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After almost two months of ups and downs since she was bitten by the rattlesnake, Ramona died peacefully the day after Christmas. Emily was driving Bill and I to the airport when Chan called with the news. We wondered if Ramona had waited to die until she knew both Emily and I were gone. The way we've been drenching her with tears these past few weeks, Ramona probably thought we'd fall apart if she died in front of us.

My response to the passing of Big Ra has filled me with gratitude. When so much of what happens is beyond our control, we must focus not on what happens, but how we respond to what happens.

At first our adventure here was so saturated with unprecedented experiences and emotions I never took time to reflect on whether things were good or bad or right or wrong. Just getting through the days was challenging enough. As the years went by, our remote location inevitably inspired some serious introspection. By day, I was as light-hearted and absurdly optimistic as I've always been. It was only in the wee hours of the morning, before the howler monkeys got howling to announce the coming dawn, that the heebie jeebies would creep in, robbing me of my sleep and my rationality. The what-ifs can get overwhelming at 4:00 in the morning.

Rarely, a person sinks to a point of desperation so debilitating that their pendulum suddenly swings the other way and they are blessed with a glorious revelation of enlightenment. For the rest of us, enlightenment doesn't come so quickly. It takes first a strong desire to find the truth and next, the help of those who know it. Finally, it takes a lot of practice.

My goal when we made the decision to move to the jungle was to live as simply and selflessly as St. Francis himself. For those unfamiliar with St. Francis of Assisi, he was an Italian friar from the Middle Ages who shunned his wealth to live a life of poverty and devotion to God in complete harmony with nature.

On the path to emulating a saint I admired, it slowly dawned on me that I couldn't use someone else's path to find my own way. As inspirational as St. Francis was, I decided that just because his path involved shunning riches and creature comforts didn't mean that I could find my way doing the same thing. How wonderful it was to realize that I could have a big ol' swimming pool and comfy couches and still be a great person! When I dropped the guilt and embraced my love of luxury, my life gradually began to change. Aspiring to be like someone you think is cool can really kink up your plans to find your own truth.

Ramona was officially Emily's dog, but she was just as much a part of my life. Many mornings I would wake up to Ramona staring at me, goofy ears perked up, wheezing a sound similar to the one a party blower makes when the whistle is dislodged, demonstrating her eagerness for yoga on my bedroom floor to begin. In the past, I would have tried to be brave about her demise and held back tears, considering them to be self-indulgent. I would have imagined that if I were truly enlightened, I would rise above all things human and remain peaceful in any circumstance. Now I gratefully approve of all my feelings and allow them to be. I've wiped out the guilt I always associated with emotional displays. I laugh and cry freely and I feel wonderful about allowing myself to be the flawed human that I am. The more I love and forgive myself, the more peaceful I feel inside. The more I love myself as I am, the more I love everyone else.

I've welcomed the many tears spilled over Ramona in the past few weeks, knowing it's just my very human way of sending her off filled with love. Rest in peace, Big Ra.


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