When my husband, Michael, and I were newlyweds, we had two fur babies: a black labrador retriever named Brocco and a yellow labrador retriever named Homer. Treating them like we had birthed them ourselves, their happiness was intricately tied to ours. I even wore a picture of them in a locket around my neck.
Homer and Brocco were a funny duo. Their opposite personalities were reminiscent of the main characters, Felix and Oscar, from the classic TV show The Odd Couple. Although, unlike the show, one wasn’t neat while the other was messy, but rather, Brocco was food obsessed and a bit lazy, while his brother, Homer, ate only out of necessity and could never get enough exercise.
Michael and I spent a lot of time with our boys, taking them to local dog parks around New York City. Giggling from a corner bench, we would watch their double-team routine: Homer would distract a dog from the front, so Brocco, could hump the innocent canine from behind. Often, the dog’s owner didn’t think it was as funny as we did and would flash us an angry look, but for the most part, many of our dog park friends didn’t seem bothered by their shenanigans.
When our children were born, Michael and I did our best to continue showering our canine offspring with attention, making sure they were properly exercised. However, when the kids became toddlers, our dog park days were soon replaced with outings to the playground.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and I have found myself back at the dog park with our newest family member, Barry White, our fun-loving, spirited Old English sheepdog. Ironically, as I transition into a new chapter of my life, with my oldest child heading off to college, and my sixteen-year-old driving now, I feel as though I have come full circle to where I started in the beginning of my marriage—only this time, I’m much wiser, a lot older, and have a greater appreciation for the little things in life.
Barry White is the most social dog we’ve ever had. He’s happiest when he’s chasing and playing with his canine peers at the dog park. So, of course, I try to take him there as often as I can. While he’s running around having fun, I pass the time chatting with my new dog park friends.
Watching our canines goofing around, we anthropomorphize them. Barette is the mall cop, observing the others from atop a picnic table, only jumping off when he has to stop a dog that’s getting too aggressive. Barry White, a.k.a Dennis the Menace, chases his soul mate, Mia, around, like a desperate male trying to win the affection of his lady. Old man Baxter waddles in and hangs out in the back. The four-month-old puppy, Delilah, tries to keep up with the older dogs, and gives off her high-pitched bark whenever another dog gets too aggressive.
For an hour each day, while the dogs play, we humans get the added benefit of socializing with one another, an important ingredient for boosting our mental health, a win-win for everyone.
A motley crew, indeed, my new friends and I come from different walks of life, varying in age, appearance, socioeconomic class, etc. But, none of that matters. In fact, meeting people and sharing stories with each other is what makes the experience refreshing.
The unconditional love for our furry children serves as the common denominator that unites us. This is what life is supposed to be about, because deep down, on a soul level, we’re are all one, connected to each other, to nature, and to the animal kingdom. If everyone could maintain this philosophy, the world would be filled with a greater sense of compassion.
I invite anyone who needs more fulfillment in their lives to adopt a dog, or borrow one if need be, and head over to the dog park with an open mind and an open heart, and the odds are your serotine levels will dance in delight.
We experience life lessons at every turn. Some lessons are big, some are small, but when we listen to them, each one offers insight and has the potential to guide us in the right direction. The key is to step back when something isn’t going our way and ask a simple question: why is this happening? The answer may not be forthcoming in that moment, but when we understand the reason, the lesson will appear.
A few months ago, I experienced a simple, frustrating mishap that afterward gave me a piece of invaluable wisdom. My daughter and I had spent a few days college touring in Washington, D.C. When we first arrived in our nation’s capital, we had flown into DCA, Ronald Regan National Airport, which was conveniently located a short distance from our hotel. Following our D.C. visit, we were flying to Syracuse, NY, where my daughter had an early-morning interview scheduled in the admissions office. Arriving at the airport with a little more than an hour to spare, we made our way to the security line. The TSA agent shook his head when he looked at our ticket and told us we were at the wrong airport and that we should go to the United counter to see if we can get on another flight.
Trying not to panic, we made our way to the ticket line and explained the situation to the agent. Taking his time and making loud smacking noises with his gum, he searched his computer and said that because it was a holiday weekend we didn’t have many options. The best he could do was put us on a late-night flight to Newark, and then we could take an early flight out the following morning, which, of course, would mean my daughter would miss her interview. I asked the man how long it would take to drive to Dulles Airport. With a smirk on his face, he informed us that it was rush hour and we’d never make it on time. The agent standing next to him agreed, and the woman behind me in line also reiterated that we wouldn’t make it. Something in my gut told me to ignore them, and so I looked at my daughter and said, “Let’s take our chances.”
Bolting through the airport, we jumped into an Uber. I told the driver we were in a rush and begged him to get us there as fast as possible. Staring at the clock, my heart raced as I watched the minutes accelerate at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, my driver channeled Mario Andretti, weaving in and out of traffic along the highway at top speed. Miraculously, we arrived at the airport with fifteen minutes to spare. After we had finally made it on board, sitting comfortably next to my daughter, I looked at her with a victory grin and shared my enlightened wisdom: if you want to reach success in life, you need to follow your gut and ignore the naysayers along the way. You may not always win, but unless you try—unless you go for it—you’ll never know what’s on the other side.
Naysayers are omnipresent. They’ve been speaking to us since we exited the womb, telling us what we can’t do, spreading negativity and fear into our psyches. To conquer our dreams, it’s important to overcome these forces and squash the inner and outer voices that perpetually bombard us. Right now, as I write this, my daughter and her friends are anxiously waiting to hear whether the colleges they applied to will accept or reject them. As painful as it is to receive bad news, it’s important to remember that the admissions officers can be naysayers too. Denying a student admission to a school, especially when it’s believed to be a critical stepping stone to a chosen career path, can be devastating––but it’s not the end of the game—it’s just a sign that maybe you need to take a different path. Humans are like Gumby dolls: malleable, flexible, and able to twist and turn in different directions to suit our needs. And when the time is right, we must maintain a positive mindset, stand tall, open our arms wide, and be willing to undergo a metamorphosis to reach the best and highest forms of ourselves.
Telling stories is an integral part of the human experience. We go through life viewing the world through our personal lens, making observations about situations and the people we encounter along the way. Oftentimes, when we don’t see the entire picture, we create inaccurate details in our heads that could potentially give way to negative consequences.
My good friends recently told me a story that illustrates what happens when we judge others without knowing all the facts, and how our perception might change for the better when we are given all the facts.
This is their story:
A man paid his tab at an airport bar and then stumbled and slurred his words as he made his way toward the gate to board a plane. Witnessing his drunk behavior, the other passengers in line snubbed him, and the ticket agent furrowed her eyebrows in disgust when he handed his ticket to her. Shaking her head, she informed him that he would not be allowed to board the plane because he was inebriated. When my friends, who were traveling on the same flight, heard the ticket agent ban the man from getting on the plane, they ran up to the airline employee and told her that it was imperative that he get on his flight and promised to watch over him while on route to Aspen. Why did my friends decide to defend the drunk man? The answer is simple: they had heard his backstory.
While their flight was delayed, the man had grabbed a seat next to my friends at a bar across from their gate. Sipping their wine, my friends chatted with the stranger as he drank a beer and a half. During their conversation, the man told them about a near-fatal rock climbing accident that left him in a coma for weeks. Still recovering from his debilitating injuries, which included massive head trauma, he had difficulty walking and talking––but his condition wasn’t going to stop him from getting on a plane to Aspen to attend the funeral of a good friend, who, at the young age of twenty-eight, had passed away from a sudden stroke. With achy hearts, my friends told the man how sorry they were for his loss and how honorable it was that he was attending the funeral in his condition. Soon after, when the announcement was made that their flight was boarding, my friends walked behind the hobbling man toward the gate to witness the ticket agent berating him. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, the man was permitted to board the plane, with a warning to my friends that they had to be responsible for him. The flight to Aspen was smooth, and the man made it in time for the funeral.
If my friends had not been sitting next to the man at the bar, they never would have heard his story, and they certainly wouldn’t have offered to look after him on the plane. Like the ticket agent, they too might have assumed he was drunk and wouldn’t have wanted him on the flight either. Imagine how different our world would be if we all knew each other’s backstories? Would we be so quick to judge the homeless man on the street or the weary single mother who forgot to take our order at a restaurant or the angry bank teller whose wife was just diagnosed with a terminal illness or the school bully whose parents verbally abuse him at home?
I’m not making excuses for those who treat others poorly. I’m just suggesting that we walk through life with our eyes wide open, using caution before passing judgement and trying to be open-minded about other people’s circumstances so we have a better understanding of why people behave the way they do. By doing this, we might encounter a life filled with more compassionate connections––like the ones my friends made with the man heading to Aspen.
Are some people born luckier than others? Is life a series of chance encounters, or do we have more control over our circumstances than we think? And if so, can we turn our luck around? Recently, I had to ponder these questions after having an experience that most people would probably consider unlucky, but as I reflected on what happened, I also had an opportunity to change how I viewed something that, although somewhat trivial, felt unfortunate in the moment.
The other day, I had to drive my son to lacrosse practice in Denver. With a spring snowstorm blanketing the mountains, it wasn’t an ideal day to drive, so we gave ourselves plenty of time. I drive an electric car, which means I need to stop for about an hour outside of Denver at a charging station by an outlet mall in a small ski town. Despite the bad weather, we were making great time. We got back on the road after charging the car and found the highway closed due to a multi-car crash. We were rerouted along a one-lane, windy, narrow pass and got stuck behind a truck driving ten miles per hour. It was frustrating to say the least, but since there was nothing we could do to help our cause, we chose to look at the bright side. Although it took us double the time to get to Denver, we were safe, and thankfully, we were far from the accident. We later found out that my son’s friend, who was also driving to Denver, left after us, and therefore missed the detour. Was he luckier than us? At first glance, it might appear that way. Or, were we lucky that, even though it took us a long time to get to Denver, we weren’t involved in the crash? The jury is still out on that one.
The following day, we were faced with another major obstacle driving back to Aspen. As usual, we stopped along the way to charge the car, and then we drove through a whiteout in Vail. With only an hour and twenty minutes left in the drive, the last stretch of highway that veers through a canyon had closed. The traffic officer standing in front of the barricade told us that debris had fallen on the road and it could be closed for two days. When I asked him how to get back to Aspen, he told us, with a sucks-for-you grin splashed across his face, there was only one other way to get there, but it would take an extra six hours. To make matters worse, my car would never make it without another charge. My son wanted to cry; I wanted to cry. But what choice did we have? Crying wasn’t going to get us home, so we sucked it up, laughed about our ridiculous luck, and drove all the way back to the charging station to try and come up with a better solution.
To alleviate some of our pain, we stuffed our faces with Chipotle and candy from a nearby 7-11 store. Pigging out didn’t solve our problem, but at least we were able to kill an hour while the car was charging. We looked up an alternative route on Google maps, which seemed much faster than the one the traffic officer had told us about, and we decided to check with the man working in the information booth before getting back on the road. It was a good thing we spoke to him because he informed us that the pass Google maps suggested was closed for the winter, so our only option was the long way––the six-hour route. We were not feeling lucky at that moment, but right before we walked out of the tourist office, another man stepped inside who was also trying to get to Aspen. The traffic app that he was looking at stated that one lane had opened on the highway where the debris had fallen. He said there would probably be a lot of traffic, but it would be much better than driving the roundabout route on backroads, passing herds of cattle. So, we took our chances once again, and this time, luck was on our side. We flew home on the traffic-free highway.
Was our journey back to Aspen another case of bad luck? Well, it definitely seemed that way initially, but instead of getting angry, we chose to deal with it as best we could. I had a lot of time on the drive home to contemplate what had happened to us, and in the big picture––a detour, traffic, extra time on the road—isn’t bad at all. So much worse could have happened. We could have been hit by the boulder that had fallen on the road. We could have been hit by another car. We could have slipped off the icy road and landed in a ditch. Had we been driving in a gas car, we wouldn’t have driven back to the charging station, and most likely, we would have taken the long way home. But none of those bad things happened. Why? Because we were lucky. The man who came into the tourist booth a minute before we left to tell us one lane on the highway had opened also added to our luck.
The lesson in all of this is learning how to handle the shit that comes flying in your direction, especially when it makes you feel unlucky. Maybe luck stems from your attitude and the choices you make about a seemingly bad situation. The next time something unfavorable happens, it’s up to us to decide how we want to deal with it. We can either be the victim of our circumstances, or we can dig deep and become enlightened by them. We can laugh, or we can cry. We can be angry, or we can rise above and focus on what we’re grateful for. And I know, unequivocally, that I have a lot to be thankful for––because I am one of the lucky ones, and if anything, believing that is enough to make me feel better regardless of what happens.
Naturally, as my daughter is finishing her junior year in high school, college talk has been dominating much of the conversation in our house, which of course, brings me back to my own college experience, nearly one quarter of a century ago. I know I sound ancient, and even though my memory of much of it has been skewed over time, I still consider those four years to be one of my biggest metamorphoses.
As I reflect on my college days, there are certain things I wish I could do over, if only I had a crystal ball and knew where my life would take me. I remember having to choose a major, even though I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. Having been interested in politics, I chose political science, an area of study that did nothing for me as far as pursuing a career. At seventeen, my daughter is expected to get a sense of what she wants to focus on when she gets to college, but does she really know? The idea is to pick a good liberal arts school, and from there, she can figure out what she wants to major in. But again, will she ever really know? I didn’t. Like me, so many people who thought they knew what they wanted in college ended up in jobs totally unrelated to their majors. If you’re one of the lucky ones who knew exactly what you wanted to study and have used what you learned from your undergraduate degree to help your career, then kudos to you––I’m jealous.
I think Israel does this college thing right. Following high school graduation, there is a mandatory draft into the military for eighteen-year-olds. After serving their country for a few years, these young men and women sometimes wait another year or two before applying to college. By then, their brains are fully developed, and they might be better equipped at choosing a course of study that will serve them well in their future careers. What if, instead of sending American students into the armed forces after high school, they head to a community service program similar to the Peace Corps, where they are assigned a station somewhere in the United States or abroad to help communities in need? This type of learning would be invaluable, giving young adults an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge about human nature, cultural differences, education, the environment, agriculture, and so much more. Upon completing their two- to four-year assignments, these twenty-year-olds might have a better sense of themselves and what kind of career they might want to pursue. From there, they can apply to college, which would hopefully serve as a stepping stone to what they want to do after earning their degree. Instead of rushing to college after high school, with all the mental and financial stress that goes with it before and after, my radical proposal would give students an opportunity to grow as people, connect with the world around them, become more compassionate along the way, and then use that to propel them into their next phase of life.
I know I sound idealistic, and some may think even ridiculously unrealistic, but as I reflect on what I gained most from college, it had more to do with the person I became rather than the subjects I studied. I spent those four years as an undergraduate questioning life, who I was, my greater purpose, what I liked, and who I wanted to be. Even though contemplating the meaning of life was never answered, it was the act of questioning, experimenting, occasionally pushing the limits, and the philosophical discussions I had with my friends that led me to a better understanding of myself. At twenty-one, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science, but more importantly, I left school sure of myself and more comfortable in my skin than I was when I started.
To this day, two of my college roommates are like sisters to me. Together, we grew up during those four years, and like clay, we softly molded into our future selves, while leaving plenty of room to manipulate our sculpted persona through the years. I am blessed––not everyone remains this close to their college friends so many years later. Unfortunately, since we live in different parts of the country, we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like, but thankfully, distance has not impacted our friendship. We’ve stood by each other through every major milestone––marriages, childbirths, and family deaths, offering advice during difficult times and cheering for our children’s successes––and we’ll continue to remain in those same roles until the end.
So, wherever my daughter ends up in college, and whatever she decides to study, whether, or not it helps her in her chosen career is irrelevant. In the grand scheme of things, those friendships that I made in college laid the foundation for all my future relationships, teaching me the importance of rooting for the people you care about, always having their backs, accepting and embracing their differences, loving them for who they are, and allowing their individuality to complement who they are. If there’s one thing I would like to be remembered for when my time on Earth has expired, it will have nothing to do with what I studied in college or the careers I’ve had, but rather, it will be that I led an abundant life, filled with long-lasting, beautiful, and loving connections.