Last month one of my dogs, Keisha, celebrated her ninth birthday. Well, to be honest, I celebrated it and she didn’t seem to notice it much, but she did enjoy the treat and I was gentleman enough not to speak about a lady’s age.
But as we paused to honor her birth, I also paused to remember an event that was so small, so insignificant at the time, that I wonder I can remember it. It was a quiet morning in Pierre and just a few weeks before I had to take my cat of 14 years to the vet for…well…sleep. So on this morning, I was still dealing with some sadness and pet loneliness.
I had made a vow the day after the raging blizzard when I had taken Horus the Goof, my fierce warrior cat, to the vet that I would never own a pet again. Never. Pets are great, but I could not imagine putting myself through that awful experience once again.
So on this morning, my mind wandering, my heart still sad and my vow intact, I looked across the street to the black lab/retriever mix puppy sitting behind a fence looking at me. We just kind of looked at each other, and soon I found myself walking across the street. As I got closer, she started to jump and whimper and greet me with effusive enthusiasm.
It was such a small thing, to cross that street and play with a dog behind a fence. I had no intention behind it other than a desire to make her happy for a bit. It was the start of going across the street to greet her each day, and then talking to the people who lived there asking if I could go into their backyard, and then asking if I could take her out to run around our parking lot.
Then, there was the phone call from the neighbors across the street telling me the dog they had been keeping for friends for over a year was being put up for adoption and that she would be leaving within a few days. I thanked them for the call and hung up. Later that night I began to think that some vows were meant to be broken.
The next day at the staff meeting I asked if any of them would have a problem with me getting a dog, since the office area and the rectory share the same space it seemed a prudent and polite question. It was answered by one of the secretaries who quickly and happily asked, “are you adopting Keisha?”
I told her yes and the staff was on board, and I called my friends across the street and the lady at the humane society, paid my bill and walked across the street. Only, this time, I didn’t walk back alone. She has been my shadow ever since.
A few years later, my best friend asked if I could keep his dog Cody for a year while he was living in Saudi Arabia, and I told him I would, if Keisha agreed. She did.
That year has turned into six years and I love them both. I was sent a short video of them when I was deployed to Afghanistan and I must have watched that video a hundred times, enjoying their wagging tails and small sniffs of the phone recording them.
Caring for them, making sure they are looked after when I am gone, having them at my feet or behind the couch, hearing them sleep beside my bed, being greeted by them with each return has become such a part of my life that I barely remember what it was like before. It all began because a one and a half year old black lab/retrieve mix was just so cute that I had to walk across the street.
That is how life changes in its most profound ways. Granted, sometimes events are dramatic and sudden, but so often it is just the simple moments, the moments where we have no idea that anything of great import is occurring and then, without even noticing, we have set ourselves on a new path.
We speak to that person for the first time who becomes our best friend. We glance, and then glance again, at that beautiful person who becomes our spouse. We answer the phone. We make a small choice. I walk across the street to play with a puppy.
Remembering this brings about an awareness that can transform our days and infuse even the most routine moment with the wonder of grace and the joyousness of possibility. This awareness can keep alive within us the ability to be surprised, which is the gift of youth.
In our lives of faith, we often look for the dramatic and exciting as a sure sign of the God’s work in our lives. We may wonder why our prayers are not answered in power, why the voice of God is so quiet, why bushes do not burn anymore. In seeking the presence of God we can forget to look in the ordinary and the routine, where the unfolding of grace is alive.
Sunday after Sunday, we are bid to enter the Church and to celebrate the Eucharist and, hopefully, Sunday after Sunday we do just that. It may not seem dramatic, it may not seem like it will change everything. But then we remember those brief, beautiful moments from our past, and we walk through the door.