the warmth of a cold nose

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nov. 17: what is the hardest lesson you’ve learned from having pets?

i think the obvious answer is that our pets teach us about life and death, impermanence. you know, the small stuff. so yes, those lessons are heart-breakingly hard to learn. i have shared my whole memorable life with an amazing cast of furry four-legged characters, each in their time bringing their own unique personality and special brand of loving into my heart. teaching me that nothing, even the best things, can last forever on this earth. and it has been awful to say goodbye, to their whole-butt-wagging tails, backflips off the porch for dinner, mystery silver poops and empty bowls of hershey kisses (oh. right.), endless chases around the dining room table, licks right in the open freaking mouth, and warm loving eyes. yet while we physically say goodbye, the memories remain. and that’s something wonderful. and so, we open the door and do it again.

but the lesson i want to talk about is a different one. one that for me might be even harder, because it requires love in spite of… whereas death highlights love because of, and this is so much easier when all the “in spite of” disappears. maybe in this way death can help us frame this other lesson in a way that makes it slightly easier to digest. getting to the point, that lesson is that you Will, absolutely without a doubt, horrifically and devastatingly, Fail, those you love the most.

you won’t mean to do it. you never do. why would you ever intentionally epically disappoint someone you love beyond measure? you wouldn’t. but it’s going to happen. a moment will come when something about who you are just can’t accommodate. when selfishness or carelessness or simply the other side of a difficult choice will win out. when you break a promise. when you just make an honest mistake. and on the other side of that moment will be that someone who you as an imperfect person failed to love perfectly. and when that someone is a furry four-legged someone, chances are when you rush back to them in regret and pain and sorrow and apology, they will just be so happy that you’re back that nothing else will matter. and that will break your heart a second time, because you’ll feel like you don’t deserve it.

so you’ll say, i’ll never ever do that again. you say it to them. you say it to yourself.

but you will.

to me this is one of life’s hardest lessons. we will sometimes let ourselves and those we love down, hugely and despite our best efforts not to. we will be hurt, and hurt others, and we will promise never again. but again will come. how can we forgive ourselves for something we will inevitably keep doing? a lot of times it feels like we can’t. and we can get stuck in a dark vortex of even hating ourselves for it. but this is not the way out. the way out is through. expecting that we won’t fail at perfect love, when we are imperfect people, is not realistic. we need to learn this, accept it, forgive it. but we maybe we can’t completely. and why not?

because the love is so real. maybe what we need to do instead is learn that this hard lesson is a product of the deepest love. because it wouldn’t feel so bad if it didn’t matter so much. maybe what we need to do instead is extend that grace to those who fail or disappoint us. wag our whole butts when they come back in pain, because we understand. maybe what we need to do instead is recognize that our best is good enough. because when we’re gone, all the in spite of disappears, and only the because of remains. when we’re gone, our silver poop will be fondly remembered, and not the empty bowl.

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