During Gretchen’s first year as a teacher (many many many years ago), she worked with a woman who’d been a teacher for a long time. This woman carried around a wad of keys and every time she came down the school hallway, Gretchen could hear her coming because the jingle-jangle of her keys was deafening. She had a key for every possible lock a the school — the offices, the classrooms, the janitor’s room, the bathrooms, the storage closets, the gym, the locker rooms, even the keys to the Driver’s Ed cars. Everything.
“With all those keys, you must be the person in charge of everything,” said Gretchen one day.
When I hear Gretchen get ready for work, I kind of know what she heard down her school hallway. The jingle jangle of her keys isn’t quite deafening, but they can wake me from a dead sleep. Granted, we don’t have that many keys to work with as that former teacher, but we do have quite a few. Are we in charge, though? I don’t think so. I think “time” is in charge of our lives and the key to everything for us is managing time as best we can.
Still, I started to think about the idea that there is a key to everything — you know, something that unlocks the world before you and opens up all the possibilities. Rationally, I know there isn’t such a key, but there are days when I really want there to be or think there actually is such a key.
“Good question, Monty. I’m not really sure,” I answered. “I think it is probably a different kind of key every day.”
So for the past two weeks (since I’ve unable to manage my time well and get this blog done every week and am now two blogs behind…which I’m wrapping all into this one)…for the past two weeks, I’ve been searching for the key to everything in my life. And here’s what I came up with:
1. The key to everything on a Monday is different than all the other keys to the days of the week
Yes, I know every day, every event, every thing has a different key, but Mondays seem particularly different for some reason. Mondays come quickly and often I don’t feel ready for them. Gretchen works 6 days a week and when she’s petting sitting (which she did during this blog’s two-week period), she works 7 days a week and while I didn’t help her at all with her latest pet sitting gig (I’ll explain in a moment), Mondays are always considered a beginning of our week and Sundays the end. So, it seemed only natural that the pet sitting gig (with two dogs and THREE cats) ended on a Sunday and we started over fresh again on Monday.
Only the Monday after Gretchen’s Sunday return was hard to distinguish this time from all the other days of the week because we got up early again and started right into another week’s worth of work — dog walking, more pet sitting, and work at the pool. I kind of felt like one of those rats on a spinning wheel stuck in a cage and I complained a lot!
“Oh Rubin,” Gretchen said, “The key to surviving is to find your restart button.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Some place deep inside of you where you can lighten your mental and emotional load by letting go, turning yourself around, and seeing this Monday as unique and different from all the rest.”
Then we came across a story on the internet about a professor who was trying to explain how stress can hurt you. She said it was like holding a glass of water. You can hold that glass of water for 10 minutes and not really feel anything, but if you hold it for a day, your arm will get tired. If you hold it for a week, you’ll get cramps in your hand and spasms in your shoulder and it will be difficult to unwrap your hand from the glass. “That,” the professor said, “Is what happens when we worry and hold onto the stresses of our lives. You have to set down the glass of water and let it go because if you hold onto it for too long, you’ll really damage yourself.’
So that’s what Gretchen and I started to do. We visually set down our imaginary glass of worry water, especially on Sundays, and start over once again without that glass of water on Mondays. Therefore, the key to everything on Mondays is to begin open handed.
I have a lot of friends — canine and human — but my relationships with my canine friends are some of my most complicated. Each friendship has a different key that makes it work.
For instance, the key to my relationship with my buddy Monty is OPTIMISM. Monty is the most optimistic dog I know. He is kind and patient and goofy and sees every day as a day of happiness and joy. When I spend my day with Monty, I let go of all my worries and smile a lot…even in the rain…even in my raincoat…even when Gretchen’s camera gets all steamed up and the photo doesn’t turn out okay…I still smile and feel unending joy whenever I’m with Monty.
Another example is my friendship with Paige. Unlike Monty, Paige has a purpose for every single moment of every single day. She is as alert as Monty is laid back. She is driven and focused and stubborn and persistent and most importantly, she has a mind of her own. But she is also really really sensitive and it is perhaps this sensitivity that makes me love her so. The key to my relationship with Paige is letting her be in charge.
This isn’t difficult to do — she takes the lead ALWAYS — and I willingly follow. But there’s also a smaller key to our relationship…and that key is knowing that, despite Paige’s bold and confident personality, she needs the love of her friends as much as any other dog. Therefore, I know the key for Paige is to see me (and some of our other friends) every once in awhile so she can know that we all love her immensely.
Roux is the same. She is SOOOO excited to see us when we arrive, it’s often difficult to walk her for the first ten minutes. She’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes her excitement can be overwhelming for me. This partly due to the fact that when excited, she barks uncontrollably, but she also loves to run and frolic and that, I find, is the key to keeping her happy on our walks — a chance to really let loose to expend all that pent up excitement. Therefore, I’ve learned to just turn the other way when she howls with delight!
And then there are Carter and Kali. Talk about different keys for different dogs!
Carter is as goofy as Kali is sweet. Carter is as adventuress as Kali is subdued. Walking these two is a lesson in balancing Yin and Yang — Kali is the Yin to Carter’s Yang and I am the space between the two of them. While I want to curl up on the couch with Kali, I want to play a wild game of chase in the woods with Carter.
3. Which leads me to the knowledge that sometimes you need more than one key.
I learned this recently when Rosie the Boxer joined our pack. Tyson the Boxer has lived with his family as the only dog for over a year now. His former sister, also named Rosie, passed sadly last year and Tyson has been an only dog during that time. Well, about three weeks ago, a new Rosie joined his family and despite the similarities in names, Rosie is NOTHING like the former Rosie at all. First, she’s young (about 2 years old) and even though she needs to gain some weight and has some skin and eye issues, she’s as healthy as a horse.
But she’s also high strung, reactive, and very very energetic. And I mean VERY with capital letters.
This has been a challenge for all of us, but I’ve realized the key to everything is to stay calm. Yes, these words of advice come from me — the dog who is anything but calm. Still, when I was first introduced to Rosie, I quickly learned that the calmer I could be the more likely she’d be to trust me. So, while she barked and barked and barked at me for a full half hour of our first hour walk together, I didn’t pay her the least bit of attention…I just kept walking calmly by Gretchen’s side and eventually Rosie stopped barking and just walked next to me, semi-content.
The other key with Rosie is that I need to be a good role model. She reacts to things — like bicycles and other dogs and sometimes people (mostly men) — and while I have been known to react at times, when walking with Rosie, I do not react at all. In fact, I just look straight ahead and listen to every direction Gretchen gives us — Sit, Look, Wait, Stay — I am like an A+ student trying to earn more points.
Hopefully it’s helping Rosie. I know Tyson is impressed, but then he knows that he has to be as diligent and obedient because with three of us on a leash, Gretchen truly has her hands full. Thank Dog we have yet to see a cat because I’m not sure I could stay calm and obedient (nor could Tyson) if we came across a cat!
4. If one key doesn’t work, try another.
I learned this lesson walking with Henri and Bella. Bella and Henri may look alike, but trust me, they are polar opposites in many many ways. For every ounce of Bella’s confidence, Henri is equally cautious. Very ounce of Bella’s curiosity, Henri is equally reserved. Walking them together can be kind of comical as a result. Bella is way ahead and Henri dawdles behind. Bella is ready to see what’s around the next corner while Henri stops in his tracks and wants to go a different way.
The key at first was to encourage Henri during the entire walk. “Good boy, Henri,” Gretchen would say ever 100 steps and his stiff little tail would wag and wiggle and he’d trot onward. But then even the encouragement didn’t quite cut it and we had to use a different tactic — ignoring him and just walking forward. Soon her learned that no matter his trepidation, we were going down this block and around that corner and over to that field and avoiding that dog or those people with the screaming children.
The key for Bella never changes — she’s in charge and don’t forget it. Of course, I think she’s in charge because she knows Henri needs that stability, but still, she’s quite good at it!
5. As you get older, the keys change.
I am about to turn 6 years old. My family and I are amazed that 6 years have passed so quickly, but here I am, on the cusp of being 6 years old and when I look back over the years, I realize I am like the teacher Gretchen used to know — I have a lot of keys on my chain!
Many of those keys involve natural herbs and medications, but they also involve friendships, new experiences, love, patience, and lots and lots of training. As I age, we keep adding keys to help me overcome my fears and anxieties, my impatience and medical conditions. One key is exercise (something I need a lot of) while another key is massage and acupuncture. Some days the key is a little bit of cooked chicken in my dish and on other days I prefer some grated cheese. Some days the key is rest on my favorite couch in the living room and on other days, I need a romp with my friends through the woods.
I think most dogs (and people for that matter) need many keys for everything — except maybe Woobie who seems to be the only dog I know who rolls with the punches better than anyone else (human or canine). Even Woobie, though, needs her family more than she needs anything else so while she’s happy to go on an outing or hang out with us at the house, she loves racing back to her house to see her Mom and Dad and the new baby, West every time we return.
Anyway, as I grow older I find that I collect keys on my chain that allow me to adapt and change with every new and sometimes old situation. On my chain are keys that I name. There is a key of LOVE, there is one for CUDDLES. There is GOOD FOOD key as well as keys for TREATS and FRIENDS and FAMILY and ADVENTURE and REST and ROMPS. There are keys for MASSAGE and BODY WORK and keys for GOOD HEALTH. There are keys I carry for others and keys I’ve loaned out. There are colorful keys and old keys and keys that I sometimes forget about.There are keys that are very loud and others that hide in my pocket. There are keys that need oil and others that fit into more than one lock. There are keys that open up patience and peace and others that make me bark and wiggle.
Yes, my key chain is heavy and as much as I’d love to be in charge with just ONE KEY, I know that my life is much more full with lots of keys in it. I’m just thankful I don’t have to carry all those keys by myself! And that perhaps is the Key to Everything — having others in my life who love to share my keys and share their own. I sure hope all of you have an abundant key chain and loved ones who understand how important those keys are to you!
Until next week!