What dogs and salmon can teach us about resilience

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The Angel Oak Tree in Johns Island, S.C. is estimated to be more than 400 years old. Photo by Carla Kucinski.

It’s been an unusually warm weekend for February in North Carolina. There’s an expression here: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few days and it will change. How true that is about NC’s climate, but also about life in general and the ever-changing shifts we experience in our own lives.

We opened the windows today and let in the spring-like air. What is it about opening windows that seems to help us breathe a little easier? Opening a window after weeks or months of being sealed from winter’s cold is strangely cathartic. There’s a release, a letting go that comes with such a simple action.

All weekend the sound of the chimes on our balcony have been tinkling. The sound is what I would imagine Tinker Bell would make, waving her wand and sprinkling fairy dust. The chimes are light and delicate with three small beaded Jade stones strung together and anchoring the center of the chimes. They’re so dainty that it’s rare they actually sway in the breeze and produce a sound that’s even audible. But for the last few days they’ve been constantly ringing, their sound following me as I roam throughout the house doing chores. Friends of mine from work gave them to me last year around this time actually. They came with a Bonsai tree that has sat neglected on my porch, its leaves dried and shriveled and transformed to a burgundy color. I tried in the beginning to care for it, but I was barely getting by taking care of myself during that time.

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about resilience, not just my own but of others close to me. Last year I began to understand that the bad things that happen to us almost always turn out to be gifts. The tough experiences I’ve been through taught me that. Because of those experiences and all that I had to overcome, it’s taught me how to reset and find my way back to center, my baseline, even after the worst traumas.

I thought of resilience last night as I was lying on the floor with my dog Molly. She is the toughest dog I’ve ever owned and has gone through so much in her almost 8 years of life on this earth. My husband and I were out of town for the night on Friday and got a call from the kennel in the morning that Molly’s eye was leaking some kind of green goop. By the time we had picked her up, her eye was red and swollen and she seemed to be in pain. At urgent care, they told us she had a faint scratch on her cornea, but that she’d be fine and her eye would heal on its own. Still, I felt so bad that she had to go through all of this. And now I have to squeeze ointment into her eye twice a day, but she is the best girl and trusts me to spread open her sensitive eye and squirt this stuff into her sore eye. Last night, as I held her face in my hands and kissed her snout, I told her how resilient she is and she thumped her tail in agreement. In the last five years, she’s had four surgeries—all of which were pretty extensive procedures and recoveries. She’s had two teeth extracted and also underwent emergency surgery after a stick punctured her belly while she was running through the woods. And then this past December she had a lump removed from her chest that had a smaller second growth on it that turned out to be cancerous. I guess that now makes her a cancer survivor. And yet she is still smiling, laughing, thumping her tail, handing out kisses and walking around with an inflatable doughnut around her head as if it’s the next hot thing in doggy fashion ware. My Molly is a fighter. I guess I am, too.

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My smiley girl.

I thought this past week I would certainly fall apart. It was the anniversary of my miscarriage a year ago, and leading up to it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel when the day would arrive. To my surprise, I didn’t fall apart after all. There were a few tears here and there last week and a sadness underneath the regular day-to-day minutiae, but like Molly, I smiled through it for the most part. I had two social engagements with friends that I came close to bailing on, but I’m so glad I didn’t. My girlfriends Monday night were my solace, and Tuesday night at a friend’s going away party, I laughed so much my face literally hurt. I kept reminding myself of my intention for this year: choose joy. So Wednesday night I asked my husband to be spontaneous with me and get out of town for a night, and so we did. During our overnight trip to Raleigh, I didn’t care that we got stuck in traffic or that the Chinese food we had that night was terrible, I was just happy to be with Andrew.

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My girls always making me laugh. This is them in downtown Greensboro exchanging freezer meals out of the trunks of their cars. Don’t ask. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

Saturday morning, we walked to the nearest coffee shop and grabbed two wooden stools by the window that looked out to the street. It just felt good to be somewhere else. As I sat there sipping my tea and he his coffee, a young family with a dog sat on the bench outside in front of us. They were kind of a mess. The husband tried tying the dog’s leash to a pole, while the wife tried to console their toddler in the stroller who was looking pretty hangry and on the verge of a meltdown.

“That kid’s about to lose it,” my husband Andrew remarked.

We both laughed and then talked about how cute the dog was and watched him for the next 10 minutes. He was a black puppy, possibly German Shepherd, with pointy ears and one that flopped.

“I like how we’re more interested in the dog than the baby,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” Andrew answered.

A year ago, even six months ago, I would have sat in that window and started to cry seeing that family. But that moment became further proof that I really have returned to center. I really am resilient.

Salmon are regarded as one of the most resilient species. Over the span of five years, they’ll swim upstream 7,000 miles in order to return to where they began so they can reproduce and then die. Despite hurdles like waterfalls and bears that threaten their life, they still persist. Like humans, we push on when faced with adversity because we too are fighting for our lives and fighting to return “home” to ourselves.

When we came back from our trip the following day, the chimes continued to tinkle. I can still hear them now as I type this. Those chimes were a gift in the early days of my grief. They used to make me tear up when I’d hear them, especially in the beginning, but lately, they bring me a kind of peace. I’ve come back from losing what felt like everything. My journey has come full circle, and I’m finally home.


 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “What dogs and salmon can teach us about resilience

  1. Jennifer says:

    I really cannot put into words how much I love this. You have been in my thoughts so much lately, and I’m so glad to hear you’re in this good place. You are one of the strongest, most resilient people I know! ❤

    Like

  2. ❤ Love you, lady. I like how this post reminds me that knowing where we are with things–remembering "anniversaries"– isn't just about celebrating or even mourning an event, as much as a simple recognition of how an event has shaped us, moving forward. Marking time doesn't mean we're holding onto the past as much as understanding how it has shaped us. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Woodie! Your comment is so spot on. I love that observation you made. Remembering an event doesn’t always have to be about mourning. It can be just as much about pausing to take stock of your growth. Xoxox Love ya! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

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