How does one discern between loneliness, selfishness, fear, and wisdom?
About 12 weeks ago, my divorce was final. The emotional aftershocks were both unexpected and most unwelcome. The marriage should never have happened. Maybe we were both lonely. But it did, and, eight very tough years later (in our own individual ways, each of us tried *very* hard to make the relationship work), it ended.
Between running my own business and running my farm solo, I've been too busy to really feel "lonely" these days. Mostly I feel shockingly empty inside.
I review my professional life of the past eighteen years and feel creatively stifled and unfulfilled. I graduated law school hoping to find a job where I would feel valued and respected. Didn't happen. I've been ridiculed, bullied, lied to, and utterly disrespected in the "jobs" I've held since graduation. These days, I run my own shop, appreciate my fabulous clients, but feel strangely disconnected from my peers in the law.
I review my personal life and find it is a shambles, much like an Oklahoma homestead after an F-5 twister has ripped through. Everything I valued is gone. Yet, even as I reflect and journal and pray to clear up the emotional wreckage, I realize this barren internal landscape will allow me the gift of rebuilidng, yet again, my life.
As I consider how to build and program "Esther version 3.0," I reflect on what I value and how I want to spend my time. I'm old enough to realize time is the one commodity I cannot create more of or reclaim once it's gone. Efficiency is critical to effective time use, so I have to consider, with brutal self-honesty, what I want to invest time in each and every day.
I enjoy being physically active, and I like to hike. I also realize the sage wisdom of "never hike alone" in today's world. So, recently, I considered the idea of getting a dog. A dog could ride shotgun in my truck, hang out with me on the farm, join me for suppers at the numerous dog-friendly restaurants in Knoxville, and accompany me on hiking adventures. I scoured Pet Finder for possible candidates. I like big dogs. I like hounds, in particular - their size, shape, floppy ears, wagging tails, and beautiful eyes really appeal to me. So when I realized there was a beautiful black and tan coonhound available at the local shelter, I jumped at the opportunity to bring her home for an overnight foster visit to see how compatible she would be with the cats and horses who already call my farm "home."
"Ruthie" as I dubbed her, is a very large, beautiful example of her breed. I'd never been around a black and tan coonhound before, so I was impressed by her size and strength. Ruthie proved to be a lady in almost every respect (minus one pony-sized accident in the middle of the kitchen floor! Note to self: big dogs = big poops). She didn't chase the cats. She respected the horses' space. She learned to lead on the leash quickly (okay, she pulled - hard - when she caught a good scent, but overall she tried her best to be a great girl!)
She also took great selfies!
I thoroughly enjoyed having this dog with me for twenty-four hours. And yet, in my post-F-5 rebuild, I am striving to plan better on the front end of rebuilding, so I don't wind up overwhelmed and just tossing leftover crumbs of me out to those with whom I share my life.
So. I noted the hair in my truck, the drool on the living room floor, the nose prints on the french doors, and the fact that she snarfed the cats' wet food before they could eat it (her size alone intimidated the cats away from their own breakfast bowls). I invested a great deal of time walking her and pondered what I would do with my time if I were not walking a dog?
I made a list of all her "positives" - like how chill she was, how well-behaved (no jumping; no "crotch dog" sniffing, etc.), how loving and gentle and just fabulous in every respect - and her one negative: "not housebroken."
I made another list of the positives of having a dog and the negatives of having a dog. I prayed for wisdom, discussed dog ownership with a couple of dog-savvy friends who came over to meet Ruthie during her stay, and tried very hard to listen to my gut.
My primary rule for programming "Esther 3.0" is: Thou shalt be brutally honest with thyself, 100% of the time, no matter what.
And, at the end of it all, here's what I discovered about myself.
I want a dog. I truly, honestly, want a dog to have as a companion.
I do not want to "just" have an outdoor dog that gets meals tossed to her with a pat on the head twice a day.
I do not want to invest the time in the constant clean up of an indoor dog (see hair, drool, and noseprints note above; bonus - muddy paw prints whenever it is wet outside).
I do not want to invest the time necessary to take proper emotional care of a dog. Being a good dog mom is vastly different from being a good cat mom or a good horse mom. I don't want to be a bad dog mom, and I also don't want to invest the time required to be a great dog mom.
If all goes well, my life is not yet half over. And yet I am not twentysomething anymore, so I realize time is my most precious commodity.
I want to invest time in giving back to my community through volunteering. I want to invest time giving back to the world in the form of writing positive things - books, articles, this blog, etc.
I invest time, each and every day, in caring for my horses and cats and the farm God has blessed me with. I am deeply grateful for all these creatures with whom I share my life. Adding a dog to care for at this point in my life seems unwise, and in some sense, selfish. Like I'm trying to run - yet again - from feeling lonely by adding "just one more" animal. Like I'm afraid to feel negative feelings, process them, and, finally at long last, let them go.
I don't want to feel fear anymore. I don't want to feel selfish or self-centered. And I don't want to feel like I have neglected another being - human or animal - ever again.
Instead, I want to face life with courage and wisdom, and grow.
So sweet Ruthie is back at the shelter to be spayed and await adoption by her perfect family. I have to trust that they will come just as surely as Ruthie is waiting for them. I believe, with all my being, that God provides for every need. Every. need. Ruthie needs a loving family. They will come, this I believe.
For me, Ruthie gave me a lifetime of happy memories, despite our short time together. For one day, I owned a dog. And she was everything I had ever dreamed of. So, Thank You, God, for giving me Ruthie for a day. #BucketListWin
And onward I grow . . .