Wiley's Wisdom

Joy: From the Ground Up

Moments Like These October 31, 2014

As goblins and ghouls take to the record-settingly chilly streets of my beloved neighborhood for trick or treat tonight, I pause and remember a truth of mine I don’t think I’ve ever shared before. I used to be afraid of the dark. I know it’s an unusual thing for a dog, and I’ve spent the greater part of my canine adult life trying to figure out why.Trick or treat

It isn’t like there is a traumatic event or something involving darkness in my past. Nor is there anything in particular I can recall that aided in my recovery from the admittedly silly aversion I once had. Or so I thought. I found myself pondering this as darkness fell today (it falls earlier and earlier this time of year) and I realized I can indeed trace back the day of my new-found fearlessness.

It was the day after I lost Rusty, my pal from the humane society who was the only reason I survived my first night there. He went down a hallway and never came back that day, but his words stayed with me long after I last saw his wagging tail. He encouraged me to find the light. To see the bright side in even the darkest of situations. And that day, I made the decision to do just that.

My persuasion toward light has never faltered, but somehow my choice that day has led me to find the light in the darkness that dissolves my former fears on an almost daily basis.

Like tonight, as I knew craziness was happening in the darkness on the streets of my neighborhood, something special was happening inside the walls of my forever home. The bedtime routine hasn’t changed much, but dad has gotten more involved with it in the last couple of months. That was the case as usual again tonight, as he held Carter and mom said his bedtime prayers. Carter put his little head on dad’s shoulder and left it there as he drifted peacefully into dreamland almost instantly upon mom’s recital of the prayer. I stood by, as I always do, playing my (albeit silent) role in the whole routine.

I realized in that moment it doesn’t matter how dark it is in the room when this all unfolds. The love illuminates all of our hearts so brightly there is no reason to so much as question the darkness. As we all sneaked silently out of the room, I felt overwhelmed with the warmth of the loving glow in the room. Sometimes I’m in awe of how a decision I made so long ago can have such a profound impact in moments like these.

 

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The Middle December 30, 2013

It all started with a fairly routine trip to Petco. I was there for a quick nail trim (in between visits to my regular groomer) and one would think I would have been sidetracked by all of the 50% off holiday toys and treats. No such thing. Instead I spotted them right away and I could tell exactly how they had spent their day.

It was a family of four, complete with a mom and a dad and their two little girls. With them stood a patient and surprisingly well-behaved terrier mix who (with a little help from mom) I later learned to be named Cooper. And the cart. From puppy training pads to Petco’s very best all-natural treats and dog food, it was loaded to the brim with everything a family taking in a new dog could possibly need.

Reflecting on lifeBut Cooper wasn’t just any new dog. He was a one-year-old rescue dog, his mom explained, and they had just adopted him for Christmas. The older of the two little people (who I would guess to be about five-years-old) was gripping Cooper’s leash like the lifeline I know it to be. When I saw the way her little hands proudly held that leash, it was like she was holding something in my heart. In that moment, I was overwhelmed with excitement and joy and happiness and the slightest bit of cautious anxiety for the journey on which this family was about to embark.

Under most circumstances, the anxiety is abnormal for me. At least in my world, a house is not a home without the special pet who (in his or her own unique way) somehow completes the picture. I think that’s why I felt a certain cautious emotion I recognized as anxiety.

Because I know one too many dogs who have recently left their forever homes for the Rainbow Bridge. Snuggledog was put down after he got so sick and the doggie doctors couldn’t figure out what to do to help him. He was three. A few days earlier Rusty took his 15 years of wisdom with him to doggie heaven. And then only a couple of nights ago, eight-year-old Raider got a little too interested in something in the road and was hit by a speeding car.

It starts and ends with my otherwise routine trip to Petco. Amidst so much loss, my encounter with Cooper and his new family struck such a tender chord in my heart. This week, as the family and friends of Snuggledog, Rusty and Raider pick up the broken pieces of their hearts, Cooper’s family becomes whole as he settles into his forever home. Life. From the ground up, each day is precious whether we are at the beginning or the end of our journey. Because ultimately it’s how we spend the middle that counts.

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Search and Rescue November 6, 2013

I’ve seen it all before. And the story ends the same every time. But today the moral of that story took me by surprise.

My mom misplaced her glasses this morning. She looked everywhere as I followed her through the house. They weren’t on the nightstand or under the bed (I helped her look). They weren’t in either of the bathrooms. They weren’t in the freezer (stranger things have happened). So she stopped looking. She went about her other business and that’s when it happened. The lost glasses were found on the dresser in the bedroom right where she left them the night before. Right where the belonged.

I see the lightAnd it struck me. She had to stop looking to find what was lost. It got me to thinking about this misconception I think people have about us canines being able to find anything we’ve left someplace. Sure, there are some breeds that are especially gifted at tracking just about anything. But there are others who leave a graveyard of buried bones in the backyard of a home when moving to another. I’m not proud to say I probably fall into the second category myself.

Especially when I think back to one night in particular at the Oshkosh Humane Society. It was the night after Rusty left me to go to doggie heaven. He took his contagious optimism with him, leaving me behind with nothing but my thoughts. So I resolved to change some things that night. I resolved to stop trying so hard to be adopted. I was probably not helping matters by trying to jump into the arms of all of my visitors anyway. So I stopped looking.

I know it sounds terrible coming from your resident doggie optimist but sometimes I think that’s what it takes to find what we’re really looking for. “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves,” as one of my favorite transcendentalist thinkers Henry David Thoreau put it.

I’ve seen it all before and it always seems to end the same way. It’s quite the paradox really. From little things like mom’s glasses to life-changing things like when my forever people found me, sometimes what we seek is more easily found when we stop looking for it. And so the lost is found.

 

Remembering Wiley September 17, 2013

He kind of annoyed me at first. The people at the shelter called him Wiley and my first impression of him resonated perfectly with his name. He was small, but you wouldn’t have known it from all the noise he was making. Whining and pacing and scratching and whimpering. It was all too much. Worse than that, I’d seen it all before. These young pups come in here all anxious and adorable. I don’t understand what all the fussing is about. I don’t understand why they let themselves get so worked up.

Meanwhile I’ve come to the conclusion I will not be adopted. The Oshkosh Humane Society will be my final forever home. No one wants a 15-year-old golden retriever when they can have the puppies, or the anxiety attack two-year-old terrier mixes like my new neighbor. But I have made peace with that. I’ve lived a long and fulfilled life. I had a forever home with people who loved me. I had a family who loved me, played with me, and brought joy to my heart. I know what it means to be man’s best friend. I also know I’m not quite finished. I have something left to offer the world, and I am going to do it through this new neighbor of mine.Rusty

Because there is something different about this one. I can see it in his eyes. They are wide open to his soul, just like mine were at his age. And in that moment, his little soul was desperate for connection. For love. For hope. I could see it in his eyes. He was about to give up, and I was not about to let that happen.

So I told him my story. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to hear it but I didn’t care. My purpose in life was to share joy from the ground up with whoever would take it. To see the best in all people, places and things. To walk the walk. And, perhaps most importantly of all, to respect that sometime we get pushed on our backs to force us to look up and see some sunshine.Remembering Rusty

I’ll never know what he did with the wisdom I shared with him that fateful night. And it was incredibly hard for me to say goodbye to him before the people took me to that place in the shelter a few days later. (I’d come to recognize it as the “deliveries only” kind of room where the old, unwanted dogs go into never to return). But I know one thing for sure.

He kind of annoyed me at first. He had all that energy and he was wasting it all on pessimism. But I’d been through too much, seen to much, lived too much to let the opportunity slip through my paws. So I lived my purpose that night by sharing my wisdom with him. It was like the final chapter in a long life of joy from the ground up. And I wouldn’t have traded my time with him for all the Beggin’ Strips in the world. That annoying little Wiley will know better than to mourn my loss, I thought as I made my way to the Rainbow Bridge. No sir. He will paw it forward.

This post was written from the perspective of my dear friend and mentor Rusty from the Oshkosh Humane Society in response to today’s daily prompt: Write a story about yourself from the perspective of an object, thing, animal, or another person.

Rusty was right. His optimism lit a flame in my heart that night no one can ever blow out. I will never forget, dear Rusty. I will not forget.

Related Posts: Remembering Rusty, http://wileyschmidt.com/2013/02/17/remembering-rusty/

 

The Day Forever Changed September 1, 2013

My birth mother never cared much for cars. Or people for that matter. Put the two together into a moving vehicle? She usually kept her distance. Except for that day. The day that changed my life forever. The day we all got separated.

It started like any other day in my early puppyhood. We woke to mom going hunting for food, so my brothers and I wrestled until she returned. We feasted on a gourmet selection of leftovers she scavenged from behind a nearby diner. Discarded toast crusts were my favorite since my brothers usually stolGaining Perspectivee the ham and sausage scraps before I could get to them.

After breakfast, we would journey outside our cardboard shelter. I know mom’s intention was to keep an eye out for someplace better for us to move to even though I quite fancied our cozy hideaway. She always wanted the best for us though, and I will never forget that.

I don’t know what go into her that day, but she seemed edgy. Skiddish. Scattered. Her usual fear of cars and people was thrown to the wind as we paraded through the streets. My brothers and I followed (somewhat) blindly, trusting she knew what she was doing.

That’s when it happened. There we were in the middle of the road when not just one but two cars were coming at us full speed ahead. From both directions. My heart raced almost as fast as I did away from the imminent danger. I assume my mom and brothers did the same, though I will never know for sure. I ran as fast as my puppy legs would take me until I made it back to the cardboard box we called home. I waited there, knowing certainly that’s where we would all meet up. I waited a day. Every moment that ticked by felt like hours. I waited a week. Nothing.

I was devastated. The events of the day haunted my every thought as I wondered how I could somehow relive those moments. How I could make it right. I should have looked back, I thought. I should have waited for my brothers. I should have stopped running sooner so I could have seen where they went. All of these should haves, could haves, would haves still occasionally pop into my mind.

But how would life be different had I done “right” that day? Would I still be with my mom and brothers somewhere? Perhaps. But then I would never have met Tiger and his puppies. I wouldn’t have gotten to protect Jo from the man with the leather belt. I wouldn’t have learned optimism as a way of life from Rusty at the Oshkosh Humane Society. I wouldn’t have found my forever home.

All of this makes me wonder whether there really is a “right” way in life. Moreover, I wonder whether what we sometimes think is right actually is what’s best for us on our path. I may be an optimist, but I can’t say whether there really is a way to get life right. I know my mom’s way involved keeping her distance from cars and people. But that isn’t the right way for everyone. It certainly isn’t for me.

The day I was separated from my birth family was one I will always remember. That day I learned a very important life lesson that forever can change in a moment. Sometimes you can make it right. Sometimes you can’t. The thing is we also don’t always understand what’s best for us in these moments. We can’t always see the big picture through the cloudy lenses of now. But that’s why they say hindsight is 20/20. In reality there is nothing I would change about that day because it led me to where I am today. And I wouldn’t change that for all of the dog treats in the world.

 

The Board of Life July 17, 2013

Personalities. Inside or outside, that’s the first thing I want to explore when I’m faced with an exciting new environment. My nose doesn’t always allow this to happen until after I have also run a perimeter check, marked some territory, and sniffed some butts (if there are other animals involved), but that doesn’t change what’s in my heart.

I realized it today when mom took me to a new dog park. It was a lot farther car ride (let’s face it, I didn’t mind that one bit) and when we got there I knew I had something pretty spectacular waiting for me inside that fence. Sure enough, there were all kinds of new smells, new dogs, and new people all just waiting for me to arrive. As I ventured around the novel space, my mind wandered to the characters I have been fortunate to meet in the various dog parks, homes, shelters, and streets I’ve had the pleasure to explore over the years.

Deep in Thought

I’ve come to think of these characters, these personalities, as those who make up my board of life. Influencers, decision-makers, and simple lovers of the present of presence make up my own personal board of directors With age and experience, the council grows and I understand more about who I am and what my purpose in life really is because of these people.

Granted, we all have characters we would probably prefer not to have met. The man with the leather belt probably tops that list for me. But even these weaker links are still very often links to something special. Without the man with the leather belt coming into my life, I would never have met Jo, a child who taught me by example what it meant to love someone unconditionally.

Rusty comes to mind as well as a major influence on my decision to embrace the good in all people, places and things. My time with my birth mom and brothers, albeit far too brief, taught me the meaning of family. Katie from the humane society, who took extra time to play with me and make me feel loved when I had never felt more lonely. She showed me the impact of compassion. And my forever mom and dad share a seat at the head of the things, bringing me into a home where I get to exercise all of these emotional lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

I didn’t come across any new board members on my journey through the new dog park today. But I did enjoy meeting the new people and dogs and getting to know their unique personalities. In doing so I realized the powers that be only shared part of the picture when they claimed everything happens for a reason. We all know that part of the story. I fear too often we forget everyone happens for a reason too.

 

Obedience School Drop Out June 28, 2013

I’ve been called a lot of not-so-nice things in my relatively short doggie life. Obedience school drop out. Behaviorally challenged. Approved for homes with children ages 12 and above. Yet I find in life’s greatest contradictions lie some of the most intricate sources of wisdom.

Its true of animals and people alike if you ask me. If you hear something enough times, you start to believe it as truth. In a dog’s life, words like stupid, naughty, and troubled haunted my puppyhood. In a person’s life, overuse of words like stupid, disabled, or challenged as a child can impact a person for the rest of their adult life. Truth becomes us. But can we become truth?

Becoming Truth

I’ve often wondered this as I think nostalgically back on my time before my people brought me into my forever home. I encountered a variety of characters in a myriad of settings who each taught me invaluable lessons along my journey. So how could I be so stupid? Why do they keep calling me naughty? What did the folks at the humane society say to my mom that almost made her give up fighting to adopt me?

Then it happened. The tides changed, and with them my life changed forever. Two distinctly similar moments come to mind when I think of the brilliance of contradictory wisdom. My first night at the humane society when I thought the world was coming to an end, Rusty the golden retriever showed me the light. Much like my favorite transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rusty believed we are not products of what the world tells us, but rather of what we tell ourselves. We are what we think, so of course if we believe the negative things that are said about us we indeed may become them.

The bookend to my understanding of this occurred only a few short months later, when my forever family took me to see an animal behaviorist for my alleged behavioral problems. (This was required by the humane society as a condition of my adoption.) I’ll never forget the first two sentences Jenny said when we began our session. “He’s got to be one of the most unique looking dogs I’ve ever met,” she said, “and so smart!”

It was the first time anyone had ever used the word smart to describe me. And in that moment I was both overwhelmed with joy and humbled. Rusty changed my interpretation of the world around me by changing my interpretation of myself, and here I was being praised for simply being me. I know it sounds contradictory, but in that moment I realized true wisdom is found through admission there is much yet to learn.

It is because of my personal admission of humility that I can say I honestly wouldn’t mind being called those negative names anymore. Sure, if we hear something repeated enough times we begin to believe it. But let us learn from the variety of characters life offers us. Let us choose to contradict the negative things with our positive thoughts. Let us become our own truth.