The trademark of an official Floridian is that one will not go in the ocean during the ‘winter months because one thinks the water is too cold.
After 18 months, I am officially not a Floridian. Though the water is chilly at first some days, if you stay there a wave or five, it is warm enough to enter. Call me Coloradoan. There are still many times I sit or walk on the sand and feel like I am on an extended time away from Colorado. Not vacation exactly, maybe in-between there and somewhere else.
I think I was attached to familiar and would like that status again. With the exception of a few good restaurants, a church we attend, some great people we hang out with, and the ocean, South Florida still has an awful lot of unfamiliar.
“Unfamiliar is part of the adventure,” so say’s my confident-self.
“Listen Polly positive, where in the heck am I and what am I supposed to be doing here in this foreign place?, ” replies my cynic-self.
That dialogue needs interrupting, re-writing, a new perspective. Or I am going to miss out on something.
It is dawning on me that walking through new doors, going to new places, meeting new people, trying new things could be done with wide-eyed expectation. Too often I respond with fear, defensiveness, sometimes unwillingness.
As a natural connector, a liaison of resources, being unfamiliar is frustrating. I am not helpful to people because of what I don’t know. Instead I really need connectors, liaisons. I’d rather be needed than needy. Just being honest… I’m aware this is a struggle, and I’m trying to let it simmer down.
Recently I entered a place where familiar doesn’t matter. I walked through a door that Calvin opened. My ordinary yellow labrador, who prefers people over retrieving anything, took me to a place I otherwise would not have gone. The place was something like neutral territory.
Just over 6 months ago, Calvin and I took the Therapy Dog International (TDI) test. We trained for 6 weeks and passed, even though he had to repeat the “leave it” task. (meaning to walk calmly by a row of bowls filled with temptations; balls, toys – no problem; dish FULL of dog treats – problem). Once the paperwork was complete, we just had to find a place to go ‘visiting’.
One day in the park, I met a man with a friendly goldendoodle who was TDI certified. He told me to contact a local Assisted Living community where they often went. Calvin and I have walked through the doors of that place for many weeks now. Because of my time working for a hospice in Boulder, I am fairly comfortable in the setting. Staff and residents appreciate dog visits and Calvin is pretty good with the Elders. He has leaned up against a few, threatening to topple them as they give his head a good scratch, but we are working on that! One particular man, who is somewhere between 95 and 100, (the age changes a little each time I am there), calls Calvin the beast. Yet, when his thick fingers find just the right spot behind the ear, Calvin sits perfectly still, not even tail movement. It mesmerizes me because this is the only person that makes Calvin goes that still.
A request came through TDI for an organization wanting therapy dogs. The organization was a women’s drug and alcohol rehab center. This would be a big commitment as back to back groups of women have about an hour outside having a snack, a smoke, a visit with therapy dogs. We decided to try it once. The outdoor setting is a circular space with a concrete half wall, bench all along the inside of the wall, shade tree in the center. Attached to one side is a gazebo . A chair blocks the one way in so the dogs may wander from person to person. Only one pup likes to play with the ball. They all enjoy attention. There is no familiar-unfamiliar. No one is from there, knows someone there, or thought they would be there one day. I’m surprised to find myself there; ordinary me with my ordinary yellow lab. I’m surprised by the women I hang out with. They could be my best friend, my daughter, my neighbor, my mother, me. Being Floridian, Coloradoan, Georgian, Texan, or New Yorkan doesn’t matter. The neutral space was leveled by common love of dogs, being loved by dogs, and sharing dog stories. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this.
We continue to visit there.
Maybe familiar isn’t all I need. Maybe being Floridian isn’t the goal. Maybe the struggle will give way to expectancy. Maybe Calvin will open another door.
If he does…I’m going in.
Calvin and a few of his fellow visitors…