I’ve had lots of dogs. They teach me things. Like how to play and laugh and be unconditional. Unconditional.. that’s a big one. I try and teach them as well but it’s not an even exchange.
I have a new dog, her name is mostly Charlie, named after my best friend in grade school, unless I call her Baba Ganoush, the food like hummus that nobody can pronounce but I can’t stop eating.
Charlie, Baba Ganoush and I are figuring things out. We live in two places. It’s harder to establish a routine, for her and for me. The elevator is big and scary. The subway shakes and she looks around and clings to my legs. The bus drivers occasionally honk when they see us. On any given day 30 dogs may come greet us unexpectedly. That’s when we’re urban.
Then we go suburban. Charlie has her own little set up in the car, complete with seat belts and toys and a booster so she can see out. When we get to the burbs, things slow down. Our walks don’t entail anything noisy or scary and we almost never bump into any other dogs. No elevators, but the staircase has a menacing quality to it that Charlie is still reconciling with. It’s hard to say which she likes more because when we’re suburban she gets to come to work with me where she now has a grandma and a bunch of friends but the urban life has a sense of intrigue that’s hard to deny.
Charlie and I have been together nearly around the clock now for two weeks. In the olden days, Tibetan Monks would get new dogs and they would tie a lead to their waist and to the dog and spend the first few months attached to each other. Charlie and I are mostly doing it this way also. The monks talk of this bond that gets created, a certainty and comfort between the dog and his owner, a way of communicating that is more authentic than words.
I keep learning things as we spend all this time together. I throw us into every single environment l can find so she becomes certain that all is well, no matter what. Wrigley Field after the World Series was a perfect example. We’re marching into her fears head on. She’s already proven to be mightily adjusted and ready for almost everything.
What I’ve learned the most is her necessity to pause. We walk down the road and a new sound or experience shows up and she stops. Mostly, I stop with her. We each pause and she looks and listens and adjusts to the sound, then we begin again. I tried to keep her moving at first, however I’ve fallen in love with this way of learning. When we hear the same sound again, she doesn’t pause. It seems like it’s only the very first time. It’s not fear, she doesn’t seem the least bit fearful or nervous. She seems intently curious. “What’s that?” “wow!” “wait, what’s that!?”
New, pause, go. New pause go. At first a city block took a while. I enjoyed not being able to be in a hurry. Now we go a little farther a little faster. But we’re still pausing regularly. Alley. Garbage truck. Bikes. Pit Bull. Friendly guy. Little kid. Fireworks. Police sirens. New, pause, go.
Other people notice her pausing also. I’ve decided to honor her pause, so we occasionally hold up foot traffic on a busy sidewalk. Or crossing the road. Or when we manage the super scary swirling doors at the grocery store.
At first I thought people would be mad. But their is just something so captivating about her curious pause. People around us seem to pause also, to look where we look, to experience it in this fresh, new kind of way.
All this takes time. I didn’t think I had the time but Charlie had me make it. It’s embarrassing to leave a meeting to take her outside, but it’s really remarkable to take a 10 minute walk and clear my head. I thought it would suck to get dressed and go outside right before bed, but I’ve discovered things I didn’t know about. Did you know the moon can change shape within the span of a single hour? Or that early in the morning the leaves and silence and dark streets feel haunted when the wind blows but aren’t scary at all? Or that an entire commerce exists in the middle of the night? People are always going. And when you pause, did you know that people stop and say hello? Turns out, not everyone is on their phones, they actually want to meet you and decent human exchanges still exist?
I wasn’t as smart as Charlie for a long time. I forced myself to keep going. I barged through situations and feelings and days and life without allowing myself to re-adjust, to calibrate and then go again. I notice now how much more certain and capable Charlie is when we pause. If I try to force her to just keep going and push through it just doesn’t work that well. We struggle. But if I just allow the few second pause, if we take just a second to breath, notice and calibrate, all is well and everything becomes possible.
Turns out, slowing down allows us to speed up.