“I Do (kind of)”

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I’ve never been one who needs to add more excitement to her life. In fact, most of the time, I’ve had too much on my plate and could stand to pare down life’s responsibilities. On top of being busy, I just can’t stay put for too long. Yet despite all this, I’ve wanted a dog for almost 10 years. Not sure what the calling was: companionship, a walking partner, a soft coat to stroke or just dog envy watching everyone else have so much fun.

Finally, the time came two weeks ago and we adopted a stray from the local shelter. We had actively looked for 3 months and couldn’t settle on one–maybe a sign that we just weren’t quite ready, or that 10 lb chihuahuas and 80 lb labs weren’t it. This time, we casually stopped by the animal shelter after surfing on a Saturday and saw Wink. She was this 10 pound “terrier mix” that had been brought in a couple of days previously from the streets of Salinas. When we got her in the puppy play area, it became clear that she was smart, gentle, sweet and just the right size for getting around.

A $25 deposit reserved her overnight so that we could discuss the reality of closing on a puppy.  Both of us not the types who decide on the first try, we went to give her another look the next day and sealed the deal. It must’ve been the cuteness–or the competition–which elicited other potential takers.

I wouldn’t call the next 2 weeks after her pickup “puppy love,” but more like “building unconditional devotion.” I had no idea how much work a 5-month old puppy could be and was not prepared to set aside my “important” life for the safety and comfort of this little runt. It’s a good thing she turned out so cute; I’ve already sworn we would return her twice (and meant it)!

This bout of puppy love reminds me of an early promise in 2017 when making my list of New Year’s resolutions. The one theme that came up as a general mantra for the year was commitment. If you ask those in my life who have witnessed the perennial transformations that have taken place over a lifetime, never mind the last 4 years, they would tell you not to be surprised if I move to a new country, change careers, or find a new hobby. Even I can admit that it’s been a very transitional time and in the throes of all of these self-inflicted, as well as unexpected changes, there is a moment when one needs to settle down and stop the insanity.

2017 seemed like a good time to attempt consistency in my life, even if 3 of the 8 life categories were (and still are) undergoing transformation. How about a boyfriend and a dog to start? These are both proving to be matters of concerted commitment and are shedding a very bright light on my not-so-savory sides that (little did I know) prefer to take the easy road. Come to find out, working through hard times is a learned skill.

So what does commitment mean anyway? It means sticking to something. Grit, tapas and devotion are synonyms for commitment. The definition of it has a two-sided meaning: 1) the state or quality of being dedicated 2) an obligation that restricts freedom of action. On the one hand, dedication is a sweet term that signifies devotion to a deep belief–one that only takes place when ignited by the heart. On the other, obligation can be done out of guilt or resentment, it is an action that sometimes has no choice, only a required fulfillment. Think: your mom asking you to do house chores on a Saturday growing up. For me, it was cleaning up pee and poo twice a day from the floor, couch, and rugs. Then, it was learning the language of this new animal and meeting her every needs…over mine.

Sacrifice is one of the translations of tapas: any practice that requires hardship and devotion as a means to salvation. Tapas is the inner fire that is needed to burn through difficulty and challenge. It is meditation and incubation for the sake of spiritual rebirth or yielding great insight and self-understanding. Think about the activities in life that require tapas to transform to the next level: schooling, marriage, procreation, 84-Day Yoga Challenges, competing in a triathlon, etc.

These all sound like the greater things in life, but the hard work along the way that challenges one to question their engagement in the first place is not always a dedication; sometimes it’s an obligation. Fortunately, it is in these trying moments that small rewards get unexpectedly thrown our way to keep up the spirit: a puppy gets potty trained, a toddler puts his toys away on daddy’s first request, a neighbor gifts you their unused road bike after they saw you training so hard the other day, you graduate from high school and get accepted into university.

What is the salvation here? That can be the most challenging thing for one to understand in relation to their commitments. Sacrifice in the moral and ethical sense can mean something as profound as salvation in the after-life for just actions taken today. It can also mean a satisfying feeling of inner righteousness for having abstained from pleasurable activities. Having children is also a great commitment, but where is the salvation? Perhaps the reward is in profound feelings of unconditional love and a return of lifelong devotion from them. And raising a puppy?

Because of Wink, I’ve met more of my neighbors and feel connected to the community around me, as everyone else in this neighborhood has a dog. Dogs are a great excuse to strike up a conversation with walkers or go meet the neighbors to introduce your dog to theirs. We have since discovered more of the area together and I never look weird just sauntering around.

With a puppy, I am forced to manage my time better, as I can’t be away from the house for longer than 3 hours, need to take her out for regular walks and plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead! Personally, the responsibility of a dog has brought up many questions around how I give to others, organize my day and value the things in my life.

As mentioned earlier, the subtle rewards of our sacrifices come in all sorts of ways. When you are at your lowest and feeling spent by the energy needed to keep up your commitment, guardian angels descend to brighten up your path. A neighbor offers to dog or baby sit because they need a dose of puppy love, a guest lecturer shows up who gives the most inspiring talk and you find your academic mentor, Grandma stops by unannounced with a week’s worth of frozen meals, your partner (who has been slowly drifting from you for months now) shows up in the strongest way yet when your parent has just passed. Trial brings us together in unforseeable ways.

Once the cornerstones of the house are set, the building blocks come in all shapes and sizes. What I mean is similar to the quote by William H. Murray:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

Who knows exactly where this little pup will take me in the end (or where I will take her), but she has already introduced me to several concepts of love, commitment and sacrifice. It seems like she’s earning her room and board so far. Fortunately the cuteness hasn’t faded either.

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