Okay, Caesar, Let's Go Home

To overly obsess about what we think we deserve only ensures that we will dampen the happiness and prolong the hurt.

In March, the month so many of us started grieving before fully understanding exactly how much we were about to lose, I went for a walk with a friend and told him that I was thinking about adopting a dog. I grew up with a neurotic, hilarious and beloved cocker spaniel and was well-versed in the ways having a beloved pet can bring your home to life. I figured that I was ready as I would ever be to responsibly take care of a pet on my own. Besides, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.

“Dogs humble you,” another friend had said when I mentioned the idea of adopting. “They get you out of your head.” Dogs don’t care about our existential bullshit. And as someone who was wearing grooves into the floor of my apartment as I paced and paced, overthinking my way through the beginning of the pandemic, I knew I didn’t just need a furry companion—I needed to be humbled out of my own head. That night, I clicked through profiles on the dog adoption site my friend had mentioned.

Five or so minutes in, after scrolling through a couple of profiles, I arrived at Caesar’s page and was immediately gripped by what can only be described as a kind of love-panic. Four years old, 14 lbs., part chihuahua, part dachshund, all mine.

Here’s an excerpt of what was happening in my brain just then: that is my dog, I don’t know how or why he’s on this website and not on the couch beside me, I don’t know what the hell he’s been doing for the last four years, but that’s my dog and I need to bring him back home.

With the help of friends, I completed my application and spent the next few days thinking of absolutely nothing else. If anything, during interviews with his foster mom, I felt like I had to tamp down the intensity of my feelings about Caesar, lest I seem truly crazy. Play it cool, Saeed. Play it cool. I can still recall the effort required to keep my face still when she offhandedly mentioned someone else being interested in adopting Caesar. I guess I kept it cool enough; after checking my references and randomly texting me keen questions about how I’d deal with various scenarios, the foster mom gave me the all clear. A couple of weeks after first seeing his picture and being seized by love-panic, his foster mom put him in my arms. Holding him felt like home.

I opened the door to my apartment and heard the delightful sound of his paws on my wood floors for the first time on April 1, 2020. That whole day, as he sniffed about and got a feel for the place and for me, I kept thinking that life could be playing a cruel joke on me. It was just too easy. The way he seemed perfectly constructed to curl up with me on my couch while I read books. The way he wanted to be as close to me as possible at all times, which was fine by me as I could use all the comfort I could get. The way people’s eyes lit up when they saw the two of us walking down the street together. Way too easy. There had to be a catch. What right did I have to joy when everything, absolutely everything, was going wrong for everyone?

It was hardly the first time I’ve questioned my right to happiness, and it certainly won’t be the last. I have a tendency to panic when good news comes barreling my way. It takes effort not to shrink away from compliments. The temptation to doubt my joy, even as it lights me up, is always there. Happiness can make me feel guilty, arrogant, primed to be duped. But my friend was right. Dogs do humble you. They do get you out of your head. The practice of loving Caesar, in addition to just being a delight, has also been a practice in accepting joy for what it is whenever it happens to arrive. Don’t question why petting your dog makes you so happy—just pet your dog.

Months later, as Caesar snores on the couch behind me, I’m still learning that joy isn’t a right any more than grief. Our losses and gains are simply realities that act upon us regardless of whether or not we feel we deserve them, though it certainly helps to act with intention. To overly obsess about what we think we deserve only ensures that we will dampen the happiness and prolong the hurt. And anyway, Caesar doesn’t give a hoot about my existential crisis. He just knows I’m home.

Anyway, the next time you doubt your joy, just imagine my dog is giving you this look: