Sometimes You Just Gotta Try

Max is not afraid to “ask” for things. In fact, this morning he has begged to go outside, then back inside, then back outside, then back inside, and so on and so on.

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Max begs for attention from anyone who is nearby and just as that person has finished attending to Max, he goes to someone else. Max asks for food and treats, especially if it seems I am taking too long to offer it. And, though he doesn’t ask for them, he often just takes toys, especially if they belong to another dog.

He does not overthink trying to get things. It seems that he truly lives by the motto, you don’t know until you try.

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I, on the other hand, am overly cautious. I try to think of every possible outcome before I ask for or try anything. And it can be a little paralyzing. Sometimes the moment of opportunity passes while I am just thinking and sometimes I pass by the opportunity because I am still not quite sure where it will take me.

I think part of my hesitancy is that I’m never sure if an option is ideal. I want to make sure it is the best possible thing to do before doing it. In addition, I am sometimes afraid to fail. I am afraid that if I ask for something, it won’t be offered and that if I try something it will crash and burn. And so I look and wait for the perfect opportunity.

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Such a disposition toward trying would not be bad if there was an overabundance of perfect opportunities. But that does not seem to be the case. And so Max is teaching me the value of asking or trying. There are many times that Max does not get what he wanted, and he deals with it. But many more times he does succeed because he is persistent and he takes as many shots as are offered to him.

Max has taught me that while there is not an overabundance of perfect opportunities, there is an abundance of opportunities. And he has taught me to be more aware of those opportunities and to jump in when they are presented.

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But there are also many times that Max does not try to do something which he is very capable of doing. Often I open the door for him to go outside and he doesn’t budge. But then when I go outside too, he is quick to jump on the opportunity. There are also times where I throw a toy to him, but he does nothing with it until I join him on the floor to play.

Max does not try to do things when he knows that it will leave me behind. Max values our relationship enough that maintaining it is more important than the opportunity itself.

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And so Max has taught me that sometimes I shouldn’t ask or try, especially when I know it will not benefit the people around me. He has taught me to allow what I believe is most valuable to guide what options I take. This helps me push past looking only for the perfect options, but also to be guided by more than mere thrill or self-interest. Moreover, Max has taught me that opportunities are best understood as means to connect with the people around me. While there are many times I should jump in and try, sometimes I gotta hold back so that I follow paths that are not just self-serving, but rather those that enhance community and connections with those around me.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes I just gotta try. Thank you for teaching me to jump in when I am unreasonably cautious, but also to make sure I am guided by seeking ways to connect with others.

Taken for granted

Max is a staple part of my life now. We’ve lived together for 17 months and he has thoroughly influenced my daily rhythm of life. Sometimes it has been frustrating (like when he wakes me up early), but it has also been quite rewarding.

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Yet, I’ve found myself often forgetting just how much I wanted a dog as I finished school and how excited I was finally to get Max. Perhaps it is because he is such an ordinary part of my life that I tend to forget how important he is.

I too often take Max for granted.

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This is not a matter of getting frustrated with him, but rather a matter of not cultivating my relationship with him regularly. It’s me expecting Max to be there for me while not expecting me to be there for him. It’s that daily choice to be a little more self-absorbed and perceive Max as merely a pawn helping bring about my own beneficial end.

That may sound harsh, but the days I am preoccupied and come home only to push Max aside as I turn on the TV or slip into my own little world, I do him a disservice that is somehow even worse than yelling at him (not that I condone hateful yelling, by any means).

Max is not just in my life to meet my fleeting desires. He is a living creature and deserves better than my ignoring him. He deserves not to be taken for granted.

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In the midst of this, Max has taught me not to overlook those ordinary important things of life. He has taught me that it is far too easy to take those whom I love for granted, especially when they are such a normal part of my life.

Max has taught me that being in any type of relationship with any creature requires constant attuning of myself to the other. It is work, like the continued attention given by a farmer to the crop as farmer and land grow together to produce some fruit.

It is too easy to assume that crop will produce after the seed is planted, but the earth teaches again and again not to take it for granted either.

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Max and the earth have something to teach that I need to be reminded of quite frequently. I need to start listening and paying more attention to those around me, so as not to take them for granted, but rather grow with them, patiently and lovingly.

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So thank you, Max, for teaching me that it is unfortunately far too easy to take for granted those whom I love. Thank you for teaching me the importance of consistently working on those relationships, by embracing and attending more closely to the ordinary parts of my life.

Forgiveness is hard

Max has a problem. He eats things he shouldn’t, particularly poop.

Perhaps I am forcing my human point of view onto natural animal actions, but I just can’t come up with any good reason to let him eat other animals’ poop.

And Max’s problem has only gotten worse over the past several months. Every time we go outside he tries his hardest to eat as much poop as possible.

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Usually he is on a leash, so I can control the intake. I don’t like doing it, but I have to keep pulling him away and stopping to yell at him when I have lost focus and he steals a chance to grab a bite. (After all this, there is no way he can think that action is acceptable.)

But sometimes we go to a little dog park and I let him off leash. Every time I think, maybe he will just play, maybe other dogs will distract him, maybe he will be too eager to chase a ball. And every time I am wrong.

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Just yesterday when we were at the dog park he completely ignored the other dog who wanted to play so he could roam around and find all the nasty treats laying around. After following him around for several minutes and pulling him away when he went in for the bite, I finally had enough and we left.

On the way back I was frustrated. I was frustrated with Max, who is a good dog overall, because no matter what I do or say in this matter he disobeys me. And I was frustrated with the people who don’t clean up after their pets. There are even little bags and bins provided! At least Max’s behavior can be explained away by natural instinct.

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But as we continued walking, I realized that in addition to researching new ways to prevent a dog from eating poop, I had to forgive Max. And as much as I hated to admit it, I had to forgive the people who don’t clean up after their pets.

When I held onto that anger it only hurt my relationship with Max more. A part of me didn’t even want to be around him for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to be angry about the whole poop eating situation, and I think that is good and natural. But I also learned that forgiveness is necessary for me to deal with the situation in a worthwhile, loving way.

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And Max has taught me that forgiveness is not a once and done thing. I have to forgive him for trying to eat poop every time. But that’s what makes it such a powerful force in our relationship.

I choose to forgive Max over and over again despite what he has done and is doing. I choose to love him even with his continual disobedient behavior. Granted Max’s behavior does not harm or effect me directly, in which case forgiveness would be much harder yet also much more meaningful. Still, these little forgivenesses are also important in sustaining and enriching our relationship on a daily basis.

And this is not purely a let it go or shake it off sentiment. I don’t forget or look past what he has done and I don’t ignore the negative emotions that arise in me. Yet, in spite of all that, I choose to love Max, over and over and over.

So thank you Max for teaching me that forgiveness (to whatever degree it must be extended) is hard, but worth it, especially when it must be extended over and over. Thank you for teaching me that despite my frustration, I can still choose powerful ways to sustain our trust and love.

Signs of Love

I tell Max “I love you” every night.

I do it because it is true. But also because I believe there is a mysterious, miraculous power contained in and conveyed by those words – I love you. I truly believe the very act of sincerely saying that changes our world, our lives, our reality. Something is tangibly different about life after those words are spoken in any setting.

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Nevertheless, those words don’t really mean anything to Max. He simply doesn’t understand that abstract phrase. Sure, I think Max understands to some extent the intonation I use in the phrase and can thus read a good deal about what is going on when I tell him that. But at the end of the day, the words themselves mean nothing to him.

And the fact that he doesn’t understand makes me frustrated, because I want him to know that I do love him.

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Of course, he doesn’t understand most of what I say…

So, I have had to find other ways to convey that message. And Max has taught me that while speaking love is important, doing love is really what any relationship, especially a close friendship, is all about.

Max has taught me that love is not merely something we say or hear or know, but rather something we experience. And experiencing involves doing, sharing, and all the little (and big) things that add up to constitute this thing we call living.

Max has taught me that love is when I take the time to play with him midday, when I take him out for a walk and let him sniff around for a really long time or run around with him, when I guide him away from busy streets and other harmful areas, when I kneel down on the floor to give him a really good belly rub after he has collapsed in anticipation of it, when I dry him off after getting really wet, when I just sit with him after a long lonely day of being apart.

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What strikes me most about all these expressions of love is that (along with being actions) they involve me meeting Max where he is – coming down to his level – and sharing life with him.

They may not always result in comfort or warm, fuzzy emotional resolution, but they create a space in which we experience a unity that encompasses the joys and pains of life.

Love is thus not a cognitive belief; rather, it is a felt reality. It is not something said or done at a single point in time, rather it is something continually explored and experienced as we live into it more and more.

So thank you Max, for loving me and teaching me that love is the dynamic, life-altering, often difficult reality through which we experience one another.