Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Gone to the dogs

Posted by boakley59 on June 3, 2008

It’s been more than a year now since I had to leave my job because of my Crohn’s disease. And what a year it’s been! So many lessons learned, so many friends discovered, so much help from unexpected corners.

It’s a strange life that I lead now. In essence, it’s a dog’s life. I stay home, watching and waiting for the lady of the house to return. From time to time, I move from room to room. Sometimes I eat and sometimes I go to the bathroom. I watch with Salsa and Pepper, and try to teach them to behave more like people, but I’ve begun to think they’re teaching me to be more like them.

The thing is, it’s not so bad to be more like a dog. See, they don’t care whether I’ve been successful or rich or temperamental. They don’t judge; they simply accept that we belong together. Sure, mostly that means they get fed and their messes get cleaned up for them, but it also means that rain or shine, up or down, they’re with me.

They need me, and I have to be up to the task: I cannot fail.

By “cannot” I mean that I must not or they will starve, but I also mean that they do not keep score the way people do and they do not hold my weakness against me, so they do not see failure. It’s humbling and uplifting all at once. Their friendship has no conditions, their forgiveness no bounds. They just do what they do and expect me to hold up my end of the bargain — and they figure that I do, no matter what.

Of course, I am “companion” and there are other aspects to a dog’s life. I mentioned that we guard the house, and the mailman may have a different notion of Salsa’s willingness to forgive. But her howling at “intruder” is momentary, sound and fury not really signifying much. If we opened the door and let the mailman in, Salsa would jitter at his feet awaiting a rub of the ears or a pat on the head. They would be fast friends.

This, too, I am trying to learn — to let the anger air if it must, but always to pass and fade quickly unless the threat is real. I can tell you after a year of mostly watching television and reading Internet items and commentary, we on two legs are much more beastly about this than our four-legged friends. So many of us are angry at so many others over perceived slights and imagined injustices, we’re so busy barking at any “outsider,” that we are missing most of the opportunities we have for communion.

So many of us spend most of our time lying — to ourselves, to our families, about anyone who’s not ourselves or our families — and name-calling, that we can’t enjoy the simple pleasure of being together. We are dogs of different packs, not companions of a common master.

In this strangest of years, I have been soothed so many times by the gentle example of our two dogs. As Suzy noted in this recent post, our words with Salsa and Pepper don’t sink in and we spend a lot of time dealing with poop, but it’s so easy to let that go and love our dogs with all their flaws. I want to learn to shrug off flaws with people, too.

I wonder how long it will take, now that I seem to be living dog years.


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