Perspective

A couple weeks ago Max and I went for an afternoon walk. I noticed the dark clouds gathering in the distance, but thought if we went immediately we could make it. As we walked I noticed more and more the rain and lightening in the distance. I grew worried and picked up the pace.

Meanwhile, Max was just dallying along doing his normal thing. He was smelling all the grass and trying to spend as much time outside as he could. He couldn’t see what I could and therefore had no threat of danger.

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Granted, it wouldn’t hurt either of us to get wet, but I’d rather not be walking a dog in a thunderstorm.

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Several weeks before that rainy day we were walking after the sun had set. I couldn’t see much of anything but suddenly Max stopped and became very alert. He had heard or smelled or in some way spotted a rabbit. He perceived what I could not.

Actually that has happened several times since, even in the daylight. I never notice the rabbits until he points them out to me. Similarly, we were walking rather late a couple of nights when he became alert after spotting a coyote not far away that I would not have noticed and toward which we were walking.

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Max perceives many smells and sounds that I would not notice if he were not with me.  And I spot things he would not otherwise. I do not always hear other dogs or people walking up near us and Max helps me get out of the way in time. Max never really pays attention to cars when we cross streets and depends on my sight and knowledge of the cars to get around safely.

Thus, Max has taught me the importance of differing perspectives. He has taught me that I am unaware of much of the world around me merely because of my situation in life. Yet, if I attend to others who have different perspectives from my own, my eyes and ears are opened to the incredibly complex, comprehensive beauty and needs of the world.

So thank you Max for teaching me about my limited perspective and for providing me with a fresh point of view. Thank you for being eyes and ears and a nose where mine do not extend. And thank you for teaching me to attend more to the other perspectives all around me.

Control (part 2)

Max defies whatever fleeting control I have over him multiple times a day. Sometimes I think he means to do so and sometimes not. And I guess that, if nothing else, this behavior of Max has taught me over and over how little control I have over things around me outside of how I prepare for them and respond to them.

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And Max’s most consistent defiance of control? Pooping.

As they say, everybody poops….

Especially Max.

I guess it seems like an overwhelming frequent activity of his because I am present for every single one of his poops. The only time I am not present is when I am away and someone else is taking care of him. So, the only being besides Max with whom I’ve been present at a greater percentage of lifetime poops is myself.

I’ve gotten to where I can more or less predict when and where Max will poop. He, like many of us, likes his routine.

Before we got in synch though, it was really frustrating. I often think I’m busy and that I don’t have time to dally waiting for the…um…you-know-what to drop.

After we’ve more or less gotten in synch, it is still often frustrating. I still think I’m busy and that I can’t always dally waiting for, oh you know the rest.

But you really can’t control bowel movements. I guess you can kind of control your own, but you really can’t control another being’s.

I’ve wanted so desperately to make Max poop at a certain time in a certain place (right by the trash can), but I had to give up on that dream immediately.

And that lack of control has taught me more than anything that “bowel movements” happen. Things don’t always go the way I want them to or imagined they would. Often my life, and this world, is a mess, and no matter who is responsible, the grass simply isn’t so green anymore.

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Nevertheless, my experience with Max has made me realize I can be prepared for those moments and react to them appropriately. I can enter the situation with an attitude of service and willingness to clean rather than an attitude of flinging the stuff around or troding straight through it. I can dispose of it well, even if that means I have to turn around and go back the way I came or go a completely different route than I had planned.

Moreover, Max has taught me that often cleaning the poop up is a delicate procedure. It is all too easy to miss part or smush it into the ground more. Once the poop has dropped it is volatile and though it can be uncomfortable dealing with it, it must be handled with patience and delicacy.

But ultimately Max has taught me I have to do something. Poop happens and I have to respond in some way. I can leave it – that is an option. But then I have to be prepared to step in it some time later.

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So thank you Max for teaching me that poop happens and that while I often have no control of such crappy circumstances, I do have the option to respond in an appropriate way. Thank you for teaching me to clean up the poop in this world rather than making a bigger mess.

Sometimes you just gotta lick

Max licks a lot of things. The carpet, bushes, grass, himself, me. And he licks me a lot.

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Last night he went to town. I had spent all day outside and upon my skin were layers of sunscreen and sweat and who knows what else. And Max acted like he was a kid who stumbled into Willy Wonka’s factory – he couldn’t get enough.

But Max also licks when there is no accumulation of dirt and grime on me. Growing up, I internalized a belief that dogs lick in the same way humans kiss. It is a sign of outward affection. This comforted me a great deal especially when our dachshund would smother me in “doggy kisses”. It meant I knew for a fact that he liked me as much as I liked him.

After some research, I realized this is not far from the truth. Though dog licking is multifaceted, often it is a sort of sign of affection. Or at least a way to urge the sharing of affectionate attention.

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Then, as I thought about all of this more, I realized that I don’t depend on Max’s licking for proof of his affection. And I don’t think he depends on my head or belly scratches either.

There are more subtle ways we relate to each other that convey those things too. The way we respect each other, spend time with each other, eat with each other, look longingly into each others’ eyes… (ok, maybe not so much that last one, but definitely a lot of non verbal communication conveying appreciation and support).

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Max has taught me that sometimes you just gotta lick. Sometimes you have to let other people know in a very obvious way how much you like them. And sometimes you just have to spend time together and embody a spirit of love and care for others that will bleed out in all you do.

So thank you Max for the licks. And thank you for your caring presence. And thank you for teaching me that there are many ways to convey love and that sometimes you gotta be very obvious with it.

Play Hard, Sleep Hard

Play hard, sleep hard – Max’s life in a nutshell. Though eating hard goes somewhere in the infinite loop of the other two.

We go on fun walks and play as much as we can in my small apartment. Despite the limitations, Max finds endless joy in even the simplest games of tug and wrasslin.

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Then he crashes. He sleeps like I can only dream about sleeping.

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Of course, those are the good days for him. Sometimes I’m just too busy to play with him enough and when he doesn’t play enough he doesn’t sleep so well.

And that’s a real problem – sometimes I’m just too busy. Not only too busy to play with Max, but to play myself. Too busy to sleep.

Granted, I have an awesome job working with teenagers and having a lot of fun, but Max has taught me that fullness of life is rooted in the crucial activities of playing and resting.

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I leave out work on purpose. First, Max doesn’t work. I tell him he’s a freeloader and that he needs to start carrying his weight around here, but he doesn’t seem to care.

But more to the point, Max has taught me that work and play should not be mutually exclusive.  I recognize that there are many people who will never find joy in jobs that they have to do just to get by, and that we can even do meaningful work and not derive continual joy from it. Yet, Max has taught me that play is too important, even if it occurs in breaks from our jobs. If we are just working hard and not playing hard (or sleeping hard), then we are missing that fullness that even dogs seem to grasp.

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There’s a natural rhythm of play and rest that Max enjoys and that I must learn.  Yes there is work to do, but it really doesn’t seem to be worth it if it does not begin to mesh with play. 

And Max has taught me that life is simply unsustainable if we leave rest out of the mix. While rest definitely includes sleep, it also includes whatever refreshes the soul. For Max, this also includes getting a good head or belly rub.

In fact, I think the whole point of the rhythm of play and rest is that it all nourishes and refreshes the soul. Why not be doing that all the time? And if it’s not possible to play and rest all the time, I think it is at least important to incorporate it into daily life in some consistent way.

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So thank you Max, for teaching me to reorient my life around a rhythm of playing hard and sleeping hard. And I mean hard – that kind of play that leaves us good tired. Where every muscle in our bodies knows that we had a good time. And sleeping hard – where we are not multi-tasking but rather are really immersed in soul refreshing rest.

Sick

Max has been a little sick the past couple of days. This morning I awoke to quite the mess around my apartment, though I’ll leave the nasty details out.

As I mentioned in the last post he also has an ear infection and I imagine the two are somehow connected. Nevertheless, the poor guy can’t seem to catch a break right now.

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I wish I knew better what was wrong so that I could do more than just clean up after him. I want to fix his problems and make him healthy. I keep thinking, if I only knew more about dog biology I could examine him and fix what is broken.

Sure, there is the internet with all its vast wisdom and I’ve definitely checked to see what others have done when their pets exhibit the same symptoms. But I still feel inadequate. Despite all that advice I cannot simply fix him.

Through this process with Max, I have been forced to realize this is the same way I approach similar situations with other people. I want to examine, know and fix. Whether it is a physical problem, a psychological one, or an emotional or spiritual one, my first reaction is to provide an answer or a cure. Even if that is not what is most needed or expected.

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And Max, as far as I can tell, does not blame me. He does not expect me to fix him. And that gives me both comfort and the realization that my role is not to fix him. My role is to be there for him through the mess and sick.

I’ve learned this role not only through these moments of Max’s sickness, but also in my own sickness. I have been ill several times since owning Max and even fairly recently. During my sickness Max could in no way provide a cure. In fact, he was often less than helpful in tugging my weak body around on walks. But at the end of the day, he was there for me. His presence gave me peace even as the sickness raged inside me.

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Max has taught me that in these moments of sickness, presence and love are what matter most. Too often I rush for a cure (and often before I really know the problem) rather than focusing on being a comforting presence. True, finding a cure is important and necessary, but it is not the only thing that needs to be provided. There are appropriate avenues for finding cures and often that does not include me directly. While that frustrates me, I have learned through Max that everyone can offer loving care in those moments of sickness.

So thank you Max for caring for me and teaching me that I can be a caring presence for you and others even if I don’t have all the answers or cures.  Thank you for teaching me that I don’t always need to fix, but that I can always show love.