Most of what I know to be true about love and our capacity for change came to me as I stood on a hillside in Thailand, digging a grave for a dog I’d never met.
Do I have your attention? Good. This is a story about hope.
Back in 2019 (when things like this were still possible) I took a three-month backpacking trip through southeast Asia. Before we left, a friend and I signed up for Workaway, a fabulous website that can connect you with amazing volunteer experiences across the globe (when pandemics aren’t happening).
This is how I found Pete’s Mission, an animal rights nonprofit in Thailand that currently hosts thirty-plus dogs, eight pigs, and one cantankerous horse. It’s run by one Aussie man, Ryan, and whatever volunteers are traveling through town and want to help.
(Quick note: The pandemic has decimated the travel industry, and all of the volunteering at Pete’s mission was dependent on travelers, so times are tight over there. If you would like to help support the good work this organization does, you can donate at Petesmission.org. They also have a beautiful IG page @petes_mission. These are NOT affiliate links, I just love this organization).
Now obviously, the way I started this article, you know it wasn’t all fun and games. You’re probably sitting there thinking “you mentioned a dead dog, and I’m scared.”
Don’t worry! As I said, this is a story about hope.
About a week into my time volunteering at Pete’s mission, Ryan found a dead Yorkie-ish dog on the side of the road. She had eaten poison that was left out to kill rats.
As soon as he drove up in the scooter, our resident escape artist Yeti (who was nothing but a bundle of love), jumped the fence and ran over to Ryan.
When Yeti saw that there was another dog in the sidecar of Ryan’s scooter, he started nudging her with his nose, saying “get up! Play with me! There are so many new friends for you here!”
Watching Yeti continue to nudge this nameless dog and whine at a higher and higher pitch, my heart was dashed to pieces on a wave of unfairness. She had died alone, and no one had stopped it. Someone was actually responsible, even if they didn’t intend to be.
Ryan asked me to dig a grave, because she didn’t deserve to be out in the open, her swollen tongue lolling out. I grabbed a shovel and found a good spot on the property.
As I was digging, trying to make sure it was deep enough that no predators could dig her up, I realized something.
I felt fulfilled.
Don’t get me wrong, I was heartbroken. I felt numb and sad and dissociative when I saw this beautiful creature’s life had ended early.
Yet as I sat on the side of a hill, sweating in the Thai sun digging a grave for her, I realized that I had never felt as fulfilled by any work I’d been paid for in my entire life.
The time that we give away to those we love, or use to aid others who are struggling makes us much happier than the time that we sell.
Any kid can tell you that, and you knew that when you were a child! We’ve just forgotten because the modern world demands so much of our attention.
We forget, over and over again, that we are communal animals. Fear of others who look/act differently than us is fed to us constantly by the most powerful members of our species, to keep things the way they are. We are inundated with advertising at all times that teaches us to zealously guard and expand our success for ourselves. To mindlessly consume as many of the limited resources as we can, because we “deserve it.” The entire world is our competition, and we must earn so we can consume the most! Bootstraps!
I call Bull. It’s time to simplify.
I felt more fulfilled burying a dead dog I never knew (for free) than I’ve ever felt making a purchase. No new blender, bed, or electronic device I bought since that moment has made me feel even close to as whole.
The modern world is a booby-trapped castle full of happiness-stealing lies. The only truths, the only things that bring core, foundational happiness, are love and connection.
My time at Pete’s mission was hard. I was bitten a few times, I had to break up dog fights, and the dogs would keep us up barking at random times in the night. But attempting to give love and not being compensated for it with money made it all worth it.
The simple fact that I didn’t have to do it, that I was attempting to do something that didn’t contribute evil to the world, made it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. This is the power of giving away your time.
Stop thinking of yourself as a production machine! You don’t need to be efficient at all times. You don’t need to “always be hustling.” That is a lie. You are a human being. The time that you spend with others will always be more valuable than the time you spend with your nose to the grindstone.
We can do so much better, y’all. And all it takes is reaching out. We have the capacity for change inside of every one of us.
How many times have we heard that nobody wishes they had worked more on their Deathbed? The people you love are here now, and they won’t always be. The people that you don’t love yet are waiting for you right now.
The world is in shambles, and people need your help. That’s all it takes to change the world. To change your world. The decision to reach out and do something that helps anyone else. There is a myriad of volunteer organizations within your own community that need you right now. What are you still doing here? Fulfillment is waiting for you! Go!
Give away more of your time, and sell less of it. You will never regret this.
Before we buried her, we wrapped her in banana leaves and covered her with wildflowers. I decided to call her Rosie because it felt wrong to bury her without a name. At Rosie’s two-person impromptu funeral, I quoted Whitman:
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, if you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.”
We are all going back into the Earth that we came from eventually, y’all. We only have a short amount of time here, and the best possible use of that time is to make it just a little bit easier for someone else. Reach out! The world is not screwed. We’ve just lost our way.
Stop letting the news tell you what everyone who disagrees with you is like, that all of those people are your enemy. Find someone who disagrees with you and remind yourself that they’re a human being. There is still so much hope. We are still a communal species, and we have such a deep capacity for love and understanding.
Let’s make Rosie proud of us. We owe her that much.