What I Learned from Obi

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” ― Pema Chödrön

Anyone can be our teacher, even a dog.

Two years ago today, we had to let Obi go.  Nine months earlier, he had been diagnosed with t-cell multicentric lymphoma, a treatable but incurable canine cancer.  We’d had Obi since he was eleven weeks old and he was our first dog.  That experience, from the moment our vet spoke the words “I’m so sorry, but it’s lymphoma” until he was gone, planted the seed for the life-rehab I am doing now.  I couldn’t stand for such an amazing being to have lived and loved, then suffered and died without it having an impact.  I had to change my life, otherwise it was like I was saying none of that mattered, that he didn’t matter.

Obi was my teacher, in both his life and his death.  Here’s some of what I learned from him:

Most of what you fear isn’t worth the energy, isn’t even real. Obi never outgrew was his fear of loud noises: fireworks, gunshots, wind and thunder, fans and hair dryers. Sometimes he would get himself so worked up, panting and shaking, that his teeth would chatter. Watching his fear take him over when I knew there wasn’t anything real to worry about, I learned to see that my own fears were monsters created by my own imagination, tragedies written and cast by me.  I became aware of how and where I was generating my own suffering.

Picture by Cubby

Make friends with everyone. This was Obi’s strategy about life: when you meet someone new, try to be friends, and stay friends, and the more friends you have (people, dogs, cats, foxes, birds, etc.), the better. He was all about the love. I learned from him that things just go better if you can make someone your friend.  Once they are your friend, you can relax, not worry or be afraid or on guard. You can just hang out in the backyard or look out the window together or cuddle, and everything will be good.

This moment is all there is, and it is more than enough. I have learned this from all my dogs, actually.  They absolutely and always live in the present moment.  To them, there is nothing better than what is happening right now.  My dogs have taken thousands of walks, and yet every time I suggest one, they act like they just won the doggy lottery.  They dance for their breakfast, even though I feed them the same thing every day.  When I come home, even if I was only gone for an hour, they act like we haven’t seen each other in years, wiggling and jumping and kissing, sometimes almost knocking me over with their joy.

None of us knows how much time we have, so make the most of it. One reason we rescued a mixed breed dog is because they are supposed to live longer, have fewer health problems.  And when we took Obi to the vet to have a small lump in his shoulder checked–not even worried about it enough to make a special trip, but rather “since we are here, why not check that too”–Obi had just turned seven years old, and as far as we knew, was super healthy, in the prime of his life.  Nine months later, he was gone.  We just never know what is around the corner, what will happen tomorrow.  The nine months we had with Obi when we knew he would be gone soon were intense and amazing.  We did all of his favorite things and spent as much time together as we could. I was right there with him, in those moments, no matter how sad or scary, and it was worth it, every minute, including the last one.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver

There is a “This I Believe” essay called “We’re Getting Another Dog.”  It is so good, so right. It explains why Obi, as special as he is and as sad as his loss has left me, wasn’t the only dog, and explains why what Obi ultimately taught us is that there will always be another dog.  It’s okay to let go and do it again, even as your heart is breaking.

“Because getting another dog is the decision to run full bore towards love and commitment. It’s knowing that in 8, 10, 12 years, FOR SURE that dog is going to die and you’re going to be writhing in pain again…And even knowing how devastating that loss is going to be, even though it makes you sick to just think about it, you CAN’T WAIT to do it again…I believe that getting another dog is a physical act of pure hope and resilience. It’s a statement that I can and will bounce back from the worst of it…Getting another dog is believing in life and the real meaning of it. I can’t think of any other decision I have made in my lifetime in the name of love with such an inevitably painful outcome…Getting another dog is an act of unconditional optimism. It’s seeing the goodness and being grateful for all the blessings…Knowing this simple truth makes me appreciate all I have at this moment and makes it easier to face all the inevitable grief that is part of life.”

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