Signs of Love

I tell Max “I love you” every night.

I do it because it is true. But also because I believe there is a mysterious, miraculous power contained in and conveyed by those words – I love you. I truly believe the very act of sincerely saying that changes our world, our lives, our reality. Something is tangibly different about life after those words are spoken in any setting.

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Nevertheless, those words don’t really mean anything to Max. He simply doesn’t understand that abstract phrase. Sure, I think Max understands to some extent the intonation I use in the phrase and can thus read a good deal about what is going on when I tell him that. But at the end of the day, the words themselves mean nothing to him.

And the fact that he doesn’t understand makes me frustrated, because I want him to know that I do love him.

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Of course, he doesn’t understand most of what I say…

So, I have had to find other ways to convey that message. And Max has taught me that while speaking love is important, doing love is really what any relationship, especially a close friendship, is all about.

Max has taught me that love is not merely something we say or hear or know, but rather something we experience. And experiencing involves doing, sharing, and all the little (and big) things that add up to constitute this thing we call living.

Max has taught me that love is when I take the time to play with him midday, when I take him out for a walk and let him sniff around for a really long time or run around with him, when I guide him away from busy streets and other harmful areas, when I kneel down on the floor to give him a really good belly rub after he has collapsed in anticipation of it, when I dry him off after getting really wet, when I just sit with him after a long lonely day of being apart.

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What strikes me most about all these expressions of love is that (along with being actions) they involve me meeting Max where he is – coming down to his level – and sharing life with him.

They may not always result in comfort or warm, fuzzy emotional resolution, but they create a space in which we experience a unity that encompasses the joys and pains of life.

Love is thus not a cognitive belief; rather, it is a felt reality. It is not something said or done at a single point in time, rather it is something continually explored and experienced as we live into it more and more.

So thank you Max, for loving me and teaching me that love is the dynamic, life-altering, often difficult reality through which we experience one another.

Cleanliness

The past couple of weeks there have been several big storms. Thankfully, Max and I were able to miss most of the bad weather when going outside for walks, except for one morning and evening when we got soaked.

Max likes water in some settings, but not while walking around getting rained on. So, we rushed back as quickly as we could and dried off.

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And the drying off is something he greatly enjoys.

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Although the rain eventually stopped, its effects continued to impact our walks. Whether it was puddles or mud, Max seemed to either ignorantly traipse through the mess or consciously try to get as dirty as he could. I often held him back from the big mud puddles, but he was still able to get in some.

One time when we were walking, Max was pretty hyper and wanted to run. So, we started running and ran right through a field that was much wetter than I thought. We both got very muddy, and unfortunately, having decided I didn’t need to change for this particular walk, I was wearing my nicer shoes.

At first I was frustrated that Max didn’t have any sense of cleanliness, especially concerning the mud that would get on nice clothes and be tracked into the house. After all, mud is something we avoid, right?

But now I think Max might just have a better sense of cleanliness than I do. He understands that no matter how messy you get, you can still get cleaned up. Whether intentional or not, mud happens, but the more important thing to remember is that we can clean up that mud (though Max has still not done much of the cleaning).

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(He just lays around until his wet toe hair finally dries.)

After a storm comes a mess, but that mess, sooner or later, can be cleaned up. Thus, maybe the power of cleanliness is not centered in desperately trying to avoid any mess (though that can be helpful), but rather in trusting that whatever happens, we can find some way to clean it up.

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So, thank you Max for teaching me that muddiness happens, and that no matter how muddy we get, we can still get clean.

Thankful

Not only does Max enjoy all the simple things (see last post), but he also is truly thankful for them.

I have especially noticed this thankfulness after he finishes his supper. Max loves to eat. It’s his favorite. He also loves belly rubs, also a favorite. Both are favorites. In fact, if he could do both at the same time, I bet he would (and I don’t blame him at all).

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And after he eats, he almost always expresses his thanks for the food by coming to let me know.

(Notice the appreciative burp?)

Now, I learned thankfulness before Max came into my life, and I’ve always believed it is incredibly important to be thankful for the many good things and special people in our lives.

But what Max has taught me is that thankfulness is not a duty. It is not something I owe to those who have done something nice to me. I’m no animal psychologist, but I have a hard time believing that Max has the same sense of obligation that I do.

So, Max’s thankfulness is truly heartfelt, and that’s why its so much more exciting and meaningful. He gets nothing extra out of thanking me and there are no social expectations that he do so. He does it purely because that is the natural instinct he feels, because he is so sincerely happy at what has happened.

Thus, his thankfulness is also not merely a reaction to something good, but a continued experience of the joy and love of the event. He is overjoyed by getting a tasty meal, which feeds (pun intended) his excitement and happiness, which in turn enlivens the joy of his life. He is not thankful from compulsion, but rather thankful from joy, which only leads to more joy.

And I think that means Max’s thankfulness is truly a disposition and not merely a habitual, forced reaction to good in his life. Such thankfulness allows the good to increase evermore in his life.

Moreover, it brings about more joy in my life in both receiving the thanks and just being around it. Just as the joy from a thankful disposition feeds greater joy within the person (or dog), it also feeds a greater joy in others in a contagious kind of way.

So, thank you Max for giving thanks for the simple things in life and for teaching me that thankfulness is best experienced not as a compulsory reaction, but rather as an ongoing moment of joy-filled love.