Patterns

Max has started being more insistent about eating at a certain time of the day. It’s like he knows it is the time for his food and has to let us all know too. He’s always done something like that, but for some reason it seems more pronounced now. I guess we got in a steady enough pattern of feeding that he is confident he knows when it needs to happen.

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Max has a lot of patterns of life – eating, walking, sleeping. And taking care of him is another one put upon my life. It’s a good pattern, and one I am happy to incorporate, but still an additional rhythm to weave in.

Max has me thinking about patterns a lot more right now.

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I recognize that I got out of the habit of blogging about Max the past month or so. It was completely unintentional. In fact, I think I just got out of the practice of attending to any lessons Max might be teaching me. I didn’t forget about him or anything, I just got out of the pattern of considering those great truths he was trying to impart.

Max taught me that it is easy to get out of life patterns, as good or helpful or fun as they may be. It is easy to let the busyness of life wash out any rhythms that are not necessary. And sometimes a lot goes missing when those patterns fade away.

Max and I used to walk every morning. It was tough to wake up and go out when it was cold or rainy, but we did it, every day. And it was actually a really good start to the day. It was refreshing and my body appreciated the movement. Many things contributed to the interruption of that pattern, but regardless I see how easy it is to get out of even good practices.

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But Max has also taught me that sometimes the pattern needs interrupting.

I didn’t train Max as a puppy or have to go through all the bad stuff that come with that part of dog life. But I still have had to encourage him out of bad habits like jumping on people who visit because he is so excited, lunging and barking at other dogs on walks, slowly creeping into the kitchen while cooking so he can snag whatever falls (we are still working on that one).

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Max has taught me that there are many troubling patterns and those need to be dealt with.

Part of my absence here has been the overwhelming distraction of terrible patterns that keep emerging in our world: patterns of hate and discrimination, patterns of violence and lack of real concern, patterns of blame and shame. These are patterns of school shootings, racism and sexism, demeaning and hating immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ. The intensity and devastation of these patterns makes me think anything I say here is superfluous. They have the tendency to overwhelm and silence me.

But Max has taught me that I must break my tendency toward retreat and silence and apathy in order to seek to break the patterns of hate that are still woven into the world around me. He has taught me that any bad habit or behavior has to be called out directly and unwaveringly.

And Max has taught me that it can’t stop there. I also have to work long and hard to establish good patterns in their place. The good rhythms have to follow right along behind in order to make a real change. He has shown me that it takes a long time to consistently develop good behavior to replace what has been chaotic or erratic. And those better practices of love and welcome and acceptance have to start with me.

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It is not quick or easy work to recover past good habits or to change current bad ones, but when patterns have such a big impact on life, there is no choice but to attend to and deal with them so that my life might bend toward a new and better order of things.

Thank you Max, for making me more aware of the patterns in my life – those that are missing and those that need to be changed. And thank you for giving me at least a little hope that the patterns of my life might make a difference.

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Passersby

Max never ignores anyone he passes. It can be frustrating at times, but he goes up to every new person he comes into contact with, whether they be visitors to the house or strangers we pass on walks.

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I noticed this behavior most on walks over the past several years, especially when I began to hope that we would not pass by many people so that we could get through the walk in a reasonable time. Max is too willing to interrupt his routine to meet new people and is unwilling to pass anyone by without extending a chance to get to know them.

I think he is good at approaching people in part because he is very cute and who in their right mind could turn down that face?

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But also, he is intentional about it, and consistent. He sees every moment as an opportunity to meet someone and does not see any value in ignoring them.

I have a lot to learn from Max in this regard. I am a pretty reserved person and there are many times I am in public and I try not to make eye contact with the people around me. Especially on walks, I have often found myself not even looking at the people Max was eagerly meeting. And there was no good reason for that. Even on very busy days, those encounters only take a couple of seconds to exchange smiles and greetings.

Max has taught me that it is always worthwhile to pay attention to the people around me. Whether that encounter remains merely a kind greeting or develops into something more meaningful, it is an important use of my time.

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But Max has also taught me that such a disposition and action requires intentionality. I can’t just expect it to happen, rather I have to warmly greet those whose paths I cross. It seems that dogs and little kids are both very good at this, especially when they come across one another. I have been stopped many times on walks by little kids who want to pet Max. They are intentional and unashamed to extend kind attention to Max and me.

I don’t know that I was ever that outgoing as a kid, but I am aware that I have taken on layers of unhelpful distancing from people around me, especially those I don’t know. And Max has taught me that I have to let go of some of that attitude to be more open to other people.

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Max has also taught me that being a more welcoming passerby helps to develop a non-judging attitude. As we continually attend to all people, I learn more and more that they all have value, they are all important, and they all have a spark of something profound in them. Through practicing extending such attention to everyone I meet, I am slowly growing in my ability to encounter others non-judgmentally.

And Max has taught me how to give someone my attention gracefully, because there are many people who are set on their way and are not receptive to his greeting. When that happens, he is not obnoxious (at least on walks, at home is a slightly different story) and he is not disheartened by lack of receptivity, but rather he carries on to extend openness to the next encounter.

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Ultimately, Max has helped me see the value of not just passing by, but rather being kind, open, and attentive to others as we cross paths. In this sense, Max has taught me to cross paths rather than pass by, so that my life and the lives of those around me are all truly affected by one another. Crossing paths may be slower and more complicated than merely passing by, but it is much more worthwhile.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to better extend my attention and openness to all whom I pass. And thank you for teaching me to actively value others instead of ignoring them so that we can more meaningfully cross paths.