Three years ago today, my own personal guru moved into our house. My husband and I went to the animal shelter just to "look."
We went to look for a puppy. What we found was an eight-year-old malnourished little mutt with eyes that were two different colors. She was not at all what we wanted. We couldn’t imagine adopting a senior dog and having to endure the loss of her so soon. We hadn't even completely recovered from the loss of Cleo a year earlier.
But when we sat with Grace in the courtyard of the shelter, I burst into tears. Jeremy immediately knew that this dog was our dog, because whenever something important happens -- I burst into tears. We decided that we didn't care how old she was. Whatever time we could have with this sweet soul was completely worth it.
We paid our $50 and we took home our Catahoula leopard dog/blue heeler/who knows what else.
We joyfully surrendered to the unknown.
But Grace was kind of a mess.
We knew very little about her past, other than the fact that she had been living on the streets for a while. Her claws were so long they wrapped around and dug into the pads of her feet. Half of her teeth had to be pulled because they were rotted. She didn’t know how to play. The sound of clapping made her cower. She had terrible nightmares that left her snarling and whimpering and snapping at anything she could reach. Life had not been easy for this dog.
Even with that history, watching her come into her own over the past three years has taught me incredible lessons about stillness, joy, acceptance, love, and indeed -- grace.
She reminds me that everyone has a past, sometimes wonderful and sometimes challenging. We need to acknowledge it, learned from it, and then let go. I don't know exactly what Grace has gone through. She has a deep affection for the sound of an ice cream container being opened, so she's clearly got some fond memories from her old life, too. But really, the details are irrelevant.
That's the amazing thing about her. Grace doesn't care if you're divorced or you got fired or your parents sucked at showing affection. She just cares about this moment right here. How it feels to be present together. Nothing else matters to her.
As I transition from total denial of my former acting career -- to embracing it and defining its place in my current life -- this is an incredibly valuable lesson.
We all carry connections to our past. As we should. Those experiences made us who we are and homage should be paid. Grace still gets excited when she sees a dumpster since that was presumably the only way she ate for a while. Similarly, I still retain some of my old acting skills like hitting a mark and memorizing dialogue effortlessly. But those things don't need to be in the foreground anymore. They don't need to take precedence over what is going on - just here, just now.
So, Grace and I learn how to put our pasts in the proper place. I still love and accept her when she feels the need to defend her food, and she does the same for me when I roll my eyes at the red carpet coverage of the Oscars. Then we both take a deep breath and feel gratitude that everything that ever happened brought us to this moment right here.
And there is a lot to be grateful for. Grace reminds me that just going for a walk can be an absolutely thrilling experience.
And sometimes sitting quietly on the porch and watching the birds is the best way to spend an afternoon.
And when you love someone unconditionally, you wait for them right outside the bathroom door, because it's just nice to be close by.
She teaches me that we are all in this together - this struggle to live the best way that we can while deciding how we want to respond to the world around us. We might not have control over everything, but we control our perspective and how we want to live in the uncertainty. Despite everything, Grace has chosen wholehearted joy.
And since we are all in this together, love is always the answer. Whatever wounds we have can be soothed by the love that comes from waiting outside the bathroom door for someone - when you know they would totally wait for you, too.
Happy birthday, Gracie.
ETA: Grace passed away in 2016, but she holds a permanent place in my heart.