Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Giving Thanks

This is Xie Xie.
She is our second pug, who we got from a shelter just over a year ago.
I wrote before about Butch and the lessons I have learned from him, but Xie Xie's story is no less important.  Let me explain.

When we got her, she was tiny for a full-grown pug, barely half her current size.
You could feel her ribs jutting out through her fur.  She had been neglected, left with a pack where she did not belong, and had to fight for every meal with a surrounding group of Pomeranians that abused her.

At the shelter I could hold her in the palm of one hand.
My wife, Sanae, never imagined we would be chosen as her new family.  There were others who said they wanted her.  Right away I KNEW it would be us - it would be fate. Healing her would heal us.
As I held her she shook, her little heart racing.  She did not try to bite or snap.  She looked at me with her big, brown eyes and I could feel the spark of life in her, the love she still had - her hope for a new family and a new life as she sniffed me.  She looked pitiful; helpless.

With us she recovered.  She gained weight. She bonded with Butch, Sanae, myself and the boys.  She became completely attached to Sanae and fiercely loyal to her.  She learned how to love and to be loved in return - I felt sad imaging no one had ever even petted her before she met us.  She found her home with us in Yokohama.  Who she was before was forgotten - her past, her name, her suffering and torment.  Now she is just Xie Xie (謝謝).  Her name means "Thank You" in Chinese.  We felt it was gratitude from both she and we for the chance to be together as a new family - our pack.

If you saw her today, happily taking her daily walk, tail wagging, head high, you would never know what she had been through - dogs live fully in the moment - except at mealtime.  Because she had been starved, and had to fight for food, at mealtime she gets very excited.  She circles and barks, jumping at the counter to try to get her food and crying for attention so she will not be ignored or forgotten.  She never believes that she will get her food, despite over a year of getting her meals twice a day, every day, regular like clockwork. She always believes she will starve.  She can never have enough.

Xie Xie is very special to me for many reasons.  I came to realize she and I have so much in common.

We were both neglected as infants, both given away and rescued to new families for a second chance.
I was also tiny, underweight, weak - my constant crying so much  like her barking.  Like her, I kept my spark and had my hopes for a better life, not fully understanding what was going on as I went from home to shelter and finally to my foster family, Charles and Dorothy Leonard.

We both had to learn to love and be loved, both of us taking time to heal.
We both had to learn to put our trust in strangers we had never met before - that they would take care of us and not leave us alone.

Unlike Xie Xie, who I was could never be forgotten - even though I often wished I had.
As a foster child I kept my birth name and struggled to understand why my family's name (Leonard) was different from mine (Honeyman).  It was long years before I realized how lucky I had been.

From outward appearances, ours would have seemed to be like any other family.
However, under the surface I carried the pain and fear of loss over what had happened to me.
Where Xie Xie has trauma from food, I have trauma about love and attention - fear of abandonment.
For all of my life, I feared I would be ignored; forgotten.  I dreaded being cast aside or left behind.
I had trouble believing I was loved or could be loved. I had trouble loving others, or just accepting that my new life and family could be real or that I could deserve the good life I have had.

I am grateful for my life, just as I know Xie Xie is grateful for hers.
I am fiercely loyal and protective of my pack - just as I know she is.
I try to live in the moment, and Xie Xie is a constant reminder of how important this is.
I do not ask for pity any more than she does - just to be taken at face value and not judged for my past.   She and I both have scars from what we have been through, and maybe always will.
Maybe I will always be starved for love and attention.  Maybe, like Xie Xie, I can never have enough.

All any of us can do is try our best to live every day to the fullest, love those around us completely, and accept the good life we deserve.  If we keep the spark of love and hope, a bright future is possible for all of us - as long as we do not give up.

Xie Xie and I are thankful to you all for your constant support.

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