My fiance Nicole and I have restarted the book “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” One of the best things about our relationship is our commitment to working on it even when things are going smashingly, as they are now. We are now on page 72, doing the exercise #3, “A Seven Week Course on Fondness and Admiration.” The first day in the practice was to “list one characteristic you find endearing or lovable” about your partner. Nicole said for her that was my sense of humor, which means she definitely gets who I am as a person. I told Nicole that her compassion for animals was very important to me.
When I said this, I thought I saw a twinge of hurt in Nicole’s eye. Perhaps it sounded trivial. There are a million other things that are endearing about her, and yet I chose that one in the moment. I stepped over talking to her about this, and then thought I would write about why I felt this way, and what it means to me. This characteristic is particularly relevant to me in the last few weeks.
We recently adopted a dog Moses. He is amazingly cute, a Chow and Golden Retriever mix. He is about eight, good natured, and loves nothing more than to walk around the neighborhood. I mention Mo because when Nikki started looking on dog adoption web sites a few weeks ago, I was hesitant, to say the least. Why add a dog to the mix when I was struggling on so many levels, finding work, finding my place in this new community? Would he tie me closer to the house when I was wondering if getting out and getting a job was healthier for me? Living together is still somewhat new for us as a couple, so why add a new responsibility to the house, and risk stressing out our new lives together?
But, lo and behold, the last two weeks have been blissful since Mo arrived. I get up in the morning with Nikki at 5:30 AM and then usually immediately take Mo for a walk as Nikki readies herself for her long day. The sunrise is gorgeous in our area, and as I walk back to the house from the golf course club house, looking for toads on the slim concrete path, enjoying being startled by leaping fish in the pond with Mo at my side meandering and sniffing and marking everything, I remark that my life here is extraordinarily peaceful. I have been searching for this peace for a long time. Starting my day in this way is so beautiful, leaving my cell phone behind and just shuffling down the path in silence shrouded in the mist. I would not have had that without Mo, and Mo would not be here without Nikki searching him out on a dog rescue website.
This is why I love her compassion for animals. It is funny, because this is the thing that brought us together. We met on a vegetarian dating website, so it was her compassion for animals and her difficult life choice to not eat animals, the same choice I made ten years ago, that had us find each other. There is a lot more significance than just loving animals that have created my love for Nikki: it is the courageous and challenging actions she takes because of this love and compassion that bring me every day closer to her.
Several months ago, as the day on which I would leave Portland and move to Hinesville approached, the two biggest fears that arose in me were the loss of community, and the loss of identity. I worried about missing my friends and especially my family, both of which I am very close to. And, closely related to this, I worried about how I would survive there when I felt so connected to my identity as an entrepreneur, when I could not see anything remotely tech entrepreneurial in Hinesville or even Savannah, an hour away.
Yesterday as Nikki and I worked out at the weight room in the gym on base, we noticed a dog sitting motionless and quiet at the bench right to our side. It surprised me that neither of us noticed this dog for ten minutes. We asked the man standing in front of the bench about the dog. He talked to us for a few minutes and said that this dog was his and was helping him with his PTSD.
Raymond is a huge man, taller than me at 6’3” and with a neck as thick as one of my legs. As he shared with us the challenges of his life after returning from service abroad, and all the things he had dealt with, from romantic relationship loss to family relationship loss, I found myself profoundly moved by what he said about his healing process with his dog. Nikki knows that I am someone who cries easily, but I found I had to pull back in the conversation several times, look away at his resting dog rather than at Raymond, to stem the tears welling in my eyes as this giant talked about the benefits this dog had brought to his life. In those moments I heard a new reality for soldiers so terribly wounded from combat abroad. After a minute he asked if I wanted to be a part of this passion for him, to work as a trainer. I got his number, and I look forward to calling him on Friday. For me, the opportunity to make a difference, his words and now mine, with a few wounded soldiers, people I probably would have feared and focused on their anger rather than felt compassion for their sorrows, shifts the world in front of me. I mentioned to Raymond that I was looking for volunteer work, and this looks like a beautiful opportunity to help people and animals at the same time.
Love is a strange concoction. Nikki and I took a chance on each other. As we’ve learned more and more, I find there are surprising things about her that are now the most important things in my shifting identity. One of those things is her love and compassion for animals. These new facets of our lives together expand who I am and what is important to me. I love her for that. Love is worth taking a chance on if only for that.