Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Fractal

Mack concentrated on staying on the walkway. As he rounded the trees, he saw for the first time a magnificent garden and orchard somehow contained within a plot of land hardly larger than an acre. For whatever reason, Mack had expected a perfectly manicured and ordered English garden. This was not that!

It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in the blatant disregard for certainty. Dazzling sprays of flowers were blasted through patches of randomly planted vegetables and herbs, vegetation the likes of which Mack had never seen. It was confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.

“From above it’s a fractal,” Sarayu said over her shoulder with an air of pleasure.

“A what?” asked Mack absentmindedly, his mind still trying to grapple with and control the pandemonium of sight and the movements of hues and shades. Every step he took changed whatever patterns he for an instant thought he had seen, and nothing was like it had been.

“A fractal. . .something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infinitely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere.”

“Looks like a mess to me,” muttered Mack under his breath.

Sarayu stopped and turned to Mack, her face glorious. “Mack! Thank you! What a wonderful compliment!” She looked around at the garden. “That is exactly what this is—a mess. But,” she looked back at Mack and beamed, “it’s still a fractal, too.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
I woke up this morning with the huge need to get Buddy to the vet.

We picked him up from the kennel Sunday afternoon, and he was subdued. Of course, he smelled like old dog urine (as did his bed and bed coverings), so I thought he just needed a bath. We’ve kenneled him before at the same place, and he loved it so much he wanted to go back. Every time we’d take him out for a walk, he’d head straight for the van door. Last time, he didn’t come home smelling like dog pee. This time, he stayed for 11 days. I thought he just needed time to adjust to being back home.

Monday morning, Buddy started vomiting. He’s done that before, but it usually was because he ate too quickly, or drank too much water too quickly. This week, he’s stayed on his bed, had no interest in food until I made ham. I gave him a little with some plain rice, and he threw that up last night.

Michael and I reasoned that Buddy hadn’t had his arthritis medicine regularly in the kennel. The plan at bedtime was to give Buddy medicine at the regular dose and see if he would feel better. If he was still puny on Sunday, we’d take him to the vet.

I don’t have a logical explanation for why I felt the urgency to get him to the vet today. Maybe it was just one morning too many looking at my usually-lively-now-listless dog. Maybe it was just one night too many spent waking every little while and checking to see if my precious dog was still breathing.

After a failed playdate (I couldn’t find the Burger King where we were supposed to meet), many blood tests and more dollars, the prognosis is poor.

Buddy’s in renal failure, and has pancreatitis. One more night of waiting to see if he’ll feel better, and a trip to the vet would have been unnecessary. As it is, the vet hopes he’ll make it through the night at home so he can go back tomorrow morning for more IVs.

All week, I’ve been fighting the urge to shake my fist at the sky and holler, “If the last six weeks wasn’t enough sorrow, now You want to take my dog, too?!?”

I haven’t done that. I haven’t let myself cry. I have worked really hard to not worry. I’ve tried to get myself ready to let Buddy go.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ After we left Buddy at the vet for the various tests and such, I was driving home on the Fairfax County Parkway---four-lane divided highway that runs through the county. It was rush hour, and I was distracted. I was talking to Melisa on the phone (I know—I shouldn’t do that), and I was telling her about Buddy, trying not to cry---because I was driving.

[Giant flashback to the trip to Tennessee for PawPaw Allen’s funeral mid-June: I twittered going through southern Virginia about a tiger swallowtail butterfly hitting the windshield, spattering, and getting momentarily stuck in the wipers. Not exactly a scene we wanted Cami to see on the way to her first experience with death.]

As Melisa encouraged me and tried to comfort me, a tiger swallowtail butterfly lodged in the windshield wipers. Its legs were still moving, trying to find a grip on the glass in order to get free. I couldn’t catch my breath. And I couldn’t drive home with a dead butterfly right in my line of sight.

I pulled over in rush hour traffic to pick the butterfly off the windshield. I was sobbing, and Cami said, “Why are we stopping? What are you doing? Why are you crying?” all in one breath.

“There’s a butterfly caught on the windshield.” Huge sobs.

“Is it dead?” A very small voice.

“I don’t know.”

“Can I see it?”

As Cami unbuckled her seatbelt, I opened my door. (Did I look at the oncoming traffic? I don’t remember.) When I reached for the fragile wings, the butterfly fluttered. It was alive! It actually flew a few feet, about knee-level, and I realized that one of its wings must be damaged. As it landed on the ground fluttering and flitting, my goal changed from ridding my vision of the dead thing to rescuing even tattered wings to flop around in the grass if that’s all it could manage.

I knew not to touch it (the powdery scales rub off so easily), but I couldn’t figure out how to shoo it in the direction of the roadside. Have you ever tried to herd a butterfly? I was so focused on my task and trying to see through my tears, looking constantly toward the ground where the butterfly was struggling so. It was headed for the road lanes, and not the grass.

The second time my foot crossed the white line, I thought, “Don’t get hit by a car chasing a butterfly.” I looked up, and I promise you: there was no traffic in either direction. It’s like God did with the cars what He did with the Jordan River in the book of Joshua: He held back the onslaught and protected His children.

More aware of where I was in time and space, and convinced something spiritually significant was happening, I gently pinched the corner of a wingtip between two shaky fingers. As the swallowtail finally rested in the grass, I got back in the car and wept. Loudly.

Cami said, “Mom, I thought you were going to get hit by a car.”
I pointed out the momentary lack of traffic. She asked, “Did you save it? Can I see it?”

I mumbled and pointed to the grass as I began to weep.

Cami said, “Mom, why are crying so hard?”

Sob, sob, sob.

Cami said, “Is the butterfly alive?”

“Ye-e-e-s.” Sob, sob, sob.

“Then why are you crying so hard?”

Of course, I couldn’t answer her. From the back seat, she patted my arm. She gave me her stuffed horse to snuggle. She offered me a drink of her soda. “It’s okay, Mommy. It’s all okay.”

We went home and waited for the vet to call.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ On the way home after we picked up Buddy, we had the conversation about how Buddy’s not going to get well. His kidneys won’t completely heal.

Cami said, “What happens when. . .you know.”

“When what?”

“You know. When Buddy dies.”

I said, “I believe that Jesus is going to take Buddy to heaven so that he can play with Fidgie, and PawPaw, and Mimi, and the angel collies. That’s what I think.”

Cami said, “But what about us? What will we do?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

Cami said, “Will we get another pet?”

I can’t even think about that right now.

We calculated that Buddy’s at least 98 years old in doggy years. “Is that older than PawPaw?”

“Your PawPaw? Yes.” (She calls my dad PawPaw.)

“What about the one that died?” We established that Buddy, in doggy years, is older than Michael’s grandfather who passed away last month.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Michael called to share a moment with me this evening. He said he was watching a spider spin a web right outside his office window. He said there were three spiders in all, one largest, one smaller, and a smallest one. He said they are all the same species, just different sizes. He said they were all weaving their own webs, all on the other side of his window.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
At that moment, Papa emerged down the walkway carrying two paper sacks. She was smiling as she approached.

“Well, you two having a good conversation I assume?” She winked at Mack.

“The best!” exclaimed Sarayu. “And guess what? He called our garden a mess—isn’t that perfect?”

They both beamed broadly at Mack, who still wasn’t absolutely sure he wasn’t being played with. His anger was subsiding but he could still feel the burning in his cheeks. The other two seemed to take no notice.

Sarayu reached up and kissed Papa on the cheek. “As always, your timing is perfect. Everything that I needed Mackenzie to do here is finished.” She turned to him. “Mackenzie, you are a delight! Thank you for all your hard work!”

“I didn’t do that much, really,” he apologized. “I mean, look at this mess.” His gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them. “But it really is beautiful, and full of you, Sarayu. Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.”

The two looked at each other and grinned.

Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space. “And well you should, Mackenzie, because this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive—a living fractal.”

The impact of her words almost crumbled all of Mack’s reserve. He looked again at their garden—his garden—and it really was a mess, but incredible and wonderful at the same time. And beyond that, Papa was here and Sarayu loved the mess. It was almost too much to comprehend and once again his carefully guarded emotions threatened to spill over.

*Italicized text excerpt from The Shack by William P. Young.

1 comment:

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