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.

Territorial

Max has started to become a little more territorial. Until recently, he did not have much space that was his. We lived in a small apartment with no yard. But now he is more settled in our new house and is more comfortable spending time in the back yard.

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He is also more comfortable walking around our neighborhood. And he’s gotten to the point where he will bark pretty intensely at some of the other dogs whose back yards we pass. The dogs may bark at each other as a way of communicating any number of things or just for the fun of it, but I sense a subtle ferocity that seems to convey this is mine, get back.

And of course Max has now peed all over the neighborhood, marking his new territory.

These expressions of territorialism trouble me, because the neighborhood and even the back yard are not really Max’s. He has no more ownership over those areas than any other dogs, other animals, or humans. And I wonder what gives him the right to be overly protective or territorial.

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And I see in Max some of my own tendencies to selfishly protect what I claim is mine. He has taught me that it is all too natural to be territorial and to allow that territorialism to motivate me to be defensive and restrictive.

Max has also taught me the very problematic nature of believing something belongs to me and that I must guard it against others. He has taught me that it leads to divisiveness and unprovoked aggression. He has taught me that it leads to anxiety as he frantically pees at every corner to make sure his mark is there.

Max has taught me that this extreme form of self-absorbed territorialism is destructive to relations with others and keeps us bound in our own little anxious sphere of the world.

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But Max has also shown me an understanding of territory that is much more open and which can lead to good impact.

Max often chases away squirrels and birds when he sees them in the back yard, but the other day I looked out and he and a squirrel were very close and just looking at one another. It was unnatural, but it helped me realize that territory can be a point of welcome, not just a point of barrier.

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Max has also always been very welcoming when guests come over into his space. He is excited to share the room and time with them. When his territorialism is not self-absorbed, but rather other-focused, he establishes the space as one of openness and welcome.

And Max has also taught me that his investment in the territory shows that he really cares about what’s going on in the neighborhood and is willing to do something to make sure that it is a better place for all.

Too often I am content in just occupying a space. I take little responsibility for it and I don’t go out of my way to make sure it is taken care of and is a place where others can be taken care of. But Max has taught me that I should care more and that I should do something to impact the territory I am in so that it can be a place of openness and hope. He has taught me that there will always be others who are working to make neighborhoods more closed off and who are turning territories into barriers. Yet, to recreate such spaces I need to express in real ways the care I have for that territory.

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Max has taught me that concern for a specific space is powerful and can lead to incredible impact. And he has taught me that impact can be either anxious and restrictive or hopeful and open, depending on my intentions and perspective.

So thank you Max, for teaching me how impactful care for territory can be. Thank you for showing me both the problematic nature of territorialism as well as how deep care for a space can transform it into being more inviting.

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.

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.

In Sync

Max and I have been a little out of sync lately. I have been tired when he is ready to play and I’m ready to go outside when he is content to lay around.

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I think this mismatch is in part due to me changing my work schedule and being gone at different times than I have been in the past. This small element of change unknowingly had an impact even on my time with Max, and I learned that getting out of sync could happen very subtly and quickly. The cause went unnoticed for a while as I was just frustrated that Max kept bothering me when I didn’t want to be bothered.

For instance, I would come home very tired and try to lay on my couch for a little bit to rest my head. But Max, already past ready to go out, would have none of it and breathed right in my face and paced and whined and then came back to breathe right in my face and try to play.

And then Max started waking me up earlier in the morning (something he thankfully hasn’t done much before).

I could tell something wasn’t working, and my initial reaction was – Max why are you so bothersome today?

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But I eventually realized it was not Max’s fault. It was the subtle change in circumstance that led us to be out of sync with one another. And I learned that instead of blaming Max, I should focus on how to get us back in sync.

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And Max has taught me that getting in sync with another will probably not just magically happen. No matter how intensely two people adhere to different rhythms, they will always be different until one changes to match the other or both change to a new one.

So, to get back in sync requires some self-sacrifice and intentionality in understanding the other person. It requires a change in my lifestyle and openness to another.

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To get back in sync with Max I have had to endure my tiredness just a little longer so that we can get closer to the same rhythm of activity and rest. And this isn’t necessarily a one-time thing. Being in sync requires consistent attention and readiness to change when we inevitably get out of sync again.

So thank you Max for teaching me to consider why I am really out of sync with others. Thank you for teaching me to be more lovingly adaptable and give of myself to get back in sync rather than expect others to join my rhythm.

Hospitality

Max has been a bit of an orphan this past month. I was out of town on various trips for about 4 straight weeks and sadly could not take him with me.

But thankfully so many people were willing to take care of him.

I mean, who could resist this face, right?

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And though I missed him while we were miles away from each other, he continued to teach me about the importance of hospitality.

The people taking care of Max gave of themselves and welcomed Max into their lives. This loving action not only made my life easier, knowing that he is being taken care of, but it also made Max’s life better. He now knows so many more people love him (not that he is lacking in that awareness) and he was able to share life with them too.

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Max taught me that hospitality is welcoming people into your life (even sometimes at a moment’s notice) and caring for them. And this is something that is done not only during trips or at big events, but also in everyday life. As I greet Max every morning I can be vulnerable and give myself for him to make him feel loved. I can welcome anyone I meet throughout my day into my life and show them I care for them.

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Max taught me that hospitality is about being generous with time and life. It is about knowing that we impact our neighbors in a positive way when we open wide our doors or in a negative way when we shut them out. And while hospitality can often be most felt when we have no other doors open to us, I am learning more and more to be generously open to anyone passing by my life at any time.

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In this sense, Max taught me that hospitality is a disposition of loving openness combined with the actions of welcoming and taking time to show care to another. That can look like sharing a drink or meal, offering a listening ear, telling someone they do belong here, or even taking care of a dog for a week or two.

So thank you Max for teaching me to be more aware of the ways I can extend hospitality to all I meet. And, more importantly, thank you to all who have shown me some form of hospitality – either by taking care of Max or by the many other ways I’ve been welcomed into your lives.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Have Jelly Legs

Max is wonderful at receiving love. Whenever I start petting him his legs seem to immediately turn to jelly and he collapses so that I can rub his belly and he can enjoy to the full extent my loving attention.

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It is a joy to watch him surrender to that expression of love, fully embrace it, and become overwhelmed by it.

And this response has become very instructive for me. Max has taught me not to be too guarded. He has taught me that when it comes to giving and receiving love, vulnerability is important. Sometimes, we just have to open ourselves up and accept another person’s care.

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Max has taught me the true joy of receiving love in such an open, honest way and that it is a wonderful thing to allow that love to knock me off my feet. It is wonderful to be overwhelmed by that love so that it fills up my heart and soul.

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Max has taught me that in a world where there is hate and strife and loneliness that cuts us down and brings us to our knees that there is still hope of a love that knocks us on our back. He has taught me to be attuned to that love and expect it around every corner.

As I’ve mentioned, I have been overwhelmed by many things, but Max has taught me that at least one of those things can be the powerful, life-embracing force of love.

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Max has taught me that in this life, sometimes you just gotta have jelly legs. Sometimes you just gotta surrender to the people around who give you love. Sometimes you just gotta be vulnerable to those who care and accept their love.

But not always, because sometimes you gotta give that love. Sometimes you gotta overwhelm someone else with love. And I’ve found that when I give that love to Max and he collapses in joy, I can’t help but follow him and feed off that emotion.

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So thank you Max for teaching me to be vulnerable and to accept the love given me. Thank you for teaching me to participate in the overwhelming power of love, either surrendering to it or lavishly giving it out.