Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lessons from A Dog

In January our sweet Barkley died. 
I thought a lot about him today on a walk with Denver, his nervous successor. 

Interesting that Barkley arrived in our lives, unplanned and unintended (as most great things do) at a time when we had no sense of direction and no confidence in ourselves. What we lacked he was full of.  He was meant for us, in every way.  He was chosen.  Whoever abandoned him and dumped him in a field with a bag of dog food could not know that he was meant for us.  That was Barkley’s own journey, his own bit of life we’ll never know about, but when he came to us, it was with providence. Despite whatever he may have faced before us, he came bounding with confidence in US.   
Whatever question we had in ourselves, whatever doubts, Barkley had none. He led us to find in ourselves what we could not, because no matter what demons we had, there he would be, still confident.  When we were nervous about the choices we made with the children, when we were unsure that we could ever feel our way through a real marriage, when we didn’t know even how we would pay bills the next week, he was there. Cool. Confident. “You got this.” He seemed to say.  Reassuring gazes. Following happily with a toss of the tail. Bursting with excitement about whatever was around the bend.  Unflinching.  Wholly receptive to what life had for him, for us as a pack.

When he died he left a tremendous void. A vacuum. Our faithful friend and confident mascot was gone.  However, even in his death it seemed he was reassuring us because he left us at a very hopeless point. We were at a terrible place in our marriage. We had returned again to the lack of confidence, the lack of hope, and in his death we were humbled. The only lesson his existence had left to teach us required the loss of him.  We were reminded of the brevity of life. Reminded that our opportunities to show and give love to each other, at least in this space, are numbered. Ultimately, his loss just might have saved our marriage.

A few months later we acquired Denver. I have now realized that she was the fulfillment of the lessons he gave us.  Her arrival required that the student become the teacher.

She is afraid of everything.  When the air conditioner kicks on she jerks.  Noises scare her. Trash cans scare her.  The garage scares her. The sound of the security lock scares her. Dogs scare her. Cars scare her the most, their sound, their doors, riding in them. The cat even scared her at first.  (Though, he can be intimidating.)

I realize now that all the tools we have to use to help her came from Barkley.  The things we must draw on to reassure her, all the things that we are trying to instill in her are all traces of Barkley.  Through us he is her teacher, as he was ours. Barkley had a way about him.  He could reassure other dogs with his nature.  Calm.  Peaceful. Positive. He could soothe a nervous dog and a nervous person and all the time I am working with her I feel those lessons he gave us working.  Its as if he is here with us, having to teach her all the things that he came to us already knowing. All the traits God gave him so that he could bless us are in turn blessing her and ultimately blessing us all the more because now we must learn again through teaching her all those things.  Through it all we are reminded of who we once were, of all the confidence we lacked, of all the fears we had and all the things we used to let bring us down.  Moving back to Texas has moved us to question all of it, and Barkley leaving us has been the final shove, leaving us to see if we can sail on our own with confidence in who we are, and who we once set out to be.  That we can still be all those things, and not let fear or questions seep in.  To hold to the confidence and hope, and to be like Barkley. Tossing our tail in excitement for whatever may come and not retreating in fear.

Like Denver. She comes to us full of fear. She comes to us afraid of what might happen next. Afraid of what life holds for her. With those things, though, come a heart of solid gold and an ocean of love for us.  She never knew him, but Barkley has given her so much through us, and I am in awe of the lessons within us that these animals continue to bring to us. 

Dogs blessed by a family, a family blessed by dogs.