My dog is mercilessly cute. I realize all owners say that about their dog but as a Catholic I believe in objective beauty, and Jolene is surely the Aristotelian model of perfected dogness. Everywhere we go people stop and comment on her cartoon-like appearance. Initially this reaction filled me with great pride of ownership, and I would get Jolene all gussied-up at the groomer and walk her through The Grove shopping center here in LA where inevitably we’d be surrounded by excited Angelinos wanting to come pet little JoJo. The novelty of owning a dog with this kind of star power wore off quickly. Now, I bypass crowded parks and walk her at night (mostly) so we can avoid these persistent interactions, which rob us both of walking time.
Now granted, Jolene is not Justin Bieber, but in West Hollywood dogs get more attention than celebrities (ok maybe not the Biebs). But I’m telling you, WeHo is dog-crazy. Travel a few miles down the boulevard and you’ll see my proof. There are posh dog hotels, spas, restaurants, gymnasiums all over the place – not just “dog friendly” mind you, I mean for the pets themselves. I’d argue much of LA cherishes dogs more than humans, and I’m not entirely innocent in that regard. However, tonight I was listening to a tune called “Brother” performed beautifully by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and it helped me love people better when I’m with my dog.
It’s a simple song, originally composed by The Brilliance. The lyrics melodically repeat, “When I look into the face of my enemy, I see my brother.” So, it’s catchy enough that it got stuck in my head before I embarked on my evening rosary walk with Jolene. While contemplating the Joyful Mysteries, that chorus reverberated in the back of my mind. I finished the decades just as the circumambient gloom of Melrose Avenue’s satanically-themed storefronts (Lucifer’s Pizza, and Necromance to name a couple) beset my path. Right then, an oddly-dressed fellow brushed past me with a scornful gaze for I had unwittingly spread Jolene’s leash too wide, monopolizing much of the sidewalk. I said, “sorry brother,” which came naturally enough given his extraordinary timing.
However, a few blocks later, three boisterous 30-somethings poured out of a popular restaurant. “Oh my gosh look at that dog!” The middle fellow squatted down, opening his arms as to embrace Jolene who, at full leash extension, was still a good 20 yards away. As I walked slowly towards them, my annoyance began to sink in. Not even a head nod, zero acknowledgment that I exist as her owner. Would I squat down and cuddle your toddler without your permission? Of course he did not actually have a toddler with him, it’s Hollywood. But to my point, I would never dare take such liberties with any of his kinfolk, regardless of species. Yet without even the courtesy of eye-contact, I got the sense he’s about to kiss Jolene square-on-the-lips and squeeze her fluffy ears, and Lord only knows when he last washed his hands, which smell of cigarettes and garlic bread, I’m sure. As always, I plan to fake smile as he means no harm, but also be brief with them so as to get back to my walk. After all, I’m trying to pray over here!
And then the tune resounded in my head. I suddenly realized that when I look into the face of these acquaintances (even the friendly ones) I see my enemy. It’s a convicting moment. I think now about the regular folks I encounter while waiting in line (any line) and how I see them as an inconvenience and not an opportunity. I think about anyone who might be driving slow in traffic, and how I grow frustrated with them for being “way chill”, as any good Californian ought to be. Sure: old ladies, homeless folks, angry people — I purposely try to love them, but my standard mentality toward everyday folks who trigger my pet peeves (pun intended) is far less than Christ-like.
Precisely at this moment of conscience, I noticed Jolene was walking right past the man’s open arms. She’s pretty bratty on her own, I swear I did not teach her that! Even in the early days, I’d have to coax her to be sweet to people. I pulled back on her leash and let them get a pat on her head, then continued to consider how I might react better in these situations. The song came to my lips, “When I look into the face of my enemy, I see my brother.” I thought of Andreas, my actual brother, who is also my best friend, despite that he lives far across the United States.
A couple crossing the street then spotted Jolene. Sure enough, the gal tapped her boyfriend on the arm with one hand while pointing to Jo with her other. Still in prayer-mode, I vividly summoned my imagination and Andreas suddenly took their place. For a fleeting instant, my big brother was right there sauntering towards me! Bearded and broad-shouldered, donning a flannel shirt and his typically perempatory posture, I cracked a very real smile when I saw Andreas. The vision faded, I called out to them, connected, and enjoyed the exchange like I never have before. Although they weren’t my actual family, I was talking to a sister and to a brother — not just two persons. Going forward, I pray that when I look into the face of my aquaintances I see my brother, I see my sister.
If you’re having a hard time forgiving someone, “Brother” is a great song for you. But might I also recommend it for anyone, like me, who struggles with loving everyday people in certain situations. Give the song a listen, pray on it, and see how God changes your vision.