Wednesday, March 15, 2017

jed's journal: prologue

(published a day after writing)
So, I adopted a dog. I set out to adopt a senior dog, thinking that it would provide a home to a dog in need, and require a shorter duration commitment for us as a three-dog family again. Understandably, Ken would like to simplify our collective life, but I'm here and he's there for who-knows-how-long. So I decided to adopt a dog. My heart needs a dog.

The short version of the story is that I selected a senior at a local shelter via their web site. Put in my application, and made an appointment to go meet the ole' gal. We weren't a match. I visited with a total of four dogs that afternoon, and #4 turned out to be Jed, a Border Collie who had been abandoned, probably shot (he bears evidence of buckshot wounds), and left to fend for himself somewhere in North Carolina. I don't see myself as a special needs hero. Nope. But I have a soft spot for Border Collies, and Jed, well, instead of hiding under the table in the "meet and greet" room as he typically had with others before me, he backed himself up to sit on my legs where I had plopped on the floor. The shelter workers exchanged glances. "Looks like he's chosen you!" I brought Jed home.

He's skittish. Scared. Painfully shy. Happy to spend his day in his crate, safe from potentially threatening interaction. But once he emerges he follows me around and parks himself at my feet. Sometimes he takes sanctuary in a corner. He doesn't invite affection, but he accepts it without flinching. When we've gone for walks he alternates between convivial participation and active resistance. He won't take food from my hand, and his bowl has to placed in front of him--wherever he is--for him to eat. He's pooped and peed in his crate. In southern parlance, he's a mess.

Last night as I was offering my prayers after "lights out," I wondered if this was a good idea. I don't feel equipped for this kind of relationship, and I'm definitely not trained for it. In truth, with the long road of post-traumatic recovery he has ahead of him, Jed wasn't ready for adoption. He should have had more time for transition, healing, and training with a foster guardian. Under cover of darkness the option of returning him seemed viable. This is difficult work, and a new road for me. I was looking for comfort and love, and instead I bought in to a challenge. Am I making a poor choice, or rescuing both of us through this effort? In the dawning light of a snowy morning, it all seemed less daunting.

I've been reading about how to work with dogs in his circumstances, and the underlying criteria is patience. Patience is something I can do very well, but it helps to have realistic expectations as a framework in which to practice this virtue. Further, it is helpful to feel that progress is being made.

This morning I decided that a journal for Jed would be helpful. It can help me log his days, and make note of that cherished progress. It can help me feel reinforced in the decision to stick with him. It can be a way for his story to unfold on the record. So here we are. My goal isn't necessarily to publish this log, but it does help to write it through a means that is shared. Last night in the dark I felt very alone. Here, I feel companionship.

This is our second full day together. We are challenged by a blizzard, which makes getting outside exceedingly difficult (no cleared paths), and confounding for a dog that doesn't yet have established habits for using the great outdoors. In a way I was grateful that he'd relieved himself in the crate before dawn. Laundry is more manageable than hypervigilance over the course of the day as Jed adapts to freedom and a non-kennel structure. I am leaning into the wisdom of Tom Ryan, of Following Atticus fame, who practices the art of letting his dogs be who they are rather than asking them to conform to human notions of who a dog should be. With Jed I am endeavoring to do the same, letting him learn who he is, and sharing that with me as he is able, and willing. It will take a while, but of two things I am certain. I will do my best. And I will love him with everything I've got.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

under scrutiny

After making a series of applications for assorted things recently, I have concluded that one of the things that afflicts all of us these days is the resulting discomfort of being under scrutiny. My experiences are minor: two job interviews probed my experience and sought to ferret out degrees of competence to measure against other candidates; an application for a store credit card passed judgment on my financial fitness; and the desire to adopt a dog meant questions for friends, landlords, and veterinarians about whether or not I would provide a good home for a canine in need. Less formally, members of my church evaluate regularly whether or not I am measuring up to their expectations, and colleagues and potential new friends size me up to see if there's space in their world and gladness in their heart for the likes of what I bring to the table. Add to that the glaring light of our own tendency to inspect and evaluate our personal strengths and shortcomings, and, well, we just can't escape being held up to one kind of standard or another.

Everywhere we look there is scrutiny: book reviews, entertainment awards, political actions and protests, the list goes on. Scrutiny is normal, and in many contexts not only important, but necessary. That said, frankly, I'm worn out by it all. What intrigues me about all of this is that none of it is new. Instead, it is now heightened. It appears to be a combination of safeguards against the possibility of abuse (which can run the gamut from a few bad choices to ill-intent)--adopting a dog used to be a matter of picking one out and taking it home, for instance--and a degree of self-protection against forces that leave us feeling anxious and, perhaps, vulnerable. Political rhetoric has gone from abrasive to toxic in some cases (too many), and the veneer of protection against the awareness of privilege experienced among Whites has been deeply gouged, exposing a raw and angry core of insecurity that manifests as fear. These are generalizations, of course, and there are always exceptions and examples of lives lived and acting out of strength and well-discerned advocacy for justice. The level of "noise" is what is different, and wearing. When we're fatigued we are susceptible to yielding to our shadows and deficits, and the best of who we are and what we have to offer becomes obscured. This is true for all people, those with hearts of gold and those who entertain themselves with thoughts of pettiness, or strive to find a foothold of power in the overcrowded corner of the world in which they live, and move, and have their being.

I have no profound observation about this, never mind techniques for coping and repelling the assaults against our noble efforts to be as authentic and genuine as possible in a time that, by its ugly nature, seems to obscure those efforts. I really just want to name what I see as a distorted phenomenon that doesn't serve us well at the moment. I want to be aware of the trap of thinking that this is normal and right. I want to caution myself against giving the experience of being under scrutiny too much power, when I need my energy for positive action and affirmation.

As a result of other, positive influences in my life these days I have turned a corner in my own practice of how I react to things that ruffle my feathers. I am learning to stop myself as I am tempted to take the path that unleashes my criticism ("What an idiot!" to the driver who dances from the fast lane across three veins of traffic to an exit ramp), and instead take a breath to help me redirect my energy toward being a blessing. The phrase, "Be a blessing" has become a new mantra, and it is working. 

So maybe I am developing a way to cope against the exhaustion of scrutiny. Better than that, however, is a newly forged discipline that is working successfully to build, support, and affirm in a climate where tearing down is all the rage (choice of words intentional). It's one way to love the world from where I live, and do my part to let go of scrutiny.


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