Dog Days of Summer (Part 1)

For Max, every day of summer is a dog day – and not just because he is a dog.

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I actually found out that the “dog days” of summer came to be because of the presence of the constellation Sirius, not because dogs like Max lie around panting, but since the phrase has taken on the other meaning of heat induced exhaustion, I think it is fair to use it that way.

I have no doubt that Max feels some extra exhaustion these days from the intense Texas heat. And laying around is what he does best (second only to eating). To be fair, he does a lot of laying around even in the nicer seasons, but the dog days of summer are a reality in our house.

In fact, the past couple of weeks we got out a box fan for our living room, and it did not take long for Max to figure out how to make full use of it. He may be a hot dog, but he’s still a very smart one.

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I’m impressed every year how well he handles the heat with all his fur, with or without a fan, and that even with the heat, he still wants to get out and go on walks.

Max faces that heat head on, and has taught me the value of doing the same. He has taught me to get up even when I don’t feel like it, to jump into things even when I am tired, and not to let laziness be an excuse. Whether it is taking him on walks even in these dog days of summer, or expending a little extra energy to be present and active where I am needed, Max continually reminds me that sometimes the things most worth doing are the hardest or most uncomfortable.

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He has taught me that even in the uncomfortable heat of conflict or injustice or humbly admitting that I am wrong, I have to walk out and address it. It is easy for me to want to stay inside my little bubble of life, to keep myself cool and at ease, but I am learning the value of stepping out into spaces where I am uncomfortable in order to address the ways I have contributed to problems and broken systems.

It would be nice to stay inside and not deal with those uncomfortable things, but if I did, the poop would just pile up – literally with Max or figuratively.

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But Max has also taught me not to charge out recklessly. Because I don’t want either of us to overheat, we have to push back our walk time until pretty late. I am usually as anxious as he is to go on the walk so that it is not the last thing I do before bed, but so many days the heat just leaves no other options.

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And with all that, Max has taught me to be aware and responsive to what is going on around me, not just charge out and be overwhelmed or unprepared and cause even more harm.

This is of course a very practical lesson as we navigate these dog days, but it is also a lesson as I navigate all those uncomfortable matters. Max has taught me to be attentive to what is happening in the world, recognize that things are changing, and be willing to adapt, even if it is not how I’ve always done things or thought things to be.

Sometimes the life-giving option is not to charge out the door thinking I have all the answers, but rather to pay attention to the temperature of a matter and seek to learn from whatever is going on.

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Now, that does not mean we stay in, isolated from whatever is happening, as tempting as that is. Max has taught me that even when things are almost unbearably hot, it is worth it to get out and walk – to do so thoughtfully and flexibly, to listen and learn before moving, but still to get out and walk.

The dog days of summer can be brutal, but Max has taught me that living in this space and time means we have to face them. He has taught me to step out and be a little uncomfortable in order to connect with others and live a more life-giving way.

So, thank you Max for teaching me how to face these uncomfortable dog days of summer head on, and in a way that does not add to the harm. I’ll happily sweat (or pant) it out with you.

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The Art of Discomfort (Version 1)

Half the time I catch him sleeping, Max looks incredibly uncomfortable.

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I really don’t know how he gets into some of the positions I find him in, or why he would ever maintain them.

He recently found a cushion I leave on the floor (after it being available to him the past 3+ years), and has finally started making use of it. But still, I catch him every now and then back in what I can’t imagine is a comfortable position.

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As I’ve reflected more on the many ways Max lives in discomfort, I’ve realized that he may not be the only one. Max has taught me that there is an art to discomfort and it seems to be fairly widely practiced.

I too find myself living with a lot of discomfort – whether it is in getting sick and refusing to take medicine or in knowing the unsettling realities of poverty, racism, sexism, and a whole host of societal ills and not doing all I can to address them. I know the world doesn’t quite feel right, but I find myself curling around the sharp corners as if it were the only place to lay.

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Max practices the art of discomfort through a remarkable tolerance for pain, which I discovered after the vet noticed a really nasty ear infection several years ago. The infection has been gone for a while now, but I still think about how he gave so few clues that he was in pain.

Like Max, I also often want to tolerate and soldier on past the pain in my own life and past the pain I observe all around me. I ignore it, convince myself it doesn’t matter, or lead myself to believe it could be worse. While these all are very successful adaptive behaviors to live in a broken world, they are far from helpful in actually relieving the discomfort that I or others face.

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I’ve also noticed that Max tends to move from one uncomfortable position to another. When the one spot becomes too much to handle, he finds a new one, even if the new spot is equally uncomfortable. And I too, when overwhelmed by one uncomfortable situation, find myself drifting away from it to superficial involvement in a different uncomfortable situation. By moving around so much, I only get a taste of the discomfort before moving on to something else, and I don’t really have to address the deeper problems causing the discomfort.

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Max has taught me that it is far easier to dance around the discomfort than to face it and see that something needs to change. He has taught me that it is easier to get used to discomfort than to do what it takes to make the world a more comfortable place. And Max has taught me that by practicing these expressions of the art of discomfort, I really only perpetuate harmful causes or consequences.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it is far easier learn to live with uncomfortable things, rather than fix them. And thank you for awakening me to the importance of directly facing discomfort so that I don’t grow callous to or avoid the real problems around me.

Toughness

Max acts like he is a tough dog. And he often is. He takes slips on the stairs or ice and people stepping on his paws or tail like a champ.

But sometimes his toughness is a façade, masking a deeper pain.

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Earlier this week, when I was out of the house, Max ate a lot of the sweet goodies people had given me for the holidays. Unfortunately, many of these treats were covered with chocolate. When I came home, Max greeted me as normal and I did not know anything was wrong until I saw the empty plate and shredded wrappings around the kitchen.

I paid close attention to Max over the next hour or so, trying to figure out how sick he was. I could tell he was a little lethargic, but we went on a walk and he behaved mostly normally. Since he had not vomited and did not seem like he was in pain, I decided to wait it out.

But, as he continued to lie around I got more worried. He wasn’t showing symptoms of pain, but I could tell he wasn’t quite a hundred percent either.

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As I sat with him, I remembered back to the summer when I found out he had an ear infection. I had no clue that he was in pain until I took him to the vet for a regular check up. Perhaps it was mostly me not knowing what signs to look for, but Max is an expert at not showing pain and generally remains as happy as he can be.

So, with memories of how Max masks his discomfort, I decided to act. After rushing to the store and getting some chemicals, I took him outside and made him throw up a lot of chocolate.

He was clearly better after that purge and by the next day he had regained his normal energy, sort of.

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Yet, reflecting on the ordeal made me realize how dangerous it is to hide such pain, in whatever forms it is manifest. And I further realized that Max and I are far too similar on this matter – we are both experts at pushing through things and acting like all is good.

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Max taught me that this hiding of pain is harmful. Even if it is meant to ease the worry of others around us, such masking really only prolongs the pain and provides a way not to deal with it.

And Max taught me that it is often in moments of deepest vulnerability that we put up our most resilient masks of independence.

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Perhaps the tougher thing to do is to let down the guard and let someone else know what is really going on inside. Perhaps the tougher thing to do is to admit the illusion of independence and be open to the loving care of others. Perhaps the tougher thing to do is open up the wounds so that they can fully heal.

So thank you Max for teaching me that putting on a mask of toughness is neither the tough thing to do, nor the most beneficial. Thank you for teaching me to be more open and vulnerable, willing to depend on others so that we may all grow and heal together.

P.S. Max, I’d sure rather know the next time you need serious help. 🙂

Walking with no shoes

Max does not wear shoes. I think it is because he wants to show off his awesome toe hair, but he tries to act humble about it.

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Max’s lack of shoes has come to my attention in several ways the past couple weeks, particularly during our walks. Since it has been so rainy here this week, Max’s bare pawedness has led to some wet, muddy feet tracking in a mess to the apartment.

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But even more interestingly, Max has to stop every now and then because of something he has stepped on. He’s a tough dog, so he doesn’t act hurt when he steps on sticks or rocks or thorns, but he does stop, sit down, and dig around to find what is irritating him.

Since Max does not wear shoes, this reaction comes immediately.

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I, on the other hand, do wear shoes. And I also often get rocks or other painful things in my shoes. However, my guarded feet do not always experience the pain immediately. And because it would be such a task to stop and take off my shoes when I start to feel the discomfort, I most often continue walking while ignoring the growing pain in my feet.

I force myself to live with whatever small thing is causing me pain for no reason other than I have convinced myself that it would be too much trouble to deal with it. And it only grows more and more painful until it impedes my ability to continue on.

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Max understands something I do not. And his response to these small pains in life seems much more reasonable.

Max walks without any insecurities or defense mechanisms and thus can immediately feel the pains of the journey. But that also means he immediately deals with them and does not try to carry on ignoring the pain.

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He has taught me that such a response of immediately addressing the uncomfortable realities of life helps him to get on with the journey in a much more wholesome way. He is not content to carry those thorns with him.

He has taught me not to ignore those discomforts and pains, expecting them just to go away, and he has taught me to let down my psychological guards that really just keep those pains in my heart, unresolved.

So thank you Max for teaching me to walk without shoes. Thank you for teaching me to own up to and deal with the discomforts and pains in my life that are so easy to ignore and to continue walking with.