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What a Dog From Afghanistan Teaches Us About Love (and Complaining)
Every time I talk to her I make some very awkward reference to it; yesterday we were chatting about weekend playdates, and I was saying, "Ugh, my husband is WORKING this weekend, so the kids need stuff to do, and I'm so TIRED," and then I immediately corrected myself, "But jeez, sorry, I shouldn't complain to you of all people!" and launched into a rousing round of I-don't-know-how-you-do-its. She smiled and said, very calmly, very magnanimously, "Oh, everyone has something." [something! A husband in Bahrain is "something!"] "And anyway I don't like when people don't complain -- it takes away my right to complain when I need to." I could have sworn the sunlight formed a halo around her hair.
I maintain that I don't know how these army wives do it, since I am pretty convinced the world has ended when the dishwasher stops working and my husband isn't around to make the call to fix it. But they do, and some of them, like Jessie Knadler, even find the time, energy, and humor to blog about it. Jessie Knadler's great blog, Rurally Screwed, shares stories of how she (a former New York City magazine editor) has been raising her baby daughter alone on a farm in Virginia, while her husband has been deployed in Afghanistan for the past year. This blog is seriously addictive reading -- as is, I'm guessing, her new memoir. Most recently, Knadler has been sharing the story of her husband's homecoming (yay!) and the unexpected new family member he brought with him: Solha, the dog he rescued from Afghanistan. I can't imagine what Knadler has gone through this past year, or how it is to reunite with a husband after a year, but this dog I can wrap my mind around. Because she is crazy. Crazy dogs I get.
The Solha Homecoming Adventures form this gripping mini-story nestled in Knadler's blog. She tells how her husband Jake found Solha and came to rescue her and then, against many odds, arrange for her to come home with him. The dog is terribly sweet and loves people, but her penchant for escape makes her a rather trying pet. As Knadler writes, "All she has ever known is dirt, metal, heat, dudes and gravel. She’s even the color of gravel. She has the survival instinct wound into her DNA. It’s what makes her special but also unpredictable." The dog escapes from a fence, chews through leashes, busts out of a metal kennel...and the whole story reads like an adventure, complete with cliff-hangers.
So how does Knadler deal with having this wild-spirited dog introduced into her already complex life? Does she whine about the new responsibility and trouble? No. She writes of adjusting to life with this dog: "My problem is that I’d been thinking of Solha as a normal dog of non super canine powers." When they realize a local kennel can't contain the canine Houdini, Knadler admits that both her baby and the dog (and though she doesn't say it, probably her husband and herself) are having a hard time adjusting to their new family structure. She doesn't write about what a buzz-kill this is to learn when she's trying to revel in the publication of her book. No, she writes, "we need to be home. The two of them need us to be home."
Sometimes you just need to be home. And also, sometimes when life gets complicated it's hard to remember to love, to remember how to love, to remember how love can help us to do crazy things, even if we weren't sure we wanted to do them. It seems to me that Knadler's is a family with big love to give, love that survives a year apart, love that expands to include a difficult animal in need of tender care, love that will just keep on expanding no matter what. If infatuation makes us single-minded, love makes us generous, and this kind of casual, taken-for-granted generosity -- that of Solha's new family, that of my non-self-pitying neighbor -- it's contagious. It makes us all want to be generous with our love too. It makes us remember that we too can rise to the occasion, that love and patience are renewable resources, not finite wells within us. And that when things aren't perfect, it's okay to indulge in a moment of complaining, because the love can survive the "poor me" moment.
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