“Dear God, Please help me to become the person my dog believes I am.”
This prayer has stuck in my thoughts ever since I first saw it on the bumper of an old VW bus. If only I could resemble the reflection that looks back at me from the eyes of my canine companions. I always fall short. As a high school teacher, I believe–and I struggle to consistently remember–that when I expect the best of my students, they will deliver. Some day, I hope to earn the faith my dogs have in me and adopt their attitudes toward life as my own. I believe in dogs.
I have always had a dog in my life, and I have always marveled at their boundless love. I don’t think I have really earned it…although I have soaked it up as if I did. Patience, Matilda, Cody, Camber, and now Taska and Lobo have shown their wayward and inconstant human unflinching approval, despite long days locked up in the laundry room, walks promised but put off, fragrant (oh! to have a dog’s nose!) meals prepared in the house but served only to those who sit in chairs, while the four-leggeds make do with low-fat kibble.
Every day I leave them with sad faces, and when I return, hours later, they hold no grudge. My homecoming is the greatest thing in the world, and they let me know it by grinning and wiggling their behinds in a dance of boundless joy. I putter around and finally ask about a WALK, and their excitement explodes all over again. They’d lift me onto their shoulders if they could, cheerleaders to my great genious. I’m tired, of course, and so the walk is only to the end of the driveway. Taska races ahead…”Oh, we’re going left?? I love left!!!” She pauses , discovering a delicious smell, and as she turns she sees me walking back down the driveway. “Back? Oh, good idea!! Going back is great!! I love it when we go this way!!” And she bullets past me, eager for whatever lies ahead, Lobo fast on her heels.
I love my dogs’ eagerness for what lies ahead. Dogs have the gift of endless optimism, which I struggle to mimic. They understnad that all of life is a gift, be it the Milkbone in the morning that prompts paroxysms of pleasure, or the feet underneath the table which they warm while waiting for the crust that rarely drops. It’s not considered or philosophical (although I don’t hold at all with those who question whether dogs think, experience emotion, or have souls.) Without doubt, without hypocrisy, without hidden motives, my dogs’ joy is pure, and they share it with me generously. If only I could do the same with the people in my life.
I wake up a lot at night, and listen for the sigh of dog sleep that tells me the house is safe. I put my hand down by the bed and snap my fingers softly. My husband sleeps on, but soon there’s first one, then another dog head rubbing against the side of the mattress, approving my wakefulness at this hour, ready to get up if I do, but just as happy to turn around a few times and settle back into sleep. Have I ever been as giving to my family, my students, my community?
I read a Creation myth once where the Great Spirit made all the animals, ending with man. Putting the polishing touches on his work, he opened a gigantic chasm between them. The chasm yawned wider, and–at the very last minute–dog leapt across the gap. If that is the way it really happened, I’m awfully glad dogs haven’t yet decided to leap back. I pray that I can truly earn their faith.
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