“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” - Thomas Merton
Earlier this morning I posted a photograph of Will from his first morning with us on our Facebook page. The comments were numerous and kind. Some emailed and others posted comments asking me how it worked out that a fifteen year old dog who was ready for death choose to stick around long enough to not only celebrate his two year anniversary with us on May 6, 2015, but also thrive and turn his anger into happiness, his loneliness into trust, and his painful past into redemption.
For those who posted, thank you for your kind words. Many are far too generous with their praise.
First off, I'm not a saint. Far from it...which helps me in many ways, I think. For there were times in my life where I was also lost, just as Will was. That made it easy for me to choose to look at Will from the very beginning in the same manner I looked at Atticus when he came to me as an eight week old. And I don't mean as puppy, but as an individual.
I have always tried to put myself in his skin and thought about how I would want to be treated if I was Will. After that it was and, continues to be, trial and error. If something works, we keep doing it. If it doesn’t, we try a new approach.
It’s important to point out that I do not consider myself an expert (and avoid most experts whenever I can), but in the instances with Will and Atticus, and with Max preceding them, who, like Will, came to me as an older dog, it has worked out well enough that I have no plans to change our approach.
When dealing with those I care about, I choose to concentrate on their individual journey, or as Joseph Campbell wrote about, "the hero's journey". I do my best to eradicate that which divides us and concentrate on commonalities while still respecting our differences. That’s why the Golden Rule works for us.
Because I'm a writer, words are extremely important to me. They represent and make concrete my thoughts. They form my contract with life and the outside world and are the basis of human communication. It's one of the reasons we are very careful with our social media postings and what we allow on our Facebook page as far as comments go. You will never see breeds mentioned. I think generalizing is silly. And I definitely don't think one breed is better than the rest or has a better personality than the others. It's the same with people. I try not to judge people based on their background, whether it be race, religion, or political party. I avoid the clichés. (This is one of the reasons I was thrilled when the NBA stood up to Donald Sterling last week.) So when someone posts that a certain breed has such and such a personality, it hits the ether long before we ever see it, thanks to the ingenuity of the moderators.
I often consider Will in the same manner I considered the senior citizens I worked with in a nursing home. To me he's not my child, definitely not my baby, nor am I his dad. In his life span, he's twice my age. I respect that. I choose not to minimize his existence and make him a subset of me or an accessory. I know this doesn’t work for everyone and that’s fine if you like to practice it in your own world, but in ours, it is one of the cornerstones of our relationship.
Will, in my eyes, is pretty much who I am. Who you are. He's one individual on a journey. One individual’s journey is not equivalent to another’s. No one’s life has ever been like Atticus’s or Will’s or mine…or yours. That's always what I think about whether Will's happy and dancing, sleeping peacefully, collapsed in a puddle of his own piss and shit and incapable of getting up, or angry, resentful, and striking out like he was when he first came to us.
As my literary soul mate and I have been corresponding about lately, I believe that Will rescued himself, ultimately by his decision to live. Sure, a nice lifestyle and a safe place, good food, caring, and medical attention helped, but in the end it was always his decision. I equate it to the people I know who are down on their luck or addicted to drugs or alcohol or anger. No one can save them. Those who love them and care about them can get them to rehab, or to a therapist, but in the end the only one who can save you is yourself.
So yes, Atticus does deserve much credit for his patience, and I made a choice to take Will in and do my best by him, but Will's the one who had the final say on the happily ever after part. Will deserves the credit. We simply gave him a place to live out his days, and a right to choose on a daily basis, and to be himself.
In responding to a few comments that talk about love always being enough, I have given this much thought. I'm a romantic and I always believed this when I was younger, but then the years passed and experiences added to more experiences, and ultimately, what I had to admit, sadly, is that love is not always enough. Stories don't always have happy endings. Just look around you. Not everyone is living a fairytale life. But happy endings do exist, so I chose to believe in their possibility and work towards them.
That’s what so great about Hemingway's famous line, "The world breaks everyone, and some are made strong at the broken places."
On the occasion I have talked about my philosophy regarding Will, Atticus, Max, or individuals of any species, breed, race, sexual orientation, or religion, and done my best to ignore those dividing labels, some people get pretty ticked off at me. This is where I return to my mantra: I'm not an expert.
What works for us in our little corner of the world may not work for others in theirs because of their own belief system. I don't have a problem with that. I figure I'm happy enough in our lives that I don't aim to change anyone else. I simply draw boundaries around what is acceptable to us so that people don't get very far when they try to change ours, or in the rare case where they decide to express anger about what I believe.
I’m simply expressing these thoughts because some have inquired about how I came about succeeding with Will.
Thank you all again for your nice words. I am thrilled we are about to celebrate two years with Will when at first we thought it would be only two months.
While some deserve credit for getting him to us, and Atticus and I may deserve credit for taking him in and allowing him to be himself and grow as he needed to, the hero in all of this is Will. Once he was an afterthought, an accessory dumped in a shelter; now he is indeed a hero.
Will is writing his own story, I'm just putting it down on paper for him.
I couldn't be happier for him, or more proud of his journey.