The Unknown

A couple of weeks ago, when Max and I were walking through the snow, we came across something new to Max. Two snowmen sat happily right by the sidewalk. Max had no clue what to make of them. First he backed away a little while intently staring at them, then he stood in eager expectation. Eventually, he crept close to them, sniffing in overdrive.

He stood there sniffing the tree branch arm for a while before I started to pull him away. Yet, even as he was being dragged off, I could tell he was still very curious. He had not yet figured out what that new creation was and wanted to investigate more.

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During the rest of our walks that week, Max continued to slow down and stare at the snowmen whenever we passed by. He still did not know what to make of them, but he had a determined, cautious curiosity.

Max has acted the same way before when we walked close by some cows. One day the cows had come right next to the fence and Max could see and probably smell them. New sights and smells captured his attention and he paused, waiting to gain some better understanding of what the thing was.

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So, I began to notice a pattern in how Max approaches the unknown. He slows down, but I don’t think it is because he is scared. Rather, he gives it solemn attention and tries to glean as much as he can about that unknown thing. Then he slowly approaches, cautiously finding out more and more about it.

This approach is quite different from what is often my reaction. Granted the unknowns I face are a little different from snowmen and cows. The unknowns in my life are far more often the next step in the future of my career or personal life, the uncertainty of whether something I’ve planned will succeed, or a new development that I haven’t had to work through before.

I am the opposite of reckless, so sometimes when I am faced with these unknowns I freeze. Not Max’s attentive pause in which he tries to figure out the situation, but a full on freeze where I either try to ignore the new thing or become immediately overwhelmed with not knowing where to begin.

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Whenever I finally get unfrozen, I don’t approach the unknown until I have it all figured out. I don’t have Max’s courage to ease into it, and since I can’t figure it all out if I don’t approach, I sometimes stay stuck.

Whereas Max stays calm and approaches with a healthy curiosity, I sometimes get anxious and treat the unknown as some opposing force or task to be conquered or overcome. Rather than treating it as an opportunity for me to grow and learn, I treat it as a test of my worth or an obstacle to full living.

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But Max has taught me to approach the unknown things in my life in a healthier way. He has shown me the value of treating these situations cautiously, but also eagerly. He has taught me to embrace the unknown as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than become anxious and fearful.

Max has taught me that even when I have no clue what to make of something, I should neither run away from it nor be overwhelmed by it. Rather, I should take the little steps necessary for getting to know it so that I may enhance my understanding by embracing another part of this complex, interesting, sometimes weird, sometimes cool, sometimes hard, sometimes awe-inspiring life.

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So thank you Max for teaching me how better to approach the unknowns in my life. Thank you for your cautious courage and eager curiosity that inspire and challenge me.

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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.

Good enough?

Max gives me hope in many ways. Often that hope comes less from something he does and more from the fact that he is here with me, especially when I get overwhelmed.

And I often get overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed about the brokenness of the world, about how I should be impacting the world, about the many other ways I could be doing good but am not at the moment, about all the people to whom I can and should show love.

I too often get that pit in my stomach that tells me I am not doing as much good as I should be doing. And it is incredibly overwhelming to think I must constantly be doing more.

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Then Max walks in and reminds me that life is not about doing more and more, even if it is all amazing, good stuff. Rather, life is about living presently in love, in whatever tiny ways such loving is manifest. Life is about recognizing that even a single act of good or love in this world drastically impacts the very shape of the world.

Max walks in and I am reminded that life is not about balancing the good, the neutral and the bad to see what is weightiest at the end of days. Life is richer and more meaningful than that.

Max walks in and I am reminded that even if I do nothing else than take care of him, I have done enough.

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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support being a lazy, self-centered couch potato. Being apathetic about the good I do is even worse than trying to quantify it, and there are definitely times I have to step out and look for new opportunities so as not to become apathetic.

But Max has taught me to appreciate whatever little good I do for another instead of worrying about what more I can do, because good and love are not quantifiable things. Sure, the acts of good and love can be measured, but the significance and impact cannot, and that is what matters.

Max has taught me that any good act of love and care resounds greatly in this world, so that even the smallest of such acts is worth doing. He has taught me that doing good in this world is equally important whether it is directed to one being or to millions. And he has taught me not to be overwhelmed or to think I have to reach the millions to have a worthwhile life.

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I take care of Max – I show love to Max – and that is good. And that is enough.

So thank you Max for teaching me not to focus on the lack of good I’ve done or all the things left to do, but rather on the significance of every little good thing I’ve done. And thank you for showing me that it is good, it is enough, to show love to one small being.