On March 2, 2014, I adopted this kid:
This is Emily.
She is a lab-corgi mix and she looks like an otter.
When I met her the first time at the animal shelter, I knew Emily was a Zen master. That’s why I named her Emily Dickinson, a poet I consider to be unbelievably wise even if she was a hermit.
Today, I want to share four things Emily has taught me over the past few months, in ascending order of depth.
#1 Life is scary, but there is Good.
I’m constantly telling people, “Oh! Be careful, she has small dog syndrome.”
Emily is a skittish dog, cowering from even the gentlest of people.
Here’s an incomplete list of things that scare Emily: men, sirens, thunderstorms, big trucks, banjos, laughing too loudly, anything being dropped, not being able to see me,….
She’s a nervous guy.
And while that’s true, every single day when I come home from work, Emily meets me at the top of the stairs falling over herself doing her bobbly butt dance because she is so f*in excited for me to be home. She knows that we’ll go on a walk together, we’ll snuggle, and we’ll eat. Those good things are enough for her to overcome her general trepidation about the world.
Watching Emily be scared of… well, everything has been a constant reminder for me to check my own fears. Most days, I can find myself interacting with the people around me based in some sort of fear.
I’m afraid I’m not cool enough.
I’m afraid I’m unwanted.
I’m afraid of being the fool.
When I catch myself holding my breath, or floundering in some social anxiety, I ask myself, “What am I afraid of here?”
Inevitably, one of those fears above is the answer.
And my response to that is this: Hannah, you are a life and a spirit and a speck of the Universe that is as equally deserving of honor and respect as everyone around you. Be kind with the gentle heart that you are.
As Eckhart Tolle says, “Everything is honored, and nothing matters.”
#2 People are the worst and the best.
A few weeks ago, I went with two friends to a beautiful cliff, overlooking a nearby valley. We brought Emily and when we got there, she immediately spotted and made a run at a small dog splashing in the creek. For the rest of the time we were there, Emily was agitated and kept that other dog in sight.
But as soon as the dog left, Emily trotted slowly in the direction of its exit, stopped, turned to look at me, and whimpered.
Her friend was gone.
Now, Emily is a lot like the annoying kid on the playground who just doesn’t get social cues. She knows that other dogs are sources of danger and uncertainty, but she also knows that there’s something there that she likes.
It reminds me of my “introspective times of retreat.” I think, “Oh, woe is me. I am so tense and stressed. I just need to be ALONE.”
So I putt around my apartment for a hot thirty minutes and then think, “Well, maybe I should go to a coffee shop and write.”
As an extroverted introvert, I constantly teeter on that line between being taxed by the people around me and needing people for inspiration.
Life is nothing if not community.
Watching Emily long for her frenemy makes me all the more conscious of ways in which people nourish me. And it gives me patience for those times when I’m irritated or exhausted by the people around me.
#3 Being pretty ain’t no thang.
“Oh my GOD, she’s so PRETTY. Look at that coat. Where did you get her??” (Read: Where can I get one?)
A) You can’t get one. Emily is one-o’-a-kind. Dogs are a life, and like all other lives, she’s unique. She’s not a pair of shoes.
B) Emily does not know, nor care that she is a really sleek, beautiful dog. She makes people smile everyday because she looks super quirky. My boss calls her an otter. My best friends call her chunkybutt. I affectionately call her “my lil pot-bellied pig.”
Simply, she’s adorable.
And yet Em doesn’t give a shit about being adorable. Emily cares about one thing and one thing only.
Emily wakes up thinking about squirrels. As I roll over and brush my mess of hair from my eyes every morning, Emily is laying on her side, staring at me wide-eyed, silently asking, “MAMA, is it time for squirrels yet??”
Her passion for squirrels is all-consuming and never-ending.
I aim to have a tenth of the enthusiasm for this world that Emily has upon waking every morning.
#4 I’m actually terrified of the things I want.
Emily’s obsession with squirrels has actually taught me a lot about my own desires.
Because the thing is, Emily is actually scared of squirrels. So as much as squirrels are the reason Emily gets out of bed in the morning, when she actually chases one down and almost catches it, she’ll turn around and run back to me with her tail between her legs.
When she finally gets the thing she’s been chasing for months, she scared of it.
Similarly, I talk a big talk about the things I want: An honest, healthy, respectful, kind relationship. Deep loyalty with my best friends. A calm, settled life.
And yet I’ve been struggling in the past month with boredom. My ego is just like a chicken scratching in the dirt for drama and for ways that I can be made the victim.
When I’m honest with myself, there’s a big part of myself that craves my unhealthy relationships. Part of me likes being able to resent my exes and be the bigger (wo)man. My ego doesn’t want kindness. It wants to wallow and be hurt and feel rejected.
Because who am I without those things? That’s the question I’ve been grappling with for the past month: Who is Hannah when she’s not the grieving dumpee, when she’s not the unappreciated partner, when she’s not the responsible, embittered mediator?
Who am I when I’m just plain ole’ Hannah?
That is a fucking terrifying question.
I’m struggling to answer it. But I know that in answering who Hannah is — raw and unmasked — I’m getting closer to a place where I can welcome the deeply satisfying, healthy relationships I crave.
I may have a lot of false starts — a lot of running from my squirrels — but I’m getting there. I’m doing the work.
For about a month after I got Emily, I never heard a peep from her. She was silent.
So, to my neighbors’ chagrin, I’ve been teaching Emmy how to howl. When sirens go by (which is a lot since I live near three hospitals and a fire station), I start quietly howling at Emily. Her ears will perk up and she’ll whimper, asking permission to howl. I’ll howl a little louder, and then she starts.
A, A, A–WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Slowly but surely, Emily’s finding her voice.
And somewhere along these winding past few months alongside my little otter dog, I’ve started to find mine too.