I remember what I thought would be the longest ride in a car thing I would ever take. That was the day we went from New Hampshire to New York. It was only the next day after my whole world had turned upside-down. I was terrified minute to minute, but there was nothing I could change about the situation.
It was just me and the human who I was going to live with now. I got down on the floor of the car where it was quiet and dark. I always like places underneath where there is shelter and a safe vantage point on the world. So I was down there a long time while we drove. He talked to me a lot but I pretended that I wasn’t listening. I didn’t know what he was saying, but he sounded like he wanted to help me feel safe. I didn’t.
When we got to the thing called Brooklyn he couldn’t find a good place to leave the car. He sounded mad. I thought he might be mad at me, even though he was the one that drove the car. Anyway, he put a leash on me (I had never worn one until the day before) and we got out of the car to walk.
It was really bright and really noisy and there were a lot of people. And then it got worse. We were walking next to a street with really big cars (they call them trucks!) with huge wheels turning and they were rolling down the streets. The whole place looked a lot out-of-order to me. We shepherds have a job to put order where it hasn’t been. So I kept pulling at the end of that dumb leash. I was trying to get to the wheels of the big trucks to organize them as they went down the street. But this made my human companion as scared as I was! He kept pulling me back. He had a big bag on wheels that he was rolling and it kept falling over. Other people near us thought we were funny. I think both of us thought we were not funny! Finally we came to a building we could go in. It was quiet inside, but scary when we went into a little room that moved up really fast. When the doors opened we were someplace new. I was scared and confused again, but soon we were in our room.
This was good! I looked around and there was a big bed so I ran and got underneath it and went as far as I could into a corner against the wall. I was going to stay there until something good happened. Maybe he would go away, or the people I used to stay with would come, or something else.
So far, this new life was really hard to understand.
Her name was Sydney when she came to me, this beautiful little Australian Shepherd. I didn’t know much of her experience over the first eleven months of her life, but I could see how frightened she was now. That fright, it turned out, was an extension of her very cautious stance before anything new. She wanted to watch and watch and watch for a long time and from what felt like a safe perspective, before she would decide if a person or a place or a situation could be trusted. She would eventually decide, but she would not be hurried. It was her own decision to make, every time, and she would insist on that always.
The first week she was with me on the 8th floor of the building on Schermerhorn Street was not easy for either of us. When I thought it might be good for her to get outside, whether early in the morning or just before bed, I would have to get down on the floor, talk to her gently, then slowly get under the bed and approach her, finally putting my arms around her, pulling her out into the light, and carrying her in my arms to the elevator and down to the lobby and out onto the street.
Immediately upon reaching the outside (and sometimes before reaching the outside!) she would pee or more as needed, and then rush immediately toward the door again. The poor little thing was taking no chances.
She reminded me then what I had often experienced in my life. New beginnings are scary. They reveal again any insecurities you are carrying in your baggage. They become obvious – both to you and to the people nearby (especially those who are watching your suitcase repeatedly fall over on its side and you struggle to right it again).
When it’s not you who are having the new experience, but rather you are walking through it with another of God’s creatures, it is a challenging time as well. When I thought I understood what was happening with her, I felt in myself a real patience and the roots of a growing affection. But if I was harried or hurried or wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing the way I should have, I sometimes was confused and frustrated with what I was seeing her do – or not do. I was missing much of what I should have been seeing.
Starting again is hard. But it is also a moment filled with the possibility of grace. With this little dog, the first I had had myself as an adult, there was the beginning of a new relating – to a living creature without language as we think of language, but with a lively intelligence and a real personality. I would come to see that every day would bring a lot of newness – adventures, questions, and discoveries. It was kind of like living with a child. And it was like being a child again myself. And that too can be a genuine grace.
Gracie, early on: “Where am I? Who are you?”