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Making Anything Possible: My Dog, Journaling and the Gift of Perspective

Sarah's dog Coby. Sarah's dog Coby. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Agan)

On April 16, 2010 we got the call from Costa Rica. It was the call that I feared most and that I knew one day would come. My husband Robert’s mother Theresa was dead. The neighbor saw her through the kitchen window, on the floor, there was no question she was gone. You can imagine the utter sense of powerlessness to get a call like that, knowing there is no earthly way to get there immediately since we live in Washington, D.C. So we cried and held each other and booked the next flight – the following morning at 6 a.m.

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So much happened in the week that followed it would require a book to recreate. What is relevant to this column is that in the midst of a week where we seemed to become super-human – dealing with heartbreak, loss, and the more tangible yet monumental tasks of figuring out how to handle the estate, we also needed to figure out what to do with Coby.

A Resucue Mission Is Born

Coby is the dog born to a stray Robert’s parents adopted when they first moved to Costa Rica in the fall of 1999. We’ve known him since he was a pup and he was Robert’s mother’s faithful companion after she lost Gunther, Robert’s father, in 2004. In April of 2010 Robert and I already had two older dogs. The LAST thing we needed was a third older dog who was not housebroken, who was used to roaming the dirt streets of the neighborhood where Robert’s parents lived and who we didn’t even know if we could get out of the country. Theresa always told us the vet loved Coby and would adopt him at a moment’s notice.

We talked with the vet, managing to cobble together a conversation with his little bit of English and our little bit of Spanish. We asked the vet if he would like to adopt Coby.

In broken English, he replied, “ He is such a sweet dog. I have five now so I cannot take him. But you can leave him with me and I will try to find a home and if I cannot…morta.”

Wh, wait – morta means death!

“I think he said if he couldn’t find a home he would put him down,” I whispered to Robert. I know this man thought he was being generous, doing us a favor…but we weren’t going to let that happen.

We stiffened, smiled an exasperated smile, and let out a warm “no possible!” and went on our way.

Wrestling with the Inevitable

Despite all the other things we had to handle, in that moment we resolved our new number one priority was getting Coby out of Costa Rica. And so ensued a major ordeal that, thankfully, eventually resulted in Coby coming to live with us. He is an extraordinary gift, somewhat not of this world, and we literally cannot imagine life without him. For Robert he is the last link to his parents – as you can see, this little guy is special beyond words.

And he is sick. He has end-stage kidney disease. We found out about this the first week in January. On the heels of the one-year anniversary of the loss of our beloved Gem we have been dealing with the reality of Coby’s health condition. For those of you who have loved an animal, you know there is no sugar-coating things; it’s just brutal. I’ve found myself focused on nothing other than making Coby’s quality of life the best it can possibly be, which has included trips to the butcher to buy venison – one of the only things he’ll eat – and giving him daily fluids under the skin using an IV bag, tube, and needles. For those of you wondering if our efforts are heroic and perhaps it’s time to let him go – we aren’t there. He still wags his tail, enjoys slow walks in the park, and relishes a nap on the deck in the sun.

All of this said, because of the stress of it all, I’ve been upset, quick to temper, distracted, and quite cranky. So three days ago I had to do something because I was just miserable with myself and really out of whack, so I resurrected one of my no-fail productivity habits: gratitude journaling.

Journaling: Gratitude, Intention and Possibility

While I first shared this practice here in December , I left out two important parts of the three-part habit: intention and possibility. Since resurrecting this habit four days ago, life is working a whole heck of a lot better. I know that in order to make Coby as healthy and happy as he can be, I have to do a better job making sure I am healthy and happy. So, here’s what I’m doing…

Before I get sucked into the day's tasks and busy-ness, I take a few minutes to write the following:

  1. For what and whom I am grateful. I just write until I'm done. It's extraordinary to see how the things and people I’m grateful for are contributing to an overall happiness in my life. We live in a world focused on fixing what's not working. When we pause to focus on what is working, what is good, and what we are grateful for, we invite more of that into our life.
  2. My intention for the day. As with taking the time to focus on being grateful, pushing the pause button before jumping into the doing and expressing an intention for the day helps create a sense of larger purpose and peace.
  3. Inventing a possibility. I use the following structure: the possibility I am inventing today for myself and my life is the possibility of ___________________. There is a generative nature to inventing possibilities and I find it an absolutely critical aspect to living a life I love – and helping me have a good, productive day.

Remember, possibility could be anything and everything: finishing a long overdue task, making forward motion on a stalled initiative or simply having a great day. It's up to you.

The key to this three-step daily practice is just taking the time to do it and not over-thinking it. Sometimes I do it in five minutes and sometimes I spend more. What matters is less how much time I take to do it and more that I make an effort to do it. Making this part of my daily practice contributes to a sense of peace and connectedness – for myself and those around me; including little sweet Coby.

Remembering the support of who and what I'm grateful for coupled with beginning each day with intention allows for anything to be possible, if you choose to let it.

Give it a try.

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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