Last Friday, I was having a truly rotten day. I didn’t feel very well when I woke up that morning, and heading down to the Humane Society to walk dogs in the heat and humidity didn’t make things any better. Neither did discovering that we didn’t have nearly enough people to get all the dogs walked that morning. It was just one of those days that starts out badly and goes downhill from there, as one problem after another kept popping up. It wasn’t long before I was sincerely wishing that I had just stayed home. Too many dogs, too many issues, and too few resources to deal with them all.
Then I decided to take a particularly rowdy dog out to the exercise pen, thinking that the time off-leash would do her some good, and the time spent sitting on a picnic table in the shade while she ran around the pen would do me even better. But the thing with dogs is, they don’t always act the way we think they’re going to act. I had envisioned her romping around the exercise pen, which she did, for exactly one lap. Then she hopped up on the table, gave me a quick doggie kiss, shimmied down below the table for a second, then poked her head and shoulders back up between the bench seat and the table top. She continued to work that picnic table as if it was a jungle gym, popping out from one unexpected place after another before disappearing down below again. I’ve never seen such a flexible dog. If she’d be an actual gymnast, I’m pretty sure she would have scored at least a seven on agility alone. Finally, she just lay down next to me, with her head on my leg, sighing happily. And just like that, my crabby, despairing mood was gone.
As amazing as her antics with the picnic table were, the best thing that dog did was allow me to tune out all the problems that had been overwhelming me and to just focus on the here and now. Sitting in the shade, watching a shelter dog have a wonderful time during her break from her solitary run was a beautiful thing, and made me realize that if I hadn’t come in this morning, this moment wouldn’t have happened. And that allowed me to calm down, breathe deeply, and to be glad that I was in this particular place, at this particular time, and especially with this particular dog.
Of course, this is a life lesson that goes beyond my time at the animal shelter: when the world’s problems seem too overwhelming to even think about, it’s okay to turn my back on the big picture and focus on the smaller, more personal picture, at least for a little while. Sometimes I just need to live in the moment, and to focus on what is right in front of me. I know the old saying goes “can’t see the forest for the trees,” and I get that. Usually, in order to get things done, we need to stop obsessing over the little details and look at the big picture. But I believe there are also times when it’s necessary to ignore the forest and just focus on the trees. Maybe even just the one tree that is particularly beautiful and affirming. Because I believe there are times when happiness is best found in the details.