by Avery Stern
Important Note: Having worked with dogs in many professional settings, I know the mark of both a healthy and docile animal. The dog mentioned in this post was both – I also had him checked out by J.D., our supervisor, who has ten dogs himself and has seen multiple successful adoptions in similar situations to this one…I also called my Vet friend. Everyone was responsible.
So we begin.
This is both a thank you letter for the wisdom each student has granted me, and a letter of wisdom to each of those I have thanked.
I am heading to bed tonight with a tiny hole in my sweatpants from a playful stray puppy. With cornbread crumbs on my heels. With a few small dollops of stucco in my hair, paint-stained finger nails, and wretched stomachache I’ve carried with me for days. (I’ll tell you now that if you’re a vegetarian, eating your first rib in 13 years off a student’s plate in a divey restaurant in Memphis isn’t the way to go. Might I suggest the fried chicken?)
I am also headed to bed tonight, ten days before my 25th birthday with a revelation I swore I would never have: You cannot save the world. You cannot even save a sliver of it. (The 20 year old in me is shrieking at the impossibility of this statement. “Quiet,” I tell her…hear me out).
I came to this revelation through the previously mentioned stray puppy. The puppy, whom I named “King Tutwiler of Tutwiler, Mississippi,” followed me home on a mid-day run. I’d passed a literal pile of puppies the day before, all heaped together for warmth in the rare 34 degree southern weather. But while those dogs showed moderate interest in me, they stayed put. Wiler, however, chased my heels for a mile jog back to the Habitat Dorm at which point I was determined to feed, vaccinate, wash, and ship him home on our American Airline flight this Sunday. (Ugh, I am a bleeding-heart I know).
We can perhaps by-pass the absurdity of what ensued when I arrived, floppy puppy afoot. The kids bottle-necked the door, some smartly cautious about interacting with a stray, others donning long sleeves, boots, and pants, and trusting that if he wasn’t nippy all they would need afterwards was a shower. John called his mom in hopes of fostering him claiming, “he’s the goodest of boys!” She agreed.
Sarah and Storey both agreed to take him for shots and a check-up at the shelter. I indulged the idea. Perhaps my Vet friend could take him in? No, her roommate did not like animals. My sister? An almost mother of two. So “Def no.” My boyfriend? A “soft” no, but a “no” nonetheless. My Parents? “Hahahahahah NO.”
But, I had to save him! WE, the good people of the George School with our house-building and community-engaging and compassionate hearts! As a tiny stray he could get run over by a car, attacked by a larger animal, starved to death. Yes, this is true—but perhaps that is life. Perhaps Wiler was serving as the symbol or metaphor of the much larger implications of this service trip.
We cannot save all of the stray puppies, however phenomenally cute, and we cannot build enough houses for all those in need. Sad? Yes. True? Unfortunately.
What we can do, as the well-educated and privileged people that we are as George School community members, is to acknowledge that we can “mud” all the dry wall in the kitchen, or install support beams for a whole roof, or give a puppy the best day he’s had in this three months of life. And these contributions are good. They are so, so, so, good. And if life is just a sum of its parts—just days all strung together, then one of those days is bound to be the best one of all and I’d like to be a part of someone’s.
So thank you Nodor, Sophia G, Sophia S, Sarah, John, Storey, Micheala, Elvis, and our supervisors J.D. and Ben for teaching me the humbling power of a single glorious day. I hope you continue to treat everyone with the same selfless love, respect, and generosity that you did to Wiler and I thank you for the love, respect, and generosity that you have shown to me.