Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (ver. 2)

Back at Christmas, Max got a new lightsaber toy. Although he was very excited about it, he clearly did not know how to use it. You’re going to cut your tongue out if you don’t hold it by the handle, you crazy dog!

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Well, either he did not know how to use it, or he has some impressive, impenetrable force chew skills that he was showing off.

He continued not to know how to actually use the toy, forcing me to take it from him and show him the right way to hold it. I did this over and over again and even when he would get it right for a little bit, it did not last long.

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I soon realized that not only did he not understand how to properly use this toy as an entertaining prop, but also he had a much more sinister ploy in mind.

Max became completely consumed by the dark side. Maybe he was already far gone, but he demonstrated his sith tendencies as he began to shred the amazing toy. At first I tried to stop the destruction, but as it went on day after day, I resigned myself to sadness. I convinced myself that Max would never have the patience to learn a choreographed lightsaber fight with me, but also that he did not really appreciate the toy as he should.

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The unraveling started out fairly slow, and then it eventually went beyond hope.

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And yet, while I mourned the loss of this cool toy, Max taught me something important about having such “nice things.”

Max taught me that while I may have really good, cool ideas about how something should go – like a lightsaber toting dog, I by no means have the only good idea. In fact, my idea may completely miss the mark. Whereas I wanted the lightsaber to be a funny, entertaining prop, Max realized it for what it really is – a dog toy. And Max used this dog toy as he saw fit.

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Max taught me that sometimes I need to let go of my ideas so that things can happen the way they should. If I had insisted on the lightsaber being a pristine prop, Max would not have enjoyed it nearly as much and it would have failed as a dog toy (though, I also wouldn’t have to pick up as many little blue strings every week). He taught me that maybe a dog knows how to use a dog toy better than a human does.

And he’s taught me to be more aware of this concept in other areas of my life. I so often want to step in and make things go a certain way in work and other parts of life. And sometimes that is my role or responsibility. But sometimes I’m just trying to make nice things out of dog toys. Sometimes I am exerting undue influence on something completely outside of my expertise or interest (aka white male syndrome).

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Max is a dog who knows best how to enjoy his own toys, and life is better when I celebrate that instead of trying to continually force him to adhere to certain expectations. Max taught me that maybe we can’t have nice things, but maybe we can have more trust and freedom and joy.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes we can’t have nice things, and maybe that’s ok. Thank you for teaching me that my way and understanding of things is not the only way and is often not the best. And of course, may the force be with you, even on the fifth!

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Wonder

Max seems to have either a really good imagination or he is very easily entertained.

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He does not have many toys, because I’m a mean ole human. In fact, I think most if not all of his toys were given to him as gifts from other people.

But he does like to play with the few toys he has. They come in handy when I am too tired to play with him myself.

Right now he is really into a pink plush bunny that was a new gift this summer. He carries it around and chews on it and rolls around with it all over the place. I often even find it in my bathroom.

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I know that he understands it is not alive, but sometimes he plays with it as if it was. I don’t know if dogs have imaginations, but Max is at least creative enough to find a wealth of entertainment from a simple toy.

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Similarly, we have met several dogs at dog parks who are endlessly excited by balls or water jets. All these dogs are able to tap into some child-like creative playfulness that I often find lacking in my interaction with the world. They are able to experience very ordinary things in quite extraordinary ways.

Max, along with those other dogs, has taught me to look at things in a new light. He has taught me that I can either think of things as ordinary, bland, and boring or I can allow my imagination to take over and see greater possibilities for even the seemingly ordinary, bland, and boring things.

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It is hard to make the shift to imagination and wonder especially when I get into a routine of checking off tasks and making sure I get through my list of responsibilities. But Max has taught me that even in these busy times and mundane activities, I can look for ways that the world around me is beautiful and exciting and filled with wonder. I can pause and look around and try to be more aware of the pink bunnies in my own life.

So thank you Max for teaching me to engage my sense of wonder. Thank you for teaching me to open my mind to the possibilities.

New Year, New Toys, New Wisdom

Max has had a fun couple of weeks, besides getting sick last week. He has received several new toys, which he has been enjoying very much, and has been surrounded by festiveness.

And I think he has been trying to teach me various things during this time…

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“Do not try to hide true joy. I can perceive past the wrapping and sense the wonderful value of what lies at the heart. Let it go! Unveil the deep-seated joy! No…for real…open this gift!”

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“Also, opposable thumbs are awesome, never take those for granted. And don’t use so much tape!”

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“Every person and dog is an invaluable gift in and of him/herself. Remember that especially after I eat the popcorn on this tree and constantly worry you about destroying these other gifts. He he he.”

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“Holy tug toys, Patrick, you gotta get one of these. Trust me, I read “Doggy Style” magazine regularly and this is the fashion for 2015! #swag”

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“I mustache you a question, do I look wiser because of the facial hair or because I am peering off thoughtfully in the distance? Oh, and mustaches are cool! #HipsterRevolutionForeverrrrrr And no, I’m not copying you; I had facial hair from the moment I was born…I’m just, you know, trying something new.”

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“I never knew style could be so tasty! Did you put something in this mustache, it is quite delightful. Also, if I could just have a little taste of yours…”

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“Sometimes the best things in life are small and fuzzy and fit in your mouth…didn’t you say we could get a pet rabbit, I mean, on an unrelated note.”

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“A new year means a fresh start. I resolve that you:

Give me twice as much food

Let me chase all the rabbits

TREATS TREATS TREATS

Trust me when I start climbing over you while you are sitting on the couch. I just need to lick your face. It’ll be fun.

Let me eat whatever I find on the ground – It’s FREE FOOD!

Never put this hat on me again. It’s cool, but I’m more of a red tug toy headwear type of dog.”

Stuff

Max lives the simple life. He doesn’t have much stuff. In fact I can fit all the things that are uniquely his into a bag whenever I take him places. A bowl, some treats, a brush, and as of now, three toys, one of which was just given to him as a gift (but don’t tell him, I’m saving it for Christmas).

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I hope the fact that he only has a handful of toys doesn’t cast me as a heartless, strict owner. I admit that a big reason I don’t give him lots of toys is because I don’t want them strewn about the apartment.

But also he has a tendency to destroy toys, for instance this shredded leg of what used to be an elephant, I think. (It has since completely disappeared)

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Even though Max has very few toys, he is still quite content. And I think by virtue of not having much he is able to tap into the heart of contentment.

Max has taught me that that contentment is born out in several ways. First, his lack of stuff allows him to really focus on one thing when he wants to play. He loved that elephant before he destroyed it and he loves his tennis ball now. Max has taught me that more things does not necessarily make life more fun, but rather life is made fun when he truly enjoys whatever he has.

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Secondly, Max has taught me that contentment is born out of meaningful relationships, not out of any amount of stuff. With so few things, he and I are forced to turn to each other for company and entertainment. Our joy comes from interaction with one another rather than each of our individual interactions with other things. Even the tennis ball is most often a tool for interacting with one another.

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Now, it is clear that Max has taught me that I don’t need much stuff to be happy or to have a meaningful life. But I am careful to realize that he has not taught me that more stuff directly prevents these things. I would be condemning myself as much as anyone if I said that more stuff is inherently bad. Besides, the dogs I know who do have a bounty of toys are also very happy.

But Max’s lesson about being content with so few things remains important to me in this time of high consumerism. I am not opposed to giving lavish gifts, and I doubt Max is either, but Max teaches me everyday that joy and meaning can abound even if I have a simple tennis ball.

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Max has two toys and a handful of other possessions, yet I have no doubt that he loves his life. As long as he has a loving relationship and the shelter to meet his needs, the joy Max experiences will continue to abound.

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So thank you Max for teaching me to simply enjoy whatever I have. And thank you for teaching me that the joyfulness and meaningfulness of contentment come not from a relationship to stuff (however healthy it may be) but from relationships with the people around us.