Life Lessons and Lab Work
We have a lot in common. He likes to nap, has a bad back and a bad hip. But he’s got a good attitude. He’s somewhere around eighty-six years old—no one is really sure. When he came to live with me, I really didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t really even sure he wanted to come live with me. Or that I could handle the responsibility of caring for him. But last week I helped into the back of my 4Runner and kept reassuring him along the drive back to my house.
Don’t be afraid.
It will be okay.
We’re almost there.
His name is Bear. He’s a twelve-year-old (or so) Yellow Labrador Retriever. Bear’s owner, an aging woman in poor health, just went into a nursing home. And according to her neighbors, she’s not coming home again. Her journey on this earth has come is coming to an end after raising Bear from a pup. Which is both a comfort and a bit sad to me.
When I met Bear, I knew he had to come home with me. It wasn’t a rational decision. But it wasn’t really a heart decision either. I didn’t think about it. I wasn’t really looking to get a dog. At least not seriously. But when I saw Bear I just told the woman trying to find him a new home, I’ll take him. When I opened the back door of my SUV he just looked at me. Bear doesn’t jump anymore, you see.
Picking up a ninety-pound older dog is like trying to lift a trash bag full of water. You grab one end and all the water goes rushing to the other end. When I grabbed him in the middle the water rushed to both ends. He grunted. I grunted. At that point, we agreed the woman’s husband should help. So each of us grabbed an end and in he went.
He’s been at my house for about a week now. He doesn’t require very much. Simple food. Clean water (tap, not even bottled). An occasional walk. And oh yeah, he needs to be with me. All the time. If I get up, Bear gets up. If I sit down, Bear sits down. If I’m cooking, Bear is cooking. He just needs to be in my presence. If I close a door behind me, leaving him in an another room, he sits down and patiently waits for me to pop out again. This old guy is teaching me a lot.
He’s teaching me about simplicity. He only eats when he’s hungry. He only drinks water when he’s thirsty. He doesn’t need to be entertained. He won’t sleep on his bed, preferring the hardwood or tile to something soft. But he’s not an ascetic. He likes the occasional treat. And he clearly enjoys being scratched behind the ears. (Don’t we all?) But he seems to take pleasure in simple things and doesn’t hold the the notion that more of a good thing makes it better.
I’m also learning something from Bear about the value of presence. All he requires of me is to be there, or should I say, to let him be there. That isn’t a lot—and yet it’s just about everything. Presence. Being near. Ask a loving parent who’s estranged from a child—they’d give just about anything to have their child long to be near them. Ask a dying man or woman what they want in their final moments. It isn’t their awards or to review all of their achievements. It isn’t their stuff. It’s the presence of the ones they love and that love them in return. Ask a child who’s lost in the aisles of the grocery store. All she wants is to be near her father or mother. There’s a lot to be said for presence, for being near.
Bear is also teaching me more about giving without expecting anything in return. Like I said, Bear doesn’t really play. He doesn’t do tricks. He wags his tail from time to time—mostly when he’s come back inside after a walk around the yard on a cold day. Bear doesn’t wrestle with a rope or towel. If dogs can be grateful, I think Bear is. But that doesn’t really matter, I’m learning that more and more.
I’m not sure how long Bear and I will be together. According to the oracles at my favorite search engine, he’s already reached the end of the average life expectancy for Labs. Hopefully, he will spend a few more years teaching me things and living a life of comfort. But whether he lives only a few more months or a few more years, I’m grateful for the things I’m learning from him.
Maybe you could learn something from Bear too. Things like:
Be present. Stay near the ones you love.
Keep it simple. More of a good thing doesn’t make it better.
Give without expecting anything in return.
I think those are pretty good lessons. But there’s one more thing Bear is teaching me. It’s the value of a good nap. I think I’ve got that one down already. But I’m still going to keep at it. I guess it’s kind of like, well, Lab Work.