On Dogs and Life

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Mimi and Bear, 2016

Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life. – Eleanor Roosevelt

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. – Ben Williams

Everybody told my son Ben that he should NOT get a dog. He was a senior in college, going off to law school in the fall. He had no money, and lived in a dump up on a mountain near Boone NC, appropriately named “The Shack”. It was January and the only form of heat in the Shack was a space heater. My brother, a successful attorney, said that dogs – and girlfriends – were verboten for law students; they would just distract him from his one mission – to graduate from law school and pass the bar.

But he didn’t listen to all the wise adults in his life.

If you know Ben, this is not surprising.

He did what his heart told him to do, and damn the torpedoes. Bear, his dog, is a handful (like his father), but now part of the family, and Ben’s most trusted companion. Bear hangs in there while Ben studies his law books, and they take walks at 1am. Not an ideal dog’s life, but they’ve made it work – most of the time.

Over the past six months, since I left my job with the one company I had been with for over 33 years, I have worked hard to simplify and de-tox my life. I’ve cleaned out my closets, crafted a kick-ass financial plan, learned to cook healthy food, and drastically reduced both my daily stress and my formal work hours.

Things should have been great. Blow out, freaking GREAT! But I was stuck trying to decide what to do with all this extra time – and peace – in my life. Plan for a big trip? That was something I had loved to do in the past. I perused several travel books, but strangely could not commit. France, Italy, or Scotland beckoned. What was holding me back?

Buy a second home at the beach with my brother? Get a dog? I seriously missed having a dog in my life. Trade in the Volvo for an SUV to travel America with the dog? All ideas floating across my mind. So many possibilities, but I could not decide. I was holding back, but did not know why.

My life now was almost too perfect – too clean, too simplified. And when things are too perfect, I’m programmed to look for the rain. It’s bound to come, sooner or later, so you better prepare. One should NEVER get too comfortable or too confident. That’s been my motto and it’s served me well in the past.

One month ago someone very close to us was diagnosed with brain cancer. In her late sixties, she had previously been in wonderful health. Her husband had recently scaled back his work dramatically, and they were looking forward to an extended international trip in August. She’s beautiful, well-traveled, creative, vibrant. Now she faces radiation and chemotherapy for at least the next year. This diagnosis dropped like a bomb into their life and into the lives of those who love them.

Frankly, it scared the hell out of me. I’ve thought about it literally every day since I learned of her diagnosis.

What was the good of planning, if shit like this could happen?

I went into bunker-like, preservation mode thinking.

Could something like this happen to us? (Yes, of course it could.) Should we save our money for the preverbial rainy day to come? (Probably.) What if my next consulting assignment did not materialize? What if one of us got sick – really sick?

Analysis paralysis, with a huge dose of fear and pessimism thrown in.

Strangely, spending time last weekend with our loved one after her brain surgery, solidified the way out of the morass for me.

Yes, bad shit may happen. Or it may not. The pessimist/realist in me leans 70/30 toward the bad. But there is absolutely nothing to be gained by watching for the black cloud on the horizon. And a good amount to be lost.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop is no way to live. Life is not life, if there are no dreams, no aspirations, no enjoyment, no hope. Whether you have brain cancer or are just middle-aged, you still must dream. You still must HOPE. You still must LIVE.

Ben was only twenty-one when he decided to adopt Bear on the eve of going to law school. When we are young, life is all possibility, and we can not envision the roadblocks to come. In our youth, bad shit happens to someone else, but not to us. We don’t see risk when we are young in the same way that we see it on the other side of fifty.

But dreams and aspirations require risk, no matter what the age. Life at its best requires that we take the risk of listening to our heart, whether we are twenty-one or fifty-six.

So, yesterday I listened to my heart and adopted a puppy from the Charlotte Humane Society.

I named her Zoey, which means “LIFE” in Greek.

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