I am like a turtle; I move very slowly through life. At my current pace, I may be able to meet the expected life goals of a young adult by the time I’m sixty.
Butterfly, my Lhasa Apso, is stubbornly slow too. We go slowly because we do each task comprehensively. It takes me weeks to write each post for this blog because I go through so many drafts, trying to capture exactly what I mean to say. Butterfly is the same way about eating. She likes to sit down, or even lay down, in front of her bowl so that she can savor each kibble individually. Her sister, Cricket, is more of a speed eater; she’s always in a rush, to pee, to poop, to run, and to greet; everything has to be fast.
Back in the Fall I bought Butterfly a set of steps up to my bed and proceeded to try to teach her how to use them. Cricket can jump on and off the bed herself, but Butterfly’s legs are too short. For myself, and for Butterfly, I believe in Anne Lamott’s method, from bird by bird: the best way to manage an overwhelming task is to break it down into a thousand small pieces, and take each one, one at a time, without looking so far ahead that you become overwhelmed.
I worked with Butterfly every day, one step at a time. I put her paws on the first step and gave her a treat. I led her up to the second step and gave her two treats. Day after day, I did everything I could think of, but I couldn’t find a way to break the task down small enough to make it manageable for her. Even when she could finally climb up all three steps, to reach her treats, she still thought going back down to the floor was impossible. But then she got thirsty in the middle of the night. This may have been the onset of the diabetes, without my realizing it, but at the time, I assumed it was about the unreasonable heat in the apartment complex at night. All of a sudden, Butterfly could walk down the steps and run straight to the water bowl.
My therapist has a theory about this. She says that when you’re not ready to do something, it’s like climbing up a mountain, but when you are ready, it becomes easy. I don’t know that I’ve ever reached the easy stage, but I do know that after years and years of effort, for no obvious reason, sometimes things just start to click.
I assumed that Butterfly would come right back after her miraculous escape to the water bowl, and climb up the stairs to the bed. But she didn’t come back. And I felt rejected. Here I’d worked so hard to give her the freedom to come and go, and she chose to just go.
I’ve heard that if you love someone you’re supposed to let them go, and if they were meant to be with you, they will return. Sayings like that make me want to hit people.
A few nights later, after a number of these heartbreaking episodes, I woke up at three o’clock in the morning to a scratching and tapping sound. Butterfly was scratching at the bottom step, as if it were an escalator that needed to be turned on, and she was looking for the switch. I got up and put her front paws on the steps, and she galloped up onto the bed, curled up by her pillow and went to sleep.
I worry, a lot, that my slow pace in life will mean that I’ll never move forward as much as I need to in the time allotted, but watching Butterfly makes me think that how we use our time should fit us, rather than fit some preset convention. I would never look at her and think she should be more like Cricket. She is Butterfly and that’s a wonderful thing to be.
I’d like to think that the same is true for me. I am a turtle. Is a turtle, by definition, a failed something else?