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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ammi Midstokke: How to tell what is important

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I don’t really understand a lot about astrology and how the pull of the cosmos affects our lives, but I do know this: Something or other was in retrograde last week.

If I had to guess, I’d say the universe was expanding in a direction that promised emotional dismemberment. Like most catastrophic days, they start out soft to make one a little cocky about their coping tools.

“Are you absolutely devastated?” asked my running coach in the morning after hearing that my 100-mile race had been canceled. I’ve only been training for about 12 months, 2,000 miles, 432 hours, four gallons of caffeinated sugar gels and at least two really bad blisters.

“Nah,” I quipped back. “You don’t survive as much trauma as I have without having a fair bit of resilience.”

This should be a warning sign to me. Any time I get arrogant, Mother Nature or the full moon or Mercury work their strange ways to reacquaint me with humility. The pattern is so reliable, I only buy waterproof mascara these days.

By midday, I was so confident in my self-actualization I was going to make amends with every dysfunctional member of my family so I could invite them to my wedding.

Why I thought this was a good idea, I’m not certain, but I had at least two cups of coffee that morning.

Weddings are not stressful enough, what with promising eternal love and property rights and patience to someone – you might as well share the experience with the people you talk to your therapist about.

Not surprisingly, those people are not always on the same path of redemption and gregariousness.

My fairy tale of a tearful reconciliation was rather a blathering of insults and outright disgust for the bride and groom, resulting in me contemplating creating a trust fund dedicated solely to psychological treatment (or rehab) for any members of my family.

Right now, of course, I’m using all of that money for my own mental health. And wedding caterers. (For every dollar you spend on catering, estimate approximately 25 cents to be spent on premarital counseling.)

Rattled from the barrage of complaints about my character, and still congratulating myself on my resolute calm in the face of challenge, I took my Brown Dog for a walk. She was a little off – probably because as my service dog she’s an extension of my soul and always seems more aware of my inner turmoil than I am.

It wasn’t until we got home that I realized something was terribly wrong with Freya, who curled up and trembled and refused to move anymore. I thought perhaps I had broken her on the 32-mile run we’d just completed.

I asked her what was wrong, but she couldn’t tell me. By now, she was shaking rather violently and I was confronted with the horrible reality that I might be losing her.

Loss and the potential of loss bring a different kind of perspective to the things I might consider important to my life.

It is not the things that disappoint us or the people that hurt us that really matter. They are mere distractions, opportunities for growth. What really matters are the people (and animals) who heal us. It is the relationships that serve us with kindness and acceptance every day. It is the Brown Dog that taught me compassion and empathy as an instinct.

I lifted Freya into the car and back out again at the emergency vet while my daughter and I cried with abandon. The doctor checked all the right things to no avail. Only when the doctor slid her hands along Freya’s curled up belly and her hand disappeared into my dog did we see it.

“There it is,” she said as she pulled her bloody hand out. We both sighed with relief. If whatever that was hadn’t killed her yet, she wasn’t going to die.

We carefully worked to stretch her out and expose her wound. It was impressive by all gore standards. Freya had made a valid attempt to disembowel herself on some large object, impaling her abdomen deeply and separating her thigh from her torso, but somehow missing her organs.

After a cocktail of doggy narcotics, a long surgery and enough stitches to make any member of my family proud, Freya was back home and sleeping in my bed, sandwiched between me and my daughter. We took turns fretting over her, bringing her water, carrying her where she needed to go.

By the next day, I had all but forgotten canceled races and wayward relatives. Instead, my tiny family – animals and all – snuggled together in a pile of gratitude for each other.

The important things fit right in my bed.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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