Cleavers

Max is a pretty hairy guy. He so graciously reminds me of that fact every spring and summer as he sheds his hair all over the house. And somehow, even after shedding so much hair, he has loads of it that stays with him.

At this point in the summer, I am much less bothered by the hair he sheds than I am by what happens with the hair he keeps. Because the weather is pretty nice, Max enjoys being outside in the yard, rolling around, and exploring any sights or smells of other squirrel or bird friends. As he does all of that, especially the rolling around, he tends to get matts in his fur.

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But those matts are not even the worst part. Also at this time of year in our yard, plants that I believe are called “cleavers” or galium aparine are growing like crazy. They grow up fast and spread like wildfire all along our fence, right where Max likes to sniff around.

And that would be just fine, except that these plants have little seeds with hooked hairs that tend to cleave to anything they touch, and Max has his significant furry coat. Even when I actually try to stay on top of things and pull up those plants, Max finds a way to rub up against them and get the seeds all throughout his coat.

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Even at that point, it would not be a problem if Max had opposable thumbs. But he does not. And his attempts to pull the seeds out with his teeth only makes things slobberier and more tangled.

The annual struggle with managing the plants and all the seeds in Max’s coat typically takes a good deal of time. But Max has taught me that it is necessary.

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Max has taught me that cleavers happen, the stuff he and I brush up against throughout the day sometimes sticks to us. And often what sticks to us is not all that helpful. It causes tangles and for Max those tangles quickly turn into matts of hair (often with one of those little seeds at the center) that grow more and more uncomfortable.

Max’s cleavers may be more visible, but he has taught me to be more aware of my own less visible ones. Those negative messages I scroll across on social media that do nothing but make me mad and spiteful, those messages I see and hear in other media that I am not working enough or successful enough, those fears and worries that spring up like weeds and cleave to me until I give into the ever increasing entanglement of self-doubt or anxiousness or despair.

Max has taught me that those cleavers can make a real mess and that they can spring up quickly just about anywhere. He has even taught me that often we may not be able to remove them easily by ourselves. But he has also taught me that they can be dealt with.

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Max helped me realize that the best solution to those cleavers is being around others who care enough to help brush them out. I am grateful that I can provide that for Max and that he continues to remind me of the importance of having a community that can help, even if all that community can do is sit with the tangled mess and slowly work those cleavers out.

But Max has also taught me that it doesn’t take any elaborate training to get them out. Since we all know what it is like to have those cleavers, we know how to sympathize and help. All I need is to bear witness to the tangles and then set aside some time to work through them. And that is exactly what a caring community can offer.

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At the end of the day, Max has taught me that even with the cleavers, the yard is still full of wonder and beauty. He certainly does not avoid going outside just so he doesn’t get the cleavers. In fact, I think he has the confidence to run and play out there in part because he knows he has a community here that will take care of him if he were to get too tangled. That trust provides him not only security and untangling help, but also the freedom to be himself fully. And through that, Max inspires me that if I have a community that can help me deal with the cleavers that may spring up all around, then it is still worth it to explore and roll around in the grass and venture out into wild places.

So thank you Max for teaching me not only about the reality of that which cleaves and leaves us all tangled, but more importantly about the value of community that can help with the untangling and provide the assurance for a life of freedom and adventure.

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Comfy

If Max knows anything, he knows how to get comfy.

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He somehow even knows how to get comfy in seemingly uncomfortable places – like the ground or the bathroom or…

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And as I look over at him, lost in my self-conscious absorption with how I am portraying myself in dealing with the worries of my life, he reminds me over are over – sometimes you just gotta be comfy.

Sometimes you just gotta put away those cares and sprawl out.

I see in Max’s expert grasp of comfiness a letting go. It’s a letting go of dignity, of self-centeredness, and of portraying an image that I’ve got it all worked out.

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Sometimes, you just gotta let go and be comfy. Be comfy with yourself, your situation, and the people around you who will love you no matter what.

Sometimes you gotta be comfy.  But just sometimes. Not all the time. Sometimes you gotta be uncomfy.  You gotta see the uncomfiness of the world around us and be disturbed. You gotta see the uncomfiness of individual people and empathize with them.

While Max has taught me the value of comfiness, he has also shown me that too much of it can keep us from seeing the harsh realities all around us, especially the all too many people in this world who cannot find comfiness.

When I am in visible distress, Max sometimes comes and sits by me, forsaking his comfortable position on the couch or chair.  Sure this isn’t a giant sacrifice, he’s still in the warm house, but his momentary choice of less comfort brings me great comfort.

Max has taught me to be comfy – fully, radically comfy in a way that takes me out of my cares so that I might not be so absorbed with my public image. (And often this just involves pulling on the snuggie and finding a soft pillow.)

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But Max has also taught me that I must get up from that comfiness and equally fully and radically step out toward others to be with them – even if this means uncomfortably stepping into the cold to meet those who don’t have a snuggie to keep them warm.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it is okay to be comfy and showing me how to do it. And thank you for choosing to sometimes be uncomfortable in order to bring me comfort. You have shown me that the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather join one another in the great rhythm of life and love.