What Charlotte Taught Me
Meet Charlotte. She’s the one with 3 legs. I’m the one with 2 legs.
While I might be the one writing this blog, I am only repeating what Charlotte taught me. It might be useful to anyone going through any type of trauma, whether it be an illness, divorce, abuse, a death……..whatever it is, I think Charlotte might help.
I met Charlotte in Sri Lanka. I had gone on a yoga/surfing/rescue dog retreat. This pic was taken on the second day we spent with the dogs. It was the first time I met Charlotte.
We set out that morning to meet a handful of disabled dogs on the beach, to take them swimming. I was excited because I knew the shelter was bringing Chompers, the little guy I’d fallen in love with the day before. Chompers was paralyzed in both hind legs, so he pulled himself around, when he could, with only his 2 front legs. Chompers had cornered me the day before, literally, and I spent most of that day sitting and snuggling with him. I was really looking forward to taking him swimming.
Our group arrived at the beach before the shelter dogs and did a quick yoga class. I’d show you some of those pics but I value the integrity of my readers eyeballs, which might be damaged by images of me doing yoga on the beach!
I was seriously relieved when the shelter truck pulled up. Here were the creatures who were to rescue me from yoga on the beach with a bunch of 20 year olds.
The shelter staff carried the dog cages to the beach one by one, and members of the group gathered around in excitement. The members of my group knew I had dibs on Chompers, but there were a few other people there that morning who knew nothing of our special relationship, so I was poised and ready to jump on Chompers, lest someone else snag him. As with most things, the best laid plans rarely work out.
As the staff were unloading Chompers I sat down on the beach, right where I thought they would put his cage. Before Chompers was even on the ground, along came Charlotte. More accurately, along fell Charlotte. I don’t think she picked me specifically; I was simply the 1st person there for her to fall on. She fell right at my feet, and laid her head in my lap. She didn’t look at me or make a fuss, she literally just collapsed onto me.
I took note of her, then wondered what to do. This was not My Plan. My Plan was to play with Chompers. As I pondered this predicament, out came Chompers, into the arms of someone else. So the choice was made. I was to spend the morning with Charlotte.
Lesson #1: Don’t make a Plan.
As Charlotte and I sat, the other dogs paired up with a person and began bonding. Some of the dogs were well into rehab and took off running down the beach. Others required some coaxing. Within 10 minutes though, all the dogs were, in their own special way, running down the beach, their chosen person by their side. All, that is, except Charlotte. She sat in the sand with her head in my lap. Once I tried to coax her into standing, but she ignored me. She was tired and disoriented, and she’d have nothing to do with my agenda.
Lesson #2: Take it slow.
I resigned myself to the fact that I would spend the morning sitting in the sand with Charlotte. Once this was established in my mind I began to pay more attention to her. She is a beautiful dog. She is larger than most of the other shelter dogs, and her fur was a bit nicer. Perhaps she had been an upper class dog in her prior years. She did not seem attached to me in any way, except I was a lap for her head and a hand to rub her. And a voice, murmuring nonsensical sentiments. I was her respite. I was the way station between her journey to the beach and what was to come. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, my role was important, but temporary. There was nothing forced about our relationship, no attempt made by her to win my affection. I was there, and she made no excuse about the role she’d asked me to play-a cushion for her head.
Lesson #3: Find your cushion.
We sat for 10 minutes, maybe more, watching the other dogs running up and down the beach. I grew content to just sit there, even entertaining the idea that it was a hot day and I ought to be pleased to simply sit. As I grew more content, Charlotte began to stir. At first she just lifted her head and looked around. Then she lifted her head and her front paws. Then she began examining the sand. I could relate to what she might be feeling, because I’ve watched my children learn about sand. That 1st step, the one a being takes from the firm, steady ground to the shifting, unpredictable surface of the sand is disorienting, and scarey or fun, depending on your circumstances. For Charlotte I think it was disorienting and scary. Once aware that the sand would not support her in the way she was used to, she settled back down. But not for long.
Lesson #4: The ground, your foundation, is always shifting.
There came a moment in which I was aware that Charlotte wanted to stand up. I’m not sure how I knew, because we had not bonded in a sense I’m familiar with, but I knew. I took a moment to stand myself, and I wrapped my arms around her belly and pulled her up. She was wobbly and clearly unhappy, so I pulled her body into mine, and used my legs and torso to steady her. It reminded me of the way my father walked me down the aisle when I got married. We arrived at the church and, when we got to the top of the aisle, I started shaking. Actually, shaking is an inadequate description – I was in full-on tremor-not-able-to-move mode. My father pulled me close to him, and guided me down the aisle using his whole body. This is what I did for Charlotte. Would I have known to do that without my experience at my wedding? Probably not.
Lesson #5: Even the most uncomfortable circumstance might prove useful.
I had held her for less than a minute when, all of the sudden, Charlotte took off. That is the picture you see here. The joy I felt watching her slip away from me remains unrivaled in my memories. Here was this beautiful, damaged dog who, after using me in such a seemingly unimportant, mundane way, took off, lumbering along on her 3 limbs, but appearing to me like a graceful gazelle. I stayed close, thinking there was no way she would make it the length of the beach and back, and I was ready to pick her up when she fell. I was by her side every step of her sprint. Except, she never fell. Not once. She never even faltered. She had no need for me; she was complete, she was able.
Lesson #6: When it is the right time, you will take flight.
We, more accurately Charlotte, made it down the beach and back. Before we’d even gotten back to the spot her cage laid I was planning, wondering what would come next. Would we run again? Would we rest, then run? Would we rest, then go for a swim? Would Charlotte recognize the great assistant I had been to her? So many questions flooded my mind, and among the possibilities, never did I think of what actually happened. Charlotte got back to the area where the cages lay, she hobbled over to her cage and, without a glance back, she settled onto the blanket she had begun her day on. Charlotte was done. She had come, she had conquered, and she was done. More importantly, she was done with me. She never glanced back. She never even raised her head to find out where I’d gone. I had played my part in her life and my part was over.
Lesson #7: Be prepared to leave some who have helped you navigate your recovery
I sat down in the sand trying to process what I was feeling. I was filled with joy for what I had just witnessed. What a testament to the will to live, watching Charlotte come to life. I had just witnessed her suck the marrow out of life, just as Thoreau experienced in his time by Walden Pond. I had seen life in its rawest form, a battered body gathering up everything around her for those few glorious moments of running on a beach. More importantly, I had watched Charlotte settle, satisfied with her effort, content with her experience; not wanting more, certain that she had done what she wanted to do and could now rest.
Lesson #8: Do only what you can, then rest.
It didn’t take long for me to feel unsatisfied. Here I was now, alone on a beach filled with rehabbing dogs and well intentioned people. I was the only person without a dog, without a purpose. I had fulfilled my purpose and been cast aside. I felt that Charlotte and I were inferior to those around us. Just as the 20 somethings had settled into a steady Eagle pose during our beach yoga while I fell over, the other dogs and people had run the length of the beach several times, and were now preparing for a swim. Charlotte and I though, were done. There was a twinge in the pit of my stomach as I looked around and saw all that the other people, and dogs had done – were still doing. Surely, Charlotte and I did not measure up. I looked over to Charlotte, wondering if she felt the same. Of course, she did not. Charlotte was already asleep, perhaps aware that she had done her best, and that was all that was required; that was all anyone could rightly ask of her.
Lesson #9: You are you. Comparisons to others merely interrupt your peaceful slumber.
I settled in to my new role as an observer. I could watch others swimming with the dogs without feelings of jealousy or inferiority, now that I understood what I was feeling. In a way, I was content that I had served a purpose that morning. While I thought I had more to offer, I was aware that more probably wasn’t needed. I laid back in the sand and closed my eyes, letting my thoughts wander, and the noise of those around me fade into the background. It might have been a while, but I don’t think it was. Someone was calling me – perhaps a photo op (which I would decline!) or maybe a water bowl needing a refill. I opened my eyes to one of the shelter staff. She had asked me a question and was smiling, waiting for my response. It took a few seconds to understand what she was asking me. She was asking me to take Chompers swimming.
I had lost sight of Chompers in my time with Charlotte. I suppose he ran on the beach, but maybe not. Now though, as the shelter staff put him in a red life jacket, Chompers was alone, and in need of a human. How about that! Charlotte was done with me and Chompers was ready for me. Serendipity in its most glorious showing. Shortly I was headed into the water, Chompers securely in my arms.
Lesson #10: Serendipity happens.
Here I was, full circle. I was doing exactly what I’d wanted to do, but with one amazingly beautiful twist – Charlotte. Had I proceeded with my plan I’d have missed out on Charlotte. Which makes it sound as if I deliberately put my plan aside, which is absolutely untrue! Charlotte put my plan aside; I simply went along for the ride, oblivious to the beauty of what would transpire.
In an interesting twist, Chompers and I had a terrible time swimming that day! The waves were higher than I’d anticipated, the water a bit rougher when holding a disabled dog. As we bounced in the waves my anxiety grew, the fear that Chompers would float away and I’d be unable to stop him. I’m sure he felt my anxiety because we had only been in the water a few minutes before he started struggling. In his struggle he scratched my arm, drawing blood, and came halfway out of his life jacket. That was the end of our swim, and the end of our relationship. That was the last day I spent with the dogs and, if it weren’t for the picture, that would be my prevailing memory of the day. That moment when Chompers grew afraid, scratched me, and I almost lost him. That might have been all I remembered, except for the picture. That picture of Charlotte and I running has taken over my memories and become the most important part of that day.
Lesson #11: Memories. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all – memories are stories-nothing more, nothing less. There are happy memories, poignant memories, as well as horrible, depressing memories. It is up to you which take center stage in your mind.
What Charlotte did in 20 minutes that day has taken me four years to replicate in my life. Much of that 4 years I spent fighting the process. In that sense, Charlotte had the definite advantage – she had no need to fight the process. She had no ego to pander to, no fear of acceptance or rejection, no concern that she might not be good enough, or fast enough, or kind or pretty or whole. She had no agenda and therefore, performed perfectly. She performed perfectly because she did only what she could do. She did Charlotte. She didn’t try to be Chompers, or any other dog out there, she did her.
After all, there is only one being who can do you, and that is you.
Lesson #12: Let It Be.
Thank you Charlotte.
photo by Nicole Fiamingo