless and sublime and beyond-perfect”. It was just one of those mornings. I always put the ashes in the river in the same relatively secluded spot. I like peace and quiet when I do this. I also like peace and quiet when I come to visit. Which I do regularly. So this morning I climb down the river bank – slid down is more accurate. I’m standing there in the mud and the water and the vines and bushes with my little plastic container of Ivory’s ashes. Pouring them in the river.  Out of nowhere a friend walks up the trail with her dogs. If you’re my friend and you’re reading this, you know who you are.

This is a picture from the riverbank. It’s taken at the place where I put the ashes. I call it “the Altar.” It’s a nice, restful, peaceful place.

The Altar, 2 June, 2011

I’m always happy to see my friends, but this was a special time and I wanted to be alone. This is the place to insert a disclaimer. Another friend – if he’s reading this, he knows who he is – says: “If a person tells you something and later says ‘but,’ disregard everything they said before ‘but’.” Notice what I said before “but” in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Anyway, my friend and I chat a moment then she and her dogs move on. I finish with Ivory’s ashes and climb back up the muddy river bank and sit on a log for a while to let my friend get down the trail.

So here I am, thinking about Ivory, about acceptance, about forgiveness, about rivers being perfect, about people with six fingers. Sitting on a log beside the river on this flawless, sublime, beyond-perfect morning. It occurs to me – I believe this is an example of grace – how Ivory might have regarded what I felt was an  interruption or intrusion. Ivory would have turned around, scrambled up the bank, wagged his tail, done what he could to improve that person’s day. Since I’m not Ivory, I missed that opportunity. But since I will live out my years with Ivory’s example, if I’m mindful, then the next time I’ll seize it.

Have a great day.

Jay, Mackey, Max, Roux, Ivory.

= = =
This is what the river looked like when we got there this morning:

Sun rising at Pony Pasture, 2 June, 2011

This handsome male mallard was enjoying the morning. He’s fortunate Ivory was not in a more animate form; harassing waterfowl was an ongoing source of enjoyment. For Ivory, that is; less so for the waterfowl:

Mister Mallard

Speaking of waterfowl, we also saw this heron when we arrived this morning. Photographically, there is absolutely zero that is right about this picture. It’s out of focus, it’s framed poorly, the background is dull, etc. A weak shot. But I am nearly half a century old and I have looked at thousands of pictures of Great Blue Herons. And I am certain this is the first time I have seen a heron’s tongue. Unless you’ve seen a lot more heron pictures than I have (I know, Lynda, you’ve seen like a million) this may also be the first picture of a heron’s tongue you see. A little goofy but kind of cool.

Heron tongue. Who knew?

I should sign off here but I’m having fun with this post. If you’re ever writing a blog post or a book chapter or a magazine article or an essay or anything else and the title is “gratitude,” you too will be reluctant to stop.

I spent Tuesday afternoon and evening the way I spend every Tuesday, with my old friend Kendall and his family. I’ve known Kendall and family over a decade. Considerably over. After dinner Tuesday they gave me a gift – an Ivory colored orchid! Who would have imagined. Amazing. Take a look:

Ivory Orchid

Since I worry about things better left unworried about, I googled “How long do orchids live?” This was among the first hits: “If given good care, most Orchids are virtually immortal.” Quite reassuring. Provided I give good care.

So I drop Kendall off at his house later and I’m driving home, listening to Paul Simon’s 1988 compilation Negotiations and Love Songs. It’s got seventeen excellent tracks Paul Simon released between 1971 and 1986. Kendall and I both love it and it’s all we listen to every week. It’s just beautiful, every song. I’m thinking a lot about gratitude. About how pleasant my existence is. I’m thinking about how much gratitude I experience, how fortunate I am. I’m thinking about “too much gratitude” being like “too much fun” or “too much happiness” or of course “too much chocolate” – there is no such thing. Very pleasant ride home. And I pull into my drive at 7:30 and as I’m getting out of my car my phone rings and it’s my neighbors asking of they can drop by for a minute. Believe me, if you had neighbors like I have, you would never refuse that. So Nora and Hanna and Lee come over a minute or two later with their hands full. Kara and Owen weren’t home. In this picture, on the top step is a plate of dark chocolate brownies Hanna made by herself. They also put sprigs of mint from their garden. I ate a mint leaf with each brownie. There were more on the plate than shown here but I ate three before I took the picture. Recall – this was Tuesday at 7:30 PM. I finished the last one yesterday before 7:00 PM. And ate other food. They were phenomenal. On the left is an excellent book they loaned me, First Light by Rebecca Stead. It’s about – among many other things – travelling on the ice in Greenland and sled dog driving. I’m loving it so far. On the right is a collection of photographs they put together for me. The whole family and the dogs and I took an outstanding hike on a frigid winter day at Pony Pasture last year. They printed out a baker’s dozen of the most beautiful images, all featuring Ivory, and put them together for me. To the left is a collage made from the pictures. On the back they wrote “Here is to Ivory, a teacher, a friend, a healer and an all around remarkable companion. We’re so sorry Jay”. And the five of them signed it.

If you look back over my blog entries you’ll notice the recurring (and crass) statement “it doesn’t suck to be me.” This continues to be the case.

Wonderful gifts from even more wonderful neighbors

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
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9 Responses to Gratitude

  1. Evelyn says:

    Nice. Energy channelled productively for certain – gratitude does take on a life of its own. How fortunate for us all! There’s that circle. . . again.

    • Thanks Evelyn. It was an enjoyable experience. I am reminded yet again how perverse it seems (to me) for the death of a beloved animal to be so undeniably life-affirming. Probably because it’s May. Thank goodness. The grief is here, in large doses. But the number and quality of connections people make is amazing and rewarding and heart warming.

  2. Patti Goodall says:

    Jay: I am grateful for your blog! 🙂 I was so struck by how you looked at the situation at the River from Ivory’s perspective. Not an intrusion but an opportunity – now, that is a wonderful lesson to learn, isn’t it?! Hang in there.

    • Hi Patti,
      Thanks for the comment. It was still easy to hold on to Ivory’s perspective while the last of his ashes were drifting away. The trick will be to remember to do that a week from now, a month from now, a decade. Then again, I would be best served by concentrating on it a day at a time… I guess that’s what they mean by “mindfulness.”

      Have a great day,


  3. Grace says:

    Jay, I am so glad I waited until Friday morning to read your post. I am sitting here (before the kids get up) enjoying a cup of coffee and (thanks to you and Ivory) I’m thinking about how I will turn any “interruption” into an “opportunity”. Such a great way to focus on the day ahead!

  4. Hi Grace,
    I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It was a pleasant experience (obviously). I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea of continuing that sort of appreciation in the post-Ivory era. It “only” takes mindfulness. It’s relatively easy to think that way (appreciatively and acceptingly) as long as I remember to. That is, as long as I’m mindful. And I’ve been practicing that a while. Haven’t quite perfected it yet…

    Have a great day,


  5. Monica H says:

    Denice just let me know about
    Ivory and I am so very sorry!! Ivory is the dog that brought me to the Dogs on Call program. I wish I had some words to take your pain away. But I did want you to know that if it had not been for you and Ivory a huge part of my heart would have remained closed. Dogs can teach us so much when it comes to acceptance, love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy…so thank you Ivory, because of you I have become a more open and accepting person. An extraordinary dog forever in the hearts of the many lives he touched!!!

  6. Wow Monica – what a kind thing to say. Because of Ivory I too became a more open and accepting person. I will carry his lesson with me forever. What a priceless gift he leaves behind. As Ivory knew very well, words are inadequate! Thank you so much for your kind message.

    Have a great day,


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