The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to live life following your true purpose. Finding your way is not always easy. We have so many voices out there telling us, prodding us or even pointing the way to the life we should be living. But the only voice that matters is the one inside your head. Are you listening? I mean, really listening and paying attention?
I believe I'm one of the lucky ones who discovered my life’s mission at a young age. And while I’ve stumbled and fallen along the way, I never lost sight of what that is. But before I talk about that, I need to dive into my childhood and share a little bit of my history.
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher gave the class an assignment to write a paper. I don’t remember all the specifics, but I do remember that I chose to write about the panda bears. As I did my research, I learned the plight of these cuddly black and white bears - how their numbers were dwindling due to deforestation and population growth. I wrote a proposal on how I could solve this problem. In the mind of a ten year old child, it was easy. Set up a table at the base of the mountain where the panda bears live and stop anyone from further destroying the habitat and developing the land. Simple, right?
Well, that was just the beginning of my awareness for my love of animals. Like so many adolescents, I struggled with finding my place amongst my peers. I was probably more insecure than many of my classmates, and I definitely was one of the shiest kids in my class. I struggled with fitting in and feeling like I was well liked…or even liked at all. My self-confidence was low - something I eventually outgrew, but only as a young adult. My teenage years were tough, to say the least. I know I fought depression to boot and often wondered if my life would ever get any better.
While at the time puberty seemed to be a very painful experience, looking back, I’m glad I went through everything I did. I believe it made me a more compassionate, emphatic and caring person. Getting through those years wasn’t easy though. And the single thing that probably helped me the most was a cat. Yes, a crossed-eye, loud mouth siamese named Ke-O-ke.
She was born a year before me. I’m sure when I came along, she wondered what was this creature that cried, smelled and babbled. Then once I was crawling and could pull her tail, her ears, her fur, she probably hated me. But eventually I got bigger and calmer and we became the best of friends. Even though she was my parents' cat, the baby before me, she ended up being mine. She hung out in my room during the day, followed me everywhere and slept beside me every night.
She was the one I told my secrets to, who listened to my sobs whenever I cried, who made me feel like I mattered when so many days I wondered if anyone really loved me. She didn’t care that I had a face full of angry red welts otherwise known as pimples, was moody because of PMS (or just all the time!), or that all the girls, except me, had gone to the movies. She didn’t care if I was the most popular (I wasn’t) or the best dressed (I wasn’t), she still greeted me at the door with her purrs when I came home from school.
When I doubted anyone would miss me if I ran away, I knew she would. When I felt alone, she was the one who kept me company. When I didn’t feel I had anyone to talk to, it was Ke-O-Ke who meowed at me. You see, she didn’t see me the way I saw myself. She didn’t judge me the way I judged myself. She loved me in a way I couldn’t.
And now that I’m all grown up, I still struggle with self-worth sometimes. Don’t we all? But isn’t that what we love about our furry best friends? They love us unconditionally. They stand beside us even when we make mistakes. They don’t care if we are single, married, are parents or not. It doesn’t matter if we are dressed to the nines or wearing yesterday’s dirty clothes. Or if we take them to the park in a fancy SUV or a beat up old car. They don’t care if we make an appearance at friday night’s happenings around town or stay home curled up with a good book. They make us laugh, give us purpose and make a difference in our lives. In a way we sometimes can’t do for ourselves.
I don’t think it’s an accident that dog is God spelled backwards. While I can’t say for sure there is a God, I do believe in something bigger than myself. I believe this higher power, or Supreme Being, created me. And in His or Her eyes, I am perfect in every imperfect way.
I also believe that one of the struggles every human being faces, is the ability to see ourselves the way our Supreme Being does. The way our dogs (and cats and other pets) do. That we are worthy of life, love and human experiences. I believe that every thing happens for a reason. It all serves to get us to the point where we believe and know that we are enough. That we are all connected. That we all matter. Our life purpose is to discover who we are, to unearth the treasures hidden deep within ourselves and share them with the world.
For some of us, the way to this truth is though the furry best friends we meet, care for and love along the way. They teach us so much about life. About ourselves. About human kind. About connection. Because in the end, the only true thing that that matters is love.
This is my why. Why I’ve made a career out of working with animals. Why I am a photographer. And a pet photographer in particular. To capture the connection, the bond we share with these creatures who play such a huge role in our lives. To show you what they see in you. And what you see in them. Your teachers, your protectors, your best friends. Because animals matter. And so do you.