The sun cascades through the windows that run along the western wall of the house and the double doors that lead to the porch are open. The weather has been pleasant these past few days and it seems as though we will add another to the string. The sounds of the lawn waft through the house and I sit at a table inside while drinking coffee, doodling cartoons with a black pen and letting my mind wander to ignore its nagging concerns to a soundtrack of birds and the faint rustling of the trees.
My dog, Woody, suddenly leaps onto the porch and I hear the click of his paws on the wood. His pace is different. Faster. No, brisk. Yes, brisk. The tags that hang from his neck clink like the ride cymbal of bebop jazz drummers- broken, inconsistent, possibly drug-induced and very fast. I look up from my notebook to see him walk as quickly as his paws will allow him without actually running or trotting. Though his face is contorted into a grimace of concern and fear, he will not allow his paws to give in to whatever is scaring him so badly.
He wants, I suppose, to maintain his dignity, even as he is fleeing.
This normally calm and composed creature, self-contained to the point of occasional invisibility, is now hunched toward the ground, his legs bent so much that the long, golden hair that hangs from his rib cage sweeps the floor. He is going from room to room, trying to find an open door and a cool, dark place that will hide him from whatever he is so afraid of.
“Come here, Fur Face,” I call gently, extending my hand in the promise of a belly rub or ear scratch. He ignores me, bypasses me for another door. He brushes it with his paw, testing it to see if it will give. It does not and so he circles around the island in the kitchen, searching frantically for some place to hide beneath or behind. He finds nothing and so he circles back around in the hopes of a door that has magically opened since he last checked. The pitfalls of canine cognizence. The doors stay shut, save for my bedroom, where his bed lies, rumpled as he left it, at the foot of my own bed. But he ignores that room, for whatever reason. I wonder, silently and to myself, why he wouldn’t make a beeline for the place that he knows is “his”.
“Why don’t you go home, Woods?” I offer up a suggestion, pointing to my bedroom. He looks at me, frantic and still moving aimlessly. The dog whose bark I do not know because I have never heard it, now indulges himself a frustrated whine and does the only thing he knows always gets a positive reaction. He sits.
I stand up from the table, pushing my chair back as I do, and begin to walk towards him.
“What’s gotten into you, Weirdo?” I ask with a gentle, reassuring tone. And then I hear it. The whistle of that God-forasken-tourist-trap-curse-word-curse-word-narrow-gauge-railroad train reverberates through the valley our house is nestled in. He whines again, this time more softly as I kneel down beside him and begin to scratch beneath his chin. “Oh, buddy,” I grab his face with both hands and scratch his cheekbones. I blow briefly, but forcefully on the top of his face and he tries to lick mine.
He is better now. His mop of a tail wags, slightly at first, and then with great gusto as I grab his whole body and begin to pet him vigorously.
It seems that G-d prefers to teach me through the little things that happen on a daily basis, rather than with a burning bush or, G-d forbid, an angel or sign or some other such garish thing. It is as though He knows that I need to be spoken to gently and via innuendos, rather than in declarative statements. As I sit on the wood floors, my fifty-pound dog climbing into my lap and licking my face at any opportunity, I have a moment where the entirety of everything that I had been concerning myself with, worrying over and stressing about came into a perfect, if a bit harsh, clarity.
Everything seemed simple suddenly.
I have been afraid a lot lately. It has permeated my days like a sour scent in the kitchen that I cannot find, no matter how I try. This nameless fear encapsulates everything- life, people, circumstance, the future, the world, the fill-in-the-blank everything/everyone/all the time- and it reverberates through my bones subtlety, like a coin dropped and spinning in a concert hall, a sound that is there, if only at the fringes. I can hide it, and I have. I hide it well. I mask it well. Behind a smile or a polite gesture or a kind word. But I am afraid. What makes this fear so difficult to cope with is that it is nameless and faceless and it seems to shrug off adjectives much as I might shrug off the question, “Are you alright, Cyle?” were anyone to ask.
I want, I suppose, to maintain my dignity, even as I am fleeing.
It’s a bit painful (while also a bit humorous) to think that, in relation to G-d, my brain functions a bit like my dog’s. In this moment, as Woody calms down and returns to his more normal descriptors- friendly, jovial, lackadaisical- I cannot help but see the similarities between Woody’s last few minutes and my last few weeks. In my fear, I have tested every door, aimlessly searching for one to give. Extra time with friends, more alone time to recharge my inner hermit, more coffee to fool my body into a caffeine-induced euphoria, more exercise to get the endorphins flowing. But nothing has helped. Nothing has worked. My friends all have fears of their own and struggles they can’t seem to pull on hard enough to earn some slack in the rope. My inner hermit is (probably) where my fears live and certainly where I hear them most clearly. Caffeine only lasts for so long, I’m afraid and, quite frankly, I just don’t like running all that much.
Well, unless a frisbee or soccer ball is involved.
Woody ran everywhere and anywhere he could think of in his panicked state. Every door, every corner, every hiding place, not realizing that the person who provides him the most comfort in all the world was sitting no more than ten feet away from him and waiting. I, in my own panicked state have run everywhere and anywhere I could think of, hoping for a bit of rest, a bit of comfort- never realizing the same thing. Well, with the exception that the person who provides my comfort is not a person so much as It is an ineffable, omnipresent, omnibenevolent Creator.
…or something like that.
It is good to know that comfort comes when it is needed most and not a moment sooner. For Woody, this means me coming down to the floor with him, wrapping him up entirely and making him forget about the things he found so disconcerting. For me, this means G-d making me painfully aware for a moment, so that I cannot deny His participation and His desire for me to see some small part of Himself. He came down to me as I sit with my dog, not asking why I did not “come home”. He simply wrapped me up for a moment, laying out a series of small, seemingly insignificant events that now allow me to be a part of the conversation with Him. To discern for myself what He has wanted me to know over the past few weeks. That I won’t always know what’s happening or why. I won’t always be brimming with self-confidence, stepping towards the next destination with surety of foot and a clear direction. I’ll bumble along more often than not. I’ll wander around, pushing on various doors to see if they give this time around. The pitfalls of human cognizance. But He will be sitting at a table, perhaps drawing and drinking coffee or just waiting for me to remember that he is a few feet away, waiting for me to allow Him into the conversation.
He probably won’t scratch my cheekbones, though. That’s just degrading. I’m not a dog.