Be Grateful for Goodbyes


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, its also a time to be grateful for what you don't have in your life.

Gratitude lists are timely this time of the year as American Thanksgiving beckons. Many of us are thankful for the family, friends, pets, and blessings that are in our lives. However, we should also be grateful for what is not in our reality anymore. While it sounds counter-intuitive it really is not. For everything that leaves our lives, something equal or better enters, and this includes people, places, and things. Some spiritual teachings say that we must discern what is or is not in our best interest. Sometimes what leaves our lives is a matter of timing and/or they are simply not in our best interest to keep around. Since 2008, losing the Rockies and Canada as my places of residences were grateful loses because it opened up the space and place to have California as home sweet home. Long-time friends have remained but in July 2011 I lost my 16 year old German Shepherd named Benjie. He had been in frail health after several bouts of cancer and he had been with the family through a major move. Benjie outlived the average age of his breed whose life expectancy is approximately 10 to 13 years. When Bejnie went to the Rainbow Bridge last summer I was convinced that he was the last of my German Shepherds. The thought of another dog felt wrong. In all honesty it was selfish because I just couldn't bear the thought of going through the loss of another beloved canine again. 

Benjie was the perfect dog. Yes, every guardian thinks their pet is the best. The truth is they all are. Pets pick us in my opinion. Benjie was protective, alert, and his bark was nowhere near his bite. Typical of his breed he was a big softie underneath. Fierce and loyal, tough and tender, guard dog to the end but loving and kind. He was my protector, my friend, and in my heart the best Ambassador for his breed. Benjie had all those German Shepherd qualities that has marked the breed: intelligent, quick to train, obedient, and athletic. In his last few years his deterioration was tough to watch. The noble nature of a German Shepherd left him as arthritis and senility took hold. I held on to him as long as I could and finally, when it became evident it was his time, he spent the night crying in pain and also because he knew he was going to heaven. The first week without him I was in grief and I didn't care that people thought it was silly to want to see a pet bereavement counselor. By Thanksgiving 2011 I was able to be thankful to have had such a "braverhund" (good dog) in my life or so long. Like many have said on German Shepherd facebook fan sites, anyone who thinks a dog can't love you back has never known the love of a German Shepherd. The first few months after Benjie was gone I'd tear up at the site of a Deutscher Schaferhund (the breed's name in its native Deutsch) in an ad or if I saw a K-9 in the BART with its handler.

Famous last words. Six months after saying goodbye to Benjie I received a surprise Valentine's Day gift in the form of a 9 week old puppy named Bode. Named after U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller, mein hund (my dog) is the polar opposite of Benjie. I suspect he may have some old East German Shepherd in his blood. Bode is badass to the core, an independent thinker, rough and tumble, but I can't say "Ich liebe dich" (I love you) enough for this canine. Between his demands for a run or when he swats me with his paw because he wants to play fetch, I wouldn't change a thing. Bode got me practicing German phrases again when I started teaching him German commands as soon as he was three months old. His intensity is all right by me. So I am grateful for Benjie's goodbye because Bode was able to fill the void.

The same is true with people. This past spring and summer I met Joshua. He was a college athletic star, handsome, looked almost like the young Michael Weatherly on NCIS. Joshua had rustic blond hair and baby blue eyes. He had grown up in the Pacific Northwest and loved his dog as much as I adore my Bode. Something was up though with Joshua. Maybe its female intuition or just the inconsistencies that added up. I had a hunch early on, a gut instinct, that grew until our conversations turned into interrogations from me that would have made Gibbs on NCIS proud. A part of of me wonders sometimes what would have happened if we had met in the dog park to play Frisbee with our hounds. I am willing to bet money that Bode would have signaled to me that Joshua was bad news. He was not a bad person. He just had a lie that he couldn't hide. Long story short, Joshua fabricated his education and occupation to such an extent that for his sake, I hope for him that he didn't tell his employer the same story. Why? They would have cause to fire him for misrepresentation.

Joshua lacked a graduate degree but he claimed he studied forensic psychology in a Criminal Justice program. He also was not the high ranking forensic investigator specializing in uncovering financial malfeasance at major banking and investment institutions. Instead he was a rent-a-cop manager at a department store in the Bay Area. It didn't take genius to figure it all out. Just LinkedIn data in the public domain. So I said goodbye to you to Joshua and decided to be as suspicious as Bode the next time.

A month later the next time came. God really does have a sense of humor. I met the real deal and more by accident. His name was Ridley. Between his voice and its air of certainty and his matter-of-fact way of speaking, my usual guard went down. He was different from Joshua in every way. The things that Joshua wanted to be, could only dream of being, Ridley was in actuality. Ridley was more handsome than Joshua with his dark hair and deep brown eyes. He resembled Colin Farrell minus the wear and tear look that the actor seems to have at times. Joshua had a charming boyish quality but Ridley was a man in the way that Sean Connery is. He was the type of guy you can't imagine ever being a kid. There was that subtle kind of confidence versus Joshua's bravado. While Joshua would insist he didn't lie (major clue that he was a liar), Ridley never said anything like that. It wasn't a statement he needed to say with insistence. As for our conversations, it never dawned on me to go into "Gibbs" mode because Ridley was in full disclosure himself. Acts of honesty beget honesty. He told me right away that he had been married and was already a parent. Divorced men with children are a dealbreaker for me to agree to have a date with. Perhaps it was his "being" again that had me overwrite my own rules without concern. For most it would still matter but for the few, like Ridley, it wouldn't be an issue. I'd rather take honesty and a past that resulted from committment than a lie and life that shows a lack of committed choices as consequence.

As an aside I agree that you can tell alot about a person by the kind of dog breed they have. Not so much with cats and I'm also a cat person. German Shepherds are characterized for their loyalty. It's no wonder they are one of the working breeds trusted to protect their handlers because of their deep loyalty and fierce protectiveness. Their human parents are, for the most part, the same. My loyalty or anyone else's for that fact should never be given lightly. I, for one, reserve mine for people who are straight talkers, upfront, and honest. Joshua will never have it. Joshua did not have a German Shepherd. Clue. 

From the start Ridley had me in the mode of full disclosure and I knew not why. It didn't bother me. Actually it was rather refreshing. Usually my private self was well ... private but Ridley's demeanor just brought out that side. Anything he asked about my past I answered with more detail. There was this visceral sense of not wanting to hide a thing from him. I acted not out of fear but more from a feeling of respect. Sometimes how a person is "being" creates the psychological state of projected identification. This means they bring out aspects of you that resonates with how they think. Ironically, I had absolutely no idea how real the real deal was until Ridley and I met one night for dinner. We talked for at about two hours and when I learned why I was behaving the way I was with him, it all made sense. Joshua's deception had, for the most part, created a kind of unease that was inexplicable until the truth came out. Ridley had the opposite effect. I wanted to tell him everything even if it meant opening myself up to judgement. Instead of unease it was a feeling of safety that his behavior and mannerisms seemed to generate in me. There was something remarkably refreshing about being unable and unwilling to hide the honest truth from someone you just met.

So like Benjie's departure opened the door to Bode, Joshua's exclusion from my life created the space to meet Ridley. Unlike Bode, Ridley was a brief interaction, more by my choice in my perspective. He wanted to be friends but my gut instinct told me to decline. The reason was that he wasn't like the other male friends in my life. These are friendships whom I have a mutual sibling sentiment with. I said no to Ridley out of my gut reaction. How so? My gut instinct has steered me well since I was 16. I left home as a teenager and was far away from family early in life and whatever it tells me I follow. For a moment I ignored it with Joshua and it proved to have been a mistake but a good learning experience. My gut kept giving me a hunch that there was something off and it was true. The opposite end was true again with Ridley. He had me feeling the vibe of safety and protection right away but staying friends would have created a "Just Friends" situation just like the 2004 movie. So to protect against unnecessary eventual disappointment, I had to say nein (no) to guard myself from that. You don't fancy your friends ever because it's setting yourself up for avoidable time wasting letdown. I had to say "Auf Wiedersehen" (Good-Bye) because I simply needed to.

If I had to guess, I am certain that Bode would have signaled two paws up if he had met Ridley. However, I am grateful for Ridley's appearance in my life. He reminded me that the genuine article (the real thing) is possible to meet so quickly after a counterfeit (an imitation or worse, a fraud). It was another good learning experience to be thankful for because it reinforced exactly why everyone should only want the real thing in their life, whether it be people, places, pets, and things. Now I am grateful in advance for who I will meet next. 

Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, Bode and Ridley too.

What's on your gratitude list this year?