Wiley's Wisdom

Joy: From the Ground Up

The Gift November 14, 2014

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was freezing cold outside, but snow was falling in the peaceful way it does in a snow storm. I was watching Jo watch the flakes fall from heaven from my favorite vantage point snuggled against the crook of her tiny legs. Carols were playing softly in the background, and the house smelled like hot chocolate and cinnamon.

It was Christmas Eve, and though Jo and the man with the leather belt didn’t have much, the man found it in his (usually stone cold) heart to make something special of the holiday. There were presents wrapped under the Christmas tree he helped Jo and I decorate, and as Jo opened them I was overcome with the purest sense of joy as I watched the giddy glee take over her usually very serious face.Wiley Schmidt: Blogger

It didn’t occur to me in the least that something under the tree was for me. I had never gotten an actual Christmas present. Joy had always been enough. Or so I thought.

If I thought Jo was joyful as she received her gifts, that was nothing compared to how she embodied happiness as she handed me my gift. It was wrapped with pretty paper and a ribbon, which I remember thinking was so silly since I obviously couldn’t unwrap it myself. “To Wiley, from your Jo” she read the tag to me before tearing into the box. Out she pulled one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. A collar she put together using things she had around the house (ribbons, broken head bands and the like) and a shiny tag that read “Wiley.”

If dogs could cry, I would have been bawling. But alas, all I could do was lick her and love her even more than usual, which was no hardship for me by any means. That was the very first collar I had and in many ways it remains my favorite to this day.

It wasn’t all that long after that blessed day that I remember feeling my heart break when the man with the leather belt ripped my precious collar off that day he left me on the side of the road. I loved being Jo’s Wiley. I was her protector, and she was mine. I will never forget her, or that beloved collar she gave me.

But I realized many (many) blessed days later that it’s not about the collar. It’s about belonging. It’s about knowing where I belong. Where home is.

I know there are dogs who nip and scratch and tear at their collars. I’ve never been one of them. My collar says who I am, but more importantly it says what I am. I am somebody’s. I belong. My people have changed the collars themselves up a few times since finding my forever home, but the one I’m wearing now says it all. “Rescued” it reads. Having a home, and having reminder of that to call my own is the best gift I could ever be given.

 

Belong To Your Dreams August 30, 2014

I wouldn’t say I’m a wimp. I’m not a weakling or a coward either. But in the face of pain, I will admit it. I don’t like it. I don’t like it in any variety I have ever experienced from physical to mental to philosophical. Pain is not my favorite thing.

Waiting to get going

No pain, no gain

Yet there is this popular people belief of “no pain, no gain.” It’s one that I will admit to completely blowing off in sheer denial the first time I heard it. Which is strange coming from me, since I generally love to embrace the musings of man. Not in this case.

Maybe it’s the physical abuse I encountered in the so-called care of the man with the leather belt. Or I guess it could be the emotional and psychological damage that followed not only his abandonment, but that of my first adoptive family. Such a thing calls into question literally everything you think you know about yourself. What did I do wrong? What would I (should I?) have done differently?

In many cases the answer to these absurd questions lies in the very same emotional space as their origin. Chances are, you didn’t do anything wrong. Most likely there is nothing you could have (or should have) done differently to change the outcome of a given situation.

I realize this now that I have had some time and distance to process how my personal emotional past plays an active role in my psychological future. Regardless of what I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t call myself a wimp or a weakling or a coward. I have shown bravery and courage when it was necessary, even if I still have nightmares of certain events to this day.

But I also have dreams. Really really good ones. Dreams that come alive in various situations of my daily life. Dreams I live in my sleep. Asleep or awake, they don’t look much different. In each of them I am (in one way or another) surrounded by two-footed friends otherwise known as family. Dreams. From the ground up, they are a pretty special antidote to the painful way of thinking about things. I get that now.

I wonder if I’d get that as clearly if I hadn’t had my fair share of pain. Though I suppose it’s possible I would have, I do think sometimes you need to live through the storm to better  appreciate the rainbow that follows. My storms were tough, but my rainbow is better.

 

On Leather Belts and Baseball Bats July 17, 2014

It’s time to come clean about something. I have this thing with baseball bats. Mom and dad noticed it for the first time last year when dad started playing in a weekly softball league through our local recreation department. He would practice his swings and I would bark. It probably doesn’t sound like much, but for a dog who (literally) only barks at other animals when I see them on the television, this is a big deal. He would swing and I would bark. Coy Wiley

While my bark is certainly larger than my bite, I will be honest. I have my reasons. The man with the leather belt that causes me to run in fear at the sight of leather to this day (even though I know my dad would never hurt me) also liked to play baseball. He had a collection of bats, and one time when he was really (really) drunken, he whacked me with one of them. Or maybe two. I’ve tried very hard to push this out of my mind, but that’s the thing about cause and effect. Sometimes the cause has an effect whether we like it or not.

For me, that means I (to this day) fear leather belts and baseball bats. I know it’s funny, since I know in my heart no one in my current life would ever even consider the possibility of hurting me like that. But sadly that doesn’t erase the past. I see him, the man with the leather belt, with the baseball bat and I cringe inside. It doesn’t matter who might be swinging the bat, I simply can’t stand it.

So tonight when mom took dear baby Carter to dad’s softball game, I was relieved to be left behind. That never happens, mind you. I always (and I mean always) want to go wherever my people are going. Not tonight. Tonight I was happy to stay put, alone with my thoughts and reflections. It’s not such a bad thing to do from time to time, regardless of the reason.

For me, it was a reminder that everyone needs some time to reflect every now and then. Joy. From the ground up, it happens when life brings reality to moments, good or bad. In my case, I’ve learned from the unfortunate events of the past to embrace the exciting possibilities of the future. I’m no fortune teller, but I know there is fun in store.

 

A Dog’s Tail Never Lies December 19, 2013

I know they can’t always be avoided. But I sure wish there was a safe way around them. From freshly cleaned floors to ice patches on the road, I simply do not care for all things slippery.

This came to mind tonight as I found myself skating across the patio portion of my backyard paradise. I wanted to come inside quickly because I heard my treat jar open when bam! My paws slipped and slid underneath me. And, for that (albeit brief) moment, I was completely out of control. I lost my balance. That’s when I knew for sure this icy stuff is certainly not my friend. It’s slippery. I don’t care for slippery.

Don't Slip!The same can be said of people, I suppose. Us canines are known for our accurate judgment of the character of those around us. We are natural born observers, which I think aids us in our assessments over time. I’ve only made one grave mistake in not trusting my best doggie friend from the streets Tiger. I felt pretty silly about getting that first impression wrong when I learned the reason he was so protective of his food was because he was a single dad caring for his pups.

I learned my lesson and haven’t made the same mistake twice. I knew right away I could trust Jo, and that her caretaker (if you can call him that) otherwise known as the man with the leather belt was bad news. His face came to mind tonight as I was slipping all over the place. I don’t like slippery people any more than I like slippery surface. And he was such a bad person. He made me feel completely out of control. He took away my balance. But he could not take away who I am.

Because who I am is pretty great. I know that now. And you can believe me when I say so since a dog’s tail never lies. Above anything else we are honest. We are who we are. I know this with the same certainty I know there are unfortunately plenty of slippery people out there. And there isn’t always a way around them. But life has taught me sometimes the best defense against a slippery slope is a good offense. And when it comes to fighting evil, mine wins every time.

 

Rear View Mirror November 15, 2013

It has many faces and wears many hats. But the faces scare me and (let’s be honest) hats are not a dog’s best friend. Evil. It’s become such a foreign concept to me in my forever home, that it’s commonplace for me to forget it exists altogether.

Then I see something like I did on the side of the road on the way to the dog park, and it all comes rushing back. I know mom saw it too, and neither of us knew what to do. It was startling. So we drove on, and I wondered whether that was really the right thing to do. A man and a woman were arguing by a car when it happened. The man took the woman by the neck and (rather violently) threw her toward the nearby ditch. I was relieved to see them both get in the car and drive away from the safety of the rear view mirror.

Rear View MirrorWe made it to the park a few minutes later and I found myself lost in my thoughts as mom and I walked together on the trail. I realized that’s kind of the embodiment of evil in my life. The rear view mirror. It’s in my past, behind me and forgotten. And for that I am so grateful. But it’s not that way for everyone. Seeing what happened to that poor woman on the side of the road today was proof enough of that.

Maybe I’ve been going about this concept of evil all wrong. Just because something is in the mirror doesn’t mean it’s not really there. It’s there, alive and real, and ready to take the wheel if we let it. It does no good to pretend it isn’t.

Evil. My journey through life has led me to believe it has many faces and wears many hats. It’s that man on the side of the road. It’s in the eyes of Demon Dog in my backyard. It was in the hands of the man with the leather belt. It’s in the worry currently consuming my people. The faces of evil scare me and (let’s be honest) hats are not a dog’s best friend. But that’s no reason to ignore it altogether.

“Wisdom we know is the knowledge of good and evil,” suggested American writer John Cheever, “not the strength to chose between the two.” It’s an easy choice to me. What’s more challenging is looking in that rear view mirror, acknowledging the evil that exists, and moving on. Make them wonder why you’re smiling. Because good ultimately wins that battle every time.

 

A Moment of Magic October 31, 2013

I don’t believe in magic. Not in the traditional sense at least. The whole now you see me, now you don’t idea? What fun is that anyway? But I will never forget the day I discovered a different kind of magic.

To the rest of the world it was Halloween. To me, it was Jo’s eighth birthday. That’s all that mattered. I had been living with her and the man with the leather belt for a few months, and had seen my fair share of things I still wish I hadn’t. But this was a day to remember for all the right reasons.My Kind of Magic

This was the one time I ever witnessed Jo and the man with the leather belt happy at the same time. I was surprised he remembered the day at all, since he was usually pretty forgetful about basic things like having anything besides frozen pizza and beer in the fridge. But alas, he surprised us both. After dinner (he actually cooked something), he got out a pink cupcake with a single candle on it and sang happy birthday to her. I sat by her side, proud and humbled to share in such a special moment. Then he gave her a present. It wasn’t wrapped (it was still in the Toys ‘R Us bag) but that was beside the point.

It was magic. Literally. He gave her a 100-peice magic set. “I had one when I was about your age, so I thought maybe you’d like it,” he told her. She loved it. They spent the next few hours experimenting and doing something I’d never seen them to before. They laughed together.

That was the real magic. Magic is in moments like these. Moments brought to life by a power within us to believe. “Magic flows through us,” Sarah Ban Breathnach writes in Simple Abundance, “mystery infuses every encounter of every day…You have no idea of the countless lives you touch in the course of a lifetime.”

My life was touched that day by something special. I may not believe in the hocus pocus kind of magic, but that day I became a believer in a whole other kind of magic entirely. I became a believer that the power is within us to live this magic in our daily lives. To find and embrace moments of pure joy is a magic all its own.

 

The F Word October 10, 2013

Brisk walks around the tree-lined streets of the neighborhood. Snuggling on mom’s lap while she and dad sip pumpkin spice lattes by the bonfire in the backyard. Snagging the occasional apple slice that makes its way onto the kitchen floor while mom bakes one of her apple pies on a lazy Sunday afternoon. These are the fall moments to embrace. Haunted houses, spooky corn mazes and scary movies filled with blood, guts and gore? Not so much.

I can’t personally understand why anyone would ever purposely subject themselves to any of these fear-inducing fall traditions. But then again, I have my reasons. As one who has lived on the receiving side of abuse (both physical and verbal), I am here to testify fear is truly its own four-letter word.

And that’s coming from a four-legged mind that generally doesn’t process swear words. Dogs don’t swear. Sure, we have our own unique ways to demonstrate choice words. But that’s one of the perks of silence – we never really have the opportunity to say something we will later regret.Forgiveness

It doesn’t happen often in my forever home, but it used to happen a lot in my life before my forever people rescued me. People swearing, saying hurtful things they didn’t mean, and ultimately filling their lives with nothing but regret. Well, I guess I’m not sure about the regret part. That’s not for me to judge.

What I do know is the fears I have each have a reason, mostly relating to the man with the leather belt. He swore a lot. Usually after he’d been drinking. And he is the reason I grew to fear leather belts, power tools and vacuum cleaners.

I remember the way his breath smelled on my face the time he thought he would vacuum me because he hated all my shedding. I can picture the glazed look in his eyes when he thought he’d cut my nails with his cordless drill. And the belt. That was the worst of it. The belt wasn’t usually meant for me, at least until I intervened when he would use it on my dearest little Jo (my little person at the time).

But there is this thing about fear. It has a way of controlling us if we let it. And it’s a huge roadblock to the one combination of things that can cure regret: forgive and forget. I have long since forgiven the man, but I can honestly say I will never forget the fear. It’s a part of me I can’t truly shut off, even with my forever people. I have absolutely no reason to believe my dad would ever use his belt on me yet I still cower at the sight of it. The same goes for the vacuum and the drill.

So I don’t know why people purposely subject themselves to fearful things this time of year. It’s one of those people things I have accepted I may never understand. Instead I focus my emotional energy on the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” he said. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 

Pieces of You September 24, 2013

“Keep love in your heart,” suggested Irish writer Oscar Wilde. “A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”

I’m never short on love. But lately I’ve been wondering about that thing people say about distance making the heart grow fonder. I’m not so sure that’s true.

Lady LucyIt’s been months and months (which feels like years in doggie time) since I last saw my dearest Taffy. My first love. And while I can’t say I will forget her, my heart has been wandering lately. More accurately my eyes have been wandering and taking my heart along for the ride. There is this lovely lady Lucy who moved in recently across the street. I gaze at her from my perch in the window when she’s out in the front yard.

As I watched her today I wondered what her life has been like, and what her dreams are. I pondered whether her forever people found her at a puppy store or rescued her from a shelter. I hoped she had never seen or experienced pain like I did before my forever people found me. Then it happened. Guilt. I felt guilty for thinking about Lucy when my heart belongs to Taffy. Or does it?Looking for Love

I don’t think so. I don’t know if our hearts really ever belong to anyone other than ourselves. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in true love. Or any other kind of love for that matter. But I do think its our choice how we distribute pieces of our heart. My life before I met my forever people taught me how precious our hearts really are. I’ve always had a big heart to offer the world, so I know what can happen when you entrust the wrong person with a precious breakable piece. It doesn’t end well.

This is not to say Taffy was the wrong dog for me to love any more than it means I shouldn’t have loved Tiger and his puppies or Jo and the man with the leather belt. I wouldn’t change how I’ve distributed pieces of my heart so far in life. And Taffy will have a piece of mine with her name on it forever.

I’m not so sure about distance and matters of the heart, but I do know love can be tricky. We win some and we lose some, but (at least from what I can tell) it’s ultimately up to us what we do with the outcome. And I’d rather have too many characters to love than too few. The sun is always shining in the garden of my heart.

 

 

On Neighborly Physics September 9, 2013

We all have at least one in our lives. One character we wish we had never met. One friend gone bad. One neighbor we can’t stand.

For me, it’s Demon Dog in the backyard behind mine. He scares me, irritates my people, and I fear for the threat he could be to the safety of my future little person.

For my newest dog park pal Tucker, it’s the neighbor man who lives next door to his forever home. He sounds like an angry person always carries a strong chemical smell I’ve come to recognize as alcohol on his breath. I didn’t say anything, but (at least from what I hear) he sounds like the man with the leather belt I once knew. I shudder to think of Tucker being exposed to such things. And Tucker shudders to think of the influence this man could have on the little people he oversees.

Since being at my forever home, I don’t think I’ve come across too many proverbial bad seeds. But I’m also not sure what the best course of action is when we cross paths with these sorts of characters on our journey through life. Every situation is different, but I think what brings each one together is a commonality of understanding. Ultimately we all have at least one of these people in our lives.Love thy neighbor

But how lucky we are to have this be the exception rather than the rule. I was reminded of this recently when I finally got to offer my condolences (in the form of some kisses and cuddles) to the next-door neighbor whose husband went to heaven a couple months ago. I can tell she is still very sad, but I think my love helped (at least a little) to bring a little sunshine into her day.

Mom talked to her too, about how she’s doing and life in general. Mom told Mary (that’s her name) about the baby and how she’s been struggling to stay active during pregnancy. What happened next surprised us both. Mary said my mom is welcome to use her pool as often as she’d like, at least until she drains and covers it for the winter.

It might sound like a small thing, but to my mom it was a pretty big deal. Ever since her knee surgery last November she’s wanted to get back into swimming. But something (I think it was fear) was holding her back. She used to swim competitively (a concept I’ll never understand – why would you intentionally spend all that time in the water?) and was afraid of how out of shape she’d be when she picked it up again. It turns out it wasn’t that bad at all, and she’s been going swimming a few times a week ever since.

We all have a few of them in our lives. A character we are so glad we met. A friend who will do anything for us. A neighbor who makes a difference. With all this good in our lives, what power is there in the bad? It reminds me of the scientific belief of English physicist Sir Isaac Newton. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” he theorized.

I think there’s all kinds of ways we can choose to approach the negative people in our lives. I avoid Demon Dog at all costs. And I know Tucker will do whatever he can to protect his little people from the awful neighbor man. But all this thinking about neighbors served as a reminder that the negative influences are the exception not the rule. If anything, they make us appreciate the positive people in our lives that much more.

 

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.