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.

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