Dreaming Big

Max really wants to chase rabbits.

And there are so many rabbits out this year that we usually see two or three a day. They seem to be getting bolder too, because they are not hopping away as quickly and are venturing closer to roads and sidewalks.

No rabbits in here?

No rabbits in here?

As we walk by, Max becomes very alert then dashes toward the rabbit. Sometimes he even hops around straining against the leash trying to pull me on his hunt.

While I have occasionally run along with him, I have never let him freely chase them (you’re welcome rabbits). I honestly don’t even know what he would do if he got one, and I doubt he would know either.

Either way, his desire to chase and/or catch the rabbits will remain a dream, an ever out-of-reach goal.

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But Max does not give up on that goal, however many times he fails.

And he has taught me that it is worthwhile to maintain those lofty dreams. He has shown me that it makes no sense to give up on such a goal – he may actually attain it someday, and it doesn’t hurt him to keep trying, even if he fails.

Moreover, he has shown me that the goal is important (whether or not he attains it) because it provides much needed excitement, newness, and challenge to his daily routine. He can too easily fulfill his goal of peeing on every bush he passes (at least until I get fed up with his moseying around). While this minor goal does make him excited every time, he also needs bigger dreams that inspire him to journey to new places in new ways.

I reckon his dreams of chasing rabbits are sometimes even very literal. His sleep is often interrupted by muffled yips and twitching legs that I imagine are signs of him living out that excitement of the chase in whatever version of doggy dream imagination his brain can handle.

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But I think the most important lesson I have learned from Max’s big dream is that he does not let it distract him from making the most of his daily activities. Yes, he would love to chase some rabbits and he jumps at any opportunity that passes. But when I pull him back to the normal path with boring, static bushes and grass, he maintains a healthy level of attentiveness and interest in the plain walk itself.

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He does not despair for not getting to chase the rabbits, but he also does not despair that his whole life is not a rabbit chase. He maintains his big dream without trying to escape into endless sleep in pursuit of it.

So, thank you Max for teaching me to stay steadfast in my big dreams, even when I may never achieve them. Thank you for teaching me to find a way for those dreams to bring excitement to my daily walk. And thank you for teaching me not to become overly absorbed in that dream so as to miss the beauty of the rest of the ordinary journey.

Sturdy

Max is very difficult to trip.

Not that I have tired too often…but when we are playing or he is running by, sometimes I just stick out my leg to see if I can trip him. And it never works.

His four legs are just too sturdy and too good at keeping him upright.

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The benefit of his four legs is made especially clear when we try to walk up hills. He ascends with no problems while my two legs struggle between balance and the force needed to push my body higher.

I’ve only seen him trip and fall a couple of times. Once he got really exciting about going outside and ran down the stairs a little too fast. He tripped about halfway and slid down the rest of the stairs. He didn’t get his feet under him until he was at the doorframe.

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The other time was on the ice when he tried to dart off after seeing something interesting and did not realize he had no traction. But he was still sturdier that I was on the ice as I fell much more frequently and harder.

Max’s general sturdiness got me thinking about why he is so hard to trip. Clearly it is the fact that he has four legs. There is something about that wealth of support that is central to having a sturdy foundation.

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And I realize that this fact is true not only for physical features like legs, but also for interpersonal relations.

The times in my life where I have felt most sturdy and most well supported were the times when I was surrounded by a strong, trusting community. I am lucky to have had such a community throughout most of my life.

For I could be as individually strong as possible, but still be knocked down if I don’t have multiple sources of support. Even evolution has proved that one-leggedness is not a strong trait (except apparently in weird mollusks). One strong leg has nothing on two weak ones.

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Max’s example has taught me that a community is all too important in providing the emotional, psychological, and even physical support needed. Whether I am being blown around by the strong winds of change, flooded by sadness and despair, slipping across the icy surprises in my life, or misplacing my steps from a rush of excitement, a community is there to support and guide me.

And the strength of such community is not only evident in preventing me from being knocked down. Max’s multitude of legs also helps him get up quickly when he is knocked down. Even in community, it is still possible to be emotionally or psychologically devastated. Nevertheless, the community’s support allows for quicker healing.

Just as Max’s sturdiness comes from many supportive legs, so also my sturdiness comes from the many people who provide loving support in my life. I am very, very thankful for these people and I hope I provide similar support for them.

Thank you Max for teaching me to trust those who make up my own supportive community. Thank you for teaching me that I can jump higher, fall softer, and get up more quickly with such a community surrounding me. And thank you for being an important part of that community.

Spring Shedding

As the weather (sort of) gets warmer, Max is going through a transformation.

Since he has a double coat, he sheds his undercoat in the summer. And since I am usually bad about brushing or bathing him, large clumps of fluffy white hair pop up all over his back.

This is fur that kept him nice and warm in the winter as he gallivanted across the snow and ice. It served a very important purpose for a certain time. Yet, now it is not only unnecessary, it is even detrimental to Max’s overall health. It makes him too hot and so it has to go.

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In observing this process, I have realized that there are things in my own life that I need to shed. There are physical items that I need to get rid of, like all the cardboard boxes I keep just in case I need them for a project or to ship something to someone or to wrap a gift. And there are all the holey socks that I keep because…nope, there is no good reason for that.

These things were once useful, but now are just crowding my life unnecessarily.

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And then there are the habits I need to lose such as spending an inordinate amount of time on facebook or not getting to know my neighbors. And the simplistic, one-dimensional treatment of politics and religion and science that may have been an important starting point but really only holds me back from fully understanding what’s going on. And the desire to do things as they’ve always been done that too often just adds layer upon layer of hair to an already bogged down, overheated system.

I do not mean that everything has to go, though. The process of shedding and grooming is an intentional, careful one. I’ve heard that if I were to shave Max’s overcoat off, it might mess up his whole fur coat balance.

Max has taught me that in my own grooming, I must also be careful – especially in the non-physical things. I need to talk with others who have the experience of shedding and know what parts can go.

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Even in Max’s unconscious process of shedding, there is a level of help that is needed. He cannot get the excess hair all the way off his body. He rolls around and leaves plenty of hair on the furniture and my clothing, but there is still so much that needs to be brushed or picked off by someone else.

And that difficulty has taught me that often I need help in letting go of things. It is hard when I consciously hold onto an idea or thing I don’t need or when I am deeply ingrained in some sort of habit or practice. And too often I am not even aware of the need to shed something in my life.

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But that also means it can be very beneficial when someone comes into my life in order to lovingly brush out all the things no longer needed.

Plants need pruning, animals need shedding, and I need some sort of similar transformation that allows me to grow and run and live in a healthier way.

So thank you Max for teaching me that shedding can be beneficial. Thank you for teaching me to examine all parts of my life to see what is helpful and what needs to go, and for teaching me to seek help in brushing it all out.

Max’s Way

Max is a unique individual. He does things his way and doesn’t even care if it’s normal.

Like sitting in a chair:

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Or using a…pillow?

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Or using the couch

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Or trying a new facial hair style:

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And then eating that facial hair style:

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Or using the stairs:

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Or “enjoying” a park:

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(Sometimes he does play with the other dogs, but even last weekend I took him to a park filled with other dogs and he just walked around the perimeter minding his own business. That particular park even has a cool water fountain that other dogs were enjoying immensely, but even when I tried to coax Max over to it, he would have nothing to do with it.)

So thank you Max for being a weirdo and for teaching me that we all have our own unique style that makes the world a better place.

Bad Dog

Max is a rotten little egg thief.

Yesterday I came home from work and found several duck eggs that had been graciously given to me strewn about the floor – and one happy, but quickly turning guilty, dog. Max hardly ever makes a mess or gets on my kitchen counters, so I was more surprised than mad. But then at 6am this morning when he started getting sick, it was hard for me to find any sympathy for him.

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And yet, Max is not solely a rotten little egg thief.

As I took him outside much earlier than I’d like to be awake on a Friday, I had to force myself to see him as a being in pain. This outlook became especially difficult as I had to clean up part two of a mess that should never have been made at all, and for which I was not responsible (ok, maybe I should have put the eggs completely out of his reach, but he really should know better).

When I looked at Max in those early hours at first I could only think, bad dog!

And to be fair, he was a bad dog. He did something I have trained him not to do.

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But “bad dog” is not his complete identity. As hard as it was to convince myself in the moment, or even a couple hours later when he had to go out again for the same reason, he is a good dog too.

The one act of bad behavior did not change the fact that Max is generally a remarkably good dog.

And Max taught me in that moment that there are things which people do to or around me by which it is all too easy to define them. When someone lies to me it is all too easy for me to brand that person forever as “liar”.

But that person is not solely a liar. That person is probably not even primarily a liar. That person is a complex being with many good qualities and some bad qualities.

Just like me. Just like Max.

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And Max taught me that this is the mystery in which we live – we have many qualities and characteristics, some good and some not so good. I can choose to let one incident color my whole view of another or I can step back and realize that there is a much bigger picture with infinite more colors.

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I don’t think that this issue is just about seeing the good in others rather than seeing the bad, because both are there in us all and it is just willful ignorance to try to overlook one part. I think what Max taught me is that it is more important to accept the whole being, try to better understand why he or she is stealing eggs and throwing up at 6am, and then walk beside that other regardless of what happened, knowing that together you can walk more directly toward the better, fuller realization of the good self.

So, thank you Max for waking me up when it was too early for me to comprehend my anger toward you so that instead my mind could drift to some more compassionate understanding of why you do bad things. And thank you for being patient with me as I move past seeing you as just a bad dog and instead embrace the totality of who you are.