The Buddha In The Fur Coat

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IMG_1280Life is good, but it isn’t always easy. One day the car breaks down and you’re late for your appointment with the IRS, who says you owe them money. On the opposite kind of day, you win the lottery and rush out to buy a new car. The in-between days find you smelling the roses, with a bunch of crappy, little things all going wrong.  You have to work harder to find your center.

My buddy, Sam, developed a hot spot on his tail a week or so ago. He’s been riddled with all sorts of allergies since we adopted him back in August of 2003. The worst are food allergies. A little over a year ago, with the help of a new vet, we found food that he likes and doesn’t make him sick.

But there are all sorts of other things that he’s allergic to. At this time of year when all the leaves are down and the air is filled with leaf mold, Sam itches like crazy. He tries to be patient with it, but the result is often a hot spot, that has gone bald because of his constant scratching, licking and sometimes chewing. It gets infected and then we have a problem on our hands that requires antibiotics.

I’m kind of allergic to this time of year and have been a bit out of sorts myself over the last few weeks. It’s my usual holiday state of mind. There’s too much to do, too many expectations, and the whole world seems to be melting down around me. And beyond Ferguson, the state of the Middle East, and all sorts of other issues going down, it’s been a particularly difficult year for the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

First there was the disappearance and tragic death of Hannah Graham. Now we’re dealing with the Rolling Stone’s article about the “rape culture,” at Thomas Jefferson’s university, just two blocks from my house. The editors are now backpedaling, saying that some of what was originally reported isn’t true. Thankfully, the powers that be at the University are not letting the issue rest and are working to make sure all students, especially women, feel cared for and safe in what has become a questionable environment.

Whether you’re connected with the University or not, what’s been happening around us is affecting all of those who live here. When Hannah Graham’s body was found, a friend, who lives elsewhere, asked how such a horrendous thing could happened in such a beautiful and peaceful place like Charlottesville. My response was that bad things happen everywhere. Beauty has nothing to do with it. It’s just the way things are and we each react to these events in our own way. But when it’s happening down the street,  events like these can cast a shadow over an entire community. We like to think that where we live is the best place in the whole world and that things like murder, racism, and acts of brutality, don’t happen here.

The other day I overheard an acquaintance, say, “It’s so cold out, even the ‘bums’ aren’t out today.” She was referring to our area’s large homeless population. I was horrified. I wanted to shake some sense into her head. I told her to go and sit with those “bums.”  She might learn something about what it’s like living on the street and why those people are out there.

The morning that had started out so nicely, had just been shot down and I became a raving grouch, leaving a wake of unpleasantness behind me as I stormed home. I was not being helpful … to myself or anyone else. I was being judgemental, just like the one who spoke ill of the “bums.”

When I got home Sam was sitting all curled up on the couch. Trapped inside what some call the “Cone of Shame,” he was the picture of peace. Despite his itchy tail and being a bit grouchy himself, he wagged his tail, looked at me with his big brown, all knowing eyes, and said, “It’s okay, Mom. It is what it is.”

I sat down next to him, and wrapped my arms around him. He’s one of my greatest teachers. The pain resulting from being unable to make the world a better place, slowly released me from it’s grip.  I began to feel sad for that acquaintance of mine. She’d probably been taught that homeless people are bums … perhaps by her parents.

When I finally stood up, ready to go on about the rest of my day, Sam winked at me and gently licked my nose.

Who are your greatest teachers?


  1. I hear ya! Every year winter seems a little more difficult to navigate, though I’ve become more consistent about using my “happy lights” and other such tools to wage war on the darkness. We sensitives tend to feel everything that goes on around us, not just inside of us, so that when our community, our state, our country, our world is in an upheaval, we feel it. Another learning curve for me is to learn how to put up healthy walls – walls to insulate and protect from harmful energy – while remaining open and giving where needed at the same time. It’s kinda like rubbing your tummy and patting your head! Anyway, Joan, I’m glad you have your little puppy dog friend to give you love and comfort. “The sun will come out tomorrow!” I promise.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Dorothy, for your kind words. Those healthy walls are the trick. I don’t want them to be so thick that I stop feeling compassion or seeing the beauty even in the darkest of times. I wish you and yours a blessed and peaceful holiday season.

  2. Like the superb writer you are, you’ve crafted a meaningful collage of topics including your good buddy Sam, the tragedy of Hannah Graham, and your own itchy irritations. We don’t live in a bubble, and we certainly can’t overlook the lack of peace and justice in our neighborhoods and our nation. I’m writing in a similar vein on my blog this week.

    Who are my greatest teachers? I am thinking now of both print and people: the Scriptures, good books/magazines, Miss Longenecker in elementary school, great professors, my family, especially grandchildren who constantly see the wonder of life.

    • That title is a Wow, a Bow-Wow!

      • Joan Rough says:

        I’m glad you like the title. Even though we don’t live in a bubble, I think some of us try to. It doesn’t work of course and we find ourselves feeling even worse. I wish you the peace and joy that Christmas can bring to you all year long.

  3. Joan — It’s uncanny that both of our posts include our companion animals today; your Sam and my Willa. Clearly great minds think alike.

    You asked a great question: “Who are your greatest teachers?”
    Over many years they have been Patrick, Dougan, Sadie, Buddy, Claire, Lexi, and Willa — each a four-legged Buddha in a fur coat.

    • I too noticed the convergence of your subjects today, which made me smile.

      When I was a child, we had Teddy, Nellie, and Mike, a collie, terrier, and white German shepherd in that order.

      I hate to admit that I am not a dog person or even a pet person in present company.

      But I am a grandma and that’s where I get a lot of lessons on being in the present moment. The mountains also teach me.

      So when Owen and Julia, ages 3 and 2, go into “mountain pose” in front of my windows, I get a triple whammy of Buddha, even without the fur.

      • Joan Rough says:

        Shirley, Grandkids of course are the top of my list, too. Buddhas come in many forms. They can also be the old man on the street with no place to sleep. Teachers are all around us and we need to look for them.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Laurie, I noticed that, too! Yes, we do have great mind! 🙂 I left out Lily, the cat and Max, my other canine buddy today, but all three do keep me sane! They have so much to teach us.

  4. Sharon Martinelli says:

    One of my greatest teachers just happens to be you. It has been a mixed time down here, so much to do after the death of Stella, Vic’s mom. We are still going through things and it just wears you down. I am so happy that I took the few minutes to sit and read this before getting back to it. Thanks to you and Sam, I feel lighter.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Sharon, Thank you for that wonderful compliment. You are my greatest teachers as well. I hope your holidays will bring all of you some piece and time to recover from the tough things you’ve been going through. xxoo I miss our chats.

  5. Beautiful story of the clarity you get from your little Sam.
    I, too, get completely disheartened at times by the state of the world and the things that people are capable of. It take time out with nature, or with a good friend (my hubby for one) to set things into perspective.
    We can only change ourselves, not the world.

    • Linda,
      Being out in nature and being with good friends are also ways for me bring clarity about the state of the world. Thanks so much for your visit and kind words. Best wishes to you for a peaceful holiday season.

  6. Dear Joan, oh how I can relate to those days, especially with all the negativity that surrounds us. Your photo of Sam is so precious and reminds me of the healing impact our pets can have on us. I remember one particularly difficult phase in my life when I felt like I was spinning of control worrying about my teen son. Our cat, Muffin ( poor guy but he was so soft and fluffy) sat peacefully purring at the end of my bed, reminding me that I just needed to breath in the moment. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.

    • Kathy, I think most of us can relate to the difficulties of the times we live in. I don’t know this for sure, but I think that those of us who have pets have more clarity than those that don’t. Animal companions are simply the best. They set an example of acceptance that is rare among humans.