The Gospel According to Tandy: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dog
Lesson Eight: Be Present, Prioritize, Pay Attention
When I first adopted Tandy, she would sleep in bed with me every night, curling at my feet or sprawling her long body along the edge of the mattress. Living all alone in Philly, it was a comfort to have her there. It felt as though I was loved. It felt safe.
As she got a little older (and the weather got a little hotter), Tandy chose to sleep in the kitchen or hallway, preferring the cool tile to the down of blankets and quilts. Occasionally, she would sneak into my bed after we came back from an early morning walk, but those moments became increasingly rare.
After moving home, they stopped all together.
I can’t tell you the last time Tandy slept in my bed, but I can tell you the last time she tried.
It was eleven o’clock in the evening by the time I came home from work. I had left the house around 12:3o that afternoon, shoving the dogs indoors from their walk, scarfing down a quick sandwich, and sending out a long-overdue text, before grabbing three different bags, a to-go mug of tea, and my keys.
I kicked off my tight, non-slip sneakers and poured into my bed, exhausted and drained from the day. I propped my phone on my stomach and began to reply to messages I had missed earlier in the evening and scan e-mails and other necessary To Dos before allowing myself to click off the phone and close my eyes.
Tandy, joyful that I had re-materialized safely after what must have seemed like years away, hopped into bed with me.
She gamboled up to me, nearly jostling me out from under the covers, and threw herself down on the pillow beside me. Over the course of the next ten minutes, she proceeded to lick my arm, toss her head on my chest, push away my phone, and lie her 40 pounds of fluff on top of me.
I, on the other hand, fought her tongue away from my saliva-soaked forearm, craned around her ears to glance at my iCal, relocated her paw from my screen, and eventually, annoyed her so much that she got off the bed.
It wasn’t until she left that I realized what I had wasted.
Now, I don’t think anyone would deny that I love my dog. My dog has her own Instagram account and I wrote 10,000 words in this blog about her awesomeness. (Follow Tandy on IG here: @tandy_land)
But, if I am not actively loving her, giving her the time and attention she needs, making her a priority after all of my own needs are met (and sometimes before), then what is the point in saying it? In talking about it? What kind of love places busyness over being present?
The older I get, the less I glorify being busy. It no longer comes as a badge of honor for me. I no longer wear my lack of sleep or void of balanced meals with pride.
When I graduated grad school, I held down five jobs and only had one day off in five months (a day I spent wracked with food poisoning). Though I can’t say for certain, I am quite sure that during every one of those very busy days, I talked about how busy I was, as if it made me more worthy of attention, pity, love, affection, whatever.
The truth of the matter was, that every day I overscheduled, overplanned, overbooked, I was slowly draining myself of what actually made me overly-happy. I no longer had time to write or read, no longer could find moments to call my friends or plan a dinner at my apartment. I didn’t have free hours to call my mom or order take out with my brother. I didn’t spend time outdoors or in quiet contemplation. I didn’t eat meals sitting down, but rather over trash cans or piles of other dirty dishes I couldn’t find time to clean.
I was depressed, lonely, and exhausted every day of my life. And, what’s more, is that I found “hate” entering my conversations with as much frequency as “busy.”
Now, as I stand on the brink of a new phase in my life, job opportunities and new endeavors appearing as answered prayers, I have to ask myself: What is most important?
Is it making lots of money by scheduling every moment of every day? Adding one more class or one more shift to my calendar? Is it scrimping and living without so that I can pay off those ghastly student loans in record time?
Or is it finding those jobs that fulfill me, allow me to help others, permit me to pay my bills, but also allot me moments to share time with what truly makes me happy? (They exist, believe me.) Is it finding hours to fill with writing and the written word? Is it always making sure I’m home for a family dinner? Is it being present with those who love me, instead of wondering about what I have to accomplish next?
I believe that the majority of life is a choice. Yes, it can be chaotic, with unseen events thrown at you from unknowable places. However, for the majority of our lives, we choose where we live, where we work, and who we spend our days with. If either one of those things, or all of those things, makes you unhappy, then it is your choice to change or live with them.
Before you say, “But I have to…”, I will repeat: You choose where you live, where you work, and who you spend your days with. If either one of those things, or all of those things, makes you unhappy – make a different choice.
If you find that your priorities are out of whack, if you’re missing little league games or dance recitals, your daughter’s karate lessons or your wife’s awards dinner, it’s up to you to make a different choice.
When my dog came to me after hours without me and demanded that I give her attention, to be present in our relationship, in our love, I chose to ignore it. I chose to be busy. I am lucky that I was granted more time in her life to choose something different in the future.
What will you choose when presented that same choice?
For more lessons from Tandy, click: