It’s been a rough couple of weeks. In the space of seven days, our family laid to rest an ancient, adopted puppy (whose tiny stature and feather weight belied her 17 years) and a scaly, bug-eyed bearded dragon, whose winsome personality proved that beauty – and lack thereof – is only skin deep.
The aging canine was our neighbor’s elderly Shih Tzu, Dusty Miller, who spent many a night warming our beds and hearts. She lay with my father as he suffered from heart disease and diabetes that ultimately claimed him. Dusty came as a set with her human mom, Anita, whom my kids call Grandma and I call my fairy godmother, because she stepped into our lives after my own mom died and stuck around to help raise my kids and spirits after Dad succumbed to his final illness.
Yes, Dusty was much more than a dog to us.
The following Friday, my son, Aaron, and soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Elise, called with heavy hearts. On their way out of town to meet up with the bridal party, they had to pause long enough to deal with the death of their pet lizard, whom they spent many dollars and hours trying to make well. Elise had bought Chewy (short for Chewbacca, like in the movie) to keep company with her irascible bearded dragon, Bacon. Chewy bore with equanimity, and perhaps even egged on, Bacon’s head bobbing challenges from his tank across the room.
While I never knew Chewy to take a stand on social issues, she did seem to experience some significant gender confusion. Since it’s hard to tell a lizard’s sex, we relied on behavior cues, but Chewy seemed to buy into the social police’s assertions that there is no typical male or female behavior; thus, to be politically correct, we changed up our pronouns on a regular basis.
We all found his/her clinginess touching. No, maybe I should make that touchy – her M.O. when retrieved from the tank was to hang on for dear life to shoulder, leg, head, or whatever body part he was perched on. In short, her rough, bumpy exterior disguised a cuddly heart underneath. Elise summed it up best when, through tears, she explained, “People don’t understand why we’re so upset about Chewy. They’re right that he was only a lizard. But he was ours.”
This morning, while listening to Max Lucado's 3:16: The Numbers of Hope on audio, I marveled at the wisdom of the following story: the author hearkened back to a trend that was popular when my kids were small – tethering young children to their parental unit when out in public places where it would be easy to lose track of scampering feet. I well remember the shocked looks and gasps of disbelief when other shoppers observed the, let’s face it, leash I painstakingly Velcro-ed to mischievous wrists to keep them from disappearing into pre-holiday crowds. Lucado rightly characterized the thinking behind the action as both protective and possessive, as though the tie-er were claiming ownership of the tie-ee, regardless of how preferable it might have seemed at times to cut the wanderer loose and let him fend for himself. Loving parents don’t do that, despite all the yanking and cranking they endure from wayward children. They resist the urge because love for their little delinquent overcomes the memories of how easy life was before Junior came along.
That’s what it all comes down to. We love our children and pets not because of how they act or look, but despite those things. In my work as a special educator, I’m quite aware that every kid I come in contact with is somebody’s child. These little imps can make it a real scavenger hunt to find something likable or even tolerable to recommend them, but because others took time to uncover the nuggets of gold buried deep underneath my own kids’ annoyances, I try to pay that kindness forward. I have yet to find a student whose armor couldn’t be breached by a kind word, a reward for getting it right, or a well-applied disciplinary measure when all else failed.
As Elise observed, we do it because they're ours. I would add, God did it because we're His.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
~ Psalm 8:4
~ Psalm 8:4
For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: They Just Want a Bow