All posts by joanmyles

About joanmyles

Poet. Writer. Check out my blog at www.JewniquelyMyself.com

A Dog Named Dignity

Okay, my new canine partner isn’t actually named Dignity. But she should be.

When I began my journey toward better mobility skills, I really didn’t associate mobility with dignity. Sure, being able to navigate around my neighborhood and elsewhere is tied up with my sense of independence. Of course my confidence would be boosted by strengthening my ability to use a white cane more efficiently. I would be able to go where I wanted to go without assistance from anyone. I would be able to interact with people, and pursue interests in a meaningful way to me. To me. Not based upon someone else’s level of interest, or time restraints, or measure of commitment.

But dignity? Isn’t dignity all about my value as a human being? How can independent travel possibly be intertwined with human dignity?

Since coming to know the history and practices of The Seeing Eye, I now understand.

In the same way that I am what I think, I am what I do. The places I go, the people I engage with, the activities I support and defend are all expressive of who I am.

And if I am not able to express those aspects of myself, if I cannot attend an event, or even leave my seat without help, I feel squashed. Or rather, unseen. Unrecognized as equally valued, as human.

But I didn’t learn all this from my white cane. Nobody cares if you bring a white cane into their car, or their house, or their place of worship. A white cane doesn’t shed or jingle during meetings, or take up space on the floor. A white cane can be folded up and put away, silent and uncomplaining.

But a guide dog is a living breathing being. A guide dog has personality and needs and, sorry folks, hair that sometimes wafts away from its body. A guide dog is also an extension of the human at the other end of the harness handle–in ways a white cane can never ever be.

These are the lessons I am learning from my beautiful new canine teammate, Aries. If you care about me, you will not focus on Aries. Yes, she’s gorgeous and talented and a bit of a flirt, but she has a job to do. A job for me, helping me get around with dignity and even a bit of grace. She is not in the room to make you smile. Or to keep your feet warm. She may do these things without your asking, but please do not ask. She is part of me. And if you respect me as a person, you will not grab me or my partner. If you wish to interact with me, don’t make eye contact with her. And if you want to spend time with me, accept her presence as part of the deal.

Because we are a team now. Aries and me. We were paired based on a mysterious mix of physical and emotional attributes according to The Seeing Eye’s 90 plus years of experience. And while we may still be forming our bond, we are off to a good start. Love and trust keep us together. Love and trust. The foundation of every meaningful relationship for partners living in dignity.

The Dream

The Dream

*from One Goes to the Sea, copyright 2021 by Joan Myles

sleeping eyes conjure

even before thought bubblesvJdW0tlwFmjiJdgssHg4qcgp1BRgDTl2rrdnrFveooZcKriXYiPdA46P57vvhaU65frusZuN5Z3C1m0jBuUAfKFe50qFd9yBAN3jHvy6EWMB_Nr2ZGTys_Xo7HKznbS5T-n8YHclw0iJXwvAuCe15wDfOlxW6SdJB_s1ztbtJoQcrwG65tNP5gyW_cyqHl4xDv7G

meaning into words

circles intersect

like fingers interweaving

such are these moments

words tumble and fade

quiver in our ears and throats

float beyond grasping

and we touch again

feel warmth of breath and body

passing between us

and wake to perceive

uncrossable distances

untouchable hands

My Dog and Me

I jump for the ball

Every time

The bouncing and busy shapes

Jump and dash to catch and possess

To hold as my own and cherish

I jump to catch to show the world

How dazzling the ball

How graceful the leap

How masterful the catch

But at days end it’s just a ball

Weary and cold I return to You

Grateful to sit at Your feet

Grateful to rest beside You

Grateful to chase and to be claimed

By You

After

After

*from One With Willows by Joan Myles, 2019*

the world is new

when you come back from the dead

apples are honey on your tongue

and breadcrumbs in your pocket

will suffice

like the air you breathe

the world is holy again

still

in dawning light

whispering with hummingbirds

only faintly echoing

the shofar’s blast

announcing

the world is new

Thunder

*No thunder today. Just a lovely wash of rain and wind and Spirit. Wishing you sweetness*

Thunder

*from One Goes to the Sea by Joan Myles, copyright 2021*

do you hear in the distance–

like the drum of a chief

or an elephant’s footfall

Or the heartbeat of a thief–

past the splattering rain

and the call of a crow

that faint rumble from childhood few northwesterners know

from the depth of my being I am urged to attend

so I rush to the window as if meeting a friend

push the curtains aside

open wide to the breeze

feel the rush of my spirit with the swaying of trees

feel Creation as One

as I fall to my knees

Aries and I: Learning to Play

Interacting with a guide dog isn’t all work you know. There are lots of opportunities for exchanges of affection during grooming. And cozy snuggling at the end of the day as everyone winds down for sleep.More active moments might include things like wrestling after my golden gal’s breakfast, tugging a favorite squeaky toy, or playing fetch.

But wait. One of the players is blind. How does that work?

Well, I have discovered that playing with Aries is also a matter of learning. For both of us.

During our time at The Seeing Eye, we were able to play in our room, or in a special fenced area outside.However, the space in our room soon proved inadequate for Aries to run and jump as she loves to do. Despite her frequent prancing. She offered me her bone and tugged a bit amid fierce growling, and chased the ball when I was able to find it for throwing. The outside play-yard did not interest her very much. We used this as time for reinforcing “come” and she was more interested in this aspect than romping through the assorted large balls scattered around the area.

Sadly, once we were home, play continued to be a challenge.

The bone became more of a private focus. A way for Aries to release pent-up energy at various times of the day. Okay by me. I need my time too. For things like eating a meal, reading a book, and chatting on the phone.

But the squeaky toy and the ballwere slow in bringing us together. When I tossed one of them, Aries either ignored me completely, or pranced about as she did at the Seeing Eye–touching the toy to my hand, but never handing it over.

I started saying things like, “give to me,” and “can I play?”

But alas.

The situation became all the more frustrating when Aries decided that my sighted husband seemed a better playmate. She offered him the bone. Offered hm the ball. Offered him the squeaky toy.

He did his best to honor her training. But that eye-contact thing kept getting in the way. When he turned away from her solicitations, she stopped playing altogether for days. So he started saying things like, “take to Mama.”

No good. Mama doesn’t play right.

Finally, Aries took things into her own paws.

One evening she brought the ball to where my husband and I were watching TV. I grabbed it and tossed it over her head down the hall. She jumped up and ran, skittered and skidded on the tile as it bounced away and I whooped with delight. She returned with the ball, and put it on the sofa where I could find it. Again I tossed it down the hall. Again she ran, skittered and slid. As I whooped and cheered. And a new game was born!

Since then, Aries has taken charge. She puts the ball beside my foot under the breakfast table. Or brings it to where she is noisily chewing her bone.Sometimes she even puts it into my hand.

And as for the squeaky toy, Aries runs to get it, prances about sounding her whereabouts, and lets me “sneak” up on her to grab it and run away.

Genius! pure genius!

So yes, Aries and I share lovely moments of togetherness as I brush her each morning. And yes, we enjoy a good walk, and a cozy snuggle. But holy cow, watch out when it’s time to play! You just might learn something!

Aries Goes to Shul

Today Aries attended her first Morning Minyan at the synagogue. We hitched a ride with S as usual, walked up the long wheelchair ram which Aries targeted spot on, and entered the building without any problems. Aries led the way to the sanctuary, and then to my seat–expertly following each command.

How sweet to be back inside the sanctuary, to hush myself when readying for prayer, to feel the rhythm of Hebrew syllables washing me clean through.

And Aries behaved perfectly. She settled down at my feet, and rested quietly the entire time. Even as I stood and bowed and sat again, my feet not quite comfortably positioned around her, Aries kept still.

After the service, we chatted for a few moments with friends, then off we went. Out the sanctuary door, out the entrance, down the ramp–Aries did it all!

What a thrill to be walking beside this beautiful, spirited gal!

Morning Blessings

Blessed are You Beloved One for the birds singing outside

my open window expanding light

Blessed are You Beloved One for the breath of Life

my beloved’s and mine

Blessed are You Beloved One for water as we wash away the night

the dread of things unseen

as we fill our cups of rejoicing

and refill our bowls of blessing

Blessed are You Beloved One for the ability to stand

before You in awe

to push and pull and strive

in service to those around me

Blessed are You Beloved One in the midst of sudden falls

that keep me growing

and for the strength to get up again

despite uncertainty

Blessed are You Beloved One Who abides in silence

in laughter and in tears

You granted me children to stretch me beyond my plans

You granted me grandchildren to stretch me beyond my dreams

And Blessed are you Beloved One

Who granted me this dog who sheds too much

runs too much jumps too much

who is teaching me to remain childlike

and to keep my heart open

And let us say

Amen

Aries and I: August 25

Wednesday afternoon Aries and I returned to the synagogue with my good friend S. to review what we worked on last week. During that session we used clicker training for targeting the handrail leading up the bima steps. In case you aren’t familiar with this amazing training strategy, it involves a bell, a clicker, and a bag of goodies. The bell is fastened to the target– in this case, the handrail. A goody is offered at the target, and when the dog rings the bell, even accidentally at first, the clicker is sounded and a goody is given. Each time the bell rings, there is a click and a goody. Bell, click, goody. Bell, clicke, goody. After about 15 times, the bell-click-goody pattern is so anchored into the dog’s memory that you advance to the next step.

Step two involves moving a few paces back from the target, and giving the command. The word for this command is the Dutch word for find, zuk. If you have worked the first phase properly, at this point the dog rushes to the target to ring the bell, to hear the click, to get the goody. This is repeated a few times, moving back further and further from the target. Eventually the target is removed entirely and the clicker put away. The command is given and the team finds the target.

Aries loves this game. At The Seeing Eye, I used the technique for the elevator n the building, my dinner chair in the dining room, even a trash can when visiting a local college campus. In every one of these situations, Aries did a great job. My confidence knew no bounds. Maybe we would even try the clicker to locate the handrail when returning to my seat.

We drove to the building and got out of the car. This time I decided to see how Aries would do with the wheelchair ramp. Spot on. S unlocked the door and we all entered. Aries had no problem getting me to the sanctuary doors. She even moved me around a table which was very much out of place. Once inside, Aries took me to a seat for a brief pause. Then the moment of truth. Would she hit the target?

I stood. Aries stood. “Forward,” I said, and when we were within view of the handrail, “zuk”.

Bingo!

My right hand touched the rail and up we went.

But before we could do anything else, we were interrupted by a fellow congregant who had come to the building to work with the AV equipment used for broadcasting services over ZOOM. Oh well. We exited and regrouped.

We moved easily out the sanctuary, out the door, down the wheelchair ramp toward the parking lot. But before leaving the premises entirely, I proposed we try heading for home. I heeled Aries and walked human guide with S across part of the parking lot, across first one concrete island then another and part of the way home. Then we turned around and S took her place behind my right shoulder to coach. Aries stepped up. She pushed into the harness and we were off

I could feel her happy excitement as she followed my commands, first “Forward”, then “Right”. She stopped to show me the curb onto the first island. Then the down curb. Then the up curb. Then the down. Across the remaining parking lot and up the curb cut to the ramp. Up the ramp, pulling– pulling all the way to the door.

What a champ! I can’t wait to see where we go next time!

Aries and I: August 10

Tuesday morning Aries and I stepped out for our first trip to the synagogue. My girlfriend picked us up at 10 am and we drove to TBS. She informed office staff what we were doing, then the fun began.

Before we started, Aries donned her gentle leader , which always calms her down a bit and allows me more control. Then Aeries and I found the stairs, ascended and went inside as S held the door open.

With her assistance, we heeled lacrosse the foyer to the sanctuary door where I heaped on the praise for Aries. Then we heeled back to the door out and praised.

Next Aries and I crossed the foyer to the sanctuary solo as S spotted us. Perfecto!

Back to the door out. Perfecto.

We did this a couple of times and it was obvious how proud Aries was of doing good work. S told me later that at first Aries was looking all around, but then got into the groove and just got down to business.

After repeating the first phase, we ventured into the sanctuary and to my seat in the second row. This we did with my friend simply coaching us, and after a time or two Aries moved to the next phase, the bima.

The bima is the platform at the front of the sanctuary where the Ark containing the Torah scrolls is the central focus. There, too, stand the two tables from which reading takes place. One approaches by way of two steps, and the handrail is centrally situated. This handrail was my target.

We practice going up and coming back to my seat to settle calmly, and Aries did a pretty good job. Then we practiced exiting the sanctuary and heading for the door outside. Great work all around.

Finally, the social hall. The area all the way across the foyer from the sanctuary, where folks gather for food after services, and for meetings and other events. Aries not only managed to take me from the sanctuary to the social hall, but to a table and chair. Talk about a proud puppy!

I was pretty pleased myself!!

We have plans to return later this week for a review. This time we’ll see how Aries does without the gentle leader.