The garden

“It’s finished,” said Cadillac Man, as we laid the headstone commemorating his little companion of sixteen years.

He’d chosen this spot months ago as he watched his beloved dog wasting away, day by day. And so we laid Nik to rest here in the shade of the crape myrtle our family planted when we first moved to our home. Nik was a year old then. Cadillac Man was five, soon to finish kindergarten; he’s entering his last year of college now.

The tree in its fullness marks the passing of time. It was young when my boy with black curls and his little red dachshund were young. I think of myrtle being an ancient funeral flower, how it represents love and faithfulness . . . never mind that a crape myrtle isn’t a true myrtle. The name association is enough; the symbolism perfect. As the pink blossoms collect here by Nik’s likeness, I recollect the bright spot of happiness he was throughout my son’s childhood, throughout the life of my family.

The statue is my doing. Cadillac Man drove me on a four-hour round trip to get it. “It’s just like him!” he exclaimed when he saw it.

Yes. For the garden is not here for remembering that Nik’s no longer with us after so many years, whenever we see it through the kitchen windows or as we pass by on our daily comings and goings. It is not for mourning, or to assuage our pain.

It’s here to celebrate the gift of his life—a garden of gratitude.

It is complete.

*******

And so, it would seem, the Nik stories are complete.

The Nik collection:

Good-bye, mighty Nik

Cadillac Man shares his writing!

Dogged determination

Of calluses and rings

My older son showed me his hands this morning: “Look, Mom.”

He has tiny calluses across both palms from working out.

It causes me to reflect on why we labor hard enough at something for the friction to wear such places on our skin. To my son, the weight training is worth the effort for his physical well-being; he is dedicated to his regimen. His hands pay this small price for the health of the rest of his body.

In the photo above, a man’s ring has worn a callus on his palm when he forgot to remove it before a mountain bike race. It draws me because I have a similar, very faint callus on my own left palm from my wedding band. As I hardly race mountain bikes or use my hands in intensive manual labor on a daily basis—and I don’t even wear my rings while at home due to contact with soaps, cleansers, and detergents—it’s a bit mysterious as to why this hard little spot exists on my hand. I’ve decided that it’s occurred over time, over many, many years of marriage.

Therein lies the rub, so to speak. The ring, over time, has worn the callus. Might it be symbolic of marriage friction? For, let’s face it, no two people can live under the same roof for long without some earnest element of friction. But in a strong marriage—in any strong relationship—the labor of love is worth it; you keep at it. As long as your hearts don’t become callused (and your attitude callous) toward one another, the relationship protects itself against the friction. That’s what a callus is, a protection-against-the-friction place.

Last Saturday, my younger son, Cadillac Man, showed me the huge callus on his own palm. It’s from the shovel he used to dig the grave for Nik, our sixteen-year-old dachshund. This little dog was his daily companion since he was four and saw him almost through college.

If you’ve ever raised a dachshund, you know about friction . . . .

But the callus on Cadillac Man’s hand is a labor of love.

And worth it, for while his heart (and mine) are presently more sore than his hand, we expect more calluses yet, for we’re going to make a memorial garden where Nik is buried. A beautiful callus on the earth, if you will. A protection-against-the-friction of having to let him go, a working toward healing by building up a place of strength. The pains of creating our little memorial will be insignificant compared to the expected result.

It happens to be Memorial Day weekend. I think of men and women wearing wedding rings given by spouses who’ve died in service of the United States. Of families and friends marking the losses of those they loved. They’ll bear the scars of it on their hearts always. I think of those who fell, in this generation and all those before, believing that, if they must pay the price of their lives for the well-being of others, the outcome would be worth it.

Labors of love, protection-against-the-friction.

The story of sacrifice, sometimes complete, often beautiful, lies in the hard places left behind.

 

Good-bye, mighty Nik

Nikolaus, 2004. Age 2. 

Dear Nikolaus,

I write to celebrate you and your long, long life.

To thank you for the joy you brought and the love you gave for so many years.

To ask your forgiveness.

When you first came to our family, we were elated.

April 2002. Age 3 months.

You see, we’d been looking for a little dog because we had a little boy who wanted one so badly. Big dogs frightened him.

But you were perfect.

April 2002. Nikolaus age 3 months. Cadillac Man age 4.

And so you grew up together.

You weren’t always easy, but you were always, always loved. Despite the countless accidents in the house and that time you snuck a chicken strip off of little Cadillac Man’s plate and ran for all you were worth with your booty. Not to mention how you figured out a way to climb on top of the furniture to get the boys’ Valentine and Easter chocolate. And ate it all, leaving only the wrappers behind. More than once. How did you do it and not get sick?

We began to think, all things considered, that you might be immortal. After all, you outlasted legions of other pets. The boys began to joke about you plotting the demise of every other dog, for they came and went throughout the years, but you remained. No one questioned your alpha status. Not even the dogs seven times your size, when you took their rawhides and their pillows for your own. They just sat, blinking in respectful disbelief, at your Napoleonic powers.

There’s so much to say, for we shared so much together. I am thankful for my special place in your little heart. How, when you were young and strong, you’d jump up on the couch to curl up beside me or to crawl in my lap. For the hours I spent working on the computer and you were snuggled behind me, between my back and the chair. I loved you and your deep, abiding warmth, always near, just being. Just together.

How the boys loved you. How they laughed as we tried to teach you to roll over, to sit and beg, the two tricks you’d pull off multiple times in succession just to get one treat.

How much comfort you gave them when they were hurting, from boyhood to manhood. They held you in their arms, but you, well—you were holding their hearts all along.

January 2017. Cadillac Man, age 19, celebrating Nik’s 15th birthday with a car ride.

Time is no friend, is it, old sweet Nik. Not when it takes your youth so that you can’t jump anymore but have to be picked up and carried. Not when it turns your face and paws so white. Not when it takes your sight, your hearing, even your ability to understand exactly where you are and what’s going on.

Here’s what I marvel over: That you tried to run through the grass like always, even when you couldn’t see. That you could still find me in bathroom getting ready for work each morning. That you never forgot where your treats were, or that you should get one after coming in from outside, even when it had to be broken into small pieces for you to chew. I knew you could only find them by smell; that’s why I put your broken-up treats on the kitchen rug, so you wouldn’t push them all across the floor trying to get them into your mouth.

I marvel over your ever-voracious appetite, how you ran for your bowl every morning, even if we had to guide you just a bit.

And I worried when you started losing weight.

May 2018. Age 16. 

The vet said your blood work was amazing for a dog of your age; never saw the like. Said your heart was strong. Said things like cancer can make a dog lose weight despite plenty of food, and it wouldn’t show in the blood. Gave you the pain medicine which made you sleep but also tore your bowels up so that we couldn’t give it to you anymore.

And still you rallied, although every day you got thinner and thinner.

Cadillac Man watched you staggering and falling in the yard.

Mom, he looks like a skeleton. He’s just going in circles. 

Mom, it may be time.

Mom, I just got on the scales with him. He’s under seven pounds.

Three weeks before, you were about nine pounds.

When you were a young dog, you were nearly twenty pounds.

On Saturday, when I gave you your last bath, I could see every vertebra on your back, could feel every knob on your tiny tail. For the first time in your life, you sat in the bathwater, too weak to stand.

When we wrapped you in your “Happiness is a Dachshund” blanket to take you to another vet, I didn’t know it was going to be good-bye.

I didn’t.

I thought maybe another medication would help. Or another suggestion. You’d made it so far, so well, until then. The regular vet said your heart was strong, so . . .

The new vet said:

I can’t fix the blindness.

I can’t fix the deafness.

I can’t fix the severe cognitive impairment.

You can run tests to see why he’s losing the weight, but it would only be for academic purposes. Just to know. He’s a very old, weak dog.

Cadillac Man looked at me, holding you in his arms:

Mom, there’s hardly anything left of him.

How to let you go like this, when you’d been so utterly trusting and loving your entire life?

You looked at me with your tired, cloudy eyes, and I wasn’t sure what you were seeing. Maybe me. Maybe not.

I couldn’t know how much pain you felt; you never complained. You just kept going, for it’s all you knew to do.

I loved you. I struggled then, I struggle now with the decision, but I believe the boy—the man—who loved you best knew what was best.

And so we stroked your sweet head when you breathed your last—one tiny sigh, of contentment, of resignation, of release—utterly, utterly peaceful.

And I take comfort where I can find it. When I read about euthanizing suffering pets, when I talk to others who’ve been there, I don’t question the logic. Of course no one wants to watch their beloved endure prolonged suffering. When I think of your ravaged little body, I know you couldn’t bear much more. Your determination, your will, was astounding. That’s where I struggle. That’s why I write. It’s a matter of the spirit, see.

I write to celebrate our long run together. Sixteen years.

I write to thank you for your unconditional love, and to tell you that mine is just as unconditional. I love you still, even now that you’re gone.

I write to thank you for the joy you brought to two young boys for so long. You’re indelibly written on their hearts, as long as they live.

I write to say I’m sorry. For all the times I lost my patience, for the times I could have made more time, for being part of that last, anguishing decision. But if you were going to go, I was going to be there with you, all the way.

And I ask your forgiveness, because the weight is so hard to carry. But old age and sickness are hard to carry, too, aren’t they.

For something so little, you are so mighty, Nik.

I imagine you always will be.

Cadillac man shares his writing!

A few days ago, I wrote about my son, the Cadillac man. I call him this for his lifelong love of the brand, especially his grandfather’s 1989 Sedan de Ville, which was bequeathed to him. I wrote how the Cadillac man hates writing and only did what was necessary all through school, to my despair.

Sometimes the smallest things shift the universe in mighty ways. During my month-long daily Slice of Life Story Challenge, Cadillac man read my blog post from our dog Henry’s perspective and was inspired, for the first time in his twenty years, to write a story.

“I wonder,” he said, “if I can write a post from Nik’s perspective. To see if I can actually do it.” 

He DID do it.

Then he said, of his own volition (wonders never cease!), “Mom, you can put it on your blog if you want to.”

Here’s what you need to know: Nik is our very old dachshund. We got him as a puppy when Cadillac man was only four. The old man in this story is my husband (“WHAT?” my husband howls with laughter—he’s loud, all right—”Old man? Really?”). The boys are Cadillac man and his big brother. Then there’s me.

Note the recurrence of Darkness. Cadillac man says to tell you that for Nik, “the Darkness” is being confined to a crate, the worst thing of all to him. The “something wrong” is my husband’s diagnosis of ocular melanoma two years ago, resulting in the loss of his eye. 

Today, I celebrate my son’s writing. Again I say: When you finally show up for the writing, the writing shows up for you, and gets you through. 

Published with permission from Cadillac man:

Nik’s Perspective

“Nikolaus, get back on your bed!”

The old man was screaming again. This was nothing unusual. He always seemed to be screaming at something. Whether it was at the people in the glowing window, or in the box he holds to his head, he screamed at everything. I don’t even think he’s angry most of the time; he just seems to be perpetually screaming.

The difference now is that I can barely hear it.

In January, I celebrated my sixteenth birthday. Sixteen years of life, celebrated in one short day.

When I was born, the first Human I had was an elderly lady, not much older than me in human years now. I don’t remember much about her, but I remember the Darkness. The closed-in Darkness that haunts me to this day. I still have to endure it occasionally, but it’s nothing like it was. The Darkness was always there; it enveloped me and I couldn’t leave it until the mesh door was opened, and back then it was only open for eats.

My first vivid memory was when I met them. The loud old man, the (then) teenager, the (then) toddler, and her. Oh, how I loved her. She always filled my bowl just right, she always gave the treats I loved, and she was the warmest lap to nap on. She was also the one who took me to the white place, which was almost as bad as the Darkness. The white place was where these humans poked and prodded me and gave me the needle. But if I was a good boy, which I always was, she, the teenager, or the toddler would give me a treat.

Most of my time was spent with the two He’s, the teenager and the toddler. I vividly remember nights spent curled up in their arms. Those were the warmest places. I felt safe there. I’ve seen the teenager grow into a man, leave the home, make a life for himself, and come back. And I saw the toddler grow into his 20s. I saw him through every hardship, every death, every break-up, and every victory. I remember his long sleepless nights as he stayed awake holding me for warmth, as I am a very warm dog. I remember the sudden screaming at night that would scare me to death at first, but I got used to it and eventually learned how to wake him up when it happened.

I remember all the other associates I had over the years. Some left to find other families, and some left when their time down here was no more. There was Duke, the tough yellow one with whom I worked the first six years of my life, until heartworms took him way too soon. There was Toby, who came after Duke, who was a bit older than me. He was a great partner until he just didn’t wake up one morning. There was Phoebe, Godiva, Tex (I’m not convinced he was even a real creature of this earth). There was Natalie, whose tenure here was ended after an altercation left me with a bloody nose.

Then came the dark day. I don’t understand exactly what it was; perhaps I never will. All I remember was the loud old man coming home, looking defeated and unsure. I remember being in the big room with the glowing window, which wasn’t glowing at that time. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but suddenly the whole room fell completely dark, like the Darkness had gotten control of the Humans. I knew there had to be something wrong with the old man. I had never really liked him. He was loud and scary. But I knew I had to do the right thing. I spent that whole day curled up next to him, which I rarely did. He seemed so calm and so quiet that it worried me.

The old man is back to his old self again, with the exception that I don’t think he can see very well anymore. But for that matter, neither can I.

My only way of finding out where I am or who I’m with is by smelling. I can’t find my bowl on my own anymore, but every morning they still fill it just right, and I eat every bite. I can’t walk up the steps to the room where I sleep, but the toddler-now-20-year-old still carries me up there every night. There are two other associates who do most of the comfort and protection work for me. There’s Banjo, the loud boisterous one who stays outside and protects from intruders, and Henry, who stays inside with me and tries his best to make me stay in my bed, even if it gets on my nerves. They both will carry my torch of comfort and protection long after I’m gone, I have no doubt. The Humans are in good hands with these two.

These humans were my life. I spent years as their comforter, their walking partner, their protector, and their friend. They saved me from the Darkness that could’ve endured my entire life. And as I sit here, just waiting, all I can hope for is that I saved them from their Darkness, too.

-Nikolaus Haley, expert red dachshund

The writing shows up

While I—er, I mean Henry, our dog—composes his own blog post, my younger son (the Cadillac man) drifts through the kitchen.

I pull up a previous post on my phone and hand it to him:

“Here, read the comments about you and Pa-Pa’s Cadillac.”

He reads, smiles. He’s pleased but says little. He’s a man of few words.

He won’t ask, so I tell him what I—um, Henry—is working on: “This is the next post. Henry is writing it in response to one I wrote about him interrupting my writing.”

“Hmmm,” replies the Cadillac man.

“Want to read it?”

“Sure.”

So the Cadillac man sits down at the table and takes my laptop. He reads Henry’s post-in-progress.

“I like it,” he says.

He sits for a minute.

Then: “I wonder if I could write from Nik’s perspective.”

Nikolaus is our sixteen-year-old dachshund. We got him as a puppy when my son was four.

As I take my laptop back, I say, rather airily, “You should try it.”

I don’t expect him to.

He hates writing.

This is a big, jagged stake in my heart.

His older brother loves writing and even maintained a blog for a while, long before I started this one. But the Cadillac man has gone all the way through his academic career cracking books only when he had to, writing only when forced for assignments, and utterly exasperating me with his lack of interest. He didn’t struggle with reading or writing. He just didn’t care about any of it.

At all. Ever.

He’s a brilliant musician, however, and a powerful vocalist. He’s loved music all of his life. At age seventeen, two weeks after graduating from high school, he was hired as a church music director. He’s working on a degree in that field. He’s adapted songs, composed a little—”just the music, not the words. I don’t do words”—and coaches others as they try playing instruments new to them. He speaks beautifully before a crowd, did so at Ma-Ma’s funeral despite not having any notes, because . . . he hates to write.

So, when he mentions writing about Nik, I think he’s just wondering out loud, nothing more.

He leaves the room. He comes back to the kitchen table with his new Chromebook.

“Do you have homework?” I ask.

“No, Mom, it’s spring break, remember? I’m going to write a story from Nik’s perspective. To see if I can actually do it.”

What?

The first time in his twenty years that he’s chosen to write a story.

I feel like the floor under my feet is shifting, that the Earth itself hangs in the balance. I have to leave the room.

I can’t stand it. I have to know.

I creep back into the kitchen.

He’s typing away.

“How’s it going?” I dare to ask.

“Pretty good.”

“Is it . . . fun?” I hear my voice quaver.

“It’s sad, really,” he says.

He finishes, lets me read it.

We know Nik won’t be with us much longer. He’s old. Frail. He’s going blind; his eyes are turning milky. My son’s words show Nik making his peace with all of this, that he’s satisfied he’s served his family well, and how he knows our other two dogs will “carry my torch of comfort and protection long after I’m gone.”

The attribution reads Nikolaus Haley, expert red dachshund.

My throat is tight. Nik and the Cadillac man have been together almost their entire lives. Every single day. They wear a matching red-and-black checkered friendship bracelet and collar.

“It’s a powerful story,” I manage.

“Thanks,” says my son, softly. He gets up from the table, gathers Nik, who’s been wandering aimlessly around the kitchen this whole time, and takes him upstairs to “the lair,” as we call it.

I read the story again and again.

Thinking how he said to see if I can actually do it.

I think he meant getting in Nik’s head to write from his beloved dog’s viewpoint, rising to meet a challenge he set for himself.

And then I think how, when you finally show up for the writing, the writing shows up for you, and pulls you through.

Dogged determination

nikolaus

Nikolaus

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word perseverance? Perhaps it’s The Little Engine That Could. Or Jim Valvano.

I think of Nikolaus.

He’s a dachshund, and if you’ve ever owned one or read E.B. White, you know that the breed tends to be stubborn—as my eastern North Carolinian father would say, “hard-headed.”

Nik came to us when he was three months old. My boys, ages twelve and four, had been begging for a miniature dachshund after they puppy-sat one for friends on vacation. They knew exactly what they wanted: A little chocolate female. So when another friend called to say that her elderly mother had this very creature but could not take care of it, and if we wanted this puppy, we could have it, my boys were elated.

On the much-anticipated day of arrival, we opened the crate door and out strutted Nik. He was tiny, weighing maybe five pounds.

Within sixty seconds, these things developed:

“Mom, she’s not chocolate,” the older son observed. The puppy’s glossy coat was deep red, nearly crimson.

“Mom, she’s peeing on the carpet!” squealed the younger son. A remarkably large puddle, I might add, for a bladder so small.

“And she’s a boy,” I noted, running for the paper towels.

Just sixty seconds to an inkling that This Might Not Be What We Imagined.

Nik looked at us lovingly, wagging his tail.

He was, I decided in the weeks and months that followed, completely untrainable. He could not control his bladder. He wet the carpet, sofa, beds, everything. He would not “go” when we took him outside. Crate training did not work at all; he eliminated in the crate immediately upon entering. Exasperated, I asked the vet: “Why isn’t this working? I read that dogs don’t like to mess up their dens.”

The vet shrugged. “With some dogs, it’s just a behavioral issue.”

Great, I thought. We have a disturbed dog. It did not occur to me until much later that he’d been crated a lot as a puppy because his elderly owner could not keep up with the demands of caring for him. He cried loudly the whole time he was in the crate. Nik, I learned, never wanted to be confined.

The futile attempt to housebreak him reached its zenith a year after we moved into a new house.

“Boys, I don’t know what else to do. I’ve tried everything. I can’t housebreak Nik. He hates his crate, I’m going to work full-time, and he can’t just mess up everything. Maybe it’s time for him to go to a new home.”

The younger son began to sob. “No! We can’t give him away. He’s ours. We’re his family.”

My husband, not Nik’s biggest fan by a long shot, melted: “Shh, don’t cry, son. We won’t give Nik away.”

I glared at him.

“Nik can stay in my room when we’re all out,” offered the older son. “I’ll clean up if he has an accident.”

I thought of the new carpet and sighed. “All right, then. This means everyone is going to have to look after him. EVERYONE.”

The strange thing is that Nik seemed to know about this, because, from that time forward, he was instantly, miraculously housebroken. Whenever he needed to go, he went to the back door and waited to be let out. Just like that. After two years of abject failure.

The boys taught this untrainable dog to “sit pretty” for a treat, which meant that at every meal Nik was by one of our chairs, holding his pose like a groundhog in hopes that we’d give him a bite to eat. I taught him to roll over, so if sitting pretty didn’t work, he’d roll over to get his treat. That’s his entire repertoire: Two tricks.

Nik follows me everywhere in utter devotion, and when he was younger he’d jump into my chair to wedge himself between me and the chair back when I was writing. He is wary of my husband—they are competitors for my attention—but as soon as my husband leaves the room, Nik flies over to curl up in my lap, as if claiming me.

The boys say, “He loves you the best.”

Nik’s intense gaze seems to say the very same thing. He watches my every move.

A couple of years ago, we thought we were about to lose him.

My husband and I heard him fall on the landing of the stairs leading to the upstairs bedroom, dubbed “Nik’s lair,” as Nik was long accustomed to staying there during the day when the family was out. He’d also go up whenever he was tired or ready to go to bed for the night. By this time the older son was grown and gone, and the room belonged to the younger one, who was not home at the moment. On hearing Nik fall, my husband and I rushed to find him crumpled but conscious on the landing.

My husband began to cry.

“Stop it! You, of all people, crying about Nik! Don’t tell me you’re attached to him after all!”

“It’s the boys,” sobbed my husband. “Having to tell them that Nik . . . that he might . . .”

I picked Nik up as carefully as I would a newborn baby. “Let me wrap him in a blanket. You’re driving us to the vet. Stop crying.”

The trouble was two kinked-up vertebrae; the vet pointed them out. He dispensed medication and sent us home.

I made a pallet for Nik in the living room and covered him with the blanket. For two days, Nik didn’t walk. The younger son slept  on the couch to be near him at night. Nik didn’t eat or “go” when we took him outside. He just looked at us with big eyes and never made a sound. When he’s not crated, Nik hardly ever makes any noise.

In the wee hours of the third morning, I woke up and decided to check on Nik. My son was sound asleep on the couch. Nik’s blanket was still tucked on his pallet, but he was nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t on the couch with my son. I started searching, increasingly alarmed as minutes passed with no sign of Nik. He’s crawled off away from us to die. That’s what animals do. He wasn’t in the kitchen, under the chair where he likes to take his treats.

I woke my son: “Where’s Nik?”

“He’s not on his pallet?” asked my groggy teenager.

“No! I can’t find him anywhere!”

I woke my husband: “Nik has disappeared!”

“How is that possible?” He and my son looked again in all the places I’d just looked.

Then I thought, No—surely not—I don’t know how he could . . . 

The upstairs bedroom. That’s where he’d want to be, if . . . .

My heart pounding, dread deepening with every step, I climbed the stairs and opened the bedroom door.

I turned on the light.

No Nik. Normally he’d have jumped on my son’s bed and gone to sleep.

But he couldn’t jump now, not with his back . . . very carefully, I lifted the dust ruffle.

A tail thumped in greeting, and two eyes looked out at me as if to say, I just came up to bed like I always do. 

I cannot envision how he did it, how he dragged himself from his pallet all the way up the stairs to his favorite, safe place. After three days of not being able to walk at all. Knowing he could not jump, he contented himself with sleeping under the bed instead of on top of it.

I do not cry easily, but I did then.

He recuperated, and it happened again a month ago. This time Nik could not walk for a week and a half. The vet—a different one now—called to see how he was faring.

“He’s not any better,” I said into the phone. “No change. He wags his tail at us, but he can’t move.”

“It may be time to think about the quality of life,” the vet said, gently.

We tried to talk about it, the boys, their dad, and I.

“But he knows us still,” I said. “He doesn’t seem to be suffering, except for not being able to walk.”

“Yeah, it’s not like he’s in a coma,” said the younger son.

“If you make that decision, I want to be there,” said the older son, who’d come by on his way home from work. He rubbed Nik’s head.

Nik looked at us lovingly.

Another day passed, and another. He still did not walk.

My younger son and I took turns bringing Nik’s food and water to him. Nik ate and drank. Good signs. I carried him out several times a day; he obediently did what he needed to do, lying in the grass. I carried him back inside, put him in his beloved new dog bed, and covered him with a blanket.

More days passed.

Then one day when I carried him out, I felt his back legs press against my side. When I put him down, he stood. By himself, for a few seconds, on his old white paws, looking at me lovingly from his little white face, before his legs gave out and he flopped down.

Each day after he could stand for a bit longer at a time.

He is fifteen now, turning sixteen in January.  He runs from room to room again like he did when he was a puppy, still begging for treats although he can’t sit pretty anymore or even see his treats as well as he once did, but he gobbles them just like always.

And every night, one of us carries him upstairs to his favorite, safe place to sleep.

Reflect: Who—or what—represents perseverance to you?  Why? What have you learned from this person or situation, and what have you learned about yourself?