The Gospel According to Tandy: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dog

Lesson Ten: You Can’t Fix It

Tandy’s “brother” Willy is an adopted Jack Russell Terrier who lived a questionable and abused life prior to adoption. The vast majority of time, Willy wants nothing more than to be on your lap, under a blanket, asleep. So long as you are holding him, he is loving, kind, and docile.

However, Willy’s unknowable past has created in him an insurmountable fear of other dogs. His fear leads to barking and a scream-like yelp whenever any dog passes the house. When we are out on walks and another dog appears, he becomes aggressive to Tandy, to us, biting at us and, more often than not, making skin-breaking contact.

While Willy has been taken to three different obedience schools, each time he has returned home, he has come back with more anxiety and fear. Tandy, being my dog in every way, tries to combat this anxiety and fear with playful gambols, twig-tossing tricks, and, occasionally, a few barks in his defense.

Willy barks, Tandy jumps impishly around. Willy bites, Tandy picks up a stick and hurls it in the air in a great attempt at “look what I can do.” Willy screams, Tandy arrfs in solidarity. Like Chandler Bing, Tandy takes a difficult moment and, unable to let the negative feelings run their course, she tries to defuse, dismantle, and distract from them.

As owner and possessor of the two leashes that tether the screaming, frightened dog and the limb-twirling class clown, I can tell you that managing the two reactions is never easy. Not only am I pulled in several directions, one towards gnashing jaws and the other towards a bounding, pouncing collie, I have been able to conclude that her attempts at assuaging his terror are never successful. The unease and dread in Willy can only be managed with distance and time, not by outside meddling or distraction.

Tandy, my dog in every way, finds this difficult to learn.

I have been a Fixer all of my life. Where there is problem and issue, I am present. When someone is need of help, I raise my hand. When there is a cause or fight needing support, I show up.

This is all well and good, moral and just, if it wasn’t for one fact: my fixing was almost always unhealthy.

Several years ago, I felt it was necessary to begin seeking the advice of a counselor. I was at a company that was failing, I was unhappy in my relationships, and I was living in fear and hate. I felt small, naked, and hopeless. I didn’t know what to wish for, what goals to pin to my vision board. All I could see was darkness.

I met someone with whom I felt instantly connected. She was spiritually minded and artistically attune. She wrote books, taught, and helped people in love- and life-affirming ways. She was the perfect person with whom I could work towards finding light in my life, a path forward, and a way back to Me.

The only glitch was: I didn’t know who Me was.

It may have been the first session or at the very least, one of the first, when she asked, “Who are you when you’re not helping people?”

“I am no one,” I replied.

The silence was deafening.

All of my life I had been a daughter, sister, friend. I had developed a purpose by earning straight As and achieving,  yes, but what is more, I earned a purpose by being in relation to someone else. I was someone else’s niece or employee or best friend. I was not a person, separate and equal, but an extension of others. When they were down, I lifted them up. When there was an issue at work, I was the one to fix it. When I was helping someone else, I had worth. When others managed their lives without issue, I had nothing. Like Tandy, rushing into action to fix the fear and anxiety deeply embedded in her adopted brother’s psyche, I went from relationship to relationship, trying to fix people and make it better, whether they asked for it or not, because I loved them, yes, but because it made me whole.

My mother often jokes that when I was born, I told the doctors what to do. While this story is meant to celebrate a go-get-em spirit that I cherish in me, it also indicates the proclivity towards needing to repair something better left fixed by someone else.

The doctor knew what he was doing when he wheeled my mother into the operating room. He may have had a small doubt or a case of nerves, he may have questioned one or two things about the procedure, but unlike me, it was his job to assess, deal with, and repair the situation. In that moment, the moment of my birth, my only job was to keep breathing. It was the doctor’s to fix any issue or calm any fear.

Now, (almost) thirty-years-old, I am still trying to learn that it isn’t always my job to fix. If a friend or family member comes to me with an issue, it’s not my job to remove their pain from them or toss a stick in the air to distract them from their hurt. I can’t fill a loved one’s depression or ease a daily anxiety. I can’t make their work life more manageable or cure a disease in their body even if, more than anything else, I want to.

It’s not my job.

My job is to be a full, complete Me. My job is to find out who I am outside of my relationships to others, my purpose outside of perfect report cards and fixing my friends. My job is to be an individual, so that when those I love lean on me, I can show up for them, not because I need to in order to feel my worth.

But even as I show up for them, full and whole and ready to share a bit of their burden, I will know that it is ultimately their job to fix what ails them. Like me, Tandy may want to lessen Willy’s pain, but it is up to Willy to face his fears and work through his anxiety. (And perhaps, it’s up to one more trip to an obedience school…)


For more lessons from Tandy, click:

Lesson Nine: Choose Love

Lesson Eight: Be Present, Prioritize, Pay Attention

Lesson Seven: You are not Driving

Lesson Six: Everything is Awesome

Lesson Five: Let Your Light Shine

Lesson Four: Carve Your Own Path

Lesson Three: Embrace Uncertainty

Lesson Two: Be Proud of your Bone

Lesson One: You Watch Me Poop, I Watch You Poop

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