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A Sick Dog and a Lesson in Communion of All Types

September 3, 2020


So, there was a morning where I stumbled out of bed, put the coffee together, and made a soft-boiled egg for the sick dog, who by then should have been trying food.

It being a hungry sort of day, I made one for myself too.

The dog watched me create her egg-and-bread, then turned up her nose at it when I placed it before her.

As I prepared my own egg, letting the lovely hot yolk drip over a piece of crumbled bread, I gently tried to coax the pooch into eating. “You must get strong,” I said. “I can’t give you your medicine in those yummy pill pockets unless you eat . . .”

I dipped my spoon into my own breakfast, and it tasted good, so I knew there was no reason for my best pal to refuse her own. She was watching my every move, because, well . . . she was a dog, and very attentive of every move I made.

Thinking she might eat if I made a game of it, I said, “Okay, I’m going to take a bite of mine, and then you take a bite of yours.”

That sounds silly, but she was a stunningly smart dog, and we’d played that way before. This time, though, she still would not eat.

So I wondered whether perhaps—out of mere canine habit—she might eat my food if given the chance. She was a very good dog who never took food that was not hers but relished ‘people food’ when permitted. I put my soft-egg-and-bread mess into her bowl and yes, she tentatively, and then fully, ate my egg and my bread.

Her own portion, she left untouched.

“Now, why would you do that,” I asked her. In answer, she gave my hand a lick and looked into my eyes with her own deeply expressive brown ones, so full of what felt like adoration.

And I got it. I understood: she loved me so much that she would rather share what was mine than have her own.

It made me a little misty-eyed, because (not for the first time), my dog had shown me something mysterious and vital, containing a soul-growing germ that needed to be thought about, at least by me: she would rather have had communion than singularity.

Man, that’s love.

It’s also pretty good theology.

Her fresh water went untouched, but finally, I was able to give her the medicine.

Grabbing a cup of hot coffee, I headed to work. She followed me into my office, and laid at my feet with a thud, because she was still weak. I opened email to the rhythmic thwacking of her tail against the desk. Always preferring to cull the negatives first, I chucked one in particular that expressed disdain for stupid me, my corrupt religion, and my pointless life. Surprisingly, the thing did not end with “and your little dog too!” In tone, it might as well have, because people do write such stuff, sometimes. They’ll add spiteful little lines to their missives, words that only a fictional character—green of face, crouched over, and unconnected to real life—could or should ever cast toward others.

The world is a broken and needy place, and increasingly some seem compelled to lash out, to vent, to ply spite and malice as means of making someone else’s life or their religion (or their little dog) seem stupid and trivial—mere disposable nothings in a utilitarian world, worthy only of the arrows such people seem inclined to launch in broad distribution whenever possible.

Well, mercy is in short supply, lately, isn’t it? And spitefulness is the very antithesis of mercy—an appalling, unconstructive substitute for wit, cleverness, or a good argument; it is a childish and cowardly habit, a bullying way to engage with others. It is also paradoxical in its disdain for its target: every archer needs a receptor, which means no target can ever be truly “useless,” can it? The bully needs the target, or the arrow is ultimately a wasted shot; the action becomes singular and sterile, offering no chance for even an ersatz communion of mutual antipathy. So, really, shooters: love thy targets.

It is additionally paradoxical that often the same people lobbing harsh words at others have a longing to be part of something meaningful and bigger than themselves. They want some sort of communion over the singularity of mere selfism—the company of others who are like-minded and can buoy their sense of mission—yet they’re trapped by a need to feel superior or to demonstrate that they, themselves, are super-savvy, too cool to fool, and too right to entertain a differing thought. It’s hard to know whether rage or insecurity drives all that, but the spite cheapens all their best intentions.

The instinct for communion with people or ideas that we want to champion and uphold is not a bad one; it is how how things get built—schools and churches and cities and societies. It takes stepping out of the self to be part of something larger. But people can do that and still be respectful of others (and even kind), if they really want to be.

These were the conclusions I came to that morning. Pondering the ugly missive, I looked down at my dog, who looked back lovingly, almost seeming to smile. And I felt nothing but gratitude—for the dog, for my life, for the ability to even access the hateful message — for the miraculous construction of eyes and neuro-receptors that permitted me to read and consider it; for the ability to smell the coffee, and walk on my own steam into the kitchen to get another cup. I gave thanks for my sweet collie, and all the lessons she had taught me—is still teaching me—as I struggle against my instinctive pursuit of solitude, needing the sound reminder that it is a truly necessary thing to seek out communion in one form or another, and that communion pursued without love at its foundation only dilutes its meaning, and possibly its effect.

Meanwhile, I’m still working out the actual prayer that began to form within me, thanks to my sweet collie: “Lord grant that I may desire what is yours over what is mine, your portion, over all else.”