The beginning of this month was consumed with talk of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing. Even here, stateside, former colonies and all, people were mesmerized by the pomp and circumstance. I vacillated between being appalled at the unapologetic display of wealth in a world with so much suffering to being in awe of the grandiose traditions. I have to say one of the cutest moments was a picture I saw of one of the palace workers holding the leashes of the Queen’s beloved corgis, waiting with them to pay their respects as her casket passed. I went down a rabbit hole of information about the Queen and her corgis, learning that most of hers descended from a corgi she had at 18-years-old. This means she had an extensive family tree of corgis in almost an 80-year span of time.
And surely loving one’s pet is one of the most relatable characteristics in humans, whether we have a collection of crown jewels or a pile of nothing.
My youngest, Peter Jack, is a dog person. He’s an animal person in general, but he has been on my case for quite some time to get him a dog. We’ve dog-sat a few times, and he happily allows a stinky dog to jump into his bed and cuddle at bedtime. I’ve admitted before that I don’t think I’m a dog person. I never felt a connection to them, like the one I experienced with my cats when we became cat owners for the first time. I thought that meant I was a cat person and not a dog person, but slowly I’m realizing that life is more nuanced than these categories of “this” or “that”, and that circumstances and timing are in constant flux, making it impossible to know who we may be tomorrow. Actually, if we’re doing it right, we won’t be the same person in the future as we are today.
So, I started to look up rescue dogs with Petey. This isn’t so easy. You submit applications and dogs are gone already. You have to do home inspections and fill out details about your life and living arrangement. We also did a lot of thinking about what characteristics we were looking for in a dog: couch potato, calm, good with kids and cats, not a puppy.
Then right around the time the Queen died, we matched with Dug and drove to Los Angeles to meet him, fall in love with him, and drive him back to his new furever home. He has become Peter’s best friend. It’s really sweet to watch, and it has been good for Peter, teaching him responsibility and giving him the companion he always wanted.
My oldest has been the slowest to warm to Dug, and I fear I have passed down my aversion to dogs to him.
“I’m a cat person,” Ethan says, with the pride of someone claiming a sports team.
Dug licks mean nothing to him. He begrudgingly interacts with the dog, and I think Dug senses this reluctance and returns the same energy back by keeping his distance.
“What if there’s enough love in the world to love both? What if you don’t have to choose dogs or cats? Can you possibly love Dug and Teddy? Team both of them?”
Like anything, I think you could fall in love with a rock if you spent enough time with it, and Ethan enjoyed seeing Dug dressed up as a taco today, spending a few potty breaks outside together.
Recently, the German Shepherd I had with Kenneth, who we got when Ethan was just two-years-old, passed away. After Kenneth’s death, I struggled for a year trying to work full time, grieve, take care of a 1-year-old, 3-year-old, 6-year-old, a German shepherd, and a goldendoodle puppy on my own. It nearly killed me. The dog had been going through her own grieving since Kenneth’s death and had been acting out. She was such a sweet girl, but it was clear she did not want to be stuck with us. She missed him. They used to hang out together in the evenings. The dog would wait until I went to bed with the baby to go to the kitchen, where they’d watch Netflix together into the night while Kenneth pet her. After he was gone, she had started to become destructive at the house and I had no idea what to do. Then, out of the blue, someone we knew who had dog sat for us in the past heard about Kenneth’s passing, heard about my struggles with the dog, and offered to give her a better home. I was so thankful and relieved, even though I felt so guilty. Even thought five years had passed, when I heard the dog died, I felt very sad. One more piece of that previous life I had with him gone. I wondered if Kenneth would have approved that I gave his dog away. I wondered if I could have done more to keep the ship afloat. She had a better life than I could have given her– no regrets. But did it all have to happen in the first place? That’s what sometimes creeps back into my mind. I suppose it’s a natural part of the grieving process.
I recently listened to a podcast with Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert. I had no idea Colbert lost his father and brothers at a young age. We think of him as just a funny guy, but beneath the humor is someone who suffered a lot and had to come to terms with significant loss. Colbert said he was grateful for the suffering in that it helped him understand what others go through. That it is a gift. A “gift to exist.” He said he has learned to “love the thing that [he] most wish had not happened.” He said he feels gratitude, but he doesn’t know how. Colbert and Cooper got emotional in the interview, and I appreciated hearing two dudes cry. I think we need more of that vulnerability, to learn from each other, to normalize the natural part of sadness in our lives that we all inevitably experience time and again.
I do feel grateful, and it is a strange place to be given the circumstances. Colbert says he doesn’t know how he feels grateful, but for me, it comes from Buddhism. Buddhism gave me tools to cope with suffering. It doesn’t explain it away. It doesn’t take suffering away. It simply has helped me navigate the choppy waters, to not just stay afloat, but to thrive, and to feel stronger during other encounters with suffering.
In the Colbert and Anderson interview, they cited Viktor Frankl, who wrote “A Man’s Search for Meaning” after surviving the Holocaust. Frankl said, “There was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a person had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
Building this courage– this resilience– is incredibly important, and something I hope I am establishing within my own young children. As a teacher, I am bombarded with the state of affairs with today’s youth. Society is in trouble. The social emotional issues are through the roof. Poverty is skyrocketing. Depression and anxiety overwhelm children. Parents are overwhelmed with their own issues they can’t solve. As a parent, it is terrifying. How do I prepare my children for this increasingly difficult world, while also trying to navigate my own wellness? I’m overwhelmed lately trying to keep up with soccer, scouts, pick ups, drop offs, basketball, homework, Japanese school, dharma school, working full-time, running all of the errands, making home cooked dinners, keeping a clean house, exercising, and trying to get 8 hours of sleep. I feel like I’m constantly failing and dropping important balls from the air. Someone or something is getting short-changed around here even on my best days. It’s just impossible as a one-woman show. That’s when I feel the sadness creeping back into my life. If my husband were still alive, I wouldn’t be doing this by myself. Even just having a witness in the chaos to share the experience with makes a difference. Sometimes the sadness turns into resentment, jealousy, even anger, and I have to reign my wayward thoughts back in. Spiraling has never been a helpful place to be for me.
I read an article about “Small Things Often” in parenting. The focus should be on the small things we can do that have big payouts. In parenting, it could responding to bids for attention, asking them questions, or even playing for 10 minutes together. The author writes, “Parenting is hard, but by engaging in small moments of connection with your child often, you can build a bond that will set them up for success for a lifetime.” This is an important reminder for me, because I often devolve into berating myself for not giving my 100% to my kids 24/7. If I go off to pickleball, I question whether I should have stayed home or done this or that with the kids instead. Yet, another part of me knows that I need to take care of myself too.
There is an inclination to want to find broad strokes to fix problems. I see it at work. Massive initiatives that will fix kids. New programs. Big solutions to implement, all of which inevitably lose steam and some other giant new repackaged thing gets introduced. Broad strokes aren’t sustainable. I think this applies to life. Sometimes I think we get blinded by the big, lofty goals and ignore the important small changes we could be making that would have a huge impact.
I need to remind myself about the “small things often” idea and use it in all domains of my life. It’s kind of like drops in a bucket. They add up to gallons and gallons before you know it.
When we feel despair, remembering one small thing, one small step, is exactly how we improve our circumstances and fix our problems.
Italy is about to elect fascist leader Giorgia Meloni. It feels like we’re going backwards in history. Inflation is surging. There hasn’t been any solutions to school shootings. California has had heat waves that have us thinking about global warming. Russia is still pounding on the Ukraine. Banks have been closed down in Lebanon. Record breaking floods have killed almost two thousand people in Pakistan since June. All of this can lead to a lot of despair about the future.
In a Forever 35 Podcast, Jessi Klein shared advice her 82-year-old father once gave her. “Wars end,” he said. It can feel relentless and never ending– the state of the world. But remembering the angst we felt as 15-year-olds, and how those feelings aren’t even a blip on today’s radar, is important for perspective. Depressing world events end. New depressing world events pop up. There is always ebb and flow. Feast and famine.
This too shall pass.
That doesn’t mean we be complacent. It means keep doing the small things often. Don’t let the big things overwhelm and discourage you. We overcome it with each small step. Your mere existence can help contribute to a positive direction that would impact future generations. I think that is amazing.
Stephen Colbert said people are scared of grief, but that “grief is a doorway to another you.”
And maybe that’s how we deal with the scariness of the unknown. Being open to what is on the other side. Accepting the growing pains that come with transformation and growth. Savoring the tightrope walk between letting go and leaning in while trying to stay upright. Feeling it all, soaking it in, and being grateful for the opportunity to be alive. Your life is truly rare and precious.