Smelling roses

I use this title because the things Max actually stops to smell are not so pleasant and I don’t think I should follow my teacher in sniffing poop or dead animals. Maybe I just have a lot more to learn (finding some sort of beauty even in the nastiest of things? Embracing waste and death as a natural part of life? Finding a story plopped on top of every blade of grass? Or finding a little blade of grass growing through the plop plopped on top of it?), but I’ll focus on the act of stopping and smelling in general for now.


When Max and I go on walks I try to cover as much ground as possible. Sometimes I go fast to get back and do things I need to get done.

Actually, make that a lot of times. Most times. Almost all the time.

Even at night, I feel the need to rush and get back to go to sleep so that I can get up on time (never happens, no matter how early I go to sleep) and get going for the next day.

But Max is in no rush. He is cooped up all day and those walks are all he has to get fresh air and enjoy nature. So he gets out and makes the most of it.


In fact, I think he sometimes stops to sniff just to stay out longer. He can tell when I’m rushing back and wants to prolong his outside time as much as possible. And to be honest I don’t blame him. I love being outside too and prefer it to being inside just about all the time.

Max is quite infuriating when I am in the midst of my rushing. He’s just stubborn and strong enough to be able to stop over and over again before I can pull him on.

But my good ole teacher is just leading by example. Max challenges my pace of life by spending the time to smell things and really take it all in.


When I do follow Max’s lead, I see the importance of stopping and smelling. On one level I mean just taking it all in, examining the beauty all around me, appreciating the wonders of creation.

I usually do that with my eyes. I see beauty easier than hearing it. I hear it better than tasting it. I taste it better than touch it. And I touch it better than smell it. That may be partly because I have a terrible nose and bad allergies. But there’s something about stopping and smelling that really makes me a part of what’s around me in a way the other senses cannot.

When I smell, something outside of me literally enters my body – something more tangible than waves of sound or rays of light. That can happen with taste too, if I swallow it, but smell necessitates me welcoming foreign particles into my body. In that way it is a very vulnerable activity. I open myself up to something outside of myself (and I don’t always know that it will be pleasant). I become closer to the world around me, literally.


Max has thus taught me that stopping to smell the roses is more than just an activity to take me out of my crazy life and force me to experience the world around me. It is an act of becoming vulnerable and bringing that beautiful and stinky world into myself.

(Since there is apparently no clip of Gus using his super sniffer on the internet, I am forced to leave you with this instead…I apologize in advance.)

So thank you Max, for teaching me that it is worth it to stop and smell. Thank you for teaching me to open myself up in a basic rhythm of vulnerability (for this happens even when I breathe), and not to ignore the opportunity to unite with the beauty, and stink, around me.


Last weekend Max had the opportunity to attend a town picnic. He is not around large groups of people very often, but when he is, he knows how to have a good time.

He especially knows how to have a good time if there is a playground around.


But what stood out the most that afternoon was how Max was often the center of attention. From babies to elderly individuals, Max was a magnet for attention.

And Max taught me a lot in the way he responded to the people all around him.


Max first and foremost has a welcoming presence. He is authentically excited to be around people and to share life with them.

But what he really taught me at the picnic is the importance of being radically open to all people. Max holds no prejudice. He makes no judgment about the person. He just wants to share a moment with everyone he can.

Of course he will undoubtedly like someone more if he or she has food in his or her hands, but beyond that he is honestly excited to see everyone.

I do not think Max is so open to everyone because he cannot see difference. He acts differently with babies compared to adults. So he does not ignore difference, he just does not allow that difference to color how he perceives a person or to influence whether or not he will interact with the person.

Moreover, I do not think Max is open to people as a means to some end. He is not out to convince people of anything (except maybe how cute he is) and he does not expect anything for himself from the connection.

Rather he is just authentically happy to make the new connection, to get to know someone new for the sake of knowing the person and participating in a moment of love.


In his expression of radical hospitality, Max has taught me to worry less about whether or not the people around me are interesting or friendly or even good. He’s taught me to worry less about what they may think of me. He’s taught me not to enter any encounter with preconceived notions about the person or about what either of us can do for the other. Rather, I should welcome a connection with a person just because he or she is another person.


So thank you Max for continually welcoming me into your life without any judgments and without seeing me as a means to some personal end. Thank you for leading me to do the same for other people so that we may honestly and openly connect with anyone with whom we come into contact.

Living (with)

Max and I have lived in the same apartment now for a little over a year. He was actually a rather good roommate from the beginning, as he already knew to go to the bathroom outside and learned quickly what furniture he could get on.

Sure, he has woken me up at unfavorable times and doesn’t clean up after himself, but he is not the first roommate of mine to do that.

And I’m still waiting for the day when he cooks me breakfast…


Having lived in the same place as Max for a year now, I have gained some insight into the dynamics of sharing space and life with another being. Granted, such lessons come in various ways with any human or non-human roommate, but certain aspects have really hit home with Max.

Ultimately, Max has taught me the difference between living in the same place as someone and living with that person/animal.

Sadly, this lesson has revealed that I far too often display the attitude and actions that prove I am merely living in the same place as Max. We often go about our business with a passing acknowledgement of each other’s existence.

Such behavior is especially prevalent when I get busy with work and life. There are days when I run in after work, take Max out, feed him, and then dash back out to my next activity only to return late and tired enough to zombily take Max out again before crashing. These days I am most definitely living in the same place as Max, and not much else.


Of course there are many better days when I am truly living with Max – the days when we have a good long morning walk during which I am not preoccupied with the things I have to do that day but rather discover the world anew with Max, the days when I really play with him and show him honest affection (not with the end goal of getting him to stop bothering me), the days when we fully appreciate each other’s presence and realize how our lives are being made better through that company.


These are not merely the days I am less busy or at home most the day. There have been many weekends that I am consumed in a book or TV show and do not truly live with Max, even if I am around him all day.


The important difference Max has taught me is that living with someone involves sharing life and participating together in something greater than the two of us – joy or love or sadness or anger that we experience in solidarity. It means focusing on the other rather than myself.

Moreover, Max has taught me that this act of living with, rather than living in the same place, is what makes a house into a home. It is what makes a space welcoming and full of life.



So thank you Max for living with me. Thank you for teaching me the important difference of living with and living in the same place and for challenging me to be more fully present in living with you. And thank you for helping me make our little apartment into an expansive home.