Is how we perceive reality what matters?
It’s the same story, but there are two perspectives on what happened.
Neither version can be disputed. So which one is yours?
Want the earth-bound quick version? Here goes.
- We were in the woods.
- There was a thunderstorm.
- Pepper ran away.
- I didn’t notice.
- It was just a matter of seconds.
- Calling, yelling, screaming for him.
- Recruiting my sons.
- Calling neighbors.
- Checking the house.
- Checking the houses we stayed while our house was under construction.
- Time was ticking.
- The highway is nearby. Very nearby.
- Especially for a scared dog.
- Who gets completely irrational because he’s so so so scared of the thunder.
- I was losing hope.
- It was pouring rain.
- I was soaked.
- Four hours of searching. Calling. Hoping.
- Registered on a lost dog website.
- Slipping away.
- Then a call.
- From a neighbor.
- About the vacation park.
- They found him.
- He was OK.
- He was even on stage.
- We got him.
- He was safe.
- It was over.
Pretty straightforward, right? I can even sum it up more succinctly.
- Dog lost.
- Dog found.
If this is “how you see the world” or “good enough” for you, then we’re good. Just stop reading now and know that we found Pepper.
OK, bye. Have a nice day!
It Starts with Open
To use a book title to bring this to another, well, dimension, it starts with open. Open to the idea of something else, something other than the reality we see in front of us.
What else might have been at play to find Pepper? Is our world so cut and dried, black and white, zeroes and ones?
Part of me believes so.
Yet another part of me believes there’s more.
Here’s another scenario.
I almost used numbered bullet points again, but it doesn’t fit. It’s not that kind of list. It’s not that linear of a story.
I walk with Pepper almost every day in the woods. I know them well. So does he.
He knows how to get home from most anywhere in there.
That is, when he’s in the right frame of mind, when he’s not worried or scared, terrified for his life–and other dog-level-fears we may or may not understand.
He was behind me.
Then he wasn’t.
It started to rain.
As if on cue from the sound team for the feature film, thunder rumbled from above. But not too far above.
It was deep, both rolling and shocking, and right above us. The kind that you felt in your gut.
“Pepper!” I called.
I “lose” him on a regular basis, but he’s always there, somewhere. Waiting patiently for a field mouse to reappear or maybe sniffing his way through some fallen trees for who-knows-what animal in there.
He’s happy. He’s joyous even. He’s in his element and fear is not part of his world.
Until the thunder comes.
Then he’s a different dog.
Tail between his legs, he lowers himself to the ground as if to distance himself from what’s coming down from above.
I know he usually heads home when he’s scared.
I started walking towards home.
The rain was coming down harder.
The thunder was getting louder.
I called my son. Pepper wasn’t there. Yet.
I jogged. I called out. I screamed his name.
Rain. Thunder. Alone.
I recruited the boys to get on their bikes and scour the woods for Pepper.
I wasn’t panicked but I wasn’t quite calm either. I almost never panic. I’m almost always calm.
Biking, calling, screaming, waiting, listening.
Rain. Thunder. Mud. Wet. Fear. Despair. Worry.
“P E P P E R !!”
We split up. We stuck together. We asked hikers, dog walkers, strangers. Nothing.
After an hour, I made that call you don’t want to make. I involved my wife. She left work and started driving home.
One son went home and the other stayed by the sand dunes where we last saw Pepper.
I biked towards the highway. Where I didn’t want to go. I wanted to see if that was it, if the biggest fear was realized. If there was a black jumble of fur next to the road.
Raindrops fell down my face. Mud soaked through my shoes.
I couldn’t see anything in that particular section of the highway. Just a small sliver of the uncountable spots he might be.
I looked left. I had been that way.
I looked right. I was there earlier, too.
I looked behind me. A tree.
Exhausted, out of great ideas, well, out of any ideas at all, soaked through to the bone, frustrated, sad, and full of regret, I sat at the base of the tree.
I closed my eyes.
Now, if you are of a religious persuasion, you could describe what I did as praying.
I’m not religious although now that I write those words, I’m not sure what “religious” means. If it means “believing in something greater or outside of yourself” then I am that.
Within seconds it wasn’t that I heard a voice but rather I saw, in my mind, Pepper.
Now I know dogs can’t talk and although Pepper is a brilliant specimen of Cairn Terrier, I admit he can’t talk.
Yet he told me or at least he got me the message. Just two little words. Not in a panic. Relaxed words even.
Being in a state of fear and worry and despair, I doubted it immediately.
As much as I “believe” in something, this was too much. It can’t “work” like that. It can’t be that simple.
I sat there next to that tree for a few minutes, my eyes closed and letting most everything leave me.
I let the tree’s roots come into me and I dug into the earth as if to send my own message to Pepper that I love him and I’m looking for him.
I stood up, got back on my bike, and went right.
I still called out. My voice was going hoarse. I cycled more slowly. My knee hurt. I was tiring.
I zig zagged the woods in the most efficient and effective way I could imagine.
I went back to the vacation park and checked each of the five houses we stayed in six months ago.
I called out. Sometimes, I whispered his name.
I both gave up hope and let the fear go.
My wife called and she entered him into some lost dog website. My sons called and had no news. One was having dinner.
The sadness in their voice was too great to cover up.
It was my fault yet I was glad it was. Of course, I would have forgiven my wife or boys but I would have a harder time forgiving myself.
I biked. The rain let up. My jeans were heavy with the water. I called out. I searched.
Sometimes, I stopped and listened. Watched, searched, waited.
Without realizing it, I came to that same spot near the highway once again. It was over a much smaller trail grown over with brush and not where a bicycle would naturally go.
As I rode up to the tree again, I even said it aloud.
“Oh come on. Seriously?”
- There was a message for me but
- I couldn’t believe it.
It was all just a little bit too much like a movie. Staged, a set up, not real.
For the first time in three hours, I smiled.
“OK, fine,” I said aloud again.
I sat down in the mud with my back to the tree trunk.
I closed my eyes.
He said it again.
It was so clear.
Not clear in the sense that he had a recognizable voice or I could have recorded the audio, but the message was there.
With my eyes closed, I smiled.
I let out a deep breath.
The phone rang.
They found him.
Two versions of the same story. One has a numbered list of events. The other has a story, suspense, disbelief and a message “spoken” to me as I closed my eyes.
Which one is the “real” story?
Does it matter?
Which one is your story?
I now know which is mine.