The Greatest Teachers...

We can’t get through this life on our own. Think of the people who have helped you get where you are today…you know the saying “it takes a village”? Well, it’s true. And that village is made up of all kinds of creatures…not merely humans. And they all play different roles; friend, parent, teammate, co-worker, partner, etc. But the ones I really can’t imagine my life without are the mentors. The ones who stood by, or led the way, or pointed us in the right direction, not because they had to, but because they wanted to or perhaps because they saw some potential in us. Who has filled that role for you?

I have been fortunate to have several incredible mentors in my life. I have found myself in countless real-life situations where I can honestly say that my response has been influenced by one of these brilliant souls. Though most of them are humans, some of my greatest and wisest teachers have been my dogs. Regardless of whether you think dogs are just animals or you treat yours like a human, it doesn’t change the fact that they are wise and sentient beings. Beings that largely rely on instincts to guide their actions. 

I have had 4 dogs as an adult. All of my dogs, Chimbo, Chip, Chester, and Bodhi have taught me priceless lessons.  Chimbo (named after  Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador where I was living at the time) only lived to be a little over 3 months old, so I only had him for about 5 weeks. And still, my heart shattered when he died. The 2 years I spent in Ecuador were exciting and profound. I found friends, soulmates, who I will never forget and many of whom I am still connected with and think of often. 

Chimbo showed up at a time when a lot of shit was about to go down. But we didn’t know it yet. I fell in love with him, those dark eyes and soft white fur.  And of course, at the time I never thought of him as a mentor or even a teacher. But…the way he slept in my lap, pink belly facing the sky, paws curled adorably, his whiskers moving ever so slightly with his breath. He unlocked something in me. He came everywhere with me and in his short life, and we had loads of adventures. He rode in my backpack, he came to school and slept in a box under my desk. I had no idea love could be so easy and uncomplicated. It just happened, and I let it happen. His presence created so much joy in such a short time, and then his absence brought with it so much pain.  I leaned into my community and let myself be loved by them even more in Chimbo’s absence. I had no idea losing a pet would feel that way, especially a pet that I had for such a short time. But love isn’t measured in hours or days or weeks or years. It just Is. And it doesn’t stop, our capacity to love doesn’t stop when we experience a loss. I thought for a brief time I could never go through that again. Then I realized I had to because it is a big part of what gives life meaning.

The pendulum of life swings, it never stops.  Around the same time, we lost a friend in a tragic accident. When living abroad certain things seem to happen at a faster pace. There were 75 foreign teachers at my school and about 200 nationals. Relationships form quickly, bonds are forged and new families emerge. Within weeks it was as if we’d known each other forever. We leaned on each other for everything. At that time we didn’t have smartphones, and most us didn’t have computers so email and social media weren’t how we spent our days, and weeks might pass before we spoke with our biological families. But I never felt alone. 

When Will died he left a gaping hole in many lives. My dear friend Karine lost her husband. His parents lost a son, and his brothers lost one of their own. Our Ecuadorian family lost a friend. Broken hearts everywhere.

I took all that love that had been directed to Chimbo and I poured it into others who needed me. And this is what I learned, what he taught me in his short life. Love is what heals. Withholding love is crushing and suffocating and complicated. Giving love, feeling love, is actually easy and freeing and helps the heart recover. Love doesn’t always need words or even actions. It can be felt anywhere, anytime. Chimbo loved no matter what. And even though I was grieving too, I found the best way to recover was to just love as much as possible, like he would. Simply, unconditionally,  and without complications.