Dance

At heart, Max is undoubtedly a vivacious dancer.

And I’m convinced that such dancing both emerges from a joyful spirit and keeps his spirit jubilant.

Max has taught me how important it is to just dance. When I’m busy doing something serious and important he comes prancing in, shattering that sense of importance.

But it’s not just a matter of having fun and being silly. He does that, of course, as his own version of swing dance proves.  Rather, it’s a matter of having fun and being silly with another being.

That’s what dancing is all about, right?  Sure there are solo dances, but what makes it all so exciting is when people come together to share in a rhythm.  They join their own unique styles in one common endeavor.

Max and I have very different styles (especially of dance – he always adds hops that I really don’t think fit in the music), but he has taught me that what matters most is breaking loose and sharing the moment with another.

There’s a word for that…compassion.

Compassion involves sharing life’s ups and downs with another. And in showing compassion, Max has taught me that sometimes you just gotta dance.

Sometimes.

Sometimes, you just gotta cry. Sometimes you just gotta be angry, because while the world is filled with joy, it is also filled with pain.

Max has shown me that it is important to express these emotions and do so compassionately –

So that we not let our spirits grow hardened and retreat from expression,

So that we not get so wrapped up in the importance of things that we fail to embrace the dynamic movement of the moment.

Because what matters is that we are present with others in all of life’s craziness – in smiling, laughing, crying, cursing, speaking out.

That’s what it means to dance – and sometimes, you just gotta dance.

(This is where I am getting all my new dance moves.)

So thank you Max, for dancing with me.  Thank you for being compassionate and teaching compassion – for smiling and mourning, and, in doing so, proving that above all we must join together and share a rhythm for the healing of our spirits.

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Entertain us…

Max does not always teach me from his stellar positive behavior. If fact, I may have already run out of positive things he does…jk! Not that he’s a bad dog, but he is a dog, and dogs do what dogs do, which often is not the best thing to do.

Anyway, he has been teaching me lately about the need for attention and how that can often be too much of our motivation.  Max likes very much to be entertained and I think he’s not too unlike us in that way.

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Max always wants to be petted, often butting into activities my friends or strangers or I am doing, expecting to capture the attention of everyone around and be entertained with affection. And he usually gets it because he is so cute.

Just trying to do yoga...

Just trying to do yoga…

But it is flat out annoying when that is all he does and I am around him so much.

When other people are around, he just has to be entertained or it drives him nuts. The only times he has barked are when he expects that entertainment and does not receive it.

But, lest I be too hard on him, I must admit that I am just as bad in seeking to be entertained.

I have Olympic fever, as Jimmy Fallon keeps acknowledging (…and Tonight Show fever). It’s just so entertaining. My evenings are consumed with watching as many events as I can – to the point that I often ignore Max’s pleas to play and go outside.

But his needs to go out are just so inconvenient – they come right when some of the great events are going on. So, it becomes a big problem finding a time to tear away my entertained eyes to take care of Max.

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Maybe Max’s attention seeking is just more apparent than mine, since he does not have an iphone or ipad or DS or whatever to keep him occupied and entertained constantly.  He has to rely on others to fulfill that addiction.

Still, he has taught me that we all crave entertainment, and if not that, we are certainly addicted to entertaining, being the center of attention.

Actually, I don’t think the two are that separate, especially in observing Max.  He is addicted to both entertaining and being entertained. And it all comes down to craving attention or craving something to satisfy attention.

But Max has also taught me how toxic this can be. It eats away at us and leaves us discontent and unfulfilled to just be with ourselves or those we love. Maybe we need less entertainment to break us of that incessant need. Maybe we need to sit back and just enjoy others for their own sake – not as sources for our furthered entertainment (or as momentary breaks in our entertained lives), but rather as companions with whom we can share life.

Maybe then we can look at the other person and love them outside of our attention-driven self absorption…

After the olympics, of course.

Or, for those who have more sensitive ears – this version.

So thank you Max for teaching me how consuming and annoying an obsession with entertainment can be.  And thank you for loving me even when I am consumed with being entertained otherwise.

Control (transformed into love)

Valentine’s Day edition, for this hunk of burnin’ love:

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Max was thankfully already trained in basic commands when I got him. And while I continue to use those commands and work with him some, I am not stern enough to enforce any big changes in his behavior.

For instance, I have been trying to teach him to shake since October, and to no avail. I cannot transform him in that way.

Don't be fooled. This was staged.

Don’t be fooled. This was staged.

Of course, as is the case in these relationships, he has been a much better trainer of me than I of him.  He has trained me where to scratch him so that it feels the best to him, when to feed him and play with him, and to show him as much attention as I can.

During one of our walks I was thinking about this drive I have to transform him, to make him a better, more obedient pet.

And I realized that that drive extends beyond my relationship with Max.  I have a drive to transform the people around me too, especially those who are very close to me.  I want to help them become better people.  This desire has even unconsciously gotten wrapped up in my vocation, which is not hard being a part of a church that takes as its mission: “Transforming people to transform the world.”

But, Max got me thinking – is transforming people really the most important thing?  Is it even actually possible? And if it is not, what is the most important thing?

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As I thought about my relationship with Max and with other people, I came to the conclusion that I really can’t transform people.  That is something I literally cannot do. I can inspire, I can teach, I can set an example, but I cannot actually transform anyone.  That is something that has to happen within the person (or dog).

Moreover, this drive to transform the person (or dog), and thus control them, seems to mask the truly important thing in life.

So, what then is that most important thing?  Well, I asked Max, and over the months we’ve lived together he has shown me over and over that it is to love people (and dogs).  That is what matters.

That doesn’t mean that transformation can’t happen.  In fact, I’d say that love necessarily brings about transformation. Nothing is the same after love – real, complete, honest love. And I can still seek to inspire, teach, and live out an example with the hope that those things will convey love. But I must not seek to transform people as an immediate goal.

Because that intent to transform is one of control – and love does not seek to control.  Quite the contrary, love surrenders.  Love is surrender of self for all others. And it is surrender of the idea that we can control others and make them something else.

The only way true transformation can occur is through the surrender of self-sacrificial love. Control simply doesn’t have the same power, or any real power at all.

Thank you Max for teaching me that love is the most important thing, for proving that it is impossible for me to transform or control others, and for teaching me all this through your own love of me.

Comfy

If Max knows anything, he knows how to get comfy.

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He somehow even knows how to get comfy in seemingly uncomfortable places – like the ground or the bathroom or…

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And as I look over at him, lost in my self-conscious absorption with how I am portraying myself in dealing with the worries of my life, he reminds me over are over – sometimes you just gotta be comfy.

Sometimes you just gotta put away those cares and sprawl out.

I see in Max’s expert grasp of comfiness a letting go. It’s a letting go of dignity, of self-centeredness, and of portraying an image that I’ve got it all worked out.

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Sometimes, you just gotta let go and be comfy. Be comfy with yourself, your situation, and the people around you who will love you no matter what.

Sometimes you gotta be comfy.  But just sometimes. Not all the time. Sometimes you gotta be uncomfy.  You gotta see the uncomfiness of the world around us and be disturbed. You gotta see the uncomfiness of individual people and empathize with them.

While Max has taught me the value of comfiness, he has also shown me that too much of it can keep us from seeing the harsh realities all around us, especially the all too many people in this world who cannot find comfiness.

When I am in visible distress, Max sometimes comes and sits by me, forsaking his comfortable position on the couch or chair.  Sure this isn’t a giant sacrifice, he’s still in the warm house, but his momentary choice of less comfort brings me great comfort.

Max has taught me to be comfy – fully, radically comfy in a way that takes me out of my cares so that I might not be so absorbed with my public image. (And often this just involves pulling on the snuggie and finding a soft pillow.)

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But Max has also taught me that I must get up from that comfiness and equally fully and radically step out toward others to be with them – even if this means uncomfortably stepping into the cold to meet those who don’t have a snuggie to keep them warm.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it is okay to be comfy and showing me how to do it. And thank you for choosing to sometimes be uncomfortable in order to bring me comfort. You have shown me that the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather join one another in the great rhythm of life and love.

Leaving a Mark

Max leaves many types of marks. There’s the obvious kind he does outside, but we’ll keep this post clean (Though I have to say that lately he has become more of a master in saving up marking material to spread as far and wide as possible…).

The more pervasive mark he leaves is his hair. And it is everywhere. Ev-er-y-where.  Clothes, cereal, you name it – if it comes in a 20 foot radius of my apartment or me, it will have the tell tale white hairs on it soon.

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In fact, that’s become the first thing people notice about me, especially if I’m wearing dark clothing. “So, you have a dog?” (with that knowing smirk). Or, “I see you brought your dog with you…”

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But that’s helped me realize we are all marked and we all leave marks.

We are marked in the sense that the actions of those around us colors our life.  We can neither escape, nor ignore this.  We are inescapably interconnected with everyone around us.  And that is wonderful in most cases, because we can learn so much from the impact of others and altogether our marks on each other and this world can paint a fantastic picture.

Of course, there are also the bad marks left upon us. And even if we paint over them, they are still there. But we can move on from those, seeking the good marks and knowing that our reactions will leave marks of their own.

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Because we all leave marks. Everywhere we go. Ev-er-y-where.  What we do and what we say has an impact. And oftentimes it is indirect. We do something that leaves a mark on someone and then that person leaves the mark on someone else, etc.

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These marks can be bad (like a pee stain on the carpet or shredded bits of toys strewn about) or good (like a sweet loving lick across the face).

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In dealing with Max’s many marks, I have also realized that I hope the marks I leave are not those that someone will have to come around and clean up after me. I hope the marks I leave are those that contribute to the crazy beauty of the world. Whether they be silly or sincere, I hope my marks make a positive difference – like this woman and countless other teachers, parents, etc.

I want to intentionally leave licks on faces rather than carelessly spread around pee stains or annoying wads of hair.

Though I can be harsh with Max concerning his mark leaving, I must admit that the vast majority of marks he has already left on my life are positive. He has left marks of devotion, joyful companionship, playfulness, caring presence, love and many other things that will undoubtedly resurface throughout this blog.

These are not really outwardly visible marks, but that is perhaps the most important thing Max has taught me about leaving marks – the most meaningful and profound marks are those we can’t see – those marks that are inscribed on our hearts and etched in our very being.

So thank you Max, for leaving your mark – for touching my life in the most beautiful way and in so doing, coloring my heart to be more loving.  And thank you for teaching me to be more mindful of the marks I leave all around me.