Wiley's Wisdom

Joy: From the Ground Up

A Matter of Life and Death June 7, 2013

It’s remarkable to me how often life and death coincide. They seem cyclical, somehow thriving on each other through various moments that piece together the days of our lives. Life and death. Death and life. Forever entwined in their differences. I experienced this puzzle firstpaw today, when twice I saw my life flash before my eyes. Once in life and once in death.

Mom uses the word “sassy” to describe what happened when she let me outside this morning. Usually I wait outside the door while she hooks me to my lead, but there was no waiting period to be had this morning. Not with an entire family of bunnies within my reach! I chased after them, but their head start eluded me and I instead ended up exploring the back portion of the yard I so infrequently visit due to my lead.

And before I knew it, I was face to face with Crazy Dog. That’s right – the neighbor pit bull who has (unfortunately) never had any training (obedience or otherwise). The dog whose eyes terrify me to the bones. I didn’t have a moment to think before he came at me through the fence, panting and bearing his teeth. There he was, close enough I could feel his breath on my face, ready to attack me in my own backyard. An as I saw my life flash before my eyes, my instincts told me to ready for the fight. Yet in that same moment mom scooped me up and carried me inside before I could do anything about it.

Running FreeSuddenly I was thankful for that lead again, but even more so for my increasingly regular trips to the dog park. If I can’t explore my backyard, at least I can run freely there. So you can imagine my excitement today when mom and I discovered a new dog exercise area nearby. It’s more expansive than the other one I’ve been to with a lot more space to run and roam and explore. And run, roam and explore I did.

As I ran to mom when she called me across the field, it didn’t matter that I was a football field away from her. It didn’t matter that there were several humongous puddles of mud between me and her (which promptly soaked my recently groomed self to the bone with a mud bath). All that mattered in that moment was how alive I felt in it. It’s remarkable how moments in time can make us feel so alive. My life flashed before my eyes again, this time lit brilliantly with the glow of gratitude.

My experiences today reminded me a bit of the thoughts of ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. “Life and death are one thread,” he said, “the same line viewed from different sides.” Today I saw the single line from both sides. Today I stared sudden (seemingly imminent) death in the eye and smiled. Today I felt alive in moments of life and death. It really is remarkable how often those two realities coincide.


Won’t You Be A Neighbor? May 31, 2013

Sometimes the cattiness of people throws me off my game. Here I am, going about my life seeing the best in the people, places and things around me, and reality pulls the rug out from under me. Kind of like that day in the dog park when the pit bull attacked me. All I wanted to do was play chase around the park, and he (obviously) wanted nothing to do with that.

This story involves a different pit bull who lives in the home behind my backyard. He’s a terror of a dog, barking madly at nothing at all, jumping and panting by the fence close enough that I am often the slightest bit thankful my lead doesn’t allow me too close. Will You Be My Neighbor?

About a month ago, he was engaged in his usual crazed routine when his person came outside and spoke a bit to my forever mom and dad while they did yard work. Crazy Dog is her son’s dog, she explained, and she has a very difficult time containing or controlling him (she is an older woman who lives alone). The conversation unfolded to reveal that her son is in jail for an undisclosed amount of time, which explains why the yard he was responsible to tend has been left to grow into it’s own sort of weedy forest. (There are also big hunks of tree laying throughout the yard, in addition to random other things like a plastic dog bowl and a shoe.) Finally, the woman was able to wrangle the dog into the house, leaving mom and dad to finish their yard work in stunned disbelief.

A few minutes later, the woman’s neighbor (our neighbor to the back left kitty corner), came over because she saw us talking. We’d been neighbors for years but this was the first contact she made with my parents. She appealed to their apparent sense of generosity, suggesting we all chip in and offer to clean up this woman’s yard. It seemed fishy to me, since she also mentioned that Crazy Dog had recently caused permanent damage to the adorable face of their Boston Terrier Boondock and the woman didn’t offer to so much as help pay the vet bill. (A crime which wouldn’t be easily forgiven in my home, to be sure). Mom jumped at the opportunity to help, while dad seemed more cautious about it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help out, he told mom later that day, but something seemed weird about it.

Much to the she-grin of my mom, they opted to stay out of it, and made other plans the day they tentatively agreed to help. Sure enough, the neighbor man mowed the lawn and cut down weed city in the yard, leaving it looking the slightest bit better than before.

Fast-forward to today. As my parents and I enjoyed a game of catch in the backyard, dad noticed a moving truck in the driveway of the allegedly good-Samaritan neighbors. A quick Internet search confirmed the truth: the couple was moving, and likely wanted to enlist my parents to help clean our mutual neighbor’s yard simply to improve the appearance of their own home.

It had nothing to do with wanting to help a woman in need. That was just the story they used to manipulate my mom (successfully) and my dad (not-so-successfully) into helping for their own selfish reasons. None of this would have bothered me if they would have just told the truth. Neighbor to neighbor, they could have explained their real reasons for needing help. But nothing about this story is very neighborly if you ask me. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Is there no decency left in the world? What happened to the basic proverb to love thy neighbor as thyself?

Sure, some define neighbor as just a person who lives within close proximity, but I’ve always thought more of the word. Most of us are offered countless opportunities throughout our days to be a good neighbor to others. And I was admittedly thrown off my game to see such a contradiction of that today. Here I am, going about my life seeing the best in the people, places and things around me, and my own neighbor pulls the rug out from under me. But it’s no use dwelling on it. Today I instead choose take what happened with a grain (or three) of delicious proverbial salt. I turn the other cheek. I forget and forgive. Because that’s what neighbors do.