16: Life Lessons from the Lab

16: Life Lessons from the Lab

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Life Lessons from the Lab

Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

~Lao Tzu

Several years ago in Oregon, three climbers on Mount Hood slipped off a ledge and slid more than five hundred feet in the ice and snow. After spending the night on the mountainside in whiteout conditions, with winds swirling at up to seventy miles per hour, the signals they beamed with a live transmitter were picked up by rescuers down below.

Despite the nifty technology that helped to pinpoint the climbers’ location, one of the rescuers gave credit to Velvet, the black Labrador Retriever that had accompanied the climbers and huddled with them throughout the bitter night. “The dog probably saved their lives,” he said.

What I love about this story — besides the fact that they were all rescued safe and sound — is that Velvet became a hero by virtue of just being a dog. There was no mention of the Labrador’s extraordinary valor or intelligence or training. Apparently, Velvet’s big life-saving technique was The Huddle. There she was, along for the climb, and when the going got rough, Velvet the Life-Saving Dog just lay there in a heap with the climbers, sharing warmth on a cold night.

Although my own black Lab has never rescued me from an 11,239-foot mountain, she has saved the day more than once when I’ve felt a frown coming on. And just like Velvet, what Lizzie does comes as naturally and instinctively to her as licking the dirt off her paws or rolling around on her back spastically when she has an itch to scratch.

When life gets too complicated, when the demands on my time are more numerous than there are hours in a day, Lizzie will rush up to me with her suggestion, tail wagging, leash in mouth. Somehow she knows there’s nothing like a walk for slowing down your day, for taking in a breath of fresh air, and, as they say, for stopping to smell the roses — although I don’t think that’s quite what Lizzie stops to smell along the way.

Every day, she reminds me that when someone comes through the door, returning home from work or from school or just stopping by for a visit, there’s only one way to respond. Put on a happy face. No matter what kind of day she’s had, whether she’s been out for hours or cooped up in the house all day, she never fails to run to the door and shower whoever enters with all the drooly affection of her canine heart.

In Lizzie’s world, there’s no time to waste on fussy little details that could eat up time when there are so many more satisfying things to, well, eat. Just throw some of those nuggets from that giant bag of food in one bowl, pour a little water in the other and watch it disappear. Same food, same bowls, same enthusiastic response night after night. Why not be happy with what you’ve got?

She pulls out her best mood-altering tactic when I’m sitting at the little round table in the alcove in our kitchen. There I am, helping with homework or sewing ribbons onto ballet shoes, paying bills or just kicking back with a book. The next thing you know, this warm mound of fur plunks herself down at my feet, wrapping her front paws tightly around one of my ankles, as if to say: “It’s about time you’re sitting down. Why don’t you stay a while?” I like to think of it as a hug.

In fact, if all else fails, Lizzie’s solution is as simple as it is effective. Wherever you are, in the middle of the morning, in the middle of a movie, in the middle of anything — except, of course, dinner — it doesn’t matter. Just nod off. Take a nap. And when you come back to join the rest of the world, surely you will have regained your stride.

There’s nothing like a dog to remind me that in this complex world we really need to stay in touch with a simpler existence. As Velvet showed us, just being who you are is enough to make you a hero. And as long as you’ve got food in your bowl, a warm bed to curl up in and someone to wag your tail for, I mean, come on. Life is good.

~Rita Lussier

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