Companion – a hopeful post

It’s been a rough week with too many tragedies on every level – local, national, worldwide.

And again I find it hard not to despair. I find it hard to hold on to any hope that life and peace and joy will win out in the day to day workings of the world.

Then I come home and am greeted by the embodiment of life and peace and joy. Max is with me and comforts me.

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He doesn’t say anything to me or do anything for me. He is just present, and that does more for my consolation than anything else.

I tend to prefer to be alone, especially when dealing with difficult things. In fact, it was a little over a year ago when I was especially depressed and sought the solace of solitude. While there was some healing in that solitude, I found it all too easy to be sucked back into the despair that things would never get better, that joy had been defeated.

Then, while crumpled on the ground in my room, Max came barging in. He sat with me. He probably tried to sit on me too, but at least he was near. That’s all he did and somehow it began to break my tight grip on my despair. His presence did not bring me to a joyful state, but it gave me something else to hold onto.

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Rather than my own self-loathing and confusion, I was able to take hold of another and to know that he is there with me, no matter what.

Rather than fix my problems (something he clearly couldn’t do, not because he is a dog, but rather because no one could), he gave me hope. He gave me assurance that whatever the situation, there are others who walk beside me, through the pain and into renewal.

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I wish I wasn’t reminded of this time in my life so often, but I am ever grateful for Max’s presence at that time. And I am grateful that he taught me this important way hope is manifest in our difficult lives and tragic world.

Max taught me that healing starts with cleaning the dirt out of the wound, not with stitching it up. He taught me that hope is not a realization of fullness of joy, but rather a letting go of despair.

And Max taught me to be with others. In these tragic times my soul will not be easily or quickly repaired, but by encountering the loving presence of others it will be cleansed of the filth that infects it with despondent anguish. My soul is embraced by the presence of communal love and support and thus does not fall to pieces.

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Max’s companionship gives me the strength and courage to stand and face the pain and sadness and not be pulled under by it. Max taught me that neither I nor anyone is alone in this.

So thank you Max for being a loving companion, especially in the difficult times in this life. Thank you for showing me that hope is no less than a warm, fuzzy hug.

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Pulling Against

Max is stubborn, but so am I. Lately I have noticed how much strain we put on each other during walks. Max frequently likes to dart off to explore a scent or sight and I have to pull hard against the leash to reel him back.

It’s not that I always want him to stay on the path; I understand a desire to explore new things even if it takes you off the path. But I just do not want him darting off wildly. And I don’t want him pulling me along as he darts off. I like my course and I like my control.

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But he lurches off, I hold tight, and when the short leash reaches its length we both feel the harsh jarring of the impact of the force. And my shoulder has really taken a beating.

Somehow, Max and I have a hard time walking together.

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Nevertheless, it seems easier to carry on as we have been even though it causes both of us (I presume) some pain. We don’t have to consider each other too much, but rather just do our own thing. We don’t have to take the time to think about what the other wants to do, we can stay in our own respective worlds.

But that leash connects us whether we want it to or not.

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Max has taught me that we too often pull against each other – especially those we don’t understand well. It is hard to step in the other person’s shoes (especially when they have none) and think about how they experience the journey. So we go our own way, mindless of those to whom we are inherently connected.

And through the struggle against this connection, Max has taught me that it really does hurt every party when we refuse to walk together.

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So, what do we do, I think as I continue to drag Max along the path. There has to be some better way of walking alongside each other. Perhaps it involves stopping on the way and getting to know each other and our differences. Perhaps it involves allowing a longer leash of freedom to be different from one another and to be perfectly fine with going down the same path in very different ways. Perhaps it means taking a chance and following the other instead of insisting on staying my own comfortable course.

Regardless, there has to be a way to see and experience that connection between myself and others as a benefit, as something that allows us to encounter the path in more meaningful ways, rather than something to struggle against.

So thank you Max for teaching me that working toward a way to walk together is much better than continually straining against each other. It may be hard and uncomfortable, but you have taught me that it is worth it so that we might live more peacefully connected to one another.

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.

Sometimes you just gotta sit and stare

Often, Max just sits and stares.

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And often I want to join him, especially of late.

I admit, I do not know what is going through his mind in those times. I like to think he is pondering life’s big questions or how to redecorate the apartment. But for all I know he is contemplating how to finally beat me in a wrestling match or, most likely, when his next meal will be.

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Whatever is going through his mind, the act of sitting and staring has a removed, pensive mood about it. It is as if with all that is going on the best he can do is stop, try to take it all in, and make some sense of things.

And that is exactly where I find myself these days. I feel I understand the world less and less, and that people are not acting as they should. Or maybe I fear I understand the world more and more as its brokenness is blaringly apparent.

Regardless, my heart and my head hurt for the pain so many people and communities face.

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And Max has taught me that sometimes all you can do is sit and stare. The world is overwhelmingly tragic and all too often I just need more time to sort it all out and get my bearings.

Granted this is a blessing of being far enough removed from the tragedy that I don’t have to deal with it directly. And while I hope my sitting and staring is primarily an act of mourning for the brokenness, I know that it is also far too often merely a means of escape, a way to think through things but not really deal with them.

So, while sitting and staring can be cathartic, it is only appropriate sometimes. Max has taught me that sometimes all we can do is sit and stare. But just sometimes.

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Most of the time, I have to get up and move too. For if I only sit and stare I will be stuck there forever. Things will continue to stay broken if I do not get up and help mend.

Max’s sitting and staring really does not last very long. He is far too eager to go and do things. And maybe that is the most important thing he has taught me about sitting and staring – that it should not last long. He has taught me not to let whatever is going on paralyze me.

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He has taught me that sitting and staring is not the end, it is a beginning of moving toward hope. But that can only be so if the sitting soon turns to moving and the staring off in the distance turns toward seeing the possibilities of involvement and progress.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sitting and staring can be cathartic, but that it must only last for a moment so that acting toward and envisioning a better world can take its place.