I woke up last Saturday with my innards protesting after what we might call a “dehydrating” bachelorette party the night before. After I had guzzled some water and washed my face, my friend, whose Ann Arbor home I was staying at, asked if I would be joining her at the dog park.
My gut instinct was to say no. I was eager to get back to Lansing to do some writing, reading, and maybe just some puking in the comfort of my own home. But my friend was looking at me with puppydog eyes that matched her Australian Shepherd’s, and I thought of how infrequently I saw her even though I only lived an hour’s drive away. And I thought of how I might be leaving for graduate school soon, where it would be an hour’s drive to get to the airport to get me to her. And, given the state of the hangover sloshing around my bowels, I couldn’t really trust my gut anyway.
So, after filling up my water bottle and completing an obligatory drive through Starbucks, we met some more friends at the dog park.
Swift Run Dog Park is one of those bougie parks that you have to pay to use. I tend to find these kinds of pay-to-play public spaces classist and pretentious, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with this one. (I mean, it’s only $35 a year anyway…)
It’s one of those places you can tell someone put a lot of thought into designing. The space is large, with a long sand track running around its perimeter for walkers. There are several benches spaced throughout and a “waste” disposal area by the door. There’s even a separate fenced area reserved for teensy dogs that weigh less than 30 lbs. It’s clean and well maintained, and all the dogs are immunized and polite(ish).
The park’s terrain was waved with hills. The grass was a healthy green, but not suburban-lawn manicured green. The effect was a micro-wilderness. Despite the dogs wearing fluorescent harnesses, watching them frolic felt distinctly like observing fauna in their natural habitat. The Newfoundland roaming the grass looked more like a buffalo in Grand Teton National Park than a domesticated doggo at Swift Run Dog Park.
That said, the experience wasn’t all about nature’s bounty. Perhaps more importantly, it was about the pet owners who put on voices to express their dogs’ supposed thoughts. It was about laughing at the tiny Shih Tzu attempting to mount my friend’s Australian Shepherd, or the asshole beagle who made it his mission to pee in every single bowl of drinking water.
I was able to enjoy all of these sights from the shade of a large tree, surrounded by friends I’ve known since high school, all while my hangover evaporated into the fresh summer air.
It dawned on me then, how badly I hadn’t wanted to come out to the dog park. If I’m being perfectly honest, I hadn’t even wanted to drive out for the bachelorette party the night before, despite loving the company and the nightlife. But there I was, glad I’d donned the tight dress and drunkenly traipsed through Ann Arbor, glad I’d chased an Aleve with an iced latte this morning and stood around watching strangers’ dogs play fetch.
This could be a story about the irrationality of social anxiety. That story goes: twice in less than 24 hours, I believed I couldn’t and wouldn’t enjoy spending time with people I knew I got along well with, doing things I knew I enjoyed. Twice again, I proved myself wrong by overcoming the desire to stay home and having a wonderful time.
But today, this isn’t that story. Because in past months I’ve forced myself to be out with people and hated every moment of it, even though I loved the people I was with. I’ve struggled through what should’ve been enjoyable experiences in a depressive fog. My depression blocked all emotion, leaving only that empty ache.
So the real story is, I simply felt grateful. I felt so lucky to be so moved by something as commonplace as watching dogs play. In one epiphanic instant, I realized how miserable I would’ve been in this same situation only a few months earlier. So I smiled to myself, the way we crazy people do, savoring the surprising flavor of gratitude behind my teeth.
And maybe that’s how epiphanies happen: in small, insignificant moments with slobber on your shoes and an unexpected smile on your face.
Images courtesy of my dear friend Lydia and her wide-angle lens iPhone attachment. Find her on Instagram!
P.S. I’d love to hear how you practice gratitude in the comments below ↓