Sniffing Butts

Max likes to sniff the butts of other dogs. And I’m going to go ahead and embrace my inner 5-year-old and give that a good chuckle.

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Sniffing butts is one of those classic things all dogs do. And I’ve always assumed there is a good, scientific reason they do it, though I’ve never taken the time to research it. Instead, I’ve just been content snickering whenever I see Max or any other dog sniffing each others’ butts.

It’s funny to me because it seems like such a weird, disgusting thing to do. It is very much outside what I would consider proper behavior. And yet, even in this bizarre practice, Max has been teaching me something significant.

When Max sniffs butts, he finds a way to value even the stinkiest, crappiest parts of other beings. And Max has taught me that I too can value people in that way, even if I am not literally sniffing butts.

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Max has taught me that everyone has crappy parts of their lives, but also that everyone is worthy of getting to know beyond that crap. He has taught me not to turn my face away at the first sign of stink, but rather to push through it and show others that they are loved and accepted even with those stinky parts.

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Moreover, Max does not sniff butts in order to judge. He does not search out the stink so that he can hold it against someone or point out how crappy that being has been. Rather, he understands very well that everyone has smelly parts (himself included) and that even those smelly parts can be valued.

Max has taught me to love and accept others not in spite of their stinkyness, but rather including it. This in not an easy thing to do, though. Those crappy parts of people are often very offensive. The terrible things we’ve thought or done cling to us in a way that can too easily define who we are. And it is easy to forget that the whole person is much more than that one crappy smell.

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While Max sniffs butts, he does not stop there. He knows there is much more to the other being than the smelly parts. After sniffing the butt, Max moves around the other dog and recognizes the fullness of that being. He does not get caught up on one part.

Now, that does not mean that Max likes every dog. There are many times he decides he does not want to be around a certain dog. But he has taught me not to jump to judgment just because of one smelly thing I perceive on another. Rather, he has taught me to get to know and value the whole person and then decide how to interact or not.

And yet, it is hard to find a way to value the person without condoning any hatefulness that can easily arise out of the stink. But Max has taught me that often stinkyness is the result of a lot of crappy stuff that has happened to someone else, not necessarily the hateful, crappy actions of the person. And whatever the case may be, I will only know how better to relate to the person after valuing them and getting to know them for who they really are.

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Finding value in crappy aspects of others is also hard because it makes me more aware of my own stinky parts. And it means that I have to find a way to value and accept myself not in spite of those things, but including them. And I have to trust that other people will smell more than just that stink on me.

So, thank you Max for loving and accepting me, even with my own stinkyness. And thank you for teaching me how to better encounter other peoples’ stinkyness in a way that values them for the full person they are. I may still snicker every time you sniff a butt, but I will also be encouraged and inspired to do that hard work in my own life.

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To Be Seen

Whenever I walk in my front door, Max patiently waits until I acknowledge him. Sometimes, this takes a while, because I enjoy making as few trips from my car as possible (two trips is too many), so I tend to load myself down and have something hanging from every appendage. He will often sit right in front of the door, leaving just enough room for me to come in, but positioned to where I have to notice him. Then, he just turns his head around as I put everything where it belongs and waits for me to come back to greet him.

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At first, I thought he did this as a way of guilting me for being gone so much. (That probably says more about me than him). Maybe he is a little sad to have been left alone all day, but I think there is something even more fundamentally important that he is conveying.

I think all Max really wants is to be seen, to be noticed.

Max experiences something that I think so many of us also experience – the desire to be seen. We all long to know that our often dreary lives have value and that others see that value. We find profound hope in not being overlooked or ignored.

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Being seen is often quite literal, especially for Max. He thrives on the attention I can give him and once I give him some of that attention, he is overjoyed. In that moment of being seen, Max knows he is cared for and loved. He knows that he is important and valued.

Max has taught me that being seen in this way is a powerful expression of loving care. He has taught me that so many people also long to be seen in this way. He has taught me there is power in really looking into another person’s eyes, giving them our attention, and, in doing so, assuring them that they are important and valuable.

Max has taught me that to really see others in this way is a wonderful, free gift we can always give. And it is a gift we can give to stranger and friend alike.

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That moment of greeting after coming into my house after work does not tend to last long. Granted, there are years of love and care that are the foundation of that moment between Max and me, but it really only takes about a minute. I get down on Max’s level, look right at him, and greet him with kind words and a head scratch. And then Max’s desire to be seen is fulfilled.

And I really don’t think I have to change much when I interact with humans in this way (except maybe losing the head scratch).

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Max has also taught me that the desire to be seen is insatiable. He craves it everyday. And I reckon we all have a consistent desire to be seen and valued. I don’t know why – maybe it’s the self-doubt that plagues our minds, maybe it’s because we are social creatures and this is the best starting point for connection to others, maybe it’s because in so many other ways we hear messages that we are not valued, or maybe it’s because it is nice and we know deep in our being that to see others and to be seen is just a better way to live.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that seeing and being seen is something that must be nurtured consistently. Max has taught me that it is something I should practice daily.

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And because it must be done over and over, it is easy to forget, or to think that I have checked that off my to do list. And so, Max has taught me to be a little more diligent in seeing him and others. I can be bad at that because I easily get lost in my own little world, but I hope on my good days, I can offer Max and all others I cross paths with this simple expression of care and value.

(as close as I could get to the original Hendrix version)

So thank you Max for teaching me the importance of being seen and valued. Thank you for teaching me to be more attentive, especially to those who feel overlooked. And of course, thank you for paying attention to me and showing that you too see and care for me.

Stinky Stink

Max is smelly. Granted, I have a lot to do with that since he cannot exactly bathe himself, but he is even stinky mere days after he has a bath.

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I don’t know what he does to get stinky so fast, because he spends so much of the day inside. And when he is inside, he mostly just sleeps. When we go outside, he is usually on leash, so I know he is not rolling around in smelly waste or anything like that.

But Max is a dog, and I suppose his stinkyness just happens. Though he may prefer different odors than I do, he is not allowed to get in situations where he could choose to be extra stinky. His stinkyness is just a natural part of his being a dog.

He is very lucky that he looks so cute and that people are more distracted by how he looks than how he smells. It is actually somewhat surprising to me that more often people don’t back away after coming up to pet him because of his stench. But…he is really cute.

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Nevertheless, Max’s stinkyness got me thinking about how I too often judge someone before getting to know him or her. If I get any sense of “stinkyness” after meeting someone, I too often retreat from the encounter. I am quick to judge with eyes and nose, rather than brain and heart.

But Max has taught me that stinkyness does not define a person, and often a person’s stinkyness is not his or her own fault. Sometimes stinkyness just happens. And stinky people are people too.

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In fact, I have often been a stinky person too. Both literally, when I just haven’t put much time or thought into my hygiene, but also when I have a tough, stressful week and my attitude is not as pleasant as I might otherwise wish it to be.

In those moments of my own stinkyness, Max has taught me how to be more accepting, because he is eager and happy to be around me no matter how I look or what my mood is. I can only hope that other people offer that kind of grace to me when I am stressed and grumpy and stinky. And I hope that I too can offer that kind of grace to others whom I encounter in their own stinky situations.

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Max has taught me that despite the clichés, I really should look deeper into a person’s being before judging whether or not to spend time with him or her. I should be more understanding that sometimes stinkyness just happens. And I should be more eager to be around all people, even those who are not the most well put together or those who are having rough days.

So, thank you Max for accepting me when I am stinky. And thank you for teaching not to be so quick to judge someone else based on perceived stinkyness, but rather to be open to the value and worth of all people.

Interruption

Max tends to be a bit of an interruption in my life.

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For instance, when I sit down in the evening to watch TV or read, he often starts pleading to go outside and I have to pause what I am doing to open the door for him. Or, when I lay on the couch for a few minutes after a busy day, he quickly comes to try to play (for some reason he is never content just to join me). Even as I write this entry, he is letting me know he wants to go outside and then come back inside and then receive some attention.

As frustrating as these little interruptions are, I really can’t blame Max for them, because he doesn’t understand what I am doing, and if I were him, I’d probably do the same.

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But Max provides an even bigger, more consistent level of interruption in my life. I have to be sure to structure my day around feeding and walking him at appropriate times. Such structure means that I cannot stay at work or stay out with friends super late without having taken care of Max.

If I do have a lot of plans all day, I have to interrupt those plans at least for a little while to make sure Max is cared for. I have to interrupt the flow of my (often over-busy) life to do the simple work of feeding, walking, and spending time with Max.

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Sometimes, this interrupted living is very hard. I can get immersed in what I am doing, or exciting opportunities can pop up unexpectedly. But then I have to be mindful of how long I will be gone and sometimes have to turn things down.

But, the more I live a life interrupted by Max, the more I see the value in it. Interruptions are not inherently bad, especially interruptions of love and care.

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Max has taught me, through his interruptions, that life is more than being consumed by a busy schedule. Life is more than going from one exciting thing to the next. Life is also about having that busyness interrupted for moments of sharing love and caring for another being.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have an incredibly busy life. And I even find quite a bit of value in all the things I rush around doing. But Max has taught me that the interruptions are valuable too. He has taught me to pay closer attention to the people and things that derail me and cause me to invest my attention in a different way. He has taught me to be more intentional about being present in those interruptions and allowing them to be moments when I really connect with others.

Max has taught me to view interruptions not as detractors from full life, but rather as meaningful additions to full life.

So, thank you Max for interrupting me (though I am not always thankful in the moment). Thank you for helping me experience the value of interrupting my busy day to share quality time with those whom I can love and for whom I can care.

 

P.S. This is one of those lessons I have learned in various ways from various people the past couple of weeks. So, I also give credit to my boss and coworkers and all the people in my life who interrupt me in helpful ways and teach me the value of attending to interruptions.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

After apologizing to Max last week for forgetting his birthday, I finally gave him a new toy that I had been saving. It was a plush penguin (and I use the past tense very intentionally).

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Needless to say, he enjoyed it immensely. And in the first couple hours he had already torn off the nose and was pulling the stuffing out of the head. The toy wasn’t even stuffed all the way through – just in the head. But somehow he found the one way to make the biggest mess with that toy possible.

This tends to be the way he treats all his toys. Even tug toys that seem very sturdy come apart much more quickly than I’d expect. Max takes some strange pleasure in ripping things to shreds.

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I am very glad that he is obedient enough to shred mostly his own toys, and not my belongings. If I leave out empty bags that had food in them while he is home alone, those usually get destroyed too, but he has never chewed up any actual belongings.

Still, I can’t help but think – was that really worth it? Did you really have to destroy that brand new toy? This is why we can’t have nice things.

But in tearing up the toys, Max also keeps me grounded and teaches me that maybe having nice things is not the best goal in life. Maybe a better goal is enjoying what we have. Max is like the little brother who takes the G.I. Joe out of the packaging to actually play with it, instead of leaving it in the packaging so that it will retain the highest value. But I think there is a lot of value in playing with those things the way they are meant to be played.

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Max also does something else with his newly destroyed toys that is weird to me. As he is pulling the stuffing out of the penguin’s head, he often stops, looks at me, and then brings it to me and drops it in my lap. I, of course, want nothing to do with that slobbery toy anymore, but Max wants to share the joy.

Max has taught me that one of the true joys in this life is not having nice things, and it is not even centered on what he has at all. Rather, it is enjoying what he has with the people he cares about.

And Max has taught me that things are not for admiring, but rather they are tools to create joy and goodness in the world. And that understanding means that it can be a very valuable experience to give up something I treasure to someone else who could benefit more from it, even if that person does not use the thing in the right way.

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While we may not be able to have nice things, we can have a robust relationship and experience some joyful fun with whatever we do have, especially when we don’t get hung up with the value of the item and instead pay more attention to what is really valuable in life.

So, thank you Max for teaching me that there are many things more important that having nice things. And thank you for wanting to share those not nice things with me.

Happy Halloween or A Dog of Many Hats

Max is a dog of many hats…at least on Halloween!

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Alright grasshopper, wax on…wax off.

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Here I come to save the day!!!!!

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It’s elementary…

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Trick arrrrrrrrrrr treat!

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Git along little dogies.

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No sweat!

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Domo arigato, Mr. Dogboto.

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My best Snoopy as Red Baron pose.

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Alright, enough of your shenanigans!

And through all those different personas, Max is still Max – a goofy, fun dog. He has taught me that no matter how many hats I may find myself wearing, I can still be me – a goofy, fun human. And as fun as the hats are, they don’t give him any more meaning. That meaning is intrinsic and flows out of him through all the different roles.

So thank you Max for making Halloween even more fun and enjoyable. And thank you for teaching me that no matter what array of hats we may find ourselves wearing, we are still intrinsically valuable.

Persistence

Max is obnoxiously persistent. I’ve already shared how persistent he is on walks either when he catches the scent of something he just must smell or when he is ready to sprint around.

But he is also surprisingly persistent around the house. When he craves attention he will try to climb on top of and over people to be right in the middle of things (which is why more of the pictures I take look like this rather than the nice ones I typically post).

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While Max may be calm most of the time, when he really wants something he will stop at nothing to get it.

I begrudgingly admit that this must be some sort of virtue he is teaching me. I do so begrudgingly because it is really annoying. The couple times it is humorous are far outweighed by the times I will do almost anything just to get him to stop.

But then I think of what he really wants at those times – to lay outside, to get some loving attention, to play. Self-centered desires perhaps, but still ones that are innocent and honest and ultimately lead to mutual sharing of affection. Max is persistent because he wants to be an important part of my life.

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And maybe I begrudgingly admit the value of his persistence because if I do so it reveals my own lack of intentionally spending that little bit of extra time with him. His persistence brings to light not only my lack of persistence, but also my often-present apathy.

Max has learned that there are some things not worth giving up on, some things in which we have to invest a little extra energy, some things we have to do over and over again because for whatever reason it is worth it and for whatever reason those around us do not seem to get it.

Max has taught me to persistently seek the things that matter most, especially when they do not come readily. Max has taught me to push for things that I care about even when I think my efforts make no difference. Max has taught me that persistence is a form of love when someone invests in others regardless of whether or not they are open to it.

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But I think I am right to be at least a little hesitant on lauding persistence in whole. Max does not always incessantly strive for the best things. There have been times when his insistence on eating decaying things outside resulted in sickness the next day.

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Thus, Max has also taught me that persistence must be tempered with humility, for I do not always have the full picture and what I insist on may not be the best thing. I must take the time to consider (with others) whether what I am consuming and promoting with zeal is life-giving or death-bringing.

So thank you Max for teaching me that there are some things worth pursuing persistently. And thank you for teaching me to incorporate humility in those persistent pursuits so that I may seek to align what I value with what is truly the best for all.