Leave the World Better Than How You Found It
For as long as I can remember, I have always been connected to animals. When I was four years old, my family moved to North Carolina from Illinois. I spent most of my days outside hanging out with my friends — the animals. We had a big back yard, and I spent hours combing every inch of it. It was full of birds, flying squirrels, turtles, frogs and crawfish near the creek. And while I played with the neighborhood children, I quickly developed friendships with the neighborhood dogs. I actually enjoyed hanging out with them more than I did people. They understood me, and I understood them.
Even from that young age, I could communicate quite easily with animals. It was a wordless communication, an energy exchange that was as natural to me as human communication. I would talk for hours with my dog, Ginger, a beautiful collie mix, who was gentle and kind. She would patiently listen to me as I shared my thoughts and feelings with her. At nighttime, she would curl up right beside me, giving me her warmth and her love. Life in my home was difficult, so I was grateful to have a friend to turn to. She and I became inseparable — she looked after me, and I looked after her. Her mothering nature soothed and calmed me, and she always knew just what I needed.
Ginger and I took to the streets every day; that is, we walked our circle and visited all the various dogs in the neighborhood. In fact, it was her idea to start with. I had noticed her making daily rounds in the late morning and finishing them up in the early afternoon. Puzzled as to her whereabouts during that time, I decided I would follow her. First, she stopped at the next door neighbor’s house where Butch lived. Butch was an English Bulldog, a gruff sort of fellow whose bottom teeth protruded in a serious underbite. He reminded me of a gargoyle, not only in his looks, but also in his mannerisms. He always stood stock still and stared. A dog of few words, he made his presence known by taking a spot and remaining there until he decided to move. No doubt about it, Butch stood his ground! When Ginger visited him, I would watch her quietly approach him. Then she would sit down, and the two would look out on the grass and trees and birds as they quietly communed with nature and one another. I sat down, too. After a while, she would get up and walk off; I followed.
I realized that she had a mission: to make everyone she came in contact with feel cared for, to feel noticed.
This was her pattern every day. She deliberately made her way up and down the circle, picking the houses with dogs and visiting with each one. I realized that she had a mission: to make everyone she came in contact with feel cared for, to feel noticed. Not only did she stop at houses with dogs, but she also visited people. One day I followed her up a driveway and right onto a porch where an older lady sat. The lady looked lonely to me, and Ginger must have noticed that as well. On the porch was a bowl of water, as if the lady expected to see Ginger. I suspect they had met before. Though she was a neighbor, only a few houses from ours, I had never even noticed her. I introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Tami. I live there,” pointing a stubby finger toward our house.
I was all of six years old. She took my hand and held it with both of hers, her eyes filling with tears. That afternoon, we sat on the porch just hanging out — a dog, a kid and an older person who had nobody else to sit with her.
Ginger’s kindness and compassion for others left a huge impression on me.
Ginger and me
I always felt so good after our rounds, like we had connected in a very special way to the hearts of people and animals. Ginger’s kindness and compassion for others left a huge impression on me. I wanted to be like her; she embodied a pureness of heart.
I realize now that Ginger was a mother figure to me, taking all the hugs that I offered as she soothed my sad tears over my family. But she was also a master teacher who shared her valuable wisdom in how she lived her life.
Of the many lessons she taught me, these are true stand-outs:
- No one should go unnoticed because we all matter.
- See others for who they really are; look past their many defenses.
- Be compassionate in all directions.
- Hang out with your friends.
- Look for the beauty and the best in everyone.
Today, I try to live my life as she lived hers. I make sure to notice the small things, the details about others that might go unnoticed. Ginger left the world better off than how she found it. I am following in her footsteps. Perhaps you’ll join me along the path?
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