Pets Help Us Celebrate the Empty Spaces

To a degree, our lives demand that we be “out there” with other people. Be it at work, play or with family, we are expected to muster at least a few conversational turns to convince others that we are connected and have a pulse. A-game glad-handing is a prerequisite for business moguls and politicians.

Sometimes circulating is effortless. We slink through a crowd, radar finely-tuned to a meaningful exchange. We listen intently, ask incisive questions and share our own experiences, understanding that there is quality in verbal economy. At best, we come away from this cross-pollination with a more rounded world view.

Other times, we just don’t want to open our mouths - and pray that those around us would keep theirs closed. For just a minute. One second. The tiniest fold in time. But those pregnant pauses between people can be intolerable and someone usually cleaves the silence with nervous patter.

Fortunately, there is one being in our life to whom our existence is not justified by frenetic bursts of accomplishment. One who is indifferent to the breadth of our vocabulary and clever repartee. The one with whom we feel the curious absence of any need to complain or explain.

There she sits, tucked into our flank, wrapped around our feet or nestled in a cubbyhole clear across the room; that breathing blaze of fur or feathers with the uncanny knack for lowering our blood pressure while we were not even looking.

We may choose at any time to stop what we’re doing and ride the tide of her breath. She breathes in and we discover how mountains are made and feel that everything we’ve aspired to is palpable. Then she exhales and an avalanche levels everything out, a gentle reminder that we should never take who we are - and what we do - too seriously. Her breaths are book-ended with brief, yet deep and weightless fissures of quiet into which we can trip, and quite possibly stumble upon who we really are.

I believe that one of the strongest reasons we are so bound to our pets is their ability to celebrate the negative spaces. They don’t need us to fill their lives with words and objects and an unending flurry of activity - because our pets are already full of everything they’ll ever need, including us.

Recently, while my wife was away for a weekend conference, I took the opportunity to read, tinker, and putter around the house in the company of no one other than our dog, Lilly. She, meanwhile, occupied herself by either flipping her favorite toy in the air like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat or sitting quietly next to me.

As the hours passed, magic emerged from the mundane. My chronic internal dialogue had quelled to a mere whimper. The rustling of wind through autumn leaves - a sound that I’d always found agitating - was now comforting. I began to think that I really didn’t need as much as I imagined to survive - and thrive.

I was also reminded of one of the cornerstones of joy that I share with my wife of 17 years. Some of our most intimate moments together are spent occupying the same room while we’re each engrossed in completely separate activities. My wife “feels” me there with her and I “feel” her there with me. In that unencumbered space, we are at want for nothing.

Okay, so I am no schmoozer.

If you saw me at a party several years ago, there’s a fair chance you’d have found me cowering behind the cheese balls or using the filled punch bowl to morph my face into a grotesque version of someone else.

Today, there’s a good chance you’d find me commiserating with the family pet. If nothing else, I’d have a good shot at a genuine connection.

It could even be a nice ice-breaker with the humans there.