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.

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.

Sympathy

The first day of summer is just around the corner, and it is already quite hot. I know it will only get worse and worse over the next several months; yet, Max still has to be walked outside.

I prefer the warmth over the cold, but I dread being out in the hot Texas sun, even for a little while and even when I am able to dress as cooly as possible. Then I look down at poor Max who is excited to be outside, but is beat and exhausted from the suffocating heat.

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Max has so much hair, even after shedding gobs of it, and he looks pretty miserable in the heat under that thick coat.

As we walk, I find myself starting to sweat profusely, and I look down at him to see how he is holding up. I am amazed at how differently his body is built to handle the heat. Max’s body is not built to sweat like mine is, so he pants to cool down. Our skin and how our bodies respond to the heat are fundamentally different from each other.

I am more and more amazed at this simple fact the more I think about it. Max can’t feel the light cool breeze that gives me such relief outside (at least not in the way I feel it). And even indoors, Max can’t feel the reassuring warmth of a light touch (at least not the way I feel it). I have to rub or scratch him pretty forcefully for him to feel that comfort.

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Through this difference, Max has taught me that though we can experience similar circumstances and feelings, I will never fully understand what it’s like to be him.

We both get very hot in the summer, and I can sympathize with his exhaustion, but I will never know what it is really like to bear the heat under his fur. We both get hungry, and I can sympathize with him when I have to wait a little too long for a meal, but I will never know what it is really like not to be able to fix that hunger myself.

Max has taught me that sympathy has limits. I can experience the same thing as other people, and, in good faith, attempt to connect to them through sympathy. But I will not really know what it is like for that other person to go through it.

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This reality seems to me to apply across many differences, such as races, genders, and cultures. For instance, I know what it is like to be insulted and mocked, but I will never know what it is like to experience that as a Black, Asian, Native, or Mexican American. I know what it feels like to nurture and care for another, but I will never know what it is like to experience motherhood.

Given these fundamental differences in experience, I sometimes wonder if attempting to sympathize is unhelpful. But Max has taught me that sympathy is an incredible tool in relating to others. When people seek to share and understand the deep pains and joys of life, something incredible happens to bring them together. Max has taught me that sympathy has its limits, but that just means I have to find appropriate ways to exercise it.

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I can use the openness and attentive understanding of others to be more compassionate and thus be joyful when others are joyful or bring comfort in distressing situations. I can connect with others on more than a superficial level.

But, I cannot say I know what it feels like. Because I don’t. My biology or cultural heritage or society’s response to me is fundamentally different. And it is only when I am fully honest about such differences that I can make the turn to really listen and try to understand what the other person is going through.

Yet, Max has also taught me that these very differences are incredibly valuable and are meant to be celebrated and cherished. I learn things from Max that I would not otherwise think about because he is so different. Moreover, I am pulled out of my own self-centered world in order to sympathize with Max. As I become more open to him, that openness begins to define my connection to many different people.

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It is fascinating and fantastic that Max is different and it is fascinating and fantastic that I can learn from him, establish a relationship with him, and find ways to step outside my own world to walk with him sympathetically – bearing the heat together (even if it means one of us is panting and the other sweating) and exploring the beauty of creation together (even if that means one of us is sniffing all around the ground and one is gazing across the horizon).

Max and I are fundamentally different in many ways, but when we embrace and respect those differences, we can begin the work of open-hearted understanding that is the foundation of our sympathetic bond.

So, thank you Max for teaching me about how limited, yet important, sympathy can be. Thank you for teaching me how to better connect with people who experience the world in vastly different ways compared to me. And thank you for bearing those hot, summer walks with me.

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.

Pulling Against

Max is stubborn, but so am I. Lately I have noticed how much strain we put on each other during walks. Max frequently likes to dart off to explore a scent or sight and I have to pull hard against the leash to reel him back.

It’s not that I always want him to stay on the path; I understand a desire to explore new things even if it takes you off the path. But I just do not want him darting off wildly. And I don’t want him pulling me along as he darts off. I like my course and I like my control.

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But he lurches off, I hold tight, and when the short leash reaches its length we both feel the harsh jarring of the impact of the force. And my shoulder has really taken a beating.

Somehow, Max and I have a hard time walking together.

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Nevertheless, it seems easier to carry on as we have been even though it causes both of us (I presume) some pain. We don’t have to consider each other too much, but rather just do our own thing. We don’t have to take the time to think about what the other wants to do, we can stay in our own respective worlds.

But that leash connects us whether we want it to or not.

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Max has taught me that we too often pull against each other – especially those we don’t understand well. It is hard to step in the other person’s shoes (especially when they have none) and think about how they experience the journey. So we go our own way, mindless of those to whom we are inherently connected.

And through the struggle against this connection, Max has taught me that it really does hurt every party when we refuse to walk together.

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So, what do we do, I think as I continue to drag Max along the path. There has to be some better way of walking alongside each other. Perhaps it involves stopping on the way and getting to know each other and our differences. Perhaps it involves allowing a longer leash of freedom to be different from one another and to be perfectly fine with going down the same path in very different ways. Perhaps it means taking a chance and following the other instead of insisting on staying my own comfortable course.

Regardless, there has to be a way to see and experience that connection between myself and others as a benefit, as something that allows us to encounter the path in more meaningful ways, rather than something to struggle against.

So thank you Max for teaching me that working toward a way to walk together is much better than continually straining against each other. It may be hard and uncomfortable, but you have taught me that it is worth it so that we might live more peacefully connected to one another.