No Ordinary Life

Finding the courage to be

Penelope’s Water Walk

Feline hydrotherapy for Penelope, age 18

“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” -Viktor Frankl

Next to me, a male voice bellowed from behind a video camera, “Oh baby, you’re doing great! Just a little more sweetheart, I promise. Daddy is so proud of you!” With hazel eyes as big as saucers, Penelope looked bewildered as she felt the warm water mysteriously creep past her ankles, higher and higher until she was floating, fully suspended in aquatic space. “Oh, sweetheart, do you like that? Daddy thinks you might like that. You look so, so...peaceful! Just wait ‘til our family sees how well you are doing. They will be so happy!”

My take, which I kept to myself as I watched this drama unfold, was that Penelope not only disliked her watery surrounds, but, since she was held by a hand surrounding her small life jacket, knew she was licked and was resigned to her fate. I sat mesmerized as she floated, chin bobbling, unable to fight the rising water than had removed her ability to resist anything. Penelope, an 18-year-old tabby cat with soft grey striped fur, was receiving her first hydrotherapy treatment at Center City’s Whole Animal Gym.

Trying to show no surprise in my voice, I asked the man his rationale in selecting water therapy for his cat. (I would have made a different choice, given that every cat I have known hates water.) This sophisticated, well-informed 50-something man replied, “I have had many cats, but Penelope is really special.” His eyes got misty. “She means the world to me. This can help her enjoy her senior years, so it is worth the effort.”

Then I understood. Life takes odd detours, creating wise decisions that one never planned. What took me to this situation is that Whitby Anderson, our legendary canine staff member at The Coche Center, has developed back trouble. At 13 plus, or 95 human years, surgery seems unwise, but to reduce swelling and pain, our vet suggested medication, supplements, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Oddly enough, this seemed reasonable, so Whitby now goes to his very own gym. Unlike Penelope, he likes his time, especially the treats and 30 minutes of pats.

Finished for the day, I wished Penelope well, and, walking Whitby slowly to our car, mused about how deeply our pets infuse our lives with meaning.

At the heart of flourishing is the sense that we are engaged in activities so meaningful to us that we are certain they are worthwhile. When an activity generates well being (even submerging an aged cat in water), high functioning people choose to do the activity for its own sake. Penelope’s owner loves this cat and is proud to help her thrive in her rarified 18th year of feline life, just as I offer Whitby his personal work out center. These unusual choices make perfect sense when you understand the way healthy people doggedly (no pun intended) pursue happiness.

At The Coche Center, we assume that healthy humans require meaningful lives. We derive meaning by engaging in something more global than our own life that also is considered important by others. In Whitby’s case, our clients are both relieved and admiring when they hear that I have found a non-invasive treatment for his senior aliments. The support of others helps me return to the gym with Whitby, just as the support of his family will help Penelope’s owner have the tenacity to submerge her in water to strengthen her hind legs. The opinion of others contributes to what one considers meaningful. But, even without the praise of others, maintaining the health of a beloved four-legged family member provides many of us with a very deep level of life meaning.

Penelope’s owner and I are also demonstrating other features of a flourishing life in pursuing treatment for our pets. We show:

  1. Optimism by selecting an infrequently chosen treatment. We have been advised by experts that this is likely to help.
  2. Resilience by choosing an obscure answer to a problem, even if others judge the choice as foolish.
  3. Self determination by researching our choices.
  4. Vitality through continued enthusiasm for our decision.
  5. Positive relationships by supporting the animal, which has enriched our lives through, continued loving companionship for over a decade.

In the final analysis, pursue what means the most. Pursue with enthusiasm, and watch your life flourish. You’ll be glad you did.

To consider: Which unusual life decisions have you pursued? Are you glad? 

Judith Coche, Ph.D., A.B.P.P. is an author, psychotherapist, and founder of The Coche Center.

 
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