Barking

Max is overall a very quiet dog. The only times I’ve heard him bark at home are when he gets really excited and wants to play. It’s the kind of bark that is the result of excitement bubbling over uncontrollably. Those barks are surprising, but I really like them.

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Max is also relatively quiet when we go in public. There are some dogs in our neighborhood who bark like crazy when we walk by. Compared to them, Max is almost monk-like. But lately, he has started barking back more often.

And the more Max barks, the more I realize not all barks are the same.

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There’s Max’s playful, excited bark, which sometimes emerges on walks too. Then there’s his protective, warning bark –  a low rumbly growl that slowly builds to a solid staccato utterance. This comes out very infrequently when he perceives a dog to be an actual threat. I don’t know whether it’s meant to be a warning for me or for the other dog, or probably both, but it is both fierce and protective.

Similar to this warning bark, Max also has a bark that is straight up violent. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between the two, but this bark is much more aggressive and I’ve only seen it once or twice (and I intentionally say see it, because it involves his whole body – he gets tense and lunges as he barks).

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He’s also got his somewhat mindless responsive bark – the bark that sounds like a stuck record, repeating the exact same tone over and over. This bark comes out when there’s just a lot of other barking noise around him and he feels compelled to join in.

And Max has a bark that is almost more of a whimper – a bark to let me know something is not right with him. I’ve heard this when he steps on something sharp or when he gets sick and needs to alert me to let him out. It’s his cry for help bark.

So Max has his playful barks, his threatening barks, his violent barks, his noisy barks, and his cry for help barks. Max has taught me that not all barks are the same.

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And yet, it’s easy to forget that very important reality when I turn my attention to people. People make a lot of noise – we have many cries for help or violent utterances. And when it is not my own noise, it is hard to remember that not all noise, cries, yells are the same. It is easy to confuse the alerting yells from the violent ones, but it is terribly problematic when we do.

It is problematic and wrong to lump together the cries of injustice with the cries of hate – they are distinctly different and in fact one causes the other (hint – it’s the hate that causes the injustice).

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This important point of not lumping all barks or cries together was made very apparent to me when walking Max the other day. We wound up walking at a very popular time of day, so we passed many other dogs. And Max had a different reaction to all of them. With some he shared a playful bark and I knew not to be worried. With others he started to get threatening and I knew we needed to move on – I knew to pull him and silence that kind of barking.

Max has taught me that some kinds of barks are important while some need to be muzzled. I do all I can to silence Max in his violent barks or his barks just for the sake of more noise, and yet I listen closely and act on his behalf when I hear the playful barks or the barks signaling my attention. Likewise, some types of human utterance are important and need to be heeded (the cries of injustice, the cries that black lives matter) and some screams need to be hushed (the cries of hate, the cries of racist ideology and the cries of those supporting confederate symbols and monuments that perpetuate that racist ideology).

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Max has also taught me that sometimes I really have to know the dog or person to pick up on the subtle differences between the barks or cries. I have lived with Max several years, so I know his barks well. I can tell in a moment what kind of bark it will be. But when I encounter another person’s dog it is not always so easy. Some dogs come across as more aggressive, but it is just because I don’t know them well. I believe the same is true of many people I know.

Max has taught me that sometimes I need to take time to get to know those who cry in order to know what kinds of cries they are uttering.

But only sometimes. Because it’s still pretty easy to tell when a strange dog is barking in a way that indicates he wishes me harm verses a dog who is barking because something is wrong. I believe the same is true of many people I know, especially since for people I can tell the content of what is being shared. In the cases mentioned above, it seems all too easy to tell the difference between the types of cries.

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I’d do well to remember that not all canine barks or human cries are the same. I’d do better to attend closely to the cries of injustice and to do all I can to silence the cries of hatred.

Thank you Max, for teaching me that not all canine barks or human cries are the same. Thank you for helping me learn how better to attend to the barks that something is wrong or the cries of injustice. And thank you for helping me learn how to hush the barks of violence or the cries of hate.

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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.

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.

Superhero (in training)

Max is a superhero…or maybe a superhero in training…or maybe he just has the spirit of a superhero.

And lately he has been trying out several options for his superhero identity.

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This “Strange” Dogtor is leading all Defenders of baked delicacies. He’ll take a slice out of crime, and a slice out of that pizza, please!

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He’s sniffing out mischief day and night.

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Spider Dog, Spider Dog, doing whatever a spider dog does…

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These Powerpuff Pooches are full of sugar, spice, and everything nice – probably because they just ate whatever was in the kitchen.

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No superhero is safe without a secret identity. Normal mutt by day, hero by night. And Max ties it all together in his own classy way.

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In addition to the look, Max has also been practicing some crucial superhero skills.

Sometimes the going gets ruff, and all you can do is lay low for a bit. Max is becoming a master of disguise and hiding. Watch him paws until just the right moment to strike.

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Max is even embarking on some pretty furocious weapons training.

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In order to get out of some hairy situations, Max has been working on squeezing into small spaces.

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He’s always on alert as protector of his muttropolis.

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And will be there in a flash if danger arises – to tail the bad guys and retrieve a sense of safety for all.

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Max may not have many super powers, but he’s still practicing for that day when he can fly all over town and become the most pup-ular hero of all!

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Thank you Max, for keeping us entertained and good luck becoming a superhero. But thank you even more for truly being a wonder dog. Sometimes I wonder what is going on in your head, but ultimately you are a wonderful friend and inspire me to be better.

Adventures

Lately, Max has been very eager to go on new adventures. I have to be careful when opening the back door, because he has developed a habit of sneaking out past me, sprinting to the car, and then sitting behind the car expecting to go somewhere with me.

Even when I am on my way somewhere else, he will persistently sit behind the car so that I cannot get out of the driveway. He seems committed to keeping me home or going with me. (It’s cute until he lays down and literally has to be dragged back in the house…)

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While Max has always liked going new places, he has not always like the car. It still takes me by surprise when he is ready to jump in the back even before I open the door. Moreover, many of the trips he actually gets to take are not that rewarding, often ending either at the vet or with a bath.

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And yet last week Max got a true adventure. We loaded up and went out to a fun 3k walk with dogs and humans on the other side of town. Max was thrilled to step out of the car onto new ground, to walk across sidewalks with new smells, and to gaze out at the city from a new angle.

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The adventure was hot and an unnecessary hassle, but Max taught me how exciting and important it is to get out of our little corner of the world and experience something new. Where we live now, it is easy to walk just about anywhere we need to go. Such proximity is wonderful and I love the sense of groundedness I feel being so physically close to the neighborhood. But the major downside to this arrangement is that we can get more secluded from all that is going on just a couple miles away.

And so Max has taught me to wait eagerly for opportunities and to take the initiative to experience a different corner of the world. Even when it is not convenient, Max has taught me the value of interacting with people I normally wouldn’t in a neighborhood I sometimes forget is close by.

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Max has reminded me of the importance of stretching out to new neighborhoods with an attitude of openness and excitement to learn something new from them. It is easy to get into a trap of only going to new places in order to find a quick spectacle to cherish. And yet, I don’t think that is what Max is doing. Max gets excited about such adventures because of the natural beauty of diversity. He has taught me to go into these adventures intentionally breathing in the fullness of the place and allowing it to impact me for the better. It’s a skill to develop, but one we are starting to practice more.

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Max has taught me the value of breaking routine and breaking through unintentional boundaries to get a fresh perspective on myself and the world around me. He has taught me that while the fenced-in backyard is safe and provides its own sense of value, it doesn’t fulfill that part of us that needs connection with other places and people.

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And ultimately Max has taught me that such new adventures require running out the door with hopeful excitement, interrupting the normal flow of my life, and being open to taking in all the new things I can learn from being in a new place.

So, thank you Max for being so eager to go on new adventures. Thank you for pulling me out of the routine of my life and teaching me to be open to all the new experiences around us. I hope that our adventures allow us to authentically grow and connect with the world and with one another, and that there is no shortage of them.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (ver. 2)

Back at Christmas, Max got a new lightsaber toy. Although he was very excited about it, he clearly did not know how to use it. You’re going to cut your tongue out if you don’t hold it by the handle, you crazy dog!

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Well, either he did not know how to use it, or he has some impressive, impenetrable force chew skills that he was showing off.

He continued not to know how to actually use the toy, forcing me to take it from him and show him the right way to hold it. I did this over and over again and even when he would get it right for a little bit, it did not last long.

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I soon realized that not only did he not understand how to properly use this toy as an entertaining prop, but also he had a much more sinister ploy in mind.

Max became completely consumed by the dark side. Maybe he was already far gone, but he demonstrated his sith tendencies as he began to shred the amazing toy. At first I tried to stop the destruction, but as it went on day after day, I resigned myself to sadness. I convinced myself that Max would never have the patience to learn a choreographed lightsaber fight with me, but also that he did not really appreciate the toy as he should.

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The unraveling started out fairly slow, and then it eventually went beyond hope.

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And yet, while I mourned the loss of this cool toy, Max taught me something important about having such “nice things.”

Max taught me that while I may have really good, cool ideas about how something should go – like a lightsaber toting dog, I by no means have the only good idea. In fact, my idea may completely miss the mark. Whereas I wanted the lightsaber to be a funny, entertaining prop, Max realized it for what it really is – a dog toy. And Max used this dog toy as he saw fit.

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Max taught me that sometimes I need to let go of my ideas so that things can happen the way they should. If I had insisted on the lightsaber being a pristine prop, Max would not have enjoyed it nearly as much and it would have failed as a dog toy (though, I also wouldn’t have to pick up as many little blue strings every week). He taught me that maybe a dog knows how to use a dog toy better than a human does.

And he’s taught me to be more aware of this concept in other areas of my life. I so often want to step in and make things go a certain way in work and other parts of life. And sometimes that is my role or responsibility. But sometimes I’m just trying to make nice things out of dog toys. Sometimes I am exerting undue influence on something completely outside of my expertise or interest (aka white male syndrome).

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Max is a dog who knows best how to enjoy his own toys, and life is better when I celebrate that instead of trying to continually force him to adhere to certain expectations. Max taught me that maybe we can’t have nice things, but maybe we can have more trust and freedom and joy.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes we can’t have nice things, and maybe that’s ok. Thank you for teaching me that my way and understanding of things is not the only way and is often not the best. And of course, may the force be with you, even on the fifth!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Try

Max is not afraid to “ask” for things. In fact, this morning he has begged to go outside, then back inside, then back outside, then back inside, and so on and so on.

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Max begs for attention from anyone who is nearby and just as that person has finished attending to Max, he goes to someone else. Max asks for food and treats, especially if it seems I am taking too long to offer it. And, though he doesn’t ask for them, he often just takes toys, especially if they belong to another dog.

He does not overthink trying to get things. It seems that he truly lives by the motto, you don’t know until you try.

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I, on the other hand, am overly cautious. I try to think of every possible outcome before I ask for or try anything. And it can be a little paralyzing. Sometimes the moment of opportunity passes while I am just thinking and sometimes I pass by the opportunity because I am still not quite sure where it will take me.

I think part of my hesitancy is that I’m never sure if an option is ideal. I want to make sure it is the best possible thing to do before doing it. In addition, I am sometimes afraid to fail. I am afraid that if I ask for something, it won’t be offered and that if I try something it will crash and burn. And so I look and wait for the perfect opportunity.

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Such a disposition toward trying would not be bad if there was an overabundance of perfect opportunities. But that does not seem to be the case. And so Max is teaching me the value of asking or trying. There are many times that Max does not get what he wanted, and he deals with it. But many more times he does succeed because he is persistent and he takes as many shots as are offered to him.

Max has taught me that while there is not an overabundance of perfect opportunities, there is an abundance of opportunities. And he has taught me to be more aware of those opportunities and to jump in when they are presented.

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But there are also many times that Max does not try to do something which he is very capable of doing. Often I open the door for him to go outside and he doesn’t budge. But then when I go outside too, he is quick to jump on the opportunity. There are also times where I throw a toy to him, but he does nothing with it until I join him on the floor to play.

Max does not try to do things when he knows that it will leave me behind. Max values our relationship enough that maintaining it is more important than the opportunity itself.

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And so Max has taught me that sometimes I shouldn’t ask or try, especially when I know it will not benefit the people around me. He has taught me to allow what I believe is most valuable to guide what options I take. This helps me push past looking only for the perfect options, but also to be guided by more than mere thrill or self-interest. Moreover, Max has taught me that opportunities are best understood as means to connect with the people around me. While there are many times I should jump in and try, sometimes I gotta hold back so that I follow paths that are not just self-serving, but rather those that enhance community and connections with those around me.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes I just gotta try. Thank you for teaching me to jump in when I am unreasonably cautious, but also to make sure I am guided by seeking ways to connect with others.