Annie's Song: Dandelions, Dreams and Dogs
Rumi has said: “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go” and Annie’s Song: Dandelions, Dreams and Dogs by Annie McDonnell is an unrivaled tour-de-force of both.
Just as a novel begins like the strike of a match, the dedication in the opening of the author’s memoir (part prose and part poetry) says it all: “I am sick of being sick too. I just have no choice in the matter.” With her poetic words—more of a gentle cry—we see the author’s song, a whisper of astounding love, both striking and revelatory.
Annie’s Song is, above all, an incantation of courage, emotion, and searing truths in confronting the most difficult stages of life and death. Her story is also a whirlwind of cultural and spiritual metaphors from Irish, Japanese (“the wind phone booth” for communicating with the dead), shamans (Willow Sky), and Indigenous folktales. But the arc of stories is breathtaking as is the range of sensitivity to animals, body imagery, and the erasure of women and their voices. McDonnell is a pioneer in undiscovered territory, the narrative bravely told with raw imagery.
In each very short section (85 in total), we are taken on a remarkable journey, one of such sorrow, violence, friendship, and joy that it is almost inconceivable that one person can endure and experience so much with her spirit and her boundless, expansive love intact. In the face of the last stage of life, McDonnell is unflinching: “Surrendering is not giving in or giving up. It is acceptance.”
This is a memoir about loss, about grief, and about the triumph of spirit. To say the author is a survivor does not do justice to her heroism as a guiding light for all of us. McDonnell has triumphed in countless ways: a victim of two rapes, the loss of more than one baby, and grief over lovers and furry companions lost. But most devastating, in the midst of this onslaught and battery of pain and sorrow: the death of her best friend from rape and murder when she was 15 and her friend was 12. The author narrowly escaped the same fate and implies she has “survivor’s guilt,” but “grief is love turned inside out.” “This loss is so profound my cells are crying.” How can one at such an early age deal with such trauma throughout adulthood?
However, this life of tragedy, emotional and physical challenges, and horrific bodily and psychic pain is not that of a victim. Quite the contrary. Annie McDonnell is a woman warrior, whose clarion call is to rise up and love, in the midst of chaos and cruelty—and thrive! And her love and generosity include all sentient beings, most notably, her love for dogs and cats. “Rescue a dog, and I promise they are actually rescuing you.”
“My tears have words,” she confesses as a writer. As Ms. McDonnell says succinctly: “I believe important pieces in our lives carry a bit of us with them always. Touch an antique and tell me you don’t understand what I’m talking about.”