Published on August 9, 2021 in Life Newer post   Older post

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

—Mary Oliver

Even if you do not normally read poetry, I recommend you read Mary Oliver. She has a way of saying things directly and eloquently with few words. And when I read her verse, I often feel that she is talking to me. Like she knows me.

I don’t know if most of us think about life the way Mary Oliver did. We have things we have to do and things that we want to do in this life. If we’re lucky, there is some overlap. I know that I want to make a difference. That I want the world to be different, even in some small way, because I was here. Like everyone, I want to be seen for who I really am, but the thought of that – and what people might think of me when they do – is really really scary.

What does any of this have to do with dogs? After all, pretty much everything that I write has something to do with dogs! Here is the answer: I do not know how or why I started paying so much attention to my dog Gunny. I just did. I became astonished by his ability to communicate, express his emotions, and the wisdom that I felt emanate from him. He saw me exactly as I am. He never looked at me with judgment. He just looked at me with love and compassion. (This must be distinguished from his occasional look of bewilderment that I wasn’t understanding what he was saying. But it still wasn’t judgment.)

Gunny, on the other hand, noticed everything from the start. Every small movement. Every change in tone of voice. The energy in a room. Your dog probably does too. They are hardwired differently, I think. Their survival in the more recent past depending on all that awareness of their surroundings.

One of the things that astonished Gunny was how people say one thing and do another, when animals don’t pretend to be something that they’re not. The power of love also astonished him. It saved his life so many times – his love for others and others’ love for him. When I gave him a chance to tell about it, he jumped at the opportunity. He wanted to share his wisdom and perceptions with people and other animals.

Eventually, I felt that I must tell about it, too. But what would people think of this woman who believed that her dog talked? Like a professor, no less. This woman who loved him above everything and everyone else, when society said that dogs should never be “above” people? And this woman who knew that she had spent much of eternity, one way or another, with this beautiful soul inhabiting that dog body. I felt compelled to tell about this extraordinary life that I had witnessed. That is how I decided to live my life from that point forward, even though I hadn’t read Mary Oliver’s poem yet. The result, of course, was The Endless Path.

Now, I am trying to follow Mary Oliver’s words of wisdom in other areas of life. Pay attention! Notice and appreciate! Be astonished! Tell about it! Tell your friends and family. Tell your dog.


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