I was downstairs with Gryffindog in the park just in front of our house today when, out of nowhere, a jubilant yellow lab came lolloping toward us. I’m always extra vigilant when Gryff meets a new dog for the first time; you never know when one or the other won’t be friendly. But I quickly dropped my guard as this dog exuded pure joy with every move. She was just so happy to be alive. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that a patch had been shorn off the fur on the middle-right of her body. It took me a second longer to realize that the dog was running on three legs. And only then did I see that the wound at the shoulder of the missing leg was fairly fresh. Finally (keeping in mind that all happened in the space of about seven seconds), I recognized the dog as one of Gryffin’s friends. One we hadn’t seen all summer.
Tessa’s owner and I shared “Welcome back”s and “How was your summer”s before I ventured to ask what had happened. She’d been hit by a car. It was touch and go for a while. The vets had to take the leg. But she was bouncing back more quickly than expected, defying all odds and expectations.
What's the secret behind her swift recovery? I asked.
Well, lots of love, of course; her naturally sunny disposition; and the fact that we’re taking it one day at a time, and being careful not to push her beyond her limits.
He proceeded to throw a ball for Tessa, but only at a distance a few feet from where he stood. It was so close that Gryff, who loves to chase balls with the best of them, remained by my side completely uninspired to participate. These same two dogs could be seen, just a few months ago, sharing many long sprints across the park, vying to be the first to reach the ball. Their game, as recently as last July, could go on for a solid twenty minutes before they would show any signs of tiring.
Today, Tessa retrieved a ball thrown steps away, and couldn’t be happier. Her owner threw the ball ten times, if that, and that was enough to satisfy her. The two then bid us a good day and exited the park, but not without informing me that instead of one long mid-day run, as was their previous habit, they were now coming out several times a day for these shorter plays, so perhaps we’d see them again later on.
I tell you this story of a few moments between dogs, because there’s a great learning in it for us humans. At least there is for me. It illustrates the simple truth that in life there are times when we are ready and willing, or at least compelled, to exert ourselves: to put ourselves out there, to make ourselves vulnerable to criticism and potential failure, to push ourselves beyond our comfortable, normal limits. And then there are times when we just can’t; when we must withdraw; recede from the limelight and take shelter behind a curtain; reflect, take stock, recuperate, and make ready for the next sprint life has in store. And that's okay. In fact, it's necessary.
Moreover, we must learn to accept, as Tessa so clearly has, that this need not be a negative thing. That, indeed, it can be a positive, healthy opportunity; that the best medicine is patience, especially with oneself, and the ability to sink in and enjoy life at a simple trot rather than a gallop.
It’s funny where you encounter life’s little lessons. Because here’s the thing: after the marvelous, exciting, public, and successful six-month sprint of my Team’s recent Kickstarter campaign, I wound up in the hospital. It wasn’t because of the campaign, rest assured. It was the result of a health issue I’ve been dealing with for years. But the added stress and lack of self-care that was required of me to make it across the finish line probably didn’t help as a heretofore mostly dormant disease became increasingly symptomatic until the docs said to me, in no uncertain terms: “Now.”
I’m not sharing this news to cause worry. I am perfectly fine, if still a bit battered and bruised and easily tired. Now on the other side of pain and well on my way to recovery, I'm confident I will be healthier than ever, in time. The surgery was inevitable. It was merely a question of when. Ironically, this turned out to be the perfect time, as both my husband, Jim, my daughter, Lily – in London for a six-week summer internship –, and dear Gryffindog (aka Gryffindoc, aka Gryffindogtor) were right here to guide me through the worst of it. And after what I went through with the campaign, I deserved a nice long rest.
But, full disclosure, I didn’t go under completely willingly. As a result, I’ve been bridling against the docs’ advice to rest and remain quiet for eight whole weeks. At the pace I’m used to going, that's an eternity. I woke up feeling sorry for myself today that I still have two weeks to go. Then I met Tessa the dog, who now runs with joyful exuberance on three legs and will be chasing balls clear across the park again before we know it.
Tessa’s example immediately reminded me of writer Anne Lamott’s sage advice on the creative process, and life:
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. … He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."