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Joni Mitchell always did have the poet’s gift of summing up great truths in simple phrases. The chorus of her much covered hit, Big Yellow Taxi, for example, is an ode to all the paradises we’ve paved over to make way for parking lots — and to the many other treasures we’re slow to value until we’ve succeeded in making them scarce.

Alas, in that vast category of precious things not fully appreciated until they are gone, I must now list my little dog’s left front leg. A few days ago, our pal Frida (a.k.a., The Muppy, pictured here with all four paws intact) was run over by a hit-and-run driver and ended up at the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital faced with wounds we were not at all sure she’d survive.

Survive, thank goodness, she did. And while my husband and I are still heartbroken about the loss of her leg, we are also more keenly aware than ever of just how easily even the most fundamental things can be whisked away while we’re busy focusing on the things that seem important — until they’re not.

Seeing our dog hobbling bravely on her three remaining paws, and making the very best of a tragic and challenging situation, has made a few things very clear to me.

First, life is precious. And fragile.

And however tough things seem, they can always be worse, so be grateful for the good. In the days that The Muppy was in the hospital, we missed her terribly. We were sleepless with worry and stricken with guilt (farm dog or not, we dearly wish we had never let her out of our sight). It was miserable not having her snuffling, pouncing and snoring self near us at all hours — and even more miserable thinking of her suffering and in an unfamiliar place. And yet we were so hugely grateful that she was still alive. Now that we have her home, we’ve made a vow to honor Frida’s lost limb by remembering this lesson: Enjoy what life gives you, and don’t take any of it for granted — not even for a minute.

Second, life is beautiful, even when it hurts.

The first time I saw Frida doing her stoic little hop-walk on three legs, I cried my eyes out. Part of me felt devastated by the unfairness of what had happened to her, and part of me was filled with absolute admiration for her willingness to just keep going and figure it out. Amazingly, Frida was getting around well the day after her surgery and still interested in smelling everything around her, still happy to have her head nuzzled and her belly rubbed, still perfectly happy to be hand-fed pieces of beef-stew meat — even if they did happen to have painkillers and antiobiotic meds stuffed inside. I’d still give anything to be able to give Frida back her leg, but I also feel lucky to be grieving that loss (vs. losing her altogether). Together, as a family, I know we’ll get through this — and perhaps, in a bittersweet way, we may even be stronger for it.

Third, life is for learning.

Yeah, that’s a Joni Mitchell lyric, too — from Woodstock, a song she wrote, but that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young covered and made famous. Life isn’t really about who gets credit, though — or about holding grudges when things go wrong. It’s about doing the best you can, giving your best gifts, and learning from both your successes and your mistakes.
I, for one, got a little bit older and wiser this week, and I realized that many of the topics and themes in this issue of the magazine — abundance, pleasure, energy, appreciation, being in the moment — took on even greater importance in the context of these lessons learned the hard way.

Abundance, after all, is the experience of plenty, of feeling more than satisfied with what you have and not wanting for anything. Every time I look at Frida, I’m reminded that even life’s great losses have the potential to become great gifts — as long as we’re willing to feel them and honor them and learn from them. In other words, as long as we’re willing to do the tough work of being alive.

As the year comes to a close, I hope this issue of the magazine presents you with the opportunity to reflect on all the great blessings in your life — to slow down and appreciate them for what they are, and to fully enjoy the pleasures of the season with the people (and furry friends) you love most. Warm holiday wishes to you and yours, and here’s to an even better 2009.

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