Receiving a gift is like getting a rare gemstone; any way you look at it, you see beauty refracted. – Proverbs 17:8
Under a crescent moon, a dog takes her cat for a walk. Steadily forward this dog moves, unafraid of the dark, sure of her footing on the flat, even terrain. She could stop to sniff at the tree, but she doesn’t. There is no time to sniff at anything right now. Only time to move steadily forward. Only time to talk the cat through the list of things she needs to do in the two days she has to do them.
There are train tickets to buy. A hotel room to book. Dog care to secure. There are sub plans to write for the person who will sit in on your classes while you are away. There are interview questions to prepare, a demo lesson to pull together. There is research to be done on this school in Providence you didn’t even know existed until yesterday.
“Are you going to keep Sophie?”
The question comes from my sister Julie. If Julie and I are speaking again after a 20-year hiatus, it is in large part thanks to Sophie. I owe her so much, but I don’t know if I can keep her. The decision I’d made to reduce my teaching charge to three-quarter time the previous spring had been the right one for my mental health, but the salary reduction leaves little wiggle room for the kinds of major expenses having a dog in Brooklyn can incur.
“The cheapest dog walker I can find here charges 35$ a day, for a fifteen-minute walk,” I tell Julie by way of response. “It’s not even summer yet and it’s already brutally hot in this apartment. She’ll die in here. I’d have to get one of those terribly inefficient AC units for at least one of the windows. It will double my electric bill, even if I use it sparingly. I’ve asked around. This is what my neighbors tell me. And then there is the laundry. At any given time, there is only one functioning washing machine in the laundry room for the entire building. One. For the entire building. Coin-op, mind you. Do you know how annoying it is to scratch up the five dollars in coins you need to run a cycle of laundry? Almost as annoying as getting down to the laundry room only to discover that the one machine is full and that three other tenants have lined up their baskets on the table beside it. And then there are my summers in Québec. The only way I could take her with me is if I had a car, which I don’t because a) it’s dumb to have a car in New York and b) my budget won’t allow for it. I could rent a car, of course, but do you know what they charge for the one-way US to Canada drop-off fee? A gazillion dollars, that’s how much. This is so awful. I simply cannot afford her!”
“So what are you going to do?”
Julie hasn’t heard a thing I have just said, obviously. But her question is a good one. She doesn’t complete it, but we both know what she truly means to say. What she truly means to say is this: “So what are you going to do to keep Sophie?” And to that question, there is only one answer: Whatever it takes.
Under a full moon this time, down the hill they go, the dog and her cat. Steady still. Past another tree at which they do not stop to sniff either. This is not the time for sniffing trees. This is not the time for sniffing anything. This is the time to do the math. The time to call your friends who’ve recently negotiated salaries with which they are living quite well, to ask them their advice. To call your financial advisor. What would he advise you to ask for if what you want is to live with your dog in a charming mid-sized New England City within a day’s drive from Maine and Québec City, and which comprises the following non-negotiables for housing: a washer and a dryer, central air.
You can’t afford Sophie? You’re right, you can’t afford Sophie. You’re also wrong. You can absolutely afford Sophie. Just not in Brooklyn. In Providence. But only if your future school offers you what your financial advisor indicated that you would need. They won’t, so you need to be ready. You need to be able to do the thing that terrifies you most: advocate for yourself, which is to say negotiate a salary commensurate to what that self is worth. To honor God, you must do it. He gave you a gift in Sophie. You do not refuse a gift from God. There is no gem more precious than this gift he has given to you. You do what it takes to hold it near, to love and care for it.
“Who’s walking who?” asks the man raking leaves on Wyndham Avenue.
He’s watched Sophie lead me cross Pleasant Valley Parkway, her nose to the ground. He’s watched her decide when we stop and when we go. His question needs no answer. In any case, the man doesn’t expect one. It’s clear who’s walking who. A smile in response, then. A flash. And we’re off, up Wyndham Avenue, down Smith Street, Sophie leading the way.