The Gospel According to Tandy: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dog
Lesson Three: Embrace Uncertainty
When I first adopted Tandy she refused to walk. The city absolutely terrified her: the sounds and smells of cars and buses, the strangeness of strangers, the fear around every corner. Everything – all of it, any of it – scared her beyond measure.
At first, she refused to come down the steps from my third floor apartment. I often had to carry her down the two flights to the front door. Once we made it to the stoop, she would not leave the front door’s sight, often relieving herself within the first foot or so from the entryway. It took several days (and weeks) to coerce her around the block, a month or so to get her to the dog park.
Eventually, after several months of work, I convinced her of the relative safety of three (nearly four) walks: my brother’s house, the dog park, the dog daycare, and (haltingly) to my office in Center City. These walks were still often made in staccato-like bursts with Tandy refusing to walk on the side of the street she did not know, crossing at a new intersection, or (God forbid) taking a shortcut. Commutes that used to take twenty minutes now took well over an hour with Tandy sitting down in fear or rearing up on her hind legs if she ever became uncertain or scared.
I tried everything to give her confidence. I bribed her with treats and even cooked up chicken breast to compel her down the street. I tried to jog alongside her which was typically unsuccessful as it was February and the streets were snow-packed. I chanted “I am your Alpha Male” (truth) to the consternation of passersby. I picked her up and carried her several blocks, which despite her then-thinner frame, was still not an easy task.
None of my attempts were ever very successful or promoted continued progress. Let’s face it, chicken was expensive and people stared when they heard me claim that I was their Alpha.
The only tactic that ever seemed to work was a compromise. I decided one day that I would permit her her fear instead of convincing her she shouldn’t have it. I’d give her the chance to be scared for a total of three seconds and then I would move her forward. Whenever we reached a point that Tandy felt unsure, I permitted her to sit, counted to three out loud, and then began to walk. Tandy, feeling ready to move forward, followed.
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde wrote that “the essence of romance is uncertainty.” While I agree with pretty much everything Oscar Wilde has to say, I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, and I think it could be expanded.
All of life is uncertainty and it seems that more than ever, institutions that used to feel secure now feel vulnerable.
Our parents and our parents’ parents used to leave college or high school, work at a job, and stay there until retirement if they so desired. Now, those who are nearing retirement age are finding themselves with a pink slip in hand or, ever so cruelly, shouldering more burdens than they ever had before in a manipulative ploy to force them into resignation.
The confidence in our national security is handicapped due to a new enemy that works not by marching into foreign countries and taking over, but by sneaking in through back doors and sporadically hitting us in our hometowns. The image of militaristic bravado of enemy soldiers marching in neatly formed lines with crisp, clean uniforms has been replaced by a fear of our neighbors and hesitant glances at those we do not know or understand.
And then there are those who capitalize off of the fear, specifically politicians who shall remain nameless. Instead of asking us to feel our fear and move forward, they are asking us to live in our fear, to close our doors (and borders) from the uncertain, and shut our minds from anything that may be different or dangerous. Instead of leaning in to our vulnerability and discomfort, thereby stripping our fear of its power, we’re asked to stay scared. Instead of reaching out to form a community against potential threats, thereby growing in numbers and strength, we’re asked to point fingers, blame, and turn into ourselves.
And why? To pretend that now, hunkered down in our Apocalypse Cave with our assault rifles, we have made our futures certain? That we have removed the mystery of life and are now safe?
And finally, there is our faith. Whenever we encounter problems within our religions, it’s when we take the mystery and uncertainty out of our spirituality. This can be applied to any and all of them – from the Christian Crusades to the radical Islam of today. Every religion seems to encounter this problem when dealing with fear: they take their faith and convert it to fact.
The repercussions of this type of fear are incalculable, as it can often lead to war, violence, disease, and crime. On a much smaller scale, the denial of mystery within our religions and the inability to accept that our spirituality must grow to fit the times, leads to close-mindedness, harassment, inequality, and discrimination.
For those of you familiar with the Christian story of Doubting Thomas, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” The very nature of this statement is that the vast majority of us will never have tangible, five senses-driven proof of our religious beliefs, and yet we have to accept this and accept that our spirituality is based in not-knowing. The very definition of faith is that we believe without certainty, we believe without expectation or the need for proof.
And yet, the best things in life are those with mystery and uncertainty weaved into the fabric of its being. Love and romance, adventure and exploration, education and learning, art and beauty. Without these things, our lives would be livable, sure, but very stagnant, boring, and mundane. To have these things, to have meaningful relationships and beautiful works of art, we have to accept that we do not know. We do not know because if we did know, we wouldn’t have any room to grow or get better.
It’s terrifying, the not knowing. It’s vulnerable and scary. How many times have we felt that fear when we waited for the doctor to call or the strip to say “Pregnant?” How many times have we felt frightened when we asked someone to marry us or moved out of our parents’ house? How many times have we experienced that fear when we went on a job interview or stepped into the line, boarding pass in hand? How scary is it to speak up in the board meeting or write a blog that might reveal a bit too much?
And, yet, how better were we upon taking that risk? Embracing the uncertainty?
So, I ask you, when life becomes scary, permit yourself the fear. Like Tandy on the sidewalk, allow yourself the three seconds to embrace the uncertain, the not knowing. Lean in to it, the uncomfortableness of an insecure future. Accept it just as it is. Then, when your three seconds (or three days or three weeks) are over, move forward. When you move forward that is when life truly becomes magical. When we allow ourselves to journey down a new and uncertain path, we give ourselves the freedom to find out what we are really made of. We get to expand our minds and realize how much there is to learn and experience. We get to test our legs and discover just how fast and strong they can be. We get to love and be loved in return.
It also allows us to accept that there is Something Greater leading us and that when the fear gets too overwhelming, the Something Greater will carry us home.
For more lessons from Tandy, click: