Standing on that Bridge

Years ago, as teenagers, whenever a friend and I would drive over a bridge and see a person standing at the railings we’d yell, “Don’t jump!” and laugh as if it were the funniest, most original thing ever done. Sometimes we’d honk at the person as we screamed those words.

Yes, we were outrageously cool.

We’d continue on to our destination, usually with the radio blasting, driving and singing and never thinking again about the persons we left behind on the bridges we crossed.

Chances are the people we yelled those words at were not thinking of jumping but were merely walking along the bridge and stopped to see the view, or tie a shoe, or take a rest. But what if just one of those people were actually going through a tough time. Maybe they’d just suffered a devastating loss or received a life-changing health diagnosis or just felt so lost and hopeless that they weren’t sure if life was worth living anymore?

We were young and hadn’t yet lived long enough to experience the hard realities life can force in our paths. We were just beginning our journey in life and when you’re driving fast with the windows down on a gorgeous sunny day while belting out the lyrics to your favorite song, life is good. Life is great. And when you’re young and healthy it’s hard to believe life can be any other way.

Until it’s not. And then life experiences make you understand why some people linger on that bridge. People who don’t live their days, but merely get through them. People who watch life work out for others, but not for them, and then agonize over what they did wrong.

They get through life, as best they can, hoping and waiting for the day they are back in that car belting out their favorite song, only now they say nothing to the people on the bridge.

Life has taught them to know better.

People on a bridge

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Life Gets Better…Thanks Sandy.

Two years ago this month I started volunteering at an animal shelter. The first dog I bonded with was a Collie mix named Sandy. Sandy was an owner-surrender. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the surrender, but Sandy was very depressed. Her sadness showed in the way she moved – slow and heavy. Her body weighted, not from the extra pounds she carried, but from the confusion I suspect she felt when a crowded shelter became her new home.

I’ve been told that for a dog to go from a home to a shelter is as much of a shock as a free-living human-being waking up suddenly in a prison cell. Although the animals at my shelter are loved and well-taken care of, it doesn’t compare to a home once an animal’s lived in one. The confinement of a kennel, even one attached to a dog run, is jail to an animal accustomed to having free-range of a home.

Animal shelters, no matter how well-tended to, are loud. Dogs who are nervous bark. Dogs who are scared bark. Dogs who are anxious bark. And dogs who are just tired of being somewhere (we’ve had animals who’ve waited a year or longer for homes) bark. So when a dog like Sandy comes to the shelter, and is greeted with chaos she is not used, depression often sets in. Adjustments need to be made and these are abrupt for animals who knew a better life.

My fellow volunteers at the shelters love the animals they care for, and talk sweetly to them, but we are strangers to the dogs. And the ones who had an owner, and faithfully loved that owner and lived in a stable home (for at least a little while), being in a place with so many different hands touching you, no matter how gentle, can fill a dog with stress it never knew before.

Sandy wouldn’t eat, and as weeks went by her weight gradually dropped, but she still moved slowly and wasn’t enthusiastic about anything. There were special notes on her cage and on the dog’s track sheets that Sandy was only to be taken out in the grassy yard, and not the cement and pebbled ones, because all Sandy wanted to do was lie down. I’d lie with her in the grass, pet her, and take her head in my arms, and promise her that things would get better. She’d look at me with sadness in her eyes so deep and profound that I’d challenge anyone who dare say animals don’t have a soul.

I felt close to Sandy and bonded quickly with her because she resembled on the outside exactly the way I was feeling on the inside. I had been laid-off from my job a few months before and battling an illness that was threatening to flare-up again, and I was scared and lost in such profound hopelessness that I desperately searched for any sign that promised better days ahead.

“You’re gonna be okay,” I’d promise while kneeling in front of her and holding her head in my hands. “We both are.”

I kissed her a lot, comforted and reassured her in the ssme way I needed someone to reassure me.

Soon, Sandy was adopted. Her life was going to get better and I was so happy for her. She gave me hope that my life would get better, too.

Last summer I took my dog to a fundraising event for animal shelters. There were all kinds of doggie-themed tents there and as I made my way toward one of them, I stopped near a spectacle of people surrounding a closed-off area. I found a spot and watched as dogs performed tricks and ran through obstacle courses with their trainers, or owners, by their side. The happy dogs circled cones, ran through large cylinder-like tubes, slid down little slides, jumped over rope, and maneuvered across small teeter-totters.

One of the dogs looked a lot like Sandy, but i knew the dog now running excitedly through an obstacle course couldn’t be the same sad dog who ignored the toys scattered in the shelter yards and only wanted to lie down, or the over-weight, depressed dog who moved so slowly I often had to take half-steps when walking beside her. It couldn’t be that dog, and I was ready to walk away believing it wasn’t her, when a man holding a mic said, “Let’s give a big hand to Sandy!”

It was Sandy! My Sandy. And I was stunned. I couldn’t even move. The transformation was incredible. She was a completely different dog.

I couldn’t get to her. The crowd was too thick. But I wanted to reach her and pet her again and look into the eyes I was sure showed no more signs of sadness.

I wanted to tell her that I was happy her life was better, and let her know that mine was too.

Sadness doesn’t have to last forever. Life can, and will, get better.