Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lessons I've learned from my dog...

She's less than five months old. She's the cutest thing I've seen in many a year. The way she cocks her head to the side when I call her name makes me giggle every time. The way she starts scratching the bottom of her kennel in the mornings to go out for her walk proves how smart she is and how much she has already learned about her daily routine.

But here's the best thing about Maya: this dog, this beautiful little Yorkie doesn't bark!!! She jumps. She paws at us through her kennel cage. She knows that when we come to open the door, she must sit down in order to be set free. But she doesn't bark at us. We are wondering when she will discover the power of her vocal chords, but we are certainly not looking forward to that day. So until that day arrives, we are enjoying the sound of silence from our sweet little Miss Mama Maya Mia Belsito - that's her official American Kennel Club name.

In the two weeks and two days that Maya has been a member of our family, she has taught me more than I have taught her.

First of all, she has taught me what true joy and excitement are. When we come into the kitchen where her daytime pen is located, she begins a dance that is difficult to describe, but I'll try. She gets up on her back legs and puts her front paws together - and she dances. She leaps up as high as she can. She lifts her back legs at least six inches off the floor, and she slides from one end of her kennel to the other. Repeatedly. Watching our every move. Until we began the difficult chore of training her to stay seated and calmly be welcomed into our family activities, she would keep that dance going for a solid five minutes. But, like I said, she's a smart dog, so she prances for just a few seconds - just long enough to show us how excited she is to see us - before sitting down. And once we open the cage and tell her to come out, she scampers over to whomever is closest to her and wags her tail so hard that she practically knocks herself over. She falls over to one side with legs akimbo begging to be scratched and rubbed and loved. Total openness. Total vulnerability. Total joy.

Secondly, Maya has taught me, reminded me really, of the great joy that can be derived from the simplest things. Today Daniel gave her a carrot, and she played with that carrot for nearly 20 minutes. She'd nibble it, then pick it up in her mouth, toss it a few inches away, and pounce on it like it was a live snake. She chased it, kicked it, and finally ate the whole thing. I think she was genuinely disappointed when it disappeared for good. She has a similar routine with an old sock we've given to her as a toy. The expensive doo-dads we bought at PetSmart aren't nearly as intriguing as the newspaper shreds before she pees on it, the hand towels she curls up on, and a few well-tossed bits of her dry food. Plus my dreadlocs send her into fits of glee as she bats at them and tries to catch them in her teeth whenever I pick her up. This little furry princess needs no tiara, no chariot pulled by able horsemen, nor does she pine away for fur coats. All she wants is a bowl of water, a handful of liver treats, and a good hug or two to get her through the day.

But Maya has not only taught me fun and enjoyable things. She has also reminded me that when something doesn't smell right it usually means that something is not right. Yesterday morning, when I opened her kennel to take her out for a walk, she didn't come out as she usually does when I call her. She ducked her head a little and avoided my gaze. I actually had to reach in and pull her out. As soon as my head entered the kennel, it hit me: something did not smell right. In fact, something smelled awful. But I pulled her out anyway, successfully overcame my gag reflex, and took her outside. Unable to ignore the noxious fumes for long, I picked up her sleeping towel and sniffed it. Yikes! Yuck! Phew!

Two smelly deposits needed to be removed from the towel and disposed of properly. The towel then needed to be disinfected. The entire kennel needed a Lysol treatment. As awful as it was to clean, I was glad that she didn't have to go back into that mess the next night. She wouldn't have been able to sleep well, and perhaps then we would have heard her first barks.

But even in that awful situation, Maya taught me a lesson. She knew she'd done wrong. She knew that her mess had to be cleaned up, but she never stopped trusting that all would be well. She went outside for her morning walk. She came inside to eat and drink and hang out in her pen. She never doubted that all would be taken care of and she would be restored to her rightful doggy place in our family.

Maya has nothing to worry about. She gets fed regularly. She has fresh water to drink at all times. She has toys she loves. She has a family that loves her and takes care of her. She is being well trained to obey us, but in the process she's eating lots of her favorite treats. She's not worried about the mortgage payment, the potential hurricane threatening the North Carolina coast, or about the damage left by Hurricane Katrina. Her needs are being met. Her caretakers have never let her down. She is a happy dog.

As I watch her curl up and settle down for her regular naps, I sometimes envy her complete lack of worry. As I watch her attack her food bowl, I sometimes envy her carefree life: the bowl appears and it's full of the food she loves. The other bowl is always refreshingly thirst-quenching. The wet, smelly towel disappears and is replaced with a clean, dry one. Life is good.

Then I remember that I have nothing to be jealous of. I have no more need to worry about my life, my food, my water, or my clothing than she does. I have no more need to worry about the hurricane than she does. Certainly I'd have to make arrangements for her, for the children, for Steve and for myself if a bad storm hits this area, but worry isn't necessary. If Maya worried about whether or not her food would arrive, it wouldn't change anything about her eating situation; it's completely out of her hands - or her paws. If I worry about the weather, it doesn't change anything about the weather. It's out of my hands.

Not only do I have nothing to worry about, I have a whole lot to dance about. I have a husband and two children who love me. I have friends and family members all over the States and in many parts of the world who love me. I have a house I cannot imagine leaving, a church I am actively involved with, and neighbors whose presence in my life is a daily gift. I have friends who faithfully read this blog and share both encouraging and challenging responses. I am blessed beyond all I could ever list in one paragraph or even in an entire five subject spiral notebook.

Like Maya, I have a loving Father who cares for me, who provides all that I need, and lets me out of my cage every once in a while so I can explore the world around me. He's training me to trust Him, to follow Him, and to come to His side when He calls. I don't have to bark at Him; He knows what I need before I ask. When I wander away, He doesn't chase me. He waits until I have reached the end of my tether, have exhausted myself with resistance, and then He gently calls me to His side where there is always a treat: His loving and gentle presence.

Besides my God in whom I trust, I have many who hold me, feed me, and who even reach into my kennel and help me clean up the crap I try to hide in the folds of my life. Those are the kinds of friends I hold onto with both hands.

She's a great teacher, this tiny little tidbit we call Maya. If she lives to a ripe old Yorkie age, then I've got another 12 to 15 years of lessons ahead. And I thought I was done with school...

No comments: