Though there are a few more, I’m skipping to the end of my “Lessons Learned” series, partially because I’ve been dragging these posts out for too long, and partially because my last lesson has become all the more resonant in the last 72 hours.
I’ve always been told that happiness is something you create inside of yourself, something you can’t get through achievement and milestones or anything external. Last year that saying finally clicked. Money, friendships, a significant other, prestige – none of those things truly create happiness. Don’t get me wrong, they can enhance your life on a multitude of levels, but day-to-day happiness comes from having a good relationship with yourself. It comes from learning who you are and not just accepting that person, but embracing it, perceived faults and all, trusting it, believing it, and being it. If you love yourself, nothing can really fuck with you. Sure, crappy things happen and you can get sad or pissed off at them, but overall you are still a happy person. This year I learned if I wasn’t happy, I either wasn’t fully in touch with who I was, or I wasn’t being true to the person I knew myself to be. The external and other people were just that – something outside of me. They were neither the cause nor the source of my well-being. It’s unbelievably empowering when you get to this point. You suddenly realize that you have complete control over everything important in your life.
So why’s this so important of late? Look right and scroll up on the full-screen portion of this blog. You’ll notice a little dog named Martha. Martha is one of the best things to happen to me externally…possibly in my life. I adopted her during my second year of law school. She wasn’t housetrained, had separation-anxiety, and was generally a pain in the ass when she first came home. I’m really not sure *how* I ended up with her except that she was about to be put down, and I took her in a moment of guilt and weakness.
It took about twelve months for me to learn to tolerate her and another twelve before I learned to love her. We learned things about each other and life as they hit us. Each of us had to adapt. Each of us had days where we sat in separate rooms because we needed space. But there were also days when I cried and Martha ran over to lick my face, nights we sat on the couch in a ball of cuddle. Every morning her muzzle was on the edge of the bed near my face and her tail wagging emphatically.
“Mom! Check it out! The sun came up today. How cool is that?”
I called her my personal Prozac. It was impossible to be unhappy when Martha was around. She has always had a huge zest for life, a highly inquisitive nature, a bouncy step, and this joy that fills a room. She also had the world’s most expressive tail you’ve ever seen. It was always wagging, but with a different wag for happiness, fear, nervousness, hunger – you name it. Her tail was her own brand of sign language.
Despite being one of the sweetest, most lick-giving dogs out there, she really surprised me the night she turned into guard dog and attacked a guy who quietly entered my house while I sat on the couch working in another room. A few years later she alerted my downstairs neighbor of a burglary, and she always let you know when the mail had been dropped off or if someone was standing at the front door, but hadn’t yet rung the bell. If my phone rang, and I was in another room, she came to let me know.
She lay at my feet as I studied for law school exams, the bar, and later when I started working from home. She always followed me from room-to-room keeping an eye on me and making sure that everything in the house was a-ok. In the last six months I’ve let her sleep on the bed and on the off-night when she decides to sleep somewhere else, I strangely miss her.
Martha is a mutt of unknown origin, but has the cutest little feet shaped like those of a Dachshund and these little clickety-clack toenails that let you know where she is at all times.
This past Tuesday I was at a friend’s house for a get-together, and somehow he, me, and one of our law school professors started discussing the possibly changing legal world in relation to pets. Apparently at some point they’d co-written a paper arguing that the loss of a pet was more than economic damages and possibly a full-blown loss of consortium. The paper, they said, had recently been gaining notice.
“Makes sense to me,” I said as I downed wine. “I don’t know what I would ever do without Martha.”
Twenty-four hours later my world got rocked…big time and in a not-so-pleasant way.
I can’t tell you the outcome of this situation because it’s still ongoing. What I can tell you is that with every hour that goes by, Martha has a better chance of survival…and that if she survives there’s a large chance that our day-to-day lives will be changed for the extent of her remaining lifetime. But I can also tell you that Martha is a scrappy little fighter, that I will try and type out the whole story in the next few days, that she is in doggie ICU at one of the best places in the state, if not the country, that I am grateful for a ridiculously high limit on my credit card, that thanks to everything that’s happened in the last year I am surprisingly doing ok, that this house is way too freaking quiet right now, and that as of yet, I can’t sleep too well without her next to me. But however it turns out, I know that I will be ok. And that while I hope there are many good memories to come, if there are not, I will be immensely thankful for the ones we have had.
A few Martha-related posts over the years: