A long time ago, probably before you were born, I lived in another city. My apartment and my office were at opposite ends of the same major street, so I took a bus to and from work weekdays. Some evenings I would get off the bus a few blocks before my home stop, to visit the local grocery store. And some others, I would take a different bus – not for the change of scenery, but because it stopped right in front of the library.
I’d jump off the bus and practically run into the library. I love libraries, and this one was great. And I remember, one evening, just as I was leaving, I passed the table of new books and saw one by Jane Goodall. It was about wild dogs in Africa. I don’t remember the title – it was possibly The Innocent Killers, which she wrote with Hugo van Lawick – but the reason I mention it here is that I was stunned that someone would voluntarily go to absolute nowhere and study wild dogs, just because they spoke to her from within her heart.
That concept was foreign to me at the time. In many ways, it still is.
At the time, I was a media director for an advertising agency in a posh suburb. The pay wasn’t great but the title carried a lot of cachet and what I didn’t get in my paycheck was made up in cocktails, 2-hour lunches and tickets to sporting events. I had a great wardrobe and a nice address, even if I didn’t have the luxury car (still taking the bus, remember). And I thought I was happy, but I wasn’t. I was using all of that external shit to numb the pain of not listening to the wild dogs that spoke from my heart.
Now part of the problem was, I could not have heard those dogs, even if they were howling out loud. I grew up in an environment where external things were very important and internal longings were hushed up because they would not get you any attention, and they surely wouldn’t get you an income. This was drilled into me probably from infancy on, so I lived in my ego for decades.
Even after I left the advertising agency, found someone who could love me in spite of myself, and started a new life, I still based my wants and needs on getting attention and getting an income. I made a lot of money and a lot of mistakes. Although my ego kept me alive for so many years, it didn’t keep me happy. Stupid as it sounds, it is only now that I have retired that I so crave hearing those howls from my heart that tell me what I want to do with my life. And I can’t hear too well. I only get little, faraway sounds.
Right now, the sounds say I must write. But I am also hearing other things, other wild dogs that I want to study. The sounds get louder as I focus on listening for them.
So I will continue to write, but I will also listen for the other yips and yaps and pay attention to them. Jane Goodall was right all those years ago. Even buried in the absolute nowhere of Africa, her life has been bigger and better and more important than mine in so many ways. Because she followed the wild dogs in her heart, instead of her ego.