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What My Dog Taught Me

  • 3 min read

Every morning my dog Laurel and I go to the back door. Every time she quivers in anticipation of what a new day may bring to her yard. Opening the door is like racking the slide of a pistol. She coils; every muscle in her body taut with excitement. Opening the storm door is like squeezing that trigger. She springs forward, so fast, with so much force that I can’t even fully open the door before she inevitably cracks her head on the edge of the door, rattling the glass. It matters not. She charges into every new morning as if our yard is foreign territory to be subdued, rather than the same fenced in grass and shrubs she took by force yesterday. And in that, I find a lesson.

Where I see suburban sameness, a routine that funnels me into yet another day trapped in pursuit of yet another dollar that allows me thenotion of freedomsomeday, she has freedomnow. She lives fully in the moment. She charges into every day as if maybe today the fence and the shed and the azalea bush will reveal something altogether new and fascinating. And it often does, because she’s looking for it. Her eyes are open to possibility. Where my expectation is sameness and drudgery and routine, hers is that the hole in the fence, the one she pushes her head through every morning till I call her back, will one day expand and she’ll push through it and see what’s on the other side. To me the fence is a restraint. To her it’s opportunity.

What I take from all this is that a lot of the walls we put up, the limits under which we live, are simply artifice we create for ourselves. They exist, not because the limits we create are wholly genuine, but because they allow us to avoid the work required to exceed them. I have to do “this” job because this is all I am qualified for. I can’t do “that” because that’s for other, better people. I don’t know anything about “that” and I don’t have the time or money to learn. I’m scared of what might happen, or what I might learn about myself, if I dare greatly.

I’ll admit, in a world in which reality plays a significant part, that’s all true to an extent. My days of sub-six miles are decidedly behind me, but I have plenty of sub-sevens left. I’ll never finish in the top half of the field at an ultramarathon, but I’m totally satisfied by crossing the finish line before they start disassembling it (and even then). I thought a 300-pound deadlift was my upper limit, by following Laurel’s approach in the gym (and SOFLETE programming), I will get to 400 by this time next year. Most importantly for me, writing was something for other people to do and for me to read. Now I’ve been published and heard from people around the world who liked what I wrote. I actually get paid to do something I previously thought outside of my realm because I stopped seeing every fence as something to keep me inside and comfortable and started wondering what might be on the other side.

There are certainties in life. You will fail. You will succeed. You will survive both and then someday, you will die. Everything else is up to you and the meaning of all of it comes in how you lived the moments in between. Did you raise your nose to the breeze? Did you stick your head through the hole in the fence? Did you charge so hard into every morning that the door rattled?

Did you Die Living?

Russell Worth Parker is a career Marine Corps Special Operations Officer. He likes barely making the cut-offs in ultra-marathon events, sport eating, and complaining about losing the genetic lottery. He is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and graduate of the University of Colorado, the Florida State University College of Law and the Masters in Conflict Management and Resolution Program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Special Operations Command, the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.