The Run

The Run

I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons. Will Rogers

The Run is two acres of patchy, broken grass and hardpan, enclosed by a split rail rectangle of fence.  It buttresses adjacent paddleball courts and the town’s community pool.  It is not much to look at but within it lopes the ultimate harmonious society.  It is a place where dogs run free and their humans loiter and talk, observing a diverse community of animals as they leap, wrestle and chase out of sheer joy of being off leash.   Spencer’s Run is an oasis for dog owners who love their animals and who understand their need for the companionship and enthusiasm of dogs from all different walks of life.  Dog owners know that dogs, like teenagers, need to get out, socialize and occasionally dig a hole.  If not afforded the chance to exercise and yield to their genetic programming, these affectionate canines transform into mischievous billy goats capable of indescribable mischief and destruction.

There are the regulars, the inner circle and social order of mornings and afternoons , dogs, men, women and children who arrive with a certain arc of the sun, tossing tennis balls and conducting traffic as the herders, lap dogs, hunters and pointers collide in great waves of movement and mayhem.  Spencer’s Run dogs are pack animals and while they possess predictable genetic triggers and embedded instincts, dogs have an amazingly human side.  They are our mirror images – – proud and insecure, particular and accepting, high strung and laissez faire, confident and paranoid, deviously intelligent and a tad slow.  Like their handlers, they prefer garbage food to brussels sprouts. They teach us to live in the moment and to shrug off the fact that sometimes life can be boring or uncertain.   The daily roster of The Run’s actors is too lengthy to mention.  There is Seamus, a herculean St Bernard, a micro celebrity in these parts who looms over the green field like a wooly mammoth.  Daily ground traffic is highly regulated by a pair of bellicose Bassets named Hoover and Minerva who patrol the Run looking for signs of sedition and disrespectful behavior.  On any given day the dog park is a blurred Grand Central Station of breeds: Shitzus , pugs, boxers, German Shepherds, Russian Samoyeds, Labs, Airedales, French Pyrenees Mountain Dogs and Afghans – – each day a UN meeting without politics.

My ticket of admission is my seven month Australian Shepherd, Brody.  “Mr Wild Thing” is a high energy herder that chases anything that moves and is incapable of resisting the instinct to buzz his target du jour into a tighter and tighter circle of control.  The focus of his shepherding could be a bird, squirrel, an octogenarian or UPS truck.  Already neutered, Brody still plays the alpha and like the man with a prosthetic leg who still swears he can feel an itch, he means business. To my chagrin, he occasionally expresses his desire for lead dog status through a series of highly inappropriate acts that can only be described as X rated.

Children are for people who can’t have dogs.  — Cicero

Like any loved one, we want to raise Brody to respect others, play nice in the sand box, not talk with his mouth full and avoid stalking four-year-old toddlers.  When we found Spencer’s Run, Brody was a rough pup from the South side of Boston.  He lacked finesse and the social graces required to be accepted into the pack.  He found an unconditionally accepting community that would quickly socialize him to the ways of the canine world.  Despite his Down Under heritage, Brody is distinctly American – – good-natured, naïve and prone to bark loud when meeting a dog of another nationality for the first time.  While as humans, we tend to shake hands upon greeting one another; dogs tend to go right for sniffing various parts of one another’s anatomy.  His penchant for the ” sniff” makes me cringe knowing that I still let him lick my face.  I wonder if it was a dog that started the rumor that a canine’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s.  I wager this observation was written like third grade bathroom graffiti in crayon on the side of some barn in the Midwest and an incredulous farmer figured it had to be true.  His sheep dog was laughing his bottom off that night.

From the dog’s point of view, his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog. ~Mabel Louise Robinson

I notice that owners like their dogs choose to either join the pack or sniff around the edges of the Run.  Some humans are clearly experienced pet owners and radiate a sort of god-like wisdom.  These dog-whispering oracles can explain to you the dark mysteries of your basenji – – the ten things canus africanus does not want you to know.   Dogs tend to resemble their owners and the demographic in the Run is similar to that of America with about 30% needing a dry food diet and a mandatory two hours of exercise each day.  Others breeds are sleek, sinewy paragons of discipline — practically eliciting applause from the crowd as they prance from one part of the park to the next – – and that is just the blond owner.  Like his human, Brody seems to go for lighter hair and gravitates to those from the wrong side of the tracks.  Purebred dogs put him off. He prefers big dogs and pound puppies perhaps because he himself is a descendent of convicts.  Brody avoids small dogs as they often suffer from Napoleonic complexes.  He thinks they are carrying handguns.   He tends to pal around with a yellow lab from Pound Ridge and a magnificent collie named Graham.

I sit under a shaded tree and watch as a well-mannered beagle trots by my bench doing the rounds.  He is beaming after seeing a distant relative win Best In Show at Westminster. Everywhere, people and dogs are chatting, mingling and exchanging pleasantries.  In the Spencer’s Run community there are surprisingly few protocols: Stay with the person you came to the dance with, be kind, clean up after yourself and have fun.  Not a bad way to run a dog park or a high school for that matter. Brody and I debrief after each visit.  I barrage him with questions as he lays panting like a child just home from school: ” So, you really caved in to that miniature boxer, didn’t you?” “Did you see that Afghan?  I mean was she exotic or what? ” He trots over covered with a mud mask mixed lovingly from dirt and a thousand licks.  He is filthy, exhausted and content – – the way I looked after my first Rolling Stones concert.  As he leaps into the passenger seat of my car, he barks one last yelp over my shoulder as if to say, “see you tomorrow”.  I back out and watch as another car enters my spot.  An excited Schnauzer jumps out of his handler’s car and strains against his leash.  He is speaking in German, “Achtung, Achtung! Dies wired groß sein (Hurry, hurry. This is going to be great! )”

The Son Also Rises

The Son Also Rises

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”. John Newton, 1773

It’s spring and with it comes an avalanche of Easter lilies, bunnies, egg hunts and hidden baskets.  Somewhere off in the distance, floating like buds on a dogwood is the message of redemption.  Buried under a benign avalanche of modern day commercialism, resurrection stirs.  It may be as subtle as a crocus risking its bloom in an early spring chill or the daffodil bravely signaling that we have once again been reborn from the depths of winter.  It is a time of year that activates a latent emotion deep within us, the idea of dying and being born again.

The concepts of redemption and resurrection are essential threads in the fabric of human history and culture.  No matter a person’s ideological or theological orientation  – atheist, agnostic or fanatical acolyte, the idea that one might redeem themselves and “resurrect” to become a better human being, holds deep spiritual appeal.  As children we heard stories that focused on individuals losing and regaining their purpose in life.  For those marched to Sunday school each week, we were taught the religious allegory of The Prodigal Son.  As a parent, the story of unconditional love resonates more today.  In the parable, one of two sons leaves his family, demanding his inheritance early from his father, which the son then summarily goes out and wastes.  When the son returns home broken, the father does not reject him but rejoices while the brother who had remained faithful to the father becomes upset.  The father explains to the faithful son that he is rejoicing that the “lost” son has returned just as a shepherd rejoices when he finds a lost sheep.  Because of a father’s unconditional love, the son rises again.

In life, redeemed sinners have left indelible marks on the world. Bill Wilson was a physician that had lost his reputation, self respect and soul to alcoholism.  Through his efforts to help another alcoholic stay sober, he founded the most successful spiritual movement of the 20th century, Alcoholics Anonymous.  Bill Wilson was hardly perfect.   But through the simple act of sharing his humanity and serving others, he was reborn giving hope to an entire generation of broken souls. Bill W was resurrected.

Literature offers us innumerable examples of the rise, fall and resurrection of mankind.  Charles Dickens created our most beloved Christmas fable, a Christmas Carol, a ghost story of redemption detailing the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge.  In 1965, Alex Haley chronicled the story of Malcolm Little, a small-time crook and angry hoodlum who discovered Islam during his many years of incarceration.  His epiphany led to his reincarnation as Malcolm X, a fire brand minister for the American Nation of Islam that tirelessly labored to advance the moral and social future of the African American community.  Most recently, a popular South African movie, “Totsi” offers us the view of a ghetto tough in the shanties of Johannesburg that finds a baby while carjacking the vehicle from the child’s mother.  His encounter with the child transforms him and redeems him.

Every culture values redemption and resurrection. Buddhists believe one can improve their karma and achieve enlightenment with personal change and better moral conduct.  Hindus believe that Moksha, the release from the cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation), can only be achieved through the personal change and improvement – – through meditation, good works, devotion or knowledge. Many Christians worship the teachings of St Paul who prior to his miraculous conversion on the road to Tarsus, was Saul, the “crazed destroyer” of Christians.

As human beings, we are a complicated collision of opposites. We are fascinated by failure and those in our society who fall.  Even though we know at our core that everyone is imperfect, schedenfruede and insecurity compel us to watch the spectacular failings of people.  We are riveted by the gory public revelations of celebrities, politicians and every day people’s private imperfections.  In a bizarre way, we feel better about our own uneven lives.

Yet, within that same psyche that celebrates the fall, we also celebrate redemption. We are irresistibly drawn to tales of emancipation, salvation, and atonement.  The most happy among us seem to be able to re-embrace those that they, at one time, had banished. We find ourselves pulling for any person who overcomes self inflicted hardship. Whether it is a pro athlete who was once addicted to pain killers or a celebrity that succumbs to the artificial reality of stardom, we have short memories and a predisposition to forgive.  We love a comeback.  We have awards for most improved person and the comeback player of the year.  We love redemption.

What reassures me is this human capacity for compassion and forgiveness.  Vengeance and resentment are social and psychological cancers.  Actress Carrie Fischer once remarked that resentment was like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die”. Resentments are warm, familiar mud but they wash away in the fresh water of resurrection. We want to believe in salvation.  We pray for the various forms of resurrection – recovery from disease, release from heartache, redemption from corruption or resurrection from failure.    The one common attribute in anyone’s recovery and resurrection is the love of others – an individual or a community willing to unconditionally help a flawed person recover and find their way.  It is our quest to be part of a society that participates and celebrates in the return of any prodigal “son”.

As my children search for Easter eggs and baskets, I search for something more elusive, a golden egg hidden deep in the tangled undergrowth of my soul.  I am reminded on Easter of the value of resurrection.  In my church, I will faithfully hear the story of the son of God who rose from the dead.  As I ponder the themes of death and resurrection, I try to translate this to my children so they can practically understand that anyone can be reborn. Progress, not perfection is our human quest. The ability for anyone to recover depends on the love of another. Forgiveness and the instinct to celebrate when another lost sheep rejoins the fold, is an essential ingredient of our humanity.

I guess in the end, the “golden egg” I seek is grace – the ability to give it and receive it.