On a beautiful pre-dawn September morning in 2018, Morty magically appeared on our security cameras at the school door looking more like a shaggy skunk than a Shih-Tzu. One moment, our cameras showed nothing. At the next moment, there he was, beguiling all logic and sense. Morty was flea-ridden, covered in mange, mostly blind, and was sporting a huge cancerous mass on his skinny rump. The SPCA would later tell us that he had minimally been living in the wild for the better part of a year or longer. They said it was a miracle he was alive. Morty clearly wasn’t bothered by any of that trauma as he strolled right in the doors acting like he owned the place. Before long, he officially became part of the family.
I was immediately humbled by Morty’s willingness to trust others after all he endured. How could an old beaten dog so easily believe that my family would be good to him? But he did. And that faith was rewarded in spades as my wife, daughters, and I nursed Morty back to health. He bounced back fast and soon was accompanying me to school each day. Morty quickly became the school mascot. He even earned a spot in our coveted yearbook. Everyone loved him.
Morty passed away in August of 2021. Even though I was confident Morty had lived his best life during those years, I took his passing incredibly hard. If I am being honest, it was harder than any human loss I had ever experienced, including the death of my dad when I was younger and even going through a divorce. It took many long hard months of grieving (and therapy) to finally realize why I was shook so foundationally.
At its core, I simply couldn’t understand what I had done to deserve a love so pure and unconditional. No matter how badly I felt about myself, even on my very worst days, Morty was always there by my side, glued to my hip, securely plopped in my lap, looking up at me with an unrelenting faith in his eyes. Maybe I was keeping score, but Morty sure wasn’t. I was there. That’s all that mattered to him.
In my line of work as a principal, I deal with dozens of different stakeholders every single day. From kids to parents to teachers to central office to custodians to bus drivers and more, it’s a whirlwind of constituents all with different needs, objectives, and personalities. While I know I can’t make everyone happy, it’s tempting to try because we often judge our own self-worth based on what others think of us. Over the years, I’ve come to accept that trying to satisfy everyone, heck, trying to satisfy anyone, is a fool’s errand. As the saying goes, “If you try to make everyone happy, everyone will be happy except you.” I’ve learned to simply focus on remaining true to the only question that matters when making decisions for a school, “Is this what’s best for kids?” But I still judged myself on how others felt about me. I could make the right decisions for kids in the face of dozens of dissenting voices, but I couldn’t make the decision to love myself.
In many ways, I was judging Morty’s unconditional love for me. How could he feel so positively about me when others did not? How could he look past my mortal foibles and ugly warts? It was simple. Morty loved me despite all of those things. So if that little dog, who had experienced so much pain and abandonment in his life, could love me without judgment, surely it would be okay to love myself, too, wouldn’t it? Yes. Yes, indeed. And that truly was Morty’s miracle.