Life is like…

IMG_2531With all due respect to Forrest Gump, I don’t believe that life is really like a box of chocolates.  Personally, I believe that everyday life is actually far more like doing laundry.  Because no matter how many loads I wash, I know there’s always going to be more that needs to be done.  I never get to the point where I can say, “That’s it!  I washed, dried, folded, and put away all those clothes, and now I’ll never have to do laundry again!”  Doing the laundry is an ongoing process, which makes it very much like so much of the rest of my life.

For instance, when it comes to home and yard maintenance, we no sooner complete one project than we are faced with another.  We repaired out driveway last week, which means it’s time to replace our garage door and dig up three dead bushes.  And at the Animal Shelter where I volunteer, no matter how many dogs I walk and am thrilled to see get adopted into their forever home, there are always more dogs coming in that need to be walked and cared for until it’s their turn to be adopted.  Just like the laundry, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Even when I think something is coming to an end, I often find out that it isn’t.  I went to the doctor yesterday for what I thought was the final check up on the varicose vein treatment on my right leg, so I was surprised when he strolled into the examining room bearing a tray of syringes.  Apparently, I needed another treatment for minor veins, so here I sit in my support hose for another week.  (They look so fashionable when worn with summer shorts and dresses.)  When I was leaving, he asked if I wanted to do the next treatment in six weeks or wait until Fall, when he’s going to laser the varicose vein in my left leg.  And so the fun continues….

Just like laundry, life presents us with both loads that are light and loads that are heavy, and we have no choice but to handle them all.  And just like when we do laundry, sometimes we are successful (“I got the stain out!”) and sometimes we fail (“That stain is permanent!”).  Occasionally, we do something stupid (such as running a new wool sweater through both the washing machine and the dryer), and all we can do is forgive ourselves and move on, hoping we manage to handle things better the next time.

I honestly believe that few things in life are a matter of “one and done,” and that a big part of success stems from our willingness to just keep plugging away to the best of our abilities.  And it helps to remember that it’s not just the bad stuff, or even the everyday mundane stuff, that keeps on coming, but the good stuff as well.  We will always have something to celebrate and be grateful for, if we are willing to look for it

I could say more, but I think I’ve made my point.  Also, I’ve got to go throw another load of laundry in.

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.

In It For The Long Haul

When I was a stay-at-home mom with young children, every day was a unique, though not necessarily exciting, adventure.  No matter how hard I tried to establish routines, my days never had anything close to the predictable routine I was used to when I worked in an office.  Sometimes before he left in the morning, my husband would ask me, “What’s on your agenda today?”  And I would promptly answer, “Laundry.”  At that time, it was the one constant in my life.  Whatever else the day brought me, I knew it would include laundry.

The sad thing was that I hated doing laundry.  I like jobs that can be neatly checked off of a to-do list, and not have to be faced on a continuing basis.  But no matter how many loads of wash I did, the laundry basket just filled right back up.  Often before sunset.  It was a job I could never actually complete.

Now that the kids are grown and out of the house, I have lots of laundry-free days, but I’m still dealing with a task that, no matter how hard I work at it, feels as if it is never-ending.  Now that I have more time on my hands, I spend three days a week walking dogs at our local Humane Society.  And although I enjoy walking dogs much more than I did washing clothes, there is still the sense that I am swimming upstream with no end in sight.  Because the one thing that an open admission shelter always has is a constant stream of new dogs who need to be walked, trained, socialized, etc., while they are waiting for their turn to be adopted.

IMG_4349There are many mornings when I happily head down to the shelter, looking forward to seeing the dogs and some of my friends. But there are other mornings when I just don’t want to go down there and face the dozens of homeless dogs who are waiting to be walked.  Sometimes I don’t feel physically strong enough to deal with the big rowdy dogs; other times I don’t feel emotionally strong enough to deal with the abused or neglected dogs who huddle, trembling, in the back of their runs; and other days I just don’t want to risk finding out that, once again, we don’t really have enough volunteers to properly take care of all the dogs who depend on us.

But just like the laundry basket all those years ago, the Humane Society is something I can’t ignore.  Now that I know of the need that exists down there, now that I have actually handled shelter dogs and seen how much a positive difference my time, and the time of the other volunteers, makes in their lives, I can’t turn my back on it.  So I keep going down there, even on the mornings I don’t want to, and walk the dogs.  I can’t say I always do it cheerfully, although on most days something happens…usually a moment of connection with a dog or another person…that makes me glad I showed up after all, but I do it.  Because I realize now that I’m in this for the long haul.

I saw a quote on Facebook once by Mary Ann Radmacher that said, “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” That pretty much sums it up for me.

One Dog At A Time

IMG_0282People often ask me how I manage to cope with volunteering at a large, open-admission animal shelter.  “Isn’t it just too depressing?” they ask.  “Don’t you want to take them all home?  And how can you stand knowing that not all of them get adopted?”

I’m no fool.  (I may not be overly bright, but I really don’t think I’m a fool.)  I’m a middle-aged woman with declining physical strength and limited financial resources, so I’m well aware that I won’t be able to single-handedly save all the dogs that wind up at the shelter.   Beyond that, I know I won’t be able to even make a dent in the huge problems that come from pet overpopulation, or animal abuse and neglect. There are too many people willing to take out their frustration and anger on animals, and even more people who thoughtlessly discard pets who have become inconvenient just like so much garbage.  Sadly, people who work or volunteer at animal shelters become far too familiar with the darker side of human nature.

What I have learned to do is concentrate on what I can fix.  I can take a shelter dog out of its run for a nice walk, giving it a chance to potty outside of its run, get some fresh air and sunshine, and, if needed, a chance to learn some basic manners to make it more adoptable.  I can show a dog who came to the shelter knowing only abuse or neglect from humans that people can also be kind and loving.  I can make a dog’s stay at the shelter less stressful, and when it does get adopted, I can feel a little satisfaction in knowing that I was a small part of that process.

It’s partly a “one dog at a time” philosophy that keeps me going.  I try to concentrate on that fact that I am helping this dog, right now, and believe me, the dog lets me know it appreciates my effort.  Most dogs like to go for walks, but shelter dogs absolutely LOVE to go for walks, and they don’t try to hide their enthusiasm.  But what really makes it possible for me to keep heading down to the shelter, even on the days when I find it a bit too overwhelming and depressing, is the fact that I’m not alone.

Sure, I can take pride in knowing that, on my own, I am able to walk and help a small number of shelter dogs.  But the good news is that there are lots of other volunteers who are doing the exact same thing.  I’m just one of a large number of people who are willing to spend their time helping shelter dogs.  And when enough of us show up on the same morning, we can get all the dogs on the adoption floor out for a walk (with all the accompanying benefits), even when we’re full and there are over 70 of them. By working together and supporting each other, we are able to help a whole lot of shelter dogs, each and every day.

So whenever I find myself getting discouraged by the huge number of unwanted, abused or neglected dogs that need help, I try to remind myself that what is really important is that I simply continue to chip away at the problem by doing what I can, when I can.  As an individual, all I can ever do is give my best effort.  But I am always so very thankful for all the other individuals who are also giving their personal best,  by doing what they can, when they can.   Because together, we manage to accomplish amazing things.

Thoughts on a cold winter morning….

DSC03771Lately, I’ve been thinking that one of the best things about being middle aged is knowing that the retirement years are finally on the horizon.  My husband’s, that is, not mine.  But if all goes well, he should be able to retire sometime in the next five to ten years.  And that means we will finally be able to spend the entire month of January in Florida, enjoying the sunshine instead of battling the cold, snow and ice of a typical midwest winter.

I’m tired of lying in bed for at least ten minutes after I wake up every morning, trying to work up the nerve to get up and face yet another frigid day.  When I finally do drag myself out of bed,  I bundle up in several layers (long underwear has become my new favorite piece of clothing), warm up the car and head down to the Humane Society to help the other volunteers walk the forty-some housebroken dogs who are patiently waiting for their morning potty break.  In my weaker moments, I think about just not going.   But I know that only means that the other volunteers will have even more dogs to walk, and I don’t want to do that to my friends.  Plus, they know where I live.

So for now, I take comfort in hoping that it won’t be too many more years before I’m spending my January mornings in Florida, where I belong.  I’ll wake up, hop out of bed immediately, put one some light-weight clothes and go for a stroll on the beach, stopping now and then to pick up a pretty seashell.  I really believe that time is coming, and dreaming of it is what keeps me going through this long, cold and dreary month.

In the meantime, if anyone knows how to make an indoor dog toilet, please leave the instructions in my comment section.  Seriously.