Expansion

12:00 PM


Like every other Monday through Friday, I get to watch over my two-year-old grandson Finn, and our aging-but-debonair 13 year old golden retriever, Keller.

Keller, a fortunate “only child” of a dog is accustomed to taking three walks a day to complete his rounds and accomplish his business. The noon day walk is usually handled by Finn and Lala, as we are mostly home during the day, and we’re up for an outing almost anytime. But today, something went haywire with our Keller. 

On the first walk of the day, my husband Aaron and I usually take Finn and Keller out together, but this morning, before Aaron was out the door of the garage with the leash that frankly, he never uses anyway, Keller bolted around the corner, faster than Finn and I could catch him. It was alarming to watch Keller tearing down the street like a wild child; I wasn’t sure, pushing Finn in a stroller, I could intercept him. We tackled Keller five houses west of ours, and I reminded Aaron that Keller just isn’t safe off leash any more.

Later, Finn and I put Keller on leash to offer him his afternoon constitution, and it turned into a full scale chaotic fiasco.

I tried to walk Keller on leash, but one-eyed and mostly blind in his spare eye, the poor guy kept straying right into Finn’s stroller, jumping in surprise every time he did it. I decided to let him off leash a while so he could wander around and find a good spot to relieve himself, but he has also lost most of his hearing, so he ran ahead enthusiastically, but he couldn’t hear us calling for him to slow down or stop.

After a wild chase to catch up with him, and after strangers on bikes who sensed the drama of the struggle offered to help, I cried “uncle,” and put him back on leash. He had a crazed look in his eye that implied he might be suffering, and I knew I was powerless to help him. Walking alongside this sweet golden, possibly facing his final weeks or months of life as he knows it, I felt torn and inept.

Attempting to negotiate the passenger-less stroller with one hand while keeping up with an energetic Finn, now “hiking” on foot, I tried to keep Keller out from under the wheels with the other hand. Finn was beckoning us to come when I got tangled one too many times, feeling myself tempted to collapse into tears on the sidewalk. I heard myself whine, “I can’t be compassionate and attentive to both of them at the same time!”

 And that’s when I felt myself expand just a little. A small but significant stretch. 

Gathering Keller’s leash a bit tighter, drawing him closer to me to avoid the wheels of the stroller, I praised Finn for walking close to us. I also laughed a little, something I am learning to do to shift out of the familiar grip of fear, or self incrimination. And I paused to ask myself, why do I think I can’t focus on these two precious but dependent beings at the same time? Granted, it’s challenging. I am feeling anxious, and my default-driven brain tells me I have to let go of one to care for the other. 

 But what if that just isn’t true?

More importantly, is this moment uncovering the tip of a love-limiting iceberg? 

Although my prayer life has on occasion been focused on just keeping my own shit together, I do have an overarching, lifelong prayer: I want to learn how to love beyond my inner circle.

Today, tempted to abandon one loved one to care for another, I found myself being tricked into another mini-surrender. What if learning to love bigger means that I will need to accept that frustration, feelings of incompetence, and rate-limiting anxiety are just part of the deal...at least while we’re learning?

Maybe, when we don’t have enough hands, or resources in general, we accept the chaotic nature of a walk that is awkward and clumsy, but driven by compassion and care for others.

We’ve all played the lifeboat game at one point or another, right? 

Who would you choose to care for if an anxiety-challenged grandmother, a toddler, and a handicapped, elderly dog were on a sinking ship, and there were only two seats left in the life-boat? 

Well, clearly, we're gonna need a bigger boat.

"I think what I need to learn is an almost infinite tolerance and compassion...if we can just prepare a compassionate and receptive soil for the future, we will have done a great work. I feel at least that this is the turn my own life ought to take."
Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love

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