When I was 26 years old, I stopped into a pet store one day to buy dog food for a friend’s dog, and I saw this tiny, sickly puppy in the corner of an enormous cage. His brown, pink-rimmed eyes were huge in his tiny head, and he was shaking uncontrollably. And although I’d never seen it in a dog before, he had a runny nose. He was one of the most pitiful creatures I’d ever seen, and of course I fell in love on the spot. On the front of the cage there was a sign. They’d originally been asking $2500 for him, but then he’d been slashed to $2000. Then $1500, $1000. By the time I got there, they were asking $500. They sent him out the door with me for $250. Two days later I had him at the vet, who told me to take him back to the pet store. He had bacterial pneumonia, and the vet didn’t even want him in the office, because it’s highly contagious. I begged him even though he was adamant. Said I’d already fallen in love with my dog, and taking him back to the place that had neglected him wasn’t even an option. I think I even appealed to whatever it was within him that had inspired him to be a vet in the first place. I know I cried. He put my dog on intravenous antibiotics in the basement, in a cage between cardboard boxes full of puppy pads, and dog food, and Frontline. There was a leaky pipe nearby, and it was pretty dark down there. I know because I visited my dog every day for hours, for the 10 days he was there. The vet told me not to get my hopes up because he was almost definitely a lost cause, but I brought my dog home on the tenth day, and he was my best friend for the next ten years, until he died suddenly one morning, two weeks before I had my son.
Pretty frequently I get emails from people who are in the corner of a huge cage, shaking with a runny nose. Not literally, of course, because that would be weird. But metaphorically. Sometimes the cage is a relationship, or a job, or a way of thinking about themselves or the world. Whatever it is, they’re in there, shaking, as their light dims. Their belief in themselves dwindling like the price on the front of my dog’s cage. Sometimes the person says nothing is really wrong. The job is not bad. The partner is loving and kind. The way of thinking is what they were taught, and how they’ve always been. They think they must be crazy. But. There’s something inside them that’s saying no. No, life should not feel like a cage.
All kinds of things keep people shaking uncontrollably as their light dims. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Sometimes it feels like people are asking permission. Is it okay for me to go to the basement with the leaky pipe (because healing is lonely, dark, painful work) and heal what needs to be healed so I can get out of this cage and live a life where I get to breathe, and it doesn’t feel like there’s this huge weight on my chest, smothering my heart? And I mean, of course it is. If you don’t leave the cage, you die. Maybe not literally, but your spark dies, and you may as well be dead at that point. But, other people will be hurt. Yes, that sucks. That’s brutal, and it would be a beautiful thing if we could all live our truths and never cause anyone else pain. Except, I’ll tell you, I’ve learned and grown the most from the painful times in my life. We can never ever know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. We can only manage our own, kindly, honestly, and with compassion. And if you don’t follow the road marked My Truth, your heart breaks and you lose the will to do much of anything.
No one will ever thank you for your pity. No one deserves to be loved half-way, or even most of the way. Including you. The road marked My Truth is hardly ever well-paved and well-lit. You have to cut through the brush with no map, and the only thing you can really carry with you is belief in yourself. You won’t be stuck in the basement forever. But you do have to get out of the cage. Sending you love and a huge hug, Ally