A Thanksgiving Message

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Deaf Dogs Get the Best Sleep in the House; discovering blessings in unexpected places.

Today is a day in which we as individuals, families, communities, indeed an entire country, pause from the busyness of life to stop and give thanks. 

Today is all about being aware of and grateful for the many blessings in our lives. And, for a great number of us, we have SO much to be grateful for; our basic needs are met, we enjoy the company of those we love, we are gainfully employed, and we are citizens of a great nation. Our homes rest on the soil of a country where democracy, real, powerful and imperfect, is still the bedrock and foundation upon which we have built our lives. 

But, for me, today also reminds me there is another layer of things to be grateful for, including blessings that were at one time disguised, maybe even hidden.

I say this with the knowledge that some blessings are obvious and unmistakable like, “there’s no evidence of cancer” or “I’ve got great news; the baby is fine” or, “you got the job.” 

But I’ve learned that other blessings come in the form of an undesirable condition or spring forth in the aftermath of the tragedy. And while blessings that arise from apparent negativity are usually hidden, or take time to manifest, they are just as meaningful and life-changing.

A Very Special Puppy

Harmony, a gorgeous, spirited Bost Terrier, was the third pup that arrived at the animal sanctuary my former wife, Deanna and I operated for more than a decade. 

Harmony came to us at the tender age of just eight weeks, bouncy, bratty, beautiful and 100% deaf. 

Deanna had discovered Harmony on Petfinder.com and immediately rushed to me suggesting we rescue this black and white bundle of joy. 

My ignorant, narrow-minded reply was a series of pitiful excuses masked as questions; 

  • “How will we be able to manage her disability?” 

  • “How on earth can we live with a deaf dog?” 

  • “How we will communicate with her?” 

I am such a fool. It’s like I went to a gun fight with a spatula.    

In short order, Deanna disarmed me by educating me about the genius and adaptability of dogs. Of how dogs with special needs are amazing, and how many transform their supposed “dis-ability” into an advantage, maybe even their superpower. 

And just like that, we were off the Lake County to pick up our new baby. 

A 16-year long story made short; Harmony would go on to transform my life, be my best friend, constant companion, and live at the very center of my heart and soul. 

Our “dis-abled” daughter was more able-bodied than I could have ever imagined. And yes, her deafness was her superpower. 

For starters, Deanna and I had as many as 23 dogs living in our home at the sanctuary. At times, as you can no doubt appreciate, our home was a place bursting with life and sound. And yet, when Harmony would retire to one of the many dog beds, fluff it to her liking, turn a few rotations, she would then lay down and fall “sound” asleep. 

Harmony slept peacefully and perfectly. She wasn’t disturbed by the noise and volume of life. Instead, Harmony enjoyed true peace. It was almost as if she was in one of those high-tech nap pods you find in Silicon Valley at Facebook and Google. 

In other words, because a barrage of noise didn't encumber Harmony, she was able to live in a different, quieter world. A world that allowed her to experience life at a depth of feeling few of us ever will.

Similar to other sentient beings who have one fewer sense, Harmony experienced sights, smells, and other sensations we can’t begin to imagine. Her lack of hearing only served to strengthen her remaining faculties. 

Harmony’s “dis-ability” was her “ability.” Her deafness, a condition not of her choosing, was nonetheless a hidden blessing. 

But it takes a different perspective to see this, and when we introduced Harmony to visitors at the sanctuary, the common response was one of sadness or pity. 

“Poor little deaf dog.”

In response, Deanna and I quickly assured each person they need not worry about our vibrant, rambunctious and fully alive puppy. 

Harmony didn’t need pity. 

All Harmony needed was a water hose or a sprinkler to destroy. 

One size doesn’t fit all. Nor does one possibility.

Please hear me when I say that I am not trying to argue that every problem, each tragic event, or all maladies contain some form of a blessing. The truth is, some things happen in life that will never make sense. Sometimes we can search our entire lives for a silver lining and still come up short. 

But, on the other hand, there are a great number of examples, including Harmony’s, in which the outward appearance of an event or condition initially suggests something awful but upon further investigation, and in my case, more time, something quite wonderful is discovered. 

If this is a blessing, I don’t want it!

I don’t talk much about this, but within 100 days of my release from the psych ward, my entire life came apart; the sanctuary was forced to close, our vehicle was repossessed, our home was foreclosed upon, and the resulting stress ended a beautiful marriage. 

With a borrowed vehicle, some clothes, and Harmony, I limped into the home of my two brothers, Jim, and Tom, and my spectacular sister-in-law Staci, an abode which turned out to be a different kind of sanctuary. 

In other words, AFTER getting out of the psychiatric hospital, my life went from bad to worse. 


Are you freaking kidding me?

And yet, as I type 7 years later, I am grateful for the string of blessings that did rise from the ashes of my life. 

While housed in the psych ward, I made friends with another middle-aged man, Don. When Don got out of the hospital, he discovered a men’s depression support group, and he called me and suggested I attend. 

For the next six-plus years, I did just that, and that group changed my life. From that group, I was introduced to my current therapist, my current psychiatrist, and given the very first chance to speak before an audience and tell my story. 

And now, with more than 250 talks behind me, a series of published essays, three new books in the works, a TED talk under my belt, a new-found sense of purpose for my life, and the experience of true mental health, I am grateful for the blessings that were at first hidden in the ruble of tragic and awful events.  

Don’t get me wrong, I miss the life Deanna, and I had created every day. And, if you asked me if I was grateful for living with the condition of clinical depression for more than 40 years, I’d be hard pressed to say, “yes.” 

And yet, the fact I came to the very edge of ending my life on August 31, 2011, did create massive change in my life, which in turn initiated a series of blessings that have created the extraordinary life I live today.

Become a detective.

The word, Blessing is defined as: “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.”

I like that a lot.

On this wonderful day in which we are conscious and mindful of all we have to be grateful for, I would ask that we each look for the hidden blessings in our lives, and with evidence they do exist, share that good news with others so they can be on the lookout for hidden blessings in their own lives.  

And if you forget where to look, remember, deaf dogs get the best sleep in the house. 

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