My dogs have taught me very powerful lessons about life and living. I believe they come into my life to teach me, that they have a particular way of being and behaviors that exemplify lessons important for me to embrace, that contribute to my development in a very positive and powerful way.
Cabot, a black standard poodle, died 4 years ago. His guidance, while not necessarily relevant most of his life with me, exemplified a way of being that I actively examine and appreciate as I make decisions in my life today.
He was a very free spirit. Porcupines, deer and coyotes enticed him and he would take off and the chase would ensue. We lived on 85 acres of wild land in Vermont. When he returned from his little jaunts, he would often have quills deeply imbedded all over his head and facial structures, or proudly carry a deer leg in his mouth and drop it at my feet on arrival. I was beside myself with worry until he returned.
Once he disappeared at dusk and took Jackson, his younger “brother”, with him on a deer chase. They were gone overnight. In the morning I found them, having crossed a busy road, lying in the sun at 6am in a neighbor’s driveway, about ½ mile as the crow flies. ARGGHHH!
Another fall evening at dusk, he disappeared for 45 minutes. Frantic, I had a strange prompting to get in the car and drive to the next farm, about ½ mile down the road. Sure enough, he had jumped into the bucket of the tractor parked in the driveway and was gorging himself on the deer entrails that were ready to be dumped in the field following the evening’s activities during hunting season. GROSS!
Cabot taught me about freedom and choices…
Since my arrival in Malawi I have experienced extraordinary freedom on deep levels of my being. I was raised in a traditional WASP family in suburban America. As the eldest child of four, I was expected to “tow the line”, be the good girl, and conform to my parents’ principles which were narrow and unimaginative by today’s standards. I don’t fault them for this. I had a terrific childhood and chose to conform for their acceptance and praise rather than break out of the confines and risk criticism or rejection. On reflection, I lived much of my life in a self made straight jacket.
While living in Malawi, I have had the opportunity to emerge from the rigid confines with which I have held myself all my life. I have observed that the expats who choose to live here are, for the most part, extremely independent, almost defiantly autonomous, and deeply committed to living a free life. That is why they choose Malawi. The culture and the laissez faire government support complete freedom, unless of course you kill someone, well, and even that goes largely unpunished. I have made some choices that have released me from the bondage of tradition, responsibility, familiarity, comfort and expectations, and that is incredibly liberating.
Cabot taught me that while choosing freedom, others often suffer. The people that love you and rely on you may worry about your safety, your choices, and miss your physical presence.
The art of balance is the ability to choose freedom and to walk through the discomfort of knowing that others are suffering on some level as a result of that choice. To be able to set yourself free and live with the understanding that we can’t always make others happy with our choices. Not always an easy path…
I am battling with myself and my choices today. On every level of my being I want to stay in Africa and continue the journey of discovery. My sense of responsibility and desire to take care of and be with family, friends, and Zoey compel me to return to the states. The desire to be free and the desire to please others are continually at odds with each other. Often the best choice for me may mean pain and discomfort for someone else. That is a tough life lesson to learn, how to navigate through the choice and the consequences.
The only way I know how to solve this is to pray, to surrender, to wait for the direction that will ultimately appear, but only after a lot of angst and internal distress.
I am heading to the ICU today to work with students. There is only one ventilator in the hospital for critically ill patients. Talk about choices! Mine seem miniscule and unimportant compared to the decision of who gets the ventilator to sustain a life.