No is new to me. Until recently, it wasn’t something I often said. I knew yes; hell, I yes’d my way through my twenties and thirties the way undergrads drink themselves through college. I committed, I overcommitted and then I resented. Yes was safe; yes was easy. When I didn’t yes, I maybe’d, then gained the requisite guilt when I inevitably postponed or cancelled. No, I didn’t know No. Until recently.
This summer I suffered an unexpected, devastating loss. I couldn’t make it a few hours without crying; I learned No out of necessity. Spending all day trying to not cry in public, I couldn’t face the agony of doing so in my evenings and weekends. So I cancelled plans, engagements, and turned down invitations. No was what I could do; it was all I could do. I retreated into my house, into my self, and sat with my grief. It was hard and awful and I wanted to crawl out of my skin most days. No allowed me to hurt in private, heal in public.
And one day, months into my loss, I made it through a day without tears. Then another. And as my spirit slowly returned, I found myself wanting to see friends again. To spend time with people I loved, possibly even meet new ones. No gave me myself back, and what remained in my new self was the ability to say No.
No is brave; no is ballsy. No is scary and No is hard; it’s not what others usually want to hear. No teaches you about yourself, and also shines light on others…No shows how people react to this and gives you a gimpse of who they are. No teaches you more than yes ever will.
The irony of No isn’t lost on me; it was one of the first words I taught my dog, Lila Belle. And it was losing her this past May, without warning and preparation, that unexpectedly provided me this lesson. She taught me love, she taught me loyalty, and just as I – years ago – taught her No, she taught me its power and worth. I miss her every day, but am grateful for yet another one of her lasting gifts: The Gift of No.