Recently my big red Doberman, whose name is Sophie, had some minor surgery. So she has been walking around the house with something that looks like a blow-up life-ring around her neck. It’s supposed to be more comfortable than one of those hard plastic cones (which make a dog look and act ridiculous. Poor things). This one makes her perpetually look like an old-fashioned “let’s go swimming!” picture from the 1920s. With all the gray, drizzly otherwise uninviting weather, it makes me chuckle every time I look at her. “You want to go swimming?” I ask her. “Ready for a day on the beach?” Of course she is. Dogs come pre-installed ready to go anywhere, always. They never wonder if their hair looks OK, if they have the right outfit, or if they can fit it into their schedule. If someone says that magic word “Go” they are up and ready. But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about is life rings. Right now, things can seem very intense, with the gloomy weather, politics, melting glaciers, drug addiction, active shooters and so much else. Sometimes, though, it’s important to stay healthy and on sure footing by relaxing.  I find this time of year is the best time for a little dreaming about how I best want to spend my time to maximize my joy. For me, that means seed catalogs, maps of camping spots near trout streams, seeing when my kids might be free to visit this summer.

There is a special kind of joy in hoping and wishing to do things. Dreaming of warm summer days, with the garden blooming, time for some travel. When I take time to plan for my future, I do some fun things. I get my camper all packed to go on trips this summer. I buy new fishing gear, and check my hiking boots. Those seed catalogs have their corners turned over as I plan for my garden. And I eye my yard with dreams of more flowers and better veggies. Once I bought a 10-year visa to India because I knew I not only wanted to go on a mission trip that year, but I would want to go back. I pick out books for beach reading, and dream of sunshine and surf.

I know this isn’t all that special. But I want to raise it up as a kind of “spiritual practice” ... of putting on a life-ring. We need to be ready for all sorts of things in life, all sorts of crises and hard times. But we also need to be ready for fun, relaxation and renewing our spirits. And when life gets intense, sometimes we forget the necessity of taking time to dream. This time of year is a great time for dreaming, hoping, planning. Sit by the fire, put your feet up and dream. And smile, as you picture my silly pup, walking around with her life-ring on, ready as ever to head to the beach.

The Rev. Eva Cameron is minister of the First Universalist Church of Essex. The Midweek Musings column rotates among Cape Ann clergy.

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