The Importance of Being Max

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took Max out to my grandma’s lake cabin for a night. It’s a quiet little cluster of houses around a small body of water and is a great place for some peaceful reflection.

Or, a great place to go absolutely crazy, which is exactly what Max did.

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He’s been out to this cabin a couple of times before and he always gets so excited. Usually I can’t even drag him close to water (he’s a weird Golden Retriever in a lot of ways), but at this particular lake, he immediately runs across the lawn to take a dip in the water.

He even interacts with the water in his unique Max way – he doesn’t jump in and he doesn’t really swim. Taking a dip is the best way I can describe how he wades out until the water covers his back, but he can still stand on the ground, and then he walks around in the water.

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Max proceeds to come out of the water so that he can roll around in the dirt and grass, only to go back in the lake immediately. And then repeat it all over and over and over.

By the time we left, Max was filthy, matted, and really smelly. But he was also happy and fulfilled.

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While I was a little confused by his actions and frustrated by how filthy he got, I also learned something from Max’s frolicking around the lake. Max taught me the importance of being myself.

When Max was let loose from leash and the confines of living in a city and when he was free to enjoy the day however he saw fit, Max was authentically his weird self. Max usually does not have many constraints even when he is home, but there was something about our time at the lake that made him come alive in a way I often don’t see.

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Max taught me the importance of authentically enjoying life in a way that cuts through any expectations I load upon myself. I know I often constrain myself with arbitrary rules of what I think I should be doing that begin to mask who I truly am. But Max taught me that we are all unique and appreciate things in our own way and that weird diversity is good. Max assured me that how I see and appreciate the goodness of the world is different from him and a lot of people, but it is something to be celebrated.

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Max also taught me that sometimes I have to get out of my routine to express myself in this authentic way, and it is well worth it to have such opportunities. But just as Max carried a lot of the stench and dirt of the lake back with him, he also taught me that such earnest living is important to develop throughout life.

We eventually had to leave the lake, and I am aware that there is not always such a safe space to be as vulnerably authentic as Max was. It’s hard to be earnest all the time. While that reality is tragic, I am encouraged by the ways that, with the right community around him, Max continues to be himself at home. When there is not a lake sanctuary to retreat to, it may take a little more effort to sustain a space of safety, but Max has taught me that that work is important too. It is important to establish that safe space for myself and as much as I can to create spaces for others to express and love themselves.

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Max’s authentic expression of self is rooted in a sense of security, but it also involves some sense of daring. I am continually inspired by the ways Max dares to be himself every day, even when he acts really weirdly.

So thank you Max for teaching me the importance of earnestly loving and expressing myself so that I can more authentically connect with the people and world around me. And thank you for teaching me to create the spaces that allow such earnest living to happen.

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Grounded (ver. 2)

Max and I have moved around quite a bit the past several years, but we have now lived in our current house and neighborhood for about a year. We’ve walked along the streets at least 350 times. Max has sniffed and gone to the bathroom on countless square feet of the land that makes up this little area in which we live.

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I think it took Max a while to understand this was our home. He’s traveled enough to know that sometimes we go places for only a little while. But after a couple of months, he seemed to be a little more comfortable here. He knew the routes we could walk and the smells he might smell. And now, after a year, we are both pretty grounded in this neighborhood.

While Max has taught me the importance of going on adventures and seeing new sights, he has also taught me the importance of being rooted in a community. Max seems to delight in knowing the people and places around him and he seems to appreciate the growing connection with those people and places. That delight may stem from the fact that he occasionally gets a treat from someone who knows him, but I think it also includes the joy that comes from a sense of belonging.

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Because we have moved around a lot, Max and I have had to practice planting our roots quickly so that we can be connected to the neighborhood. And Max has taught me how to best approach quick and meaningful groundedness.

Max is open to all people and eager to get out and connect with them. He greets strangers as warmly as he greets me when I come home at the end of the day.

Max is also unapologetically authentic. He is his curious, eager self in every situation. While I sometimes worry about his unabashed approach to new people (and animals), he doesn’t worry about it, and because he is naturally authentic it seems always to work out well.

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Max’s openness and authenticity continually remind me that being grounded involves connections and vulnerability. His eagerness and curiosity have taught me that being rooted means stretching out but also stopping when something is interesting and life giving. Max has taught me to be myself and to be open to all around me so that I can be more a part of where I live.

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And Max is content with the roads we walk everyday. He takes them just as they are and doesn’t expect anything spectacular. He is happy to be here and teaches me to practice my own happiness by exercising contentment. Sure, he likes to see new things and to go new places, but he has taught me the importance of finding a healthy rhythm both of going out of my comfort zone to experience new things and of connecting more deeply with a particular neighborhood. It is a rhythm we are still working out, but Max has shown me the value of practicing it.

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Ultimately, Max has taught me the importance of investing in where we live and really knowing what is going on so that we might be a vital part of it. Max’s groundedness has brought greater joy to his life and (I think) greater value to the neighborhood.

So thank you Max for teaching me to be grounded in our neighborhood. Thank you for teaching me to be open to this community and eagerly to set roots in it.