A very good friend of mine just took a giant leap of faith and bought a puppy. On impulse on a Sunday afternoon. On the spot. Against the wishes of her husband of many years, who has steadfastly maintained for years that he doesn’t want to be bothered with a dog under any circumstances.
My friend “Ellen” (all names shall be changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the completely ambivalent) has been going through some tough times lately. There was a surgery that took a great deal of time and pain to recover from. There is an adult offspring who has sown a very hard row for himself to hoe in the next year. There are any number of the usual variables that go into raising a family and keeping a marriage alive, the minute secrecies and the giant compromises and the resolute keeping a game face on when you would rather throw a rolling pin through a plate glass door. Or so I’ve heard. I pulled the plug on my own marriage after a quarter century of keeping a game face on, and I feel so much better for it!
Still, where Ellen is concerned, she would like to keep both the husband—“Rob,” we’ll call him—and the puppy. And she has long wanted a dog. Her children—all grownups, at least in calendar years—have met the news with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and varying degrees of forthrightness.
Since I don’t have a surveillance camera installed at her house giving me a video feed of the family interactions, I just have to conjure up the scenes as she describes them to me later. And since we’ve known each other for about forty years and we both know where all of the bones are buried, our understanding of what gets described has sort of a shorthand “cinema vérité” quality in our respective imaginations.
And so, amid her witty observations and anguished self-doubts and incredibly patient decision to refrain from responding to one unmarried child’s lecture to her on the nature of marriage and compromise (I would have been tempted to employ a taser if one was within reach), came the unspoken plea for a pep talk. Some sign that I thought that she had somehow, despite all the dust and noise in the short-term, done the right thing.
And I gave it, in spades.
Adding a dog to the family was, in my own estimation, about the best thing she could have done for herself under the circumstances. But then I think adding a dog to a family is always the best thing one can do. It boils down to the fact that a dog is a furry, tail-wagging package of unconditional love that improves everyone’s life that it touches.
Families are complicated, I told her, because every relationship within them boils down to “I love you…plus”.
Parents love their children…plus “stand up straight, eat your vegetables, don’t wear that, finish your homework, get a job, change direction, you should have picked a different career, where did I go wrong?”
Children love their parents…plus “quit bugging me, I’m all grown up, I don’t need your advice, why did you make meatloaf, you just don’t understand me, I know I messed up but I can’t admit it, quit treating me like a child!”
Spouses love each other…plus “I wish you’d quit nagging, how could you, won’t you please go to a movie tonight, why do you have to work so late, I’m tired of picking up your dirty clothes from the bathroom floor, you were nicer to me when we were dating, why can’t you get along with my sister?”
Children love their siblings…plus “you should be dating somebody else, why do you have to be such a screw-up, mom always loved you more than me, quit whining about your job, when are you finally going to quit drinking, you need to help out with the parents more.”
When it comes to a dog, though, ah…that is a gift so pure and simple.
You take a dog into your arms and give it food and warmth, and it will defend you and protect you to its dying breath, no questions asked. As steadfast and self-sacrificing as a Spartan at the Battle of Thermopylae. And that holds true from the largest bull mastiff to the tiniest Chihuahua.
A dog is always happy to see you, never holds a grudge, and forgives you everything and anything. I love the prayer “Dear God, help me to be the good person that my dog thinks I am!”
And so I hope that the new arrival will win Rob’s heart as it already has Ellen’s. We should all be so lucky to have such uncomplicated love and devotion in our lives. We could learn so much about how to treat each other from our faithful companions’ example.
In the meantime, I see that after a few days of Facebook silence on the subject, Ellen has at last posted a photo of the new arrival, all white fluff surrounding a pair of black eyes and a tiny black nose, as cute as a bug’s ear.
The notes of congratulations keep rolling in for Ellen on Facebook, an absolute avalanche of congratulations and good wishes and welcomes to the world of dog ownership. And I have a feeling that Rob will eventually embrace the new addition. In the meantime, across the miles, in our brief exchanges, I know that Ellen not only has a new puppy, but also a new spring in her step, and new leap of joy in her heart. She’s been long overdue.
My friend’s adventure is just beginning. And I’m so happy for her that if I had a tail, it would be wagging like crazy.