One of the biggest changes I have experienced in the last five years involves learning to love, cherish and accept a hairy, messy, often messed-up and totally neurotic comedian friend by the name of Lucie. When my daughters spoke about her as a pup - a farm mutt who was the runt of the litter not far from Plainfield, MA - I was not interested. They told me of this sweet little dog during the "roast" for my 30th anniversary of ordination.
Let the record be clear: I've always liked dogs, but have rarely understood them. What's more, I like my independence more than pets and did not want to get tied down yet again. Been there, done that. But when we all went to visit the farmhouse one afternoon, (NOTE: this is ALWAYS a mistake if you really don't want a new pet; once you arrive for a visit, you WILL leave with an animal!) this little shepherd-hound mutt befriended me and won over my hard heart. Thirty minutes and forty dollars later, a quiet little beast was asleep in the back of my car.
She was a sweetheart. She would go to sleep on my foot and always wanted to get in the car with me when I went shopping. She was kind of nutty during a winter of house-breaking - and could be bratty and a bit aggressive with women - but with me she was my "little buddy." Looking backwards, she was always socially awkward and afraid of new guests. But I didn't really notice. Lucie was just being Lucie. This trait intensified as the years multiplied, however, and she became more and more anxious. To me she was simply a comedian who loved to snuggle and wrestle and go running through the fields, the snow and the woods. Around others... something different.
The first real clue that she was in trouble out in public came when we tried to include her in a blessing of the animals liturgy. She became totally wiggy: she was afraid, snappish and unsettled. It was worse the following year so she and St. Francis remained strangers. During my sabbatical in Montreal, she became unglued. She howled and fretted on the five hour drive to Montreal. She flipped out every time she had to go to the park to do her business. She's a strong little miss and could almost pull you over trying to run away from the big city buses. And when she completely melted-down and moaned in terror in the hotel room in Ottawa during the Jazz Festival, it was time to consult a professional. Sadly, he told us that nothing could be done in the short term - except maybe give her beer before going out - so Lucie acquired a vigorous taste for Labatt's Blue. It was then decided that Lucie was best at home in the country.
I learned a lot about myself during Lucie's Montreal meltdown - a lot I didn't really like. Especially how impatient and angry I become whenever I'm confronted with a wild ass animal howling and trying to escape on a city street as people stare in horror. Part of this is my socialization as an American man: the only emotion we're trained to express is anger. So fear becomes anger. Confusion becomes anger. Shame, grief and all the rest come out as anger, too. Lucie showed me that in spades as she broke down over and over. If the sabbatical was to continue, it was me that had to change because Lucie wasn't - and didn't - and couldn't. She needed support. Love. Space.
It was almost as if the Spirit was saying to me: So you are writing and thinking about a "spirituality of tenderness" but sometimes you want to kill this dog who is your friend. Guess what? You're the one with inner work to do, brother, so get to it! So true. A lot of tears were shed that summer. Jean Vanier, who I was just starting to read in earnest, wrote that being with another in love means truly wrestling with our own demons and learning to move through our capacity and inclination for violence and fear. I am still on that journey five years later - although now, at least, I know it is happening - and am slightly better when Lucille flips out.
This afternoon, after a long hard day of being Lucie, she fell asleep on my legs as she often does late in the day. It is a time of refreshment and reassurance for us both. Today, I give thanks to God for my furry mentor, Lucie. I continue to HATE all the hair she leaves around the house, but I cherish her precious being more than ever and the peace she brings to my heart.
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