Month: January 2007

Dogs and Dreams

Those of you who have read this blog for awhile know that we lost our dog, Sadie, when she made an unfortunate decision to attack a truck — a decision that came out distinctly in the truck’s favor. It was a sad moment. The death of an animal always is. But, as with all deaths, the pain slowly subsides as life goes forward.

Recently, we got another dog — another “pound hound” — who looks much like a less portly version of her predecessor, though she has a very different personality. Sadie was in love with people and food; Lucie, our new dog, is much more thoughtful and reserved, deals with strangers cautiously but affably, and is more interested in the chase than the food bowl. I’ve taken to running her along side the car on country roads while she runs for miles with a wide dog grin on her face. Give her a chance to run and she becomes the embodiment of joy.

Since she and I are home alone together all day, we have become fast friends. She sleeps beside me while I write, wheezing and blubbering in her dog dreams. She follows me wherever I go, looks to me for approval, comes to me when she wants to go out, goes scuttling off to her dog bed when I chastise her for some real or perceived transgression. She is, as dogs often are, my physical and emotional shadow.

I am fond of saying that when people talk to God, they are really talking to a reflection of their own conscience. When we talk to our dogs, we are very often talking to a projection of our own emotional needs. Lucie fits the bill admirably, and she offers me a mirror of what is best and least guarded in me. I’ll sing to her, create ridiculous names for her, make a fool of myself around her in a way I would never do around people. And, if earnest attention constitutes approval, she gives every indication of holding me in high regard no matter how absurd or irrational my actions may be. In her presence I feel no embarrassment, and in her eyes I can do no wrong.

In exchange, she asks only that I treat her with fairness and kindness. She does not like harsh words or angry attitudes. I sense some physical abuse in her background: quick movements or raised hands frighten her and make her cower.

As I write this, she is out running the neighborhood. Given that we live in the country, this is not as bad as if we were city dwellers. And it is only 6 in the morning. But still, there are neighbors to upset, cars to dodge, and trouble to find. She may return covered in offal or mud. Or we may get a call saying she has consumed a chicken or knocked over a garbage can or otherwise violated the legitimate sense of order that others in the neighborhood have established.

I know there is a selfishness in this dog raising approach of mine. But it is a selfishness in regard to the accepted social order, not in relation to the dog herself. As with my own children, I want her to explore, make her own mistakes, find an honest relationship to the people and places around her, and live a life that is fulfilled and fulfilling. I do not want her to live her life on a chain.

This is the risk we take — with our animals and our children. Do we train them on a short leash, and hope they do not get stunted? Or do we let them move freely and hope they find an internal discipline? In either case, the goal is the same: a happy, healthy, well-adjusted being with a sense of responsibility to the world around it.

By and large, Lucie is doing well. I only have to hope that she returns before sun up, and that she has neither been hit by a car nor excavated a neighbor’s garbage can.

Perhaps I should have kept her in. She would be safer and I would be less nervous and concerned. She could have been warm and comfortable, lying by the side of my bed, blubbering in her sleep. But she would have been dreaming of running free.

The Small and the Great

Some days the world is large; some days the world is small. It all depends on where you place your vision.

This is one of the most challenging aspects of human interaction and relationships.

If you are one who finds meaning in focusing on the small and everyday, you very often seem naive and limited to those who watch the larger movements of the world around them. If you are one who focuses on the large picture, the shape of the world, the big issues, you often seem distant and cold to those who feel the immediate warmth of the small pleasures that shape the everyday.

We all have a little bit of both in us, and move from one to the other as circumstances permit.

The key, it seems to me, is to acknowledge the reality of both ways to see the world, and to recognize that both points of view contribute to the good of the planet, and that each offers a viable way to live one’s life.

When I look at the small and the human, and I’m feeling of good heart, life is much warmer and more full of love. Yet, when I look at the large sweep of issues and ideas, though I am filled with more righteous anger, I feel more responsible for my fellow human beings. Maybe that’s the distinction: in the first case, I feel more responsible TO my fellow human beings; in the second, I feel more responsible FOR them.

Fine distinctions, all. But the truth may well lie in the words of Chuang Tzu: “It is the wise person who sees near and far as the same, and does not despise the small or value the great.” A thought worth pondering as we wander off into the mystery and magic of another day.