Even though the breeze ran cool, I could already feel the sweat forming a slick film of embarrassment over my entire being. My rescue dog, Nora, was at it again. She was barking and lunging in excited joy upon seeing our dear, sweet elderly neighbor emerging from her home. I felt the eyes of the neighborhood upon me as the silent question hung in the air:
Why can’t this woman control her dog?
I had to use awkward physical force to rein in Nora’s enthusiasm. It was an uncomfortable process for both of us. I could only imagine the scope of the scene we were causing. I had to take deliberate steps in the direction towards home, each one originating from my core locked in determination. Step by slow step, eyes ahead, we made our way.
Once we were over the threshold I dropped the leash from my hand as if it were suddenly hot to the touch. I didn’t want anything to do with it or Nora right then as I slid down the length of my closed front door, my back bracing against the wooded filigreed base.
Soon after, the tears started.
My heart ached in disappointment. I had been training Nora for weeks and weeks. I was clicker-training and it seemed as if the thousands of clicks I had clicked were pointless.
It all seemed pointless.
Nora looked up at me with her big, uncertain brown eyes. I couldn’t look back at her. I needed space. I needed time for my anger and frustration to subside.
The rest of the day melted away in a blur and I found myself alone with my thoughts as I prepared to fall asleep. Overall, I felt rather hopeless about not only Nora’s training, but my life in general.
From the outside, I appeared all sunny and cheerful, but it wasn’t the whole story.
About five years prior I had experienced a series of panic attacks that had left my soul stripped bare of all pretenses. I had stopped being my truest self and my inner wisdom finally called me on it. I was putting the needs of everyone around me far above my own. To this day, I am still dealing with the ramifications. I still struggle with anxiety, especially in social settings, and continue to learn from what my fear is trying to teach me. Mainly, I have learned the only certainty in life is that all of it is uncertain.
As I snuggled myself deeper under the covers, I did my best to shake the edge off the bad memories of those frightening attacks. In so many ways I was transforming my fear into freedom, but on this night after the fiasco with Nora, all I could taste was failure.
I finally drifted to sleep with a prayer. I prayed for clarity, for guidance and for hope. The only way to overcome any hardship is to catch a wisp of hope and hold onto it. Hope is how we keep going in all circumstances.
The next day I awoke with a slightly less heavy heart. With my frustration at bay, I was ready to get back to attempting to train Nora. At this point, I was able to forgive her but I was a long way away from forgiving myself.
Why was that?
It was becoming clear to me I hadn’t truly been upset with Nora for the reasons I thought. Maybe I was using her acting out moments as another platform to criticize myself.
I searched a bit deeper and realized I hadn’t forgiven myself for being flawed. I still felt ashamed for my panic attacks and my inability to navigate crowds and the world with ease.
Rescuing Nora symbolically has meant that I have to rescue myself at the same time.
What does having Nora in my life mean?
It means she teaches me. I watch her example and learn. She does her best every day. She loves hard and with all her heart. All setbacks are forgiven as quickly as they arise. She never looks back. She only sees right now with eyes fixed forward. For every ‘bad’ she encounters, her joy quickly crushes it from awareness.
She is magnificent.
I would not change her.
I would not trade her.
We are the broken brought together to love and heal one another.
If I can forgive Nora for not being perfect, maybe I can forgive myself for not being perfect.
I have been through the fire of life. I have walked through a darkness so deep and inky black, I could not see the light anywhere. There was no light. Then, Nora found her way to me and reminded me I am loved. I am loved in all my incarnations and complicated variations. Every facet of me is a necessary component of who I am. I am loved when I am panicked and soul-shattered. I am loved when I don’t fit into the world around me. I am loved.
So are you.
Image courtesy of Vladimir Kudinov.