The secret to happiness: just one tennis ball

♪♫♪ I’m a new soul, I came to this strange world / Hoping I could learn a bit bout how to give and take…

I know I’m very lucky to be able to go to school in a city so close to home. On a good traffic-less day, Naperville is only an hour away from UIC, so my parents are able to come visit me pretty often, and they often visit me and bring me food or all miscellaneous items I was scatterbrained enough to forget. And when I do want to go home, it’s never far, just a short train or car ride away. I do my best to find a happy medium between spending time with friends, learning to be independent, and experiencing Chicago, and going home to familiar surroundings in the safe suburbs of Naperville. But I’ve never been one to be homesick because there is so much going on in the city around me. And to be honest, there’s not very much for me to miss in Naperville because I see my parents when they visit me, my brother is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and all of my friends are at various colleges.

He always looks like he's smiling, especially with his tennis ball! :)

But there is one friend that I always miss with my whole heart when I’m not home: Charlie.

Charlie is my neighbors Don and Caren’s dog, and he is hands down the happiest dog I know. Rarely do I step outside my house and not see him pacing his lawn back and forth, eagerly greeting all of his neighborhood friends with a tennis ball in his mouth. Everyone in our subdivision knows and loves Charlie, and he knows and loves everybody too. Many dog-walkers and their dogs stop by to say hello to Charlie because they know how well-behaved and friendly he is with other dogs and people. While he is just naturally very good-natured, I’m sure this is also in part due to Don’s unparalleled ability to train dogs to behave and listen to him so well. Growing up just across the street since I was a kid, I have seen Don and Caren raising their dogs to be the most friendly and obedient dogs in the neighborhood. Charlie is no exception, and he is able to lounge about the front lawn without a leash because he has been so well-trained to be friendly with others and to stay out of the street.

Of course Charlie has friends everywhere, but since Don and Caren live directly across the street from us, my mom and I like to believe that Charlie gets especially excited when he sees us! Both my mom and I are constantly dropping whatever we’re doing and going over to visit and play with him. He is even able to recognize my mom’s car and know when it is her turning into the street!

Hanging with one of my best friends

Charlie loves to play with my mom because he knows that sometimes he might even get a treat from her. Whenever my mom or I leave our house or return home, we are almost always greeted with the uplifting sight of Charlie on his lawn with his tail wagging quick as a whip, eagerly waiting for us to come over and toss the tennis ball for him to play. And boy, does he love to play with that tennis ball! Usually whenever I get home from the grocery store, the YMCA, or anywhere at all, I rush across the street so that I can greet him with a big hug and kiss. I’ll then spend some time just throwing the ball to Charlie as far as I can, into the next lawn, over and over and he will always find the energy to sprint to it, find it, and bring it back to me. I typically tire out first, and once I sit down on the grass, he often lays down next to me, still chewing on his ball. Over the years, Charlie has surely gone through countless tennis balls, and there’s always a few lying around the front lawn! But it doesn’t matter which one he favors that particular day because as long as he has a tennis ball in his mouth, he’s truly the happiest dog alive.

Just gliding through the water

Before I had to come back to UIC for summer courses, Don was kind enough to take me along to see Charlie swimming! As Don explained to me, almost all dogs love to swim, but Labrador Retrievers like Charlie especially love to swim, and are very talented at it because they even have webbing between their toes to help them. Don always told me how much Charlie loved to swim too, so I was so excited to be able to see it up close and personal! One sunny Saturday morning, Charlie hopped into the back seat of Don’s car and we drove to a pond just a few minutes away from our street. Once we reached the edge of the pond, Don threw the ball far into the water…and it took almost no time at all for Charlie to leap in right after it! It was astounding how strong of a swimmer he was, and within seconds he retrieved the ball, swam back, and climbed back out, dripping wet and looking as happy as any dog could be. After shaking off all the water (onto Don and me!) he was ready right away for another round of swimming. For the next hour, Don and I took turns playing fetch with Charlie by the pond, and I was able to see just how much Charlie loved to swim. Don also showed me a little bit of how he trains Charlie by commanding him to stay after the ball is thrown and wait (with a great deal of patience) until Don allows him to chase after the ball. A couple of times, Charlie would be too eager to get his ball back, and he would jump the gun and leap in the water early. Then Don would hold him back and command him again vocally with hand motions, and Charlie would learn very quickly what he was supposed to do. After a couple of tries at sounding stern, I was also able to get Charlie to listen to my commands! It really shows how obedient and smart he is, especially when he’s able to discern Don’s commands by hand gestures alone. After spending some time running in the sun to dry off, we drove Charlie home for his bath…it was a fantastic day for all of us!

My neighbor Don with his dog Charlie

So whenever it’s time for me to go back to the city, I probably miss Charlie more than anything else in Naperville. Dogs are just so wonderful, always channeling such a carefree, bubbling joy that’s absolutely contagious. Whenever I’m around Charlie, I can’t help but smile and forget about all of my worries and stress for the moment. I just enjoy my time with one of the biggest sources of pure happiness I know. Playing with Charlie and other dogs always makes me believe that things like animal-assisted therapy are so effective because of this — because people are able to grow from the special kind of positivity that only animals can provide.

In other news, in Chicago, all is going well so far with classes, research, and apartment life. I’m enjoying the sense of freedom again that comes with living the city. Being productive is a good feeling! Classes are going super fast since everything is sped up during the 8-week summer session. I’m really glad I read ahead because it makes staying on top of things a lot easier. It’s also much less stressful to balance schoolwork with working in the lab for about four hours every day. So far everything I have done has been very interesting! In my lab, the researchers are working on developing drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s fascinating to me because it feels like for the first time I can finally see all the concepts I spent so long learning in organic chemistry put into real work in a medicinal chemistry lab. My supervisor is a graduate student named Emily who is so smart and patient — I’m learning a lot from her! As I’m slowly picking up the new techniques, I’m looking forward to getting some more independent lab work in the weeks to come. Between lab and school, lots of new challenges are coming, and I’m excited to meet them. It’s only been a couple weeks, but I’m also looking forward to going home for my mom’s birthday and 4th of July next week!

And of course, I know that I will have one big, happy friend waiting for me too. ☺

But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear / Finding myself making every possible mistake ♪♫♪

(New Soul – Yael Naim)

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About Sarah Lee

Hi, I'm Sarah! I am a junior Neuroscience student in GPPA Medicine who is still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do in my life. One day I want to be fluent in Russian and explore Eastern Europe. In my free time, I love running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. I currently live in Courtyard residence hall as a Peer Mentor but my home is in Naperville.

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