What do a sick German Shepherd and a heart-opening retreat experience have in common? A lot more than you’d think! And it has everything to do with living a full-color life.
On Saturday, November 7th, at 8:00pm PST, I’m throwing a birthday concert bash to benefit the Jazz Camp West scholarship fund. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can join me live in 3D—click here to reserve a seat.
PLUS, if you’re anywhere else in the world, you can still join me live, because I’ll be streaming the entire thing online!
The venue has been donated, so 100% of the funds I receive (after any payment processing fees) go directly to pay for scholarships to Jazz Camp West.
Lessons from a Sick Dog
My parents have been on a long trip back East to visit my nephew (aka their grandson), so MM and I have been dog sitting for their German Shepherd, Chloe.
Chloe is about eight years old now, but she still has the energy of a (very energetic) puppy, combined with a bit of an ADD personality. She’s a sweetheart, but it’s a lot more work for me when she’s around, and honestly, sometimes she drives me crazy.
The house is harder to clean, because in addition to kitty fluffs, the carpet is covered with doggie fluffs.
It takes me longer to get to work in the morning because I have to brush and feed her, and put on and take off her doggie booties every time she goes outside so she doesn’t track muddy pawprints all over the carpet.
There are permanent gouges in the beautiful bamboo floor in my studio from her claws…
There are the inevitable “standoffs” between her and Nika, my cat, which need a certain amount of monitoring…
And there are the inevitable “contributions” to the carpet that require a lot of elbow grease and stain remover…
That said, when she stopped eating for three days, and then vomited (on the white carpet!), all irritation gave way to concern, and MM and I immediately made an appointment to take her in to the vet.
Thankfully, everything is okay—they hydrated her with a liter of water under her skin (she looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame!), gave her some anti-nausea meds, and sent us home with antibiotics and instructions to feed her only cottage cheese, white rice, or boiled chicken breast for three days.
We were so relieved when her appetite came back and she was back to her normal “four-legged vacuum” behavior. (This dog LIVES for food!)
The really interesting thing, though, was how Chloe’s illness made both me and MM feel closer to her.
This is one of the gifts of vulnerability.
Chloe was so vulnerable when she was sick, and it pulled us in. Our loving feelings rose to the top, above any annoyance we felt at having to clean up after her.
I noticed MM being more attentive to her than he’d ever been before, and my heart softened as well.
We were able to appreciate her more, and we were more able to feel the love that was already inside us because she showed us her vulnerability.
It’s the same for humans.
At Life is a Verb Camp the last weekend of September, I experienced over and over again how vulnerability forges a connection where nothing else can.
Evelyn Kalinosky, a woman at camp whom I’ve long admired (and honestly felt intimidated by, because she always seemed so elegant, savvy, and so much more financially successful than I am) got onstage and shared a heart rending story of undiagnosed illness, years of shaming “it’s all in your head” doctor visits, and the devastating realization that her husband no longer loved her just as she was being wheeled into an 11-hour surgery that wasn’t guaranteed to help and would likely leave her permanently diabetic.
Someone else, whom I see as unflappably confident and strong, stood up to share her story of being violently raped by a co-worker at age 27, and the painful aftermath of being a persona non grata at work for pressing charges, and going to court where her reputation was raked over the coals.
Another woman, who struck me as so much more “together” than I will ever be, got up to the microphone on the last night to share her painful story of mental illness and a suicide attempt.
This are just a tiny sampling of the stories I heard at camp. They were all as unique as the individuals telling them, but they all had one thing in common:
Their vulnerability made me feel more connected to them.
Our vulnerability is our strength.
We fear that our vulnerability is our weakness, that only if we limit our sharing to our carefully-crafted masks and shiny highlight reels will we be lovable. In fact, the opposite is true: the stories of vulnerability that people shared at camp made me love them all the more.
That woman I’d been intimidated by? I now felt powerfully drawn toward her.
Same thing with the other two, and all the other people at camp who shared their stories: I felt drawn to them, connected by a golden filament, a web of humanity, vulnerability, recognition, “I see you,” “I identify with you.”
Here’s what happened: I fell in love over and over that weekend, and it was people’s willingness to be vulnerable with each other that swelled my heart big enough to contain it all.
We fear that our dark side will scare people away, but in fact, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, it’s our cracks that let the light in. It’s our places of deepest shame and vulnerability that forge the most powerful connections with others.
This doesn’t mean you should share your most painful experiences with just anyone, however.
If Chloe had been surrounded by a pack of rabid wolves when she got sick, the outcome would not have been so pretty. People can act like rabid wolves, too, so it takes some thoughtfulness to know when and with whom it’s appropriate to expose your soft underbelly.
When you’re in a safe environment, though, sharing our dark stories generates love. As Patti Digh (best-selling author of Life is a Verb and other books, and the woman behind Life is a Verb Camp) says, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” Life is a Verb Camp had me feeling joyfully cuddled up next to 100+ people, and wanting to get even closer.
This works in the other direction, too.
Wes Angelozzi put it so beautifully when he wrote:
Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.
This is also true for ourselves.
The more I accept myself exactly as I am, warts and all, the more worthy of love I feel, and the more I grow into the greatest, truest version of me. Which, in turn, makes me more willing to be vulnerable.
It’s a virtuous circle.
Not a bad lesson from a sick dog. Thank you, Chloe!
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Life is a Verb Camp (you MUST GO!!!)
Life is a Verb, by Patti Digh
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