How far can light travel in four years? The answer could be represented as a very long number. Simplified, the answer is four light-years. Most simply, I like to think of the answer as “Penny.”
Today Miss Penny Mayhem turns four (Earth) years old. The tendency with birthdays is to remark how fast time flies, but it seems Penny flies at relativistic speeds because no one in my family believes she’s only been with us for four trips around the sun.
Emily thought Penny must be six. My brother was certain the little wild thing (Penny, not Emily) was even older. I started to question my own sanity so we had to go back and double check the math. Despite the evidence I’m still not sure my brother is convinced. I’m only marginally more confident.
Such is the way of things with my teacup tempest. Time, space and even reality itself seem to bend to her whim rather than risk her ire. To borrow from George Bernard Shaw, the reasonable dog adapts herself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to herself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable dog.
Penny makes most unreasonable dogs look like Lassie by comparison, so my diminutive demon rightly gets plenty of attention for her work as an agent of chaos. But now more than ever I understand and appreciate her as an agent of progress.
Before Penny, my life was in a rut. Not a dark and depressing rut, but an insidiously comfortable one. After adventuring with Eko for a year we had settled into a familiar and easy schedule. One which I enjoyed lazily traversing on autopilot. The routine was quietly intoxicating, numbing my senses to everything outside of myself.
But there was a hangover each morning. A sobering feeling of melancholy as I looked ahead to a day I had lived a hundred times. Still, I was unable to resist the reassuring pull of habit on my own. That’s when I got the bright idea to outsource the job to Penny.
Maybe I should have seen her off-kilter ridge and titled ears as markers of an unbalanced puppy. Maybe I should have wondered why the littermates all made way when the runt in the red collar came storming through. But I can’t say I wasn’t warned.
John’s final words to me as I carried Penny to the car were, “Watch out for that one, Will. She’s a troublemaker. But remember, I wouldn’t give her to you if you weren’t ready.”
I wasn’t ready. I was too comfortably adapted to my world.
Penny graciously relieved me of that comfort. She disabused me of the notion I knew exactly how to raise a puppy. She took pieces of both my furniture and my sanity. Her existence was a challenge to everything I thought I knew.
Puppy Penny humbled me on a daily basis. She demanded my full attention and engagement. It was an exhausting exercise in self-doubt where I felt like my best wasn’t always enough.
And it wasn’t. So Penny gave me two options – give up, or get better. Some days, I gave up. But more days I committed to getting better. Slowly sharpening the parts of myself dulled from disuse. It was painstaking work, but suffering is the true price of progress.
We progressed through all the challenges of puppyhood and teenage months and came out on the other side scarred, but much improved. Adding Penny to our adventures made each day more vibrant and exciting than it ever could have been without her. Together, Eko and Penny put my heart, mind and soul in a blissful equilibrium between order and chaos.
It all fell to pieces when Eko died. All the love, all the lessons and all the progress swept away in a flood of anger and despair. I pushed everything and everyone away, but Penny was unmoved. Each morning a sharp nose poked its way under the covers and demanded I get out of bed.
Again I suffered with Penny. Not in opposition to her, but truly with her. Both of us thrown down without Eko to keep us balanced and upright.
In the end, the choice was the same one Penny had drilled into me each day – give up or get better. It was an ugly, faltering journey, but slowly we did get better. Not because of time or luck, but because I made a choice. A choice I wouldn’t have been prepared to make without Penny’s wild wisdom.
Before I got Zero a number of people encouraged me to reconsider. A puppy and a baby? No reasonable person thinks that’s a good idea. But after surviving the storm that was Penny, then surviving an even greater storm with Penny, I guess some of that unreasonable nature rubbed off on me.
I brought Zero home and we remade ourselves again. Each of us growing to become something new – something better – than we were before. I was driven by an obstinance borrowed from Miss Mayhem. A mulish insistence I would not bow to circumstance but would instead shape it to my liking.
When Lincoln was born we began again. Again. Throwing what we were into the fire to reforge ourselves as something new. Giving up what we were in order to become what we needed to be. New versions of ourselves strong enough to shape change rather than be swept away by it.
How far can a person travel in four years? There are a lot of ways to answer that question, but perhaps Penny is the best expression of my progress. Time is relentless, but thankfully so is Penny Mayhem. And I’m grateful to my unreasonable pup for her insistence I keep up.
Happy birthday, Penny!