Christmas is traditionally a time for gifts given and received. And this Christmas, I’ve been thinking about one particular gift — a changed life. And all it took was a series of kindnesses, topped off by the outsized personality of a dog those kindnesses led to.
I’ve told the story of how I went to the Rose City Classic dog show and met a bunch of wonderful Irish Water Spaniel owners and handlers. And how one handed me some leashes and asked me to help bring her IWS into the show building, and how several more folks dragged me from one grooming table to another to show off their dogs. It was a busy, overwhelming hubbub.
Out of that hubbub came the first kindness. One of those people, Colleen R., invited me to her home to meet her two IWS, so that I could meet some outside of a show environment. She didn’t have to do that — it was simple kindness on her part. And with invitations from people you don’t know, it’s not always easy to tell whether the invitation is sincere or is just one of those nice things people say that they don’t expect anyone to actually take them up on.
But Colleen gave me her phone number, so when I was in her town visiting a friend of mine, I thought, “well, I’m here. Perhaps I should go meet those IWS.” And that’s where the second kindness came in.
I’m not always particularly brave around people I don’t know. I can get tongue tied and self-conscious. My friend, Valli, though, she’s always been brave this way. She’s willing to talk to almost anybody, anywhere. Like the time she went to some stranger’s door to ask them the species of plant they had lining their wall, or the time she asked three young guys in a dodgy neighborhood to help us when my car wouldn’t start.
So I asked her, would you go with me to this lady’s house to meet her dogs? I don’t know this lady at all, I cautioned her. Fortunately, Valli is brave and she loves dogs, so she said sure, she’d come with me.
So I called Colleen, and since she was home entertaining Amy, another IWS friend, she invited Valli and I to join in. When we got there, I was about as tongue-tied as I feared I would be. Valli picked up the slack, though, asking questions and talking about her own dogs, and gradually, I was able to participate in the conversation while falling in love with Colleen’s two IWS.
From that conversation came referrals to a breeder who had a puppy, and after many conversations and emails with the breeder, came Cooper.
But Cooper was in Minnesota. I live in Oregon. How was I going to get a puppy from Minnesota to Oregon? Well, that’s where the third kindness came in.
Tammy, who owned Cooper’s sire, was also getting a puppy, and Tammy’s parents live in Vancouver, right across the river from Portland. So since Tammy was flying to Minnesota to get her puppy, she offered to ship Cooper (and a third litter mate who was going to Amy) as freight on her return flight to the Portland airport. All Russ and I had to do was show up at Tammy’s parents’ house and pick up our puppy.
Those three kindnesses by those three wonderful women changed my entire life. I’ve often felt that in finding Cooper, and in seeing what I can do with him, I’ve found a focus for my life, goals to work toward, and people I want to associate with.
It’s almost impossible to describe how big a change this is if you didn’t know me before Cooper. Before, I was generally direction-less, living the first 53 years of my life doing whatever life threw at me or whatever other people wanted me to do, not really having any long-term goals of my own. Don’t get me wrong — I did a lot of good stuff: marriage to a great guy, travel, graduate school, a series of pretty good jobs. But after each of these, they all (except for the marriage) left me feeling, “so now what?”
But after Cooper, particularly after we could see how beautiful he is, and how driven to work with us, that’s when I started forming my own goals toward achievements I wanted to reach for myself. That focus has been a unifying force, bringing me into all new experiences with all new people. It’s been wonderful.
I am just about certain that if I were to ask Colleen, Valli, or Tammy about what they did for me, they would say that it was no big deal.
But it has turned out that their kindness made a tremendous difference in my life. So how does this relate to Christmas and gifts? Well, I’ve been thinking about where I can be kind to someone else. And examining those moments when I think I’m too tired or too busy to give someone a small kindness. And wondering if perhaps some small thing I do might be a part of changing someone else’s life for the better, forever.