To Be Seen

Whenever I walk in my front door, Max patiently waits until I acknowledge him. Sometimes, this takes a while, because I enjoy making as few trips from my car as possible (two trips is too many), so I tend to load myself down and have something hanging from every appendage. He will often sit right in front of the door, leaving just enough room for me to come in, but positioned to where I have to notice him. Then, he just turns his head around as I put everything where it belongs and waits for me to come back to greet him.

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At first, I thought he did this as a way of guilting me for being gone so much. (That probably says more about me than him). Maybe he is a little sad to have been left alone all day, but I think there is something even more fundamentally important that he is conveying.

I think all Max really wants is to be seen, to be noticed.

Max experiences something that I think so many of us also experience – the desire to be seen. We all long to know that our often dreary lives have value and that others see that value. We find profound hope in not being overlooked or ignored.

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Being seen is often quite literal, especially for Max. He thrives on the attention I can give him and once I give him some of that attention, he is overjoyed. In that moment of being seen, Max knows he is cared for and loved. He knows that he is important and valued.

Max has taught me that being seen in this way is a powerful expression of loving care. He has taught me that so many people also long to be seen in this way. He has taught me there is power in really looking into another person’s eyes, giving them our attention, and, in doing so, assuring them that they are important and valuable.

Max has taught me that to really see others in this way is a wonderful, free gift we can always give. And it is a gift we can give to stranger and friend alike.

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That moment of greeting after coming into my house after work does not tend to last long. Granted, there are years of love and care that are the foundation of that moment between Max and me, but it really only takes about a minute. I get down on Max’s level, look right at him, and greet him with kind words and a head scratch. And then Max’s desire to be seen is fulfilled.

And I really don’t think I have to change much when I interact with humans in this way (except maybe losing the head scratch).

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Max has also taught me that the desire to be seen is insatiable. He craves it everyday. And I reckon we all have a consistent desire to be seen and valued. I don’t know why – maybe it’s the self-doubt that plagues our minds, maybe it’s because we are social creatures and this is the best starting point for connection to others, maybe it’s because in so many other ways we hear messages that we are not valued, or maybe it’s because it is nice and we know deep in our being that to see others and to be seen is just a better way to live.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that seeing and being seen is something that must be nurtured consistently. Max has taught me that it is something I should practice daily.

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And because it must be done over and over, it is easy to forget, or to think that I have checked that off my to do list. And so, Max has taught me to be a little more diligent in seeing him and others. I can be bad at that because I easily get lost in my own little world, but I hope on my good days, I can offer Max and all others I cross paths with this simple expression of care and value.

(as close as I could get to the original Hendrix version)

So thank you Max for teaching me the importance of being seen and valued. Thank you for teaching me to be more attentive, especially to those who feel overlooked. And of course, thank you for paying attention to me and showing that you too see and care for me.

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Rowdy

Max gets a little rowdy sometimes. It usually happens when I get home from work and he is excited to see me so we start playing. He has a lot of pent up energy from a day of sleeping, so he gets rowdy very quickly.

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And that’s a great thing – it’s part of his dogginess to be rowdy. It’s a true expression of who he is.

Max has taught me that we all have a little raw rowdiness in us. It’s not necessarily anger and or any other pent up emotions, it is just who we are. We have that raw energy that manifests itself in passion about certain things. I know my rowdiness tends to come out when reading online articles and comments about topics for which I care deeply, or when I hear stories about bullying or people not respecting each others’ rights.

And Max has taught me that such rowdiness is good. It is what keeps us invested and pushes us to make changes in society. It is what has kept us progressing and making the world a better place.

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But Max can easily get out of control when he gets rowdy, and if not careful, he could accidentally scratch or nip me. I know Max doesn’t want to hurt me, but he doesn’t always know how to express his rowdiness in the best way. And Max has taught me that I, too, must be careful how I express my rowdiness and not let it consume me or others.

Because rowdiness naturally consumes, and at some point it becomes an abstraction of ourselves. I don’t know how to define that line, but I know when I see it in Max – when he crosses over from playful rowdy that is a little dangerous, but still an expression of his Max-ness, to when the rowdiness completely takes over and he is out of control and not even responding to his name.

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Max has taught me that such consuming rowdiness can happen to me too. And in that state I can too easily lash out and cause emotional or psychological harm to others. When the rowdiness takes over, I am blinded to the humanness and passion of the others around me.

Again, that doesn’t mean the rowdiness itself is bad; it just means I have to be aware of how I express it.

For me, it is songs and poetry that offer a helpful expression of rowdiness. They help me acknowledge and express my Patrick-y response to the world in a way that bears witness to the truth without harming others. And this expression causes me to listen to something other than the rowdiness bouncing around my head drowning out everything else.

And maybe that is the key – rowdiness is a helpful expression up to the point that it drowns out the ability to really listen to others. When rowdiness becomes so self reflective that it only echoes itself and thus drowns out all other thoughts and voices, it has crossed that line from helpful to harmful, from an expression of who we naturally are to an abstraction.

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Max has taught me that when he gets rowdy to the point that he does not hear me anymore, that is the time he is likely to get so out of control that he hurts someone or something. But he has also taught me that this progression of rowdiness is not inevitable. When we play at home, it means he has to stop and take some breaths and refocus, which he often does. Though he does not play at the dog park as much as I’d like (it is, after all, the perfect public place for him to be rowdy!), when he does start getting rowdy with a dog friend, they will both stop if they hear the other squeal from getting hurt. Then they usually take a moment to sniff each others’ butts, and I will just assume that the analog for that is humans listening to one another…

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Max has taught me that though it takes a lot of work, especially when there are many forms of rowdiness bubbling up, it is well worth it to find ways to express rowdiness while not losing the ability to hear others.

So thank you Max for teaching me how rowdiness is good and is an authentic expression of who I am. And thank you for teaching me the limits of rowdiness and how it can also be harmful when it shuts us off from listening to others.