Finn Speaks

fullsizeoutput_50fcMom’s been a little tired lately, so I thought I’d help out by writing this week’s blog post for her.  I’ve never written a blog post before (it’s kind of hard to type with paws), but I’m going give it my best shot.  Because that’s the sort of dog I am:  a helper.

I’ve been told that I’m really cute, and I suppose that’s true, since I have wiry black fur, long legs, perky ears and a big white patch on my chest.  People also say that I am very sweet, very energetic and really, really, persistent….I prefer to think of myself as focused and determined, but those aren’t the words that other people use.  Still, I know my main purpose in life is to help others.  And I’m really good at it, if I do say so myself.

I spend my days constantly looking for ways that I can help my family.  When Mom is preparing a meal, I’m always in the kitchen, laying right by her feet so I can keep an eye on what she’s doing and lend a helping paw if necessary.  Plus, I want to be able to immediately clean up any food that she happens to drop on the floor.  (Which she does almost every time she trips over me.) Mom likes to keep her house clean, and believe me, there will NEVER be any food on her floors when I’m around.

I also help Mom and Dad tie their shoes, especially if they’re in a hurry.  I shove my face right in, grabbing the laces to hold them in place since they seem to be having such a hard time performing this simple task.  Sometimes they get so flustered that they actually try to push me away!  Some dogs might get their feelings hurt by that sort of thing, but I know Mom and Dad are just embarrassed that it’s taking them so long to tie their shoes.  So I get right back in there and “help” until the job is done, no matter how long it takes.

Mom and Dad also spend a lot of time complaining about how out of shape they are, so I try to help by getting them to play tag with me.  When we are outside together, I’ll race around the yard, inviting them chase me.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked so far.  They just watch me run, and say things like, “I wish I had half his energy!”  But they just stand there, or sometimes even sit at the patio table, snacking and sipping wine.  I love my parents, but they can be a little slow on the uptake.  Still, I’ll keep on running and hope that some day they’ll figure it out and join me for a few laps around the yard.

There are lots of other ways that I help out, but I know that Mom tries to keep her blog posts kind of short, so I’ll do the same.  Besides, I’ll probably get the chance to write another guest post some day, when Mom’s too tired or too busy to do it herself and needs my assistance.  Because I’m a helper, and I’m REALLY good at it!

Love, Finn

Can I Help?

A few days ago, I had oral surgery to address an ongoing infection in one of my upper molars.  The procedure involved cutting through my gums and manually removing the infection and the tips of the molar’s roots before sealing them off.  I’m not going to lie and say it was fun, or even no big deal.  I don’t like even simple dental procedures, and this one was a doozie, any way you looked at it.  But I can say that the procedure wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated, for one reason and one reason only:  the terrific attitude of the endodontist and her staff.

From the minute I walked into the office, I was treated with compassion, patience and encouragement.  Did I want a blanket to cover up in?  Did I have any questions before we began?  Would I like the chair set to massage during the procedure?  Of course I wanted all of it, especially the chance to ask some last-minute questions.  And by the time the procedure began, I was much calmer more relaxed than I would ever have thought possible in those circumstances.  By the time it was over, I was actually kind of proud of myself for how well I handled it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my pride was misplaced.  Yes, I had done a good job of managing my nerves in the days before the procedure, but by the time of the actual appointment, I was both nervous and scared.  If the staff had been hurried and abrupt, brushing off my questions, rolling their eyes at my request for a last-minute bathroom break, or acting as if there was no reason for me to be apprehensive, my entire experience would have been very, very, different.  If I had even stuck around long enough for them to do it.  (I may be old, but I can still run pretty fast when I have to.)

The reason I was so calm during the procedure was because the endodontist and her staff did everything in their power to settle my nerves and allow me to get through it with as much dignity as possible.  And that is a gift that I will not soon forget.

I’m sure I was just one of a series of scared and nervous people that the endodontist’s staff has dealt with, and that the way I was treated was their normal routine.  But their patience and encouragement made a world of difference to me.  Which just goes to show that how we treat other people really is a very big deal.

It really doesn’t take that much effort to offer someone an encouraging word, or to listen when someone needs to express their fears and concerns.  It isn’t that hard to smile at a newcomer, to talk to someone who is lonely, or to offer our sympathy to someone who is grieving.  Yet each and every time we do these things, we may well be giving someone else that little bit of help they need to get them through whatever difficulty they happen to be facing at the time.  And what could be more important than that?

Quietly Doing Good

Years ago, I was cooking dinner in our kitchen when I heard the ominous sound of something very heavy landing on our roof.  The wind had been getting steadily stronger all day, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I looked out our back door and saw that the massive elm tree in our yard had been completely uprooted.  Most of it was now resting on the corner of our house, directly above our daughter’s bedroom.  We called our insurance company right away, only to find out that there was wide-spread damage in our area and that help would not be coming anytime soon.  We were finally able to find a tree company to actually get the tree off our house, but we were put on a waiting list to get the hole in our roof fixed.  It was a frustrating situation, and my stress level was off the charts.

A  couple of days afterwards, a friend stopped me as I was leaving church and offered me materials to temporarily patch the roof until the professionals could get to it.  As he was loading the stuff into my trunk, he also offered to come over and help my husband do the patching if needed.  It was such a simple gesture, but I can’t begin to tell you how much it meant to my husband and I.  Having someone reach out in a time of need can make all the difference when we are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.

Looking back on it, I’m not surprised at my friend’s actions.  He and his wife were very active in our church in their own quiet way.  They didn’t draw attention to themselves, just saw what needed to be done and got to work:  teaching the children, working on the building, lending a hand at special events.  Whenever and wherever help was needed, they helped.  So when they heard that a tree had fallen on our house and we couldn’t find anyone to repair the roof, naturally they stepped in.  And they gave me the supplies in the parking lot, after most people had gone home.  They didn’t need anyone to witness their generosity.

I’ve been a part of many different groups and organizations over the years, and the one thing they have in common is that they all have a few people in them just like my friends.  People who are happy to help with whatever is needed, working in the background and feeling no need to call attention to themselves and their good works.  Their work is rarely acknowledged, but they aren’t doing it for the thanks.  They are doing it for the simple reason that the work needs to be done.  These people see the same problems the rest of us do, but rather than just complaining, they work toward solutions.  And while they don’t solicit praise or recognition for themselves, they are quick to offer an encouraging word to others.  They are, without exception, the backbone of whatever organization they happen to serve.

There will always be those that seek the limelight and that excel in high-profile, leadership positions.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, as every organization has to have someone in that role.  But I believe that the true heroes are the ones who prefer to work quietly and efficiently behind the scenes, making sure that whatever needs to happen actually does happen.  They are the ones doing the most good, and they are the ones who understand that doing good is its own reward.  They are also the people I admire the most.

Just Say No

When I was young, I was taught that obedience was a good thing.  If a teacher or one of my parents asked me to do something, I knew without a doubt that I was supposed to actually do it.  Life was better when I did what was expected of me, and failure to comply often brought unpleasant repercussions. So I learned early on to complete those classroom assignments, to do my chores at home, and in general, and to help out when I was asked to do so.  And to one degree or another, that lesson has stuck with me throughout my life.

In most ways, it’s been a good thing.  I had no problem accepting assignments from my bosses or my editors, and never felt any resentment at being “told what to do,” especially in situations where I was being paid to do it.  I believe it also instilled a sense of responsibility to others, which meant donating my time and money to worthy causes and helping people (and animals) as much as I possibly could.  It gave me a sense of duty, and I’m thankful for that.

But there’s a downside to being so quick to accept tasks and shoulder responsibility, and it’s called burn-out.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m feeling particularly stressed and overburdened, it’s usually because I have said “yes” when I really should have said “no,” or at the very least, “maybe later.” And that usually happens when I forget that the only person who truly knows exactly how much I can and cannot do is me.

All too often, I find myself taking on far more than I can reasonably handle.  And when it finally does sink in that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew, I actually find myself getting angry with the people who have asked me to do the items on my to-do list that are stressing me out.  I act as if it was someone else’s fault that I didn’t have the good sense to recognize and respect my own limits, which is just plain silly.

The fact is that it’s up to me to set my own personal boundaries and to make good decisions about how I spend my time.  I’m the one who knows what my daily obligations are, and I’m the one who knows how much free time I have to devote to other causes.  Which means I’m the one whose job it is to make sure I’m not freaking out because I’ve over-committed my time, or forgotten that there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

Knowing where to draw the line between taking care of ourselves and meeting other people’s expectations and needs is a difficult thing.  It can take us a long time to learn how to establish our own personal boundaries.  But I think it’s important to remember that a big part of being a responsible adult is realizing that we can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves while we’re at it.

Do What You Can

There are few things I love more than walking on a beach.  I prefer to walk right on the edge of the water, where I can listen to the waves roll in, search for sea shells, and keep an eye out for passing dolphins.  Sometimes I have to step out of the way of flocks of birds or other people, but usually I just stroll along in peaceful oblivion.  For me, there is no better way to reduce stress and calm my soul than to take a long walk on a beach.   Most of the time, that is.

img_2276Because the problem with beaches is that they are controlled by nature, and not designed specifically for my peace and enjoyment.  Which explains why on my recent Florida vacation, I headed eagerly to the beach for an afternoon walk only to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of shells that had been washed ashore by the previous night’s storms. And most of them were still alive (sea shells are actually the exterior skeleton of soft-bodied animals called mollusks), stranded on the hot beach several yards away from the ocean water they needed to continue living.

Most of other people at the beach were ignoring the plight of the beached mollusks but I felt compelled to try to help. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I often rescue worms stranded on the sidewalk after heavy rains, too.)  I began by picking up as many live shells as I could hold and then wading knee-deep into the ocean before gently placing them on the ocean floor.  Several trips later, I realized  that I had barely made a dent in the number of shells  in the pile nearest me, and that there were many more shells stranded all up and down the shore as far as I could see.  I felt both helpless and frustrated, but I still wasn’t ready to give up.

So I began to walk slowly down the beach, scanning the shells as I went and picking up only those that were moving.  (I figured the ones that were actively trying to get back in the water had the best chances of living.)  I’m sure I returned at least one hundred “fighting conch” shells to the ocean, and maybe more.  I had no idea if putting them back in the water actually saved them, and I know I walked right past several hundred more shells that were still stranded on the beach, with the mollusks in them slowly dying.

img_2267I really wished I had been able to save them all, but I also knew there was no way that I possibly could, even if I stayed on the beach till dark and someone lent me a wheelbarrow to tote all the shells.  But somewhere during my walk I stopped feeling frustrated with my inability to save them all, and actually began to feel just a smidgen of satisfaction that I was, perhaps, at least saving some of them.  That day, my walk on the beach wasn’t peaceful or relaxing, but it did have a purpose.

That day helped me to remember that even though I can’t fix everything, I can always fix something.  And that all I have to do is try.

Time Well Spent

I was hurrying to my car early yesterday when I heard someone call, “Good morning!”  Looking around, I saw that my neighbors, whom I know only slightly, were in their back yard with their toddler son.  As I waved back at them, they scooped up their son and brought him over to the fence for me to see.  “He’s going to be one-year old this coming Tuesday,” they told me proudly.  I admit that I hesitated for a few seconds, because I was running late for church, and didn’t really have time to stop and talk.  But then I did the right thing and went over to meet them at the backyard fence to admire their son and chat a bit.   I ended up being even later for church than I usually am, but it was more than worth not hurting the feelings of the very nice young parents who live behind us.

We rarely have enough people on our walking shifts at the local animal shelter where I volunteer,  which means we are usually working as fast as we can to make sure all the dogs get out for their daily walk.  Often, people visiting the shelter will approach us with their questions, and our usual response is to direct them to the staff at the front desk, who are happy to help them.  But every once in a while, we are approached by someone who wants to tell us about a beloved pet that has recently passed away, because it’s not uncommon for people to look for a new pet while they are still grieving for their old one.  And when that happens, we pause for a little while to hear their stories.  Grieving people need the chance to express their sorrow, and that can only happen if we take the time to listen.

Of course there are times when we truly are too busy to pause, even for a couple of minutes, just because someone wants our attention.  But I also believe that there are many times when we just hurry on our way, believing that we don’t have the time to deal with someone else’s problems, or can’t possibly spare a moment on someone who isn’t an integral part of our day-to-day life.  And that’s a shame, because that means we’ve lost an opportunity to form a real connection to another human being, especially at a time when the other person desperately needs that connection.

IMG_1767Most of us do live busy lives and keep hectic schedules, and aren’t always able to “stop and smell the roses” as the old saying goes.  That means time is a precious commodity, and like all precious commodities, it should be spent wisely.  But there is a difference between spending our time wisely and hoarding our time with little or no regard for the needs of others.  And when we are able to be generous with our time, and use it to truly help someone else, then that is always time well spent.

A Delicate Balance

I was talking to a friend the other night, and she told me that there is an actual personality type called an “obliger.”  I’d never heard the term before, and my spell check doesn’t recognize it as a legitimate word, but she said it refers to people who try to please others and are generally willing to do whatever it takes to make other people happy.  She went on to say that every once in a while, people who are “obligers” get fed up with trying to please other people and can become, at least temporarily, very uncooperative, stubborn, and angry.   And boy, can I relate to that!

Like so many women (and some men), I have always had a hard time saying “no,” even to things that I really don’t want to do.  I don’t want to let anyone down; I don’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt, and I feel a strong obligation to help anyone who asks for my help.  And of course caring about other people and wanting to help them however we can is a good thing…our world would be a much worse place if we all just took care of ourselves and ignored the needs of those around us.  The problem, I think, is knowing where to draw the line between taking care of ourselves and taking care of other people.

IMG_0448And personally, that’s where I struggle.  One of my duties at the local Humane Society is to train new volunteers, and I’ve probably mentored about two hundred people over the years.  I really don’t like doing it anymore, but we always need more volunteers and the only way to get them is to train the new people, so I keep at it.  I try my best to be patient and cheerful as I teach them the ins and outs of handling shelter dogs, but sometimes I worry that the person I’m mentoring can sense my resentment at having to spend so much time training them rather than just walking the dogs, which is what I really want to do.  And if they can, and their introduction to the Humane Society is dealing with my crabby and impatient self, am I really doing any good?

I think that’s the problem with being too quick to do what others want me to do, even when I’d much rather not.  I tend to over-commit in almost all areas of my life, and that sometimes leads to me being so stressed and resentful that I’m not really helping other people at all, and I’m certainly not helping myself.  As the old saying goes, “If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”

I am slowly learning to try to find a balance between taking care of the needs of other people and taking care of myself.  I do like helping other people, and I think it is very important to do that whenever I can, but that doesn’t mean I have to automatically say “yes” to every request that comes my way.  If I really want to make a positive impact on the world around me, then I need to make sure that I have some time to recharge my batteries, and to do the things that feed my soul.  Because I can’t do a good job of taking care of anyone else if I don’t make sure I take care of myself as well.