I saw two geriatric pets in the span of a few hours; an ancient dog lurching through a hike and an old cat being helped onto a pee pad outside an apartment. Both pets were accompanied by gentle humans who held them, cheered them on and smiled at them. Owning their special needs with dignified embarrassment, the animals were busy living and dying. The ready compassion – the animals’ compassion for themselves, the humans’ compassion for their pets - slowed me down, made me breathe deeply and think about the cost of living.
The new decade came sharply for me, like a scare in a haunted house. I turned the corner and there it was – 2020 – armed with a chainsaw. To add insult, I bought the most confrontational calendar of my life; its cover art reads BEST YEAR EVER. No pressure. I bought it under the pretense that a new year can’t scare me anymore. Well cat’s out of the bag; I’m scared. It’s an election year. The crisis of our country’s divisiveness and greed feels insurmountable and global climate catastrophe imminent. Like the old pets we love, we’re all interdependent too, but we can’t often see that and we don’t relish change. It's too vulnerable.
As a child, I wanted change more than anything. I desperately wanted to need a bra. In middle school, I wrote my mom a post-it note while she was on the phone that read, “Can I please learn to shave me legs?” I wanted to move to New York and have a fire escape. I remember wanting credit cards to fill the slits in my Smurfs wallet. I was waiting for something to happen one hundred percent of the time; I felt yearning above all other feelings. But now, as far into the future as 2020, the thought alone of our dog Vincent getting old makes me cry. Mom joked the other day that if something happens to Vincent she’d have to get on a plane and I assured her – in all seriousness – that that is exactly what she’d have to do.
Things do happen – so much happening has happened in the first month and change of 2020. All my childish expectations – BEST YEAR EVER – haven’t prepared me for the tenderness of my good fortune or the cost of my losses. I’m not sure what prepares us for living besides compassion. We don’t deserve pets but somehow we get them. They introduce us over and over again to the moment. They forgive us instantly and constantly. They celebrate our being near and they always welcome us back for more. They appeal to our higher senses, petition our hearts to open and express freely. And usually they face death before we do. Dog years aren’t like our years; they are concentrate. Such intense, unconditional love is costly.
I might cross out BEST and write MOST COMPASSIONATE YEAR EVER, a resolution of a resolution to relax my expectations and soften my sharp-cornered fears and a simple nod to knowing my place. We are connected and interdependent on each other (humans and animals) and this one habitable planet; we should handle ourselves, our home with more care. I bind myself to compassion in this new year, like the contract made to an old pet, to trust the joy of gain and the transformation of loss as the value of having a life.