The other day I was at the Arboretum of the Experimental Farm in Ottawa with one of my clients. This is where we always meet. The natural beauty and the peacefulness of the place provides the perfect setting for our work. I always bring my dog, Sky, as this is just about her favorite place on earth. Why? ......Squirrels! Hundreds of them can be seen everywhere...red, black and grey, small and large, running across the paths, taunting at the base of trees and dashing through bushes and undergrowth.
As we were nearing the end of our walk and session, Sky flew by us, fast on the heels of a small red blur. We smiled and shook our heads, as we always do ---- and then we stopped dead. My right arm flew out and I grabbed my client by the left shoulder. The squirrel had gone up a tree. And so had Sky.
With both of us staring in disbelief, my client said "Do you have a camera." I said "Yes, on my phone in the car." "Go get it, you have time." he said. But I didn't move. All I could picture was her falling when she realized what she had done and I needed to get close to her.
I went to the base of the tree and my client said "She is at least 12 feet up." I didn't bother to check because he excels at math and I knew he was right. As I stood there, Sky looked at the ground, then at me, then she looked higher up the tree, saw the squirrel and went up another two feet. I stayed where I was staring at her. She looked at me again, ran straight down the trunk, leapt to the ground and was immediately in pursuit of another furry beast.
Ten minutes later, in the car and heading home, I was still dazed by what I had seen. But I rationalized what had made it possible. First of all, and most importantly - no one had ever told Sky she couldn't climb a tree. Secondly, the tree was rare, unknown to me, and had three large trunks, all of which 'v' - ed out from the base making the trunk angle less steep. The bark was coarse and richly textured, with deep grooves and swirls. Finally, I had somehow been able to stand by, calmly, and didn't panic, which gave her confidence, even when I was scared she would fall.
So what if we take what we learned from this dog climbing tree story and apply it to life? First of all, people (and animals) shouldn't be told that they can't chase their dreams. What would make any of us think this was our right anyway? And yet it happens. Secondly, if we are supporting someone who is struggling, then we need to work with them and find ways to make their road less steep, and their footing more secure - to build in all the accommodations needed for their success, even when we need to look hard to find them because they might not be that common. And third, when the naysayers around us are telling us to give up on those we love ("your daughter really should go into the Applied stream at school. There's less chance for failure, it's less risky and the Academic route is really challenging...") we need to follow our gut and stand our ground in support, even when we are scared and can't bear the thought of someone we love getting hurt.
I wonder if Sky was scared in that tree? Maybe, but probably not - and I bet she had a great view from the top.