The most important lessons I've ever learned about how to love people, I've learned from God and from dogs I first became a mother to a fur-baby, Dice, after my parents' divorce. I was about 14 or so when we got her, and I couldn't have been more excited. As a fairly unpopular, very obese girl in school, it wasn't easy to make friends. In fact, many teens were and still are cruelly mean.
I remember coming home from school, feeling unloved and totally shunned, but as soon as Dice saw me, she would perk up with an excitement I only wish I could have bundled and sold. Her enthusiasm could have powered a small generator, I'm sure.
Even when I wasn't especially receptive to her love and affection ("I said QUIT LICKING ME!") she never held a grudge, she never became resentful (OK, cat-lovers: chalk one up here for the dog-lovers!) and she never stopped coming at me with that same love and abandonment… until later on in life, when she simply didn't have the energy to do so.
In my younger, more naive years, it made me wonder why human beings couldn't treat each other so well. Why do we so easily judge and shun, rather than treat every one with the same crotch-sniffing curiosity? Perhaps that last question is self-explanatory. Never-the-less, I did seriously question my place in the human race and very much, I desired to extricate myself from it.
Until I learned about God. I've been fortunate enough to be welcomed into a church community where there is a very clear message: people are not perfect. Nobody in the church is perfect. Not even the leaders are perfect. But we are always interested in becoming better.
It was in my personal development courses that I first learned about why people do the horrible things they do, but it was in church that I first learned the healing and transformative power of loving those people. Understanding is good, but mere knowledge has no impact. It's simply potential power. In order to do anything of consequence with that knowledge, I had to learn how to love these people that I was struggling to understand.
And that's what my church journey has been about: loving and forgiving, putting the needs of others as a priority in my life, taking their feelings into consideration and doing all I can to encourage them to do and be all they can.
It's a long process because frankly, people are so damaged and damageable. We get hurt egos, we fear open communication, we've tried to love and been hurt by others and we've erroneously concluded that loving anyone else will have the same conclusion.
Dogs are simple. They somehow lack egos, and sometimes I think they even lack memories. I wonder when I've scolded my dog why she so suddenly comes back to me, rather than hiding away. Did she learn her lesson? Doesn't she know I'm still mad at her?
My brother put it very well in a recent post he wrote for his beloved dog Mika, who died rather suddenly this last week: "She gave me unconditional love, company when I was lonely, a playing partner when I was bored, and a running partner when I was unmotivated among many other things, and all she asked for in return was love, which I gave her all I had".
I know just how close he was with Mika, who has been his constant companion for almost 8 years, and my heart breaks for him, and others like him who have lost their canine companions.
But I hope we don't lose the lessons these companions have taught us. Even if we, ourselves, find very little in other human beings that we can respect or love, dogs have and they can be very good teachers for us.
* Dogs serve us, instead of wanting to be served. Yet, for the most part, we owners take care of all of their needs (some would argue even to the extreme). This evokes for me the image of a Heaven where everyone is too busy serving one another that they don't even need to worry about their own needs being met.
* Dogs come back, unoffended by whatever we may have done. This doesn't mean they didn't learn to protect themselves better in future, but they don't let it change or otherwise colour the way they treat us.
* Dogs always see the best in us. They always assume we've brought them a treat, that we're here to play with them, that we have dinner, etc
* They help keep us healthy by playing with us and keeping us active.
* Arguably, they seem to be attuned to what we're feeling.
* They just want to spend quality time with us.
Thank you Mika, Dice and of course, God for helping me become a better human being.
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