Taken for granted

Max is a staple part of my life now. We’ve lived together for 17 months and he has thoroughly influenced my daily rhythm of life. Sometimes it has been frustrating (like when he wakes me up early), but it has also been quite rewarding.

IMG_2205

Yet, I’ve found myself often forgetting just how much I wanted a dog as I finished school and how excited I was finally to get Max. Perhaps it is because he is such an ordinary part of my life that I tend to forget how important he is.

I too often take Max for granted.

IMG_0053

This is not a matter of getting frustrated with him, but rather a matter of not cultivating my relationship with him regularly. It’s me expecting Max to be there for me while not expecting me to be there for him. It’s that daily choice to be a little more self-absorbed and perceive Max as merely a pawn helping bring about my own beneficial end.

That may sound harsh, but the days I am preoccupied and come home only to push Max aside as I turn on the TV or slip into my own little world, I do him a disservice that is somehow even worse than yelling at him (not that I condone hateful yelling, by any means).

Max is not just in my life to meet my fleeting desires. He is a living creature and deserves better than my ignoring him. He deserves not to be taken for granted.

IMG_0916

In the midst of this, Max has taught me not to overlook those ordinary important things of life. He has taught me that it is far too easy to take those whom I love for granted, especially when they are such a normal part of my life.

Max has taught me that being in any type of relationship with any creature requires constant attuning of myself to the other. It is work, like the continued attention given by a farmer to the crop as farmer and land grow together to produce some fruit.

It is too easy to assume that crop will produce after the seed is planted, but the earth teaches again and again not to take it for granted either.

IMG_2239

Max and the earth have something to teach that I need to be reminded of quite frequently. I need to start listening and paying more attention to those around me, so as not to take them for granted, but rather grow with them, patiently and lovingly.

IMG_0443

So thank you, Max, for teaching me that it is unfortunately far too easy to take for granted those whom I love. Thank you for teaching me the importance of consistently working on those relationships, by embracing and attending more closely to the ordinary parts of my life.

Walking with no shoes

Max does not wear shoes. I think it is because he wants to show off his awesome toe hair, but he tries to act humble about it.

IMG_2282

Max’s lack of shoes has come to my attention in several ways the past couple weeks, particularly during our walks. Since it has been so rainy here this week, Max’s bare pawedness has led to some wet, muddy feet tracking in a mess to the apartment.

IMG_2250

But even more interestingly, Max has to stop every now and then because of something he has stepped on. He’s a tough dog, so he doesn’t act hurt when he steps on sticks or rocks or thorns, but he does stop, sit down, and dig around to find what is irritating him.

Since Max does not wear shoes, this reaction comes immediately.

IMG_2286

I, on the other hand, do wear shoes. And I also often get rocks or other painful things in my shoes. However, my guarded feet do not always experience the pain immediately. And because it would be such a task to stop and take off my shoes when I start to feel the discomfort, I most often continue walking while ignoring the growing pain in my feet.

I force myself to live with whatever small thing is causing me pain for no reason other than I have convinced myself that it would be too much trouble to deal with it. And it only grows more and more painful until it impedes my ability to continue on.

IMG_0106

Max understands something I do not. And his response to these small pains in life seems much more reasonable.

Max walks without any insecurities or defense mechanisms and thus can immediately feel the pains of the journey. But that also means he immediately deals with them and does not try to carry on ignoring the pain.

IMG_0855

He has taught me that such a response of immediately addressing the uncomfortable realities of life helps him to get on with the journey in a much more wholesome way. He is not content to carry those thorns with him.

He has taught me not to ignore those discomforts and pains, expecting them just to go away, and he has taught me to let down my psychological guards that really just keep those pains in my heart, unresolved.

So thank you Max for teaching me to walk without shoes. Thank you for teaching me to own up to and deal with the discomforts and pains in my life that are so easy to ignore and to continue walking with.

Stuff

Max lives the simple life. He doesn’t have much stuff. In fact I can fit all the things that are uniquely his into a bag whenever I take him places. A bowl, some treats, a brush, and as of now, three toys, one of which was just given to him as a gift (but don’t tell him, I’m saving it for Christmas).

IMG_2240

I hope the fact that he only has a handful of toys doesn’t cast me as a heartless, strict owner. I admit that a big reason I don’t give him lots of toys is because I don’t want them strewn about the apartment.

But also he has a tendency to destroy toys, for instance this shredded leg of what used to be an elephant, I think. (It has since completely disappeared)

IMG_0367

Even though Max has very few toys, he is still quite content. And I think by virtue of not having much he is able to tap into the heart of contentment.

Max has taught me that that contentment is born out in several ways. First, his lack of stuff allows him to really focus on one thing when he wants to play. He loved that elephant before he destroyed it and he loves his tennis ball now. Max has taught me that more things does not necessarily make life more fun, but rather life is made fun when he truly enjoys whatever he has.

IMG_2169

Secondly, Max has taught me that contentment is born out of meaningful relationships, not out of any amount of stuff. With so few things, he and I are forced to turn to each other for company and entertainment. Our joy comes from interaction with one another rather than each of our individual interactions with other things. Even the tennis ball is most often a tool for interacting with one another.

IMG_1206

Now, it is clear that Max has taught me that I don’t need much stuff to be happy or to have a meaningful life. But I am careful to realize that he has not taught me that more stuff directly prevents these things. I would be condemning myself as much as anyone if I said that more stuff is inherently bad. Besides, the dogs I know who do have a bounty of toys are also very happy.

But Max’s lesson about being content with so few things remains important to me in this time of high consumerism. I am not opposed to giving lavish gifts, and I doubt Max is either, but Max teaches me everyday that joy and meaning can abound even if I have a simple tennis ball.

IMG_2041

Max has two toys and a handful of other possessions, yet I have no doubt that he loves his life. As long as he has a loving relationship and the shelter to meet his needs, the joy Max experiences will continue to abound.

IMG_1718

So thank you Max for teaching me to simply enjoy whatever I have. And thank you for teaching me that the joyfulness and meaningfulness of contentment come not from a relationship to stuff (however healthy it may be) but from relationships with the people around us.

Sometimes you just gotta sit and stare

Often, Max just sits and stares.

IMG_0578

And often I want to join him, especially of late.

I admit, I do not know what is going through his mind in those times. I like to think he is pondering life’s big questions or how to redecorate the apartment. But for all I know he is contemplating how to finally beat me in a wrestling match or, most likely, when his next meal will be.

IMG_1615

Whatever is going through his mind, the act of sitting and staring has a removed, pensive mood about it. It is as if with all that is going on the best he can do is stop, try to take it all in, and make some sense of things.

And that is exactly where I find myself these days. I feel I understand the world less and less, and that people are not acting as they should. Or maybe I fear I understand the world more and more as its brokenness is blaringly apparent.

Regardless, my heart and my head hurt for the pain so many people and communities face.

IMG_0865

And Max has taught me that sometimes all you can do is sit and stare. The world is overwhelmingly tragic and all too often I just need more time to sort it all out and get my bearings.

Granted this is a blessing of being far enough removed from the tragedy that I don’t have to deal with it directly. And while I hope my sitting and staring is primarily an act of mourning for the brokenness, I know that it is also far too often merely a means of escape, a way to think through things but not really deal with them.

So, while sitting and staring can be cathartic, it is only appropriate sometimes. Max has taught me that sometimes all we can do is sit and stare. But just sometimes.

IMG_2025

Most of the time, I have to get up and move too. For if I only sit and stare I will be stuck there forever. Things will continue to stay broken if I do not get up and help mend.

Max’s sitting and staring really does not last very long. He is far too eager to go and do things. And maybe that is the most important thing he has taught me about sitting and staring – that it should not last long. He has taught me not to let whatever is going on paralyze me.

IMG_2209

He has taught me that sitting and staring is not the end, it is a beginning of moving toward hope. But that can only be so if the sitting soon turns to moving and the staring off in the distance turns toward seeing the possibilities of involvement and progress.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sitting and staring can be cathartic, but that it must only last for a moment so that acting toward and envisioning a better world can take its place.