It dawned on me recently that our energy is like currency; we need to budget it just like we do with our personal finances and program budgets; ideally so that our revenue exceeds our expenditures. How we spend it – our energy – says a lot about who we are. And, perhaps what says even more is how we invest it, so that it will not only be renewed and return its value to us, but hopefully multiply it, exponentially. Maybe have some left over? Some available to share?
It’s so easy to focus on the negative; dwell on it. In the short-term it’s just so easy to get sucked into the drama. The news and media take us there – and try to keep us there – 24/7 and we can so easily fall into the trap of just ‘venting’, or having a rant or two. But it became clear to me that it’s the long view that matters most.
Our neighborhood is like a maze, and in our area, there is one way in, and one way out. No matter which way I go, in or out, I have to pass a particular house on the corner. For the longest time this was of no consequence to me; all I noticed was the manicured lawn, a remodel, a new car; the things you notice as you drive by every morning and every evening. When the garage is open I can see pristine cabinets, floors cleaner than my kitchen counters and two fancy sports cars. The folks who live there are a couple with fur kids, two very large Great Danes. But I guess that goes without saying…anyone ever seen a very small Great Dane? 🙂
I spent much of my life in great fear of most dogs because of experiences earlier in life; stories for another day. Given that, you can imagine my fear when passing by and seeing these large beasts roaming the front yard. Over time, I came to know that they would not leave the lawn area or rush after me as I ran, walked, or biked past their home. My brain had become trained to trust them and relax as I went by. When my son was little and an early walker, his head came up level with theirs, and there was always a fleeting sense of terror that ran through me, but it was always fine. Exhale. Their humans are decent enough, but not particularly warm or neighborly, and not the type to sit and visit with on the porch. And in fact, a neighborly wave would often not be returned.
Days and months and years passed by, following much of the same routine. During the holidays a couple of years ago, my son and I were riding our bikes to our neighborhood market; I needed butter for some baking. We were laughing about Bonnie and Ben biking to buy butter for baking – the affinity for alliteration is perhaps genetically predisposed? We were relaxed; it was one of those rare winter days with unseasonably warm days. As we approached the house on the corner, I saw one of their large dogs ambling about in the yard, in the very direction my son was headed. My first thoughts were that he’s fine; those dogs are fine when we go by, you don’t need to worry…”. Something in me was on high alert, but my brain wanted to override the message – I had been conditioned to trust these folks and their dogs. I wanted, needed, everything to be just as it was any other day. I’m not prone to drama, or over reacting, and true to form, I was trying to keep things smooth and normal. Before I knew it though, I heard my son screaming; and I look over and saw the dog affixed to my son’s leg, the dog was biting him and just not letting up. As I dropped my own bike and raced over to him, I realize the dog is not a Great Dane, it’s a Doberman. A completely different dog. I had trusted the wrong dog. More importantly, the humans. My internal alert system had been right, and I didn’t trust it.
The good news is that my son was ok; the skin was broken, but fortunately I had won the parent-child battle before we left the house and my son was wearing jeans vs. the shorts he had – in the ‘I think this kid could be a lawyer someday’ way – negotiated for. I shudder to think of the outcome had I not firmly put my foot down on the wardrobe issue. Between the jeans and the muzzle on the dog – I can’t go there either – I knew he’d be ok.
The dog’s human was apologetic, waxed eloquent about how the dog ‘just happened’ to get off leash, and kept trying to assure me; and my son; that this dog is not a bad dog. Part of it’s a blur, but I remember asking him if the dog was up to date on all of its shots. My brain accepted his answer and without realizing, I assumed that because of how manicured the house, lawn, garage, floor and cars were, then surely their dogs were well cared for. I was willing to let bygones be bygones. Things happen.
We went home to recover and call the pediatrician; we bagged on the butter and baking for that day. But later when finished, and sharing some goodies with our other neighbors, I learned that my son was not the first, nor the second, but more like the 4th or possibly even the 5th person to be bitten by this dog. I was furious to learn this; I immediately called animal control to report the bite. In the following days, I learned more from our other neighbors. Other neighbors have filed reports, written letters, one filed a civil suit after being hospitalized.
The long and short of it is that they avoid the authorities who have made numerous attempts to address them and continue to walk the dog throughout the neighborhood and have him off leash in their front yard. Not long ago the dog tore after a contractor working on a neighboring home who luckily had a nearby ladder to climb. Let me be clear, my fumes are about the people not the pup.
Each day I drive by this home, because I can’t avoid it, and I – mama bear – am reminded of that day. I take a very wide berth around their house; I cross the street to pass by on the opposite side of the street if I am running alone, biking/scootering with my son, or walking my own little white fluff of a mutt. Once, the female human cheerily said hello as we passed each other going in opposite directions; I could not bring myself to reply. I am angry with their irresponsible actions, what mother would let that slide?
My son is more forgiving than I am, always asking me why I am so mad at them when we pass by. And thankfully, unlike his mother, he did not generalize this experience to the rest of dog-kind. I can’t put into words the whole truth for him, that it would not have taken much at all to have a completely different, and terribly worse outcome that day. That the owner lied directly to me only added insult to injury.
So, what is the lesson waiting for me at the corner? Letting go. Choosing carefully how I spend my energy, remembering to invest it in ways that return it to me in dividends that are positive, that generate good and good will, not visions of voo-doo dolls. I realized recently that each time I drive by the house on the corner, my mood would darken and my thoughts would shift toward the negative, and I would feel that anger rushing in, like a storm front. Just like running your tongue over that same sore spot, over and over again, doesn’t help it heal, and instead only slows the healing. The same is true, I realized, for me. The more I stewed about these folks, the more I was draining my account, and it would never have any return, except a negative one, upon me and my family. What’s the point of that?
Those are expenditures I cannot afford, they are not in my budget and leave me depleted for the things that are worthy of my attention, love, affection, humor and compassion.
There is no Pollyanna here, it’s not being nice, the fact of the matter is, I can’t change who they are, or how they interact with our neighborhood. But, as I drive by each day, I can remember that it’s a lesson in mindfulness, on making the right choice. The choice that earns energy, or at the very least, saves it instead of spending it foolishly. This, I realize, has spilled over into other parts of my life. When people show up in my office to vent, I have to make the choice whether to absorb it or let the dark cloud walk out the door with them when they leave. Their dark cloud serves no purpose in my life and frankly, just creates more. When stuck in ridiculously frustrating events, traffic, parking lots at Trader Joes 🙂 – I have to remember it’s up to me for how I react, how I feel.
I realize there is always a choice to spend, save or invest. The folks on the corner – I still don’t ‘like them’ and I can’t make them care about the rest of us. But, I can just drive on by, and when on foot protect myself and my son by allowing a safe distance between us and their house. And it doesn’t have to leave me bankrupt at the end of the day.