I am learning that mutual love is the most healing kind of love.
My spiritual director once caught me in the act of putting myself down for something, some inadequacy, some imperfection I had started digging at to get rid of. She asked me to imagine a baby bird sitting in a nest in my hands. She asked me to look at that baby bird and tell her what I saw.
“A baby bird,” was my response, but it wasn’t the answer to the question she was really asking.
“Is the bird imperfect?” she asked. “Is there something wrong with it?”
“No,” I replied. “Of course there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a baby bird.”
“Then how come a baby bird can be born so perfectly the way it should be, but you can’t?”
I have sat with this image and embraced its lesson whenever I discover that I am unjustly berating myself, but now I sit with this beautiful dog, so perfect in every way, and I wrestle with the sadness of the life he had before he was rescued. It was a life of neglect. It was a life used most likely for the purposes of breeding and, when that life was seen as useless, as imperfect, it was thrown out to die in the heap of dogs that die in the pound everyday.
My husband and I recently adopted this dog, Lukas, from RESCUE. Since arriving in our home one warm September afternoon, Lukas has managed to heal our broken hearts from a loss we have felt for nearly two years. And as imperfect as someone else thought he was, perfection is the best way I know how to describe this being who came into our lives and allowed us into his.
No matter what those other people may have thought, Lukas is perfect, exactly the way he was born to be. I keep asking myself how could he have possibly wound up at the pound? I realize in asking this question, I could ask it of any of the dogs and cats dropped off there, but let’s focus on Lukas for now because the answers found in his life are the answers found in all the rest.
My husband has suffered greatly these last couple of years in ways that most do not realize. He is good at putting on a bright face to those he doesn’t know well. He went two years without deeply laughing, without making a joke that wasn’t at his own or someone else’s expense. He ached in his own way about a loss we knew when things first fell apart. The loss itself was part of his deepest pain, but knowing that did not make it easier to get over.
When, finally, Lukas came into our lives, I noticed that almost immediately my husband’s suffering softened. His face brightened to its old, magnificent glow. His smile returned. His eyes sparkled. It was my greatest joy to look onto the back patio and see him smiling, like the Enlightened Buddha, as he scratched the belly of our new friend.
Lukas is our perfect dog and we have come to admire him, laugh with him, love him. He walks with us, often going a mile and a half one way and a mile and a half back as he sniffs and explores.
He has great, regal Andy Rooney eyebrows.
He curls perfectly into the angles I make when I sit and bend my knees onto the cushions of the couch. Often, he races me to the couch and gets into “my” spot with a look on his face that says, “I win!”
He plays dragon when he’s bored. Dragon is his stuffed squeaky toy that he wrestles with and chases like a champ.
He finds the beds we have placed near our desks or beside the doors looking outside; they are meant for him and he finds them when he is tired and needs a rest.
He perfectly fits into the nook at the foot of our bed where my feet do not reach and Hubby’s feet rarely go. He waits to take care of his business until we are beyond the boundaries of our suburban home. Only then does he leave his “pee-mail” on the trees and concrete posts in the neighborhood park.
He rarely barks and, when he does, it is to warn us of men hanging from trees as they trim them. All of these things speak to the perfection that is Lukas and, even if things were different, he would still be perfect because he is just as he should be.
To imagine anyone taking him to the pound, loaded with infections in both ears and in his spine, hurting and sick, leaving him there to die because he is no longer of their use–it is unfathomable. The heartlessness it requires for someone to take in a life–any life–make them dependent upon you and then, when they no longer appeal to you, leave them to suffer and die alone. It is cruel and irresponsible. It breaks my heart and would send me into the depths of despair if I didn’t have this very life lesson sitting in front of me, breathing and sighing as he sleeps.
Instead, I try to focus on the gratitude I have for people like Jennifer Berry who rescued this incredible friend. I give thanks for Vicky and Phil, the foster family that took him in and made sure he got over the infections hurting his body. I look to the heavens and whisper a prayer of thanks for bringing this perfect life into our broken lives. I feel more blessed than I am a blessing. I am honored to be his companion and I marvel at the timing of it all.
So, Lukas is exactly perfect for exactly who he is. Like the baby bird, he was born exactly the way he was meant to be. The lesson I am learning now is that, although we are born perfect, not everyone is going to see that perfection in us. Only the real ones, the ones who see us as we are, will recognize the treasure that lives in our hearts. And this, then, is the healing that comes from mutual love. When you experience that, hold onto it, nurture it, and never take it for granted.