Dog Days of Summer (Part 2)

Max has certainly taught me how to boldly face the uncomfortable heat of these dog days of summer, as I shared last week. But he has also taught me that moving and keeping busy is not the only (and not always the healthiest) way of dealing with the heat.

Max most truly embodies the image of the dog days of summer as he spends much of the day plopped down on the cool tile of the kitchen or bathroom. And there is a beauty and art to Max’s flopping down on the nice cool tile floor in the middle of the hot afternoon. It’s not the slobber pattern he leaves on the ground, however abstract expressionist it may be, but rather the intentional way he takes a break.

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Such rest is important, not only in these dog days of summer, but at every time. And as important and life giving as that rest is, both Max and I are not great at it.

Max is so eager to get attention and be in the middle of the action that he easily wears himself out without even thinking about it. Several years ago we took a day hike around a nature trail on a really hot mid-Spring day. After a long time, we finally turned around to go back to the car, and for most of that trek Max was eager to keep up and take everything in. Yet, even with plenty of water stops, he finally got so tired he had to stop and rest. He just plopped down right in the middle of the trail.

I think it is the only time I’ve seen him stop in the middle of an activity – and it was clear we had both pushed ourselves too far by that point.

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Even on our walks around the neighborhood, I can tell when he is overly tired from the heat, but still pushes himself to keep going. And Max has taught me to look into myself and recognize the same pattern.

Max has taught me that I too have a hard time taking a break. I don’t like to sit still for long, even when I am tired. I don’t like naps, because why would you when you can just drink more delicious coffee?

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And yet, Max has also taught me the danger of not taking breaks. During that day hike when he just stopped, Max scared me. It was so weird to see him lay down in the middle of a walk and it was immediately clear that we had pushed it too hard.

The beauty and art of his plopping down, then on the trail and now on the kitchen tile, is the way it is a window into the reality and danger of fatigue, which is only emphasized by the oppressive heat. In that one motion he is able to convey so clearly the state of things and how consuming exhaustion can be.

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But the beauty and art of his plopping down also extends to showing the deep value of rest. Max has taught me that those moments of rest are not just lazy or selfish or weak. They are signs of being deeply in tune with needs and they are a way to embrace life-giving restoration that will positively impact me and all the other people I come in contact with. Such rest helps me recover and find peace and even prepares me for those other times when I do have to go out and boldly face the heat.

In the midst of Max’s restorative, dog days of summer embracing, peaceful way of life, he has helped me learn the value and importance of rest. When I push myself to constantly be doing things, Max reminds me to be. When I am over-busy, Max teaches me to chill.

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And often, in the middle of the heat of these dog days, the most helpful and healthy thing to do is to chill.

So thank you Max, for teaching me the honest truth that I am often bad at resting. And thank you for reminding me of the important, restorative purposes of plopping down and taking a break. It is a lesson I know I will need to be taught again, but it is a lesson I know you are happy to teach.

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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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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.