“In a world that constantly throws big, unexpected events our way, we must learn to benefit from disorder.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This quote is from “Learning to Love Volatility,” a fascinating Wall Street Journal article I read last month. The basic premise of the piece is that huge, unanticipated events, like stock market crashes, wars, and Al Gore’s invention of the World Wide Web teach us to subconsciously learn and advance through placement in an unexpected position of volatility, variability, and tension. Think “Survivor” without that huge stash of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff hidden in a hollowed-out tree or the anniversary sale at Nordstrom after the bank’s just put a $300 limit on your credit card.
Building on Taleb’s “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or at least less of a loser” philosophy, I recently entered, via free will and completely by choice, the fragile, deep, dark forest of the unknown.
I adopted a dog.
For anyone reading this who happens to be an animal lover, rabbit hoarder, or somehow ended up owning forty-three gerbils, please stop. You won’t understand me or my people. We’re of the Rent-A-Pet variety, not the hearty portion of the populace whose sole mission in life is to rescue stray lorikeets (or steal them from the zoo). We Rent-A-Petters offer to babysit your awesome, perfectly trained dog for the weekend simply because we know we can give him back. We do this not to help you, but to help ourselves by placating our eight-year-old canine fanatic offspring until the next Apple product rolls off an assembly line in China.
Rent-A-Pet people don’t have time to bring a real canis lupus familiaris into our lives because we’re too consumed with alphabetizing our spice racks and color-coding the origami paper in our craft closets. We are busy, buried three feet deep in the nuance of separating paper clips from rubber bands in the junk drawer so that when we’re in search of our handheld hole punch to string together a quick homemade anniversary card for our parents? We know exactly where to find it. We are orderly, organized, and uncluttered. We are a band of cleaners, our solidarity purpose sealed by a true commitment to shoe bin organization, and our group doesn’t include anything that sticks to us like hairy glue.
Until, that is, as Taleb explains, life is upended, chaos ensues, and everything we know to be true in the depths of our solid core stone hearts is called into question.
After several fly by field trips to the local animal shelter with my eight year-old canine fanatic offspring where I was in and out in less than an hour, promising my daughter that she could do anything she wanted with these cute, friendly stray dogs except bring one home, I got a little tripped up. We spent time with one I actually liked, and not in the pet-and-flip, smile-and-wave (goodbye) manner I’d handled every other four-legged creature that had come my way in the past.
This one was different, so unique and personally appealing that I put him on hold (yes, there’s a layaway plan for adoptive pets), went home to get my other two freak-of-nature canine fanatic offspring to meet him, and pulled my husband off the river on a fly fishing trip in New York to discuss something I swore I’d never consider: inviting a living, breathing, hair-coat creating canine into our house to stay.
Within the first few hours of bringing our new family member home, I realized that shelters kind of lie, but in a nice way. When they say the dog you’re adopting is “kennel trained, leash trained and potty trained,” what they really mean is “hates his kennel, will pull your arm off if, while on a walk, he sees one of the 1,000,000 mangy jackrabbits that cross the street on a daily basis, and will immediately take a dump on your favorite rug when he enters his new house for the first time.” I think it’s just a matter of semantics or messed up hand signals, but still. I thought I was getting a Rent-A-Pet.
Right when I least expected it, life threw me a curveball, putting me in an unanticipated and uncomfortable position that has actually (I think) precipitated growth. On our shelter visits, my plan was to someday (as in probably never) adopt a non-shedding, small dog in the summer. Instead I ended up with a shedding, seventy pound, greyhound/lab/pointer mix who is both smarter and faster than me. And it’s the start of ski season.
It turns out that Nassim Taleb was right after all, and anything that doesn’t kill you actually can make you stronger, or kinder, or better, or less inclined to worry about personal hygiene, or something like that.
I once thought that people who swore their dogs chose them were suckers. But I love mine, he absolutely chose me, and by that definition, I’m a full-on sucker too. He’s been with our family for a month now, and although in some ways life is harder, in many others it’s better; slower, messier, and full.
Sometimes, early in the morning and long before the sun comes up, when I can’t sleep and the entire world seems dark and still, I take him for a walk. Just me and my dog. With a patchwork quilt of snow on the ground and a tiny flashlight to guide our way, he matches my pace as we move through the night in silent step, tuned to one another and all of the elements that would scare me if I were out on my own. Yesterday, I saw a shooting star (or a rapidly disintegrating plane engine, I’m not sure which). Imagine witnessing an unexpected meteoroid rip through atmosphere as it burns a path through the clear, pre-dawn sky, with the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, you’re the only one lucky enough to watch its fall. That would never have happened in my previous life as a Rent-A-Pet person. It was pretty amazing to see.
A big shout-out to Calahan, who was kind enough to ask where I’ve been for the last month. The answer? Walking my dog.
For someone who never really cared for man’s best friend before adopting one, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about him.
If you want to see where my whole dog journey started, read this: Have You Seen Goldie?
If you want to see how far I’ve come, read this: My New Dog Hates Me.
If you want to cry, read this: My New Dog Is Gone
If you want to see what I do with stuffed animals when I’m bored, read this: Have You Seen Goldie? Part II
If you want to read something that might actually be of benefit to you in life, here’s the Wall Street Journal article I quoted above: Learning to Love Volatility.