More than anything, my boyfriend Sung wanted to get a dog. It was all he talked about at the beginning of the pandemic. Apparently shelters were set to run out of animals any moment because everyone wanted to shelter in place with a newly adopted pet.
“Later, later,” I kept telling him. Privately, I thought, “are you nuts? How can we be responsible for a dog when we barely know what we’re doing with our own lives?”
The restaurant we both worked at in Los Angeles had laid us off, then closed down permanently like so many other restaurants. As a chef and a bartender, we were feeling remarkably unessential. But we were fortunate enough to stay with my family for a bit while we figured out our game plan. So we loaded our stuff in my truck and drove up to my hometown in Northern California.
Being back in the comfort of my parents’ house convinced me that we could, in fact, take care of a dog. I told Sung, “OK, let’s join the Quarantine New Pet Club.”
We went to Wags and Whiskers Rescue and adopted the first puppy we met, a Beagle/German Shepherd (I think … not quite sure). Sung took a video that day and it’s just me crying from happiness as I hold our new dog; meanwhile, the dog is trembling in my arms as she unleashes her bladder all over both of us. Every rib stuck out along her skinny body. Cartoonishly large paws dangled from her toothpick legs. We named her Lotus, because she reminded us of a delicate flower.
I don’t know what happened in Lotus’s life before we met her, but whatever it was, she was traumatized. She cowered at anything that moved or breathed. The first two days she wouldn’t eat even one bite of food. She was too panicked to sleep. I lay on the floor next to her dog bed all night, afraid she was damaging her organs from panting so hard.
A few weeks passed, and Lotus finally seemed relaxed enough for an outing. We took her to Oak Way Park because it’s near my parents’ house. Lotus took one shaky step forward, then plopped her butt on the grass and refused to budge.
Who could blame her for being overwhelmed? For a cozy neighborhood park, Oak Way had a lot going on. The tall man who juggles tennis balls was there (he’s always there). Two middle schoolers zoomed past on electric scooters. An RC drone flew low over our heads. The opening notes to “Sweet Caroline” drifted toward us, and I looked up to see a white-haired couple swaying back and forth beside a portable speaker, mics in hand for a little socially distanced karaoke.
After several dozen return trips to Oak Way, Lotus’s anxiety began to dissipate. Her tail spun around like a propeller instead of remaining pinned between her legs. She worked up the courage to play with other dogs. She even calmed down enough that we could teach her how to play fetch. Well honestly we never had to teach her to chase after a ball, but coaxing her to bring it back took some patience.
Lotus is a year old this month, and after a few growth spurts, the rest of her body has caught up with her oversized paws. These days when we take her to a park she behaves like a typical dog whose greatest need in life is to sniff every smell. Eventually she wears herself out and flops down in the grass. Nothing makes me happier than watching her feel safe enough to doze off outdoors. Now she fits her name even better, because although lotus flowers appear fragile, they are in fact sturdy and resilient.
The lotus is also a metaphor for beauty from hardship, since it grows exquisite from the dirtiest water. The renowned spiritual leader and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Without mud, there can be no lotus … Suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow.” I don’t mean to use my happy story to downplay how traumatic last year was for our collective whole. In fact, I’m trying to say the exact opposite: when life is not going our way and we feel stuck in the mud, that’s when we might look down and find a lotus has bloomed.