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Lessons from pets and plants.

If you’re looking for a way to accurately gauge your “keep-it-together”-ness, I recommend getting a dog.

Keep-it-together-ness, also known as ability to maintain my shit, is a skill I’m constantly working to hone. Ever since I had a manager in one of my first jobs who was the epitome of a shit-loser, I’ve found the rare and elusive trait of capable-shit-maintaining to be a very desirable one.

A wiser, more mature person may refer to this as responding to things instead of reacting to things, but I prefer shit-maintenance-ability. Or keep-it-together-ness.

A while back, when my Ocho was still around, I answered the phone at Milagro to yet another solicitation call. Ocho and Rio were in fully-passed-out spa relaxation mode, as per usual. The solicitor was quite determined, but I was doing my best to not let it get to me. My voice was calm and even. I spoke gently. But by the time I hung up (possibly while the dude was still talking), both dogs were sitting at my feet, looking up at me with very concerned faces. I hadn’t fooled them. They knew my exterior coolness was just a front for my interior blood boil. Busted.

I’d like to brush it off with the excuse that people aren’t as sensitive to my energy, but that doesn’t feel true or useful.

When Marley, an older dog who had already been re-homed twice, joined our pack in August, the challenge became even more difficult. I’ve had to earn her trust. She has no history with me; no baseline to assume. Rio, who’s been with me for seven years, knows my averages. She experiences my peaks and valleys as outliers and knows my even keel will return quickly and (usually) stick around for a while. It’s a grace I similarly receive from the humans closest to me. They stand by (from a safe distance) and let me ride my waves because they know (thank God) I’m more than just my worst and my best.

Realizing how often I receive this benefit of the doubt makes it (somewhat) easier for me to give it to strangers.

But how do I get better? How do I go from this:

To something a little more like this:

This is where my plants spoke to me.

I have a history of killing all the plants, but not before I’m amazed by their ability to bounce back from complete neglect. It’s torture, really. I watch them wither to the very brink of dried-to-death, then flood them with an entire can of water and marvel as their leaves turn green and their flowers un-wilt. How can they do this?

Unfortunately, they can only do it a few times before they succumb and refuse to revive. Too much energy has been spent bouncing back and forth between drained and full. It’s unsustainable and it’s how I’ve been known to live. And I know I’m not alone. I've seen you at Milagro.

I think I can go and go and manage to “survive” my days as long as I have a refueling point up ahead: a vacation, a spa day, a weekend, a date night, a strong drink, a chocolate chip cookie.

As I’ve cultivated a (barely) green thumb, I’ve learned my plant friends only thrive if their roots are appropriately and consistently nurtured. Their outward parts, that are exposed to and at the mercy of the elements, can maintain life only if their invisible insides are constantly, diligently, thoughtfully cared for.

Erratic and unpredictable bursts of energy IN means erratic and unpredictable bursts of energy OUT.

And because it’s three days before Christmas and I’m not a total and complete Scrooge (depending on whom you ask) I can make this lesson holiday-relevant. Watch me.

No matter what you believe about virgin births and kings in mangers, there are things we remember and celebrate this time of year that we’d do well to feed our roots with on a more daily-ish basis:

That here in late December, when our world, at least in our hemisphere, is at its very darkest, hope can sneak in. Mysteriously, quietly, unexpectedly.

That here on earth, where power seems to stubbornly stick to the strongest, and richest, and often the cruelest, we can hear “fear not!” and we, ALL the people, can find great joy.

Because while down here and in this moment it may not feel true, we have faith that selfless love and senseless grace will bring peace on earth.

Good to remember once a year. Better to live fed by it in every moment.


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