Shelter dogs long for it. Teenagers drool over it. Adults occasionally miss it. The way I see it, there is this thing about independence I can’t quite put my right paw on. It’s almost like its one of those things in the world that isn’t all it’s written up to be. But what exactly is it written up to be?
Well, you’d better believe I thought I knew the answer to that question while I was fending for myself on the streets all that time ago. After the initial anxiety I had about being separated from my mom and brothers wore off, I had a newfound and overwhelming surge of pride in my independence. I could do whatever I wanted wherever I wanted with whom ever I wanted. I didn’t have to report to anyone, rely on anyone or support anyone but myself. It was fabulous!
Oh dog, did I have some growing up to do. I realized it a few days after I became an adjunct member of Tiger’s family. The dog (for whom I was previously uncertain whether to fear or despise) was my single most embarrassing misjudgment of character. It turned out he had four pretty good reasons to be protective of his food and shelter. Their names were Sam, Spike, Lucy and Lana, and they were only about eight weeks old when I met them for the first time. I wasn’t that much older than them myself, but upon meeting them I instantly felt protective like I would have been of my own brothers.
My moment of self-discovery happened a few days later when I had a rough day finding anything to bring home to share with Tiger and his pups. I scrounged harder than when I was on my own because I felt responsible somehow. I was so embarrassed to come home with empty paws that day, but Tiger didn’t mind one bit. He had a hidden stash of food for days like this. I was stubborn at first when he offered me some crumbs of a loaf of bread and a couple of almost-rotten carrots. I didn’t need his help. I could fend for myself. I was better than this. Stronger than this.
In that moment as Tiger’s earnest eyes held out to me my portion of the scraps I realized sometimes knowing when to ask for or accept help is wisdom at its core. There is more strength in those who ask for help than those who refuse it. Indeed, I was no longer the only dog who cared if I lived or died. I was no longer completely independent. And it wasn’t so bad. A few seconds later, I was scarfing down those precious little scraps with more joy in my heart than if I had returned home that day with a feast.
“Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth,” said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.
What a silly young dog I once was, thinking complete independence was the best thing since sliced bacon. Independence, at its skeletal core, is not all its written up to be. It’s not about being completely alone in all things, plotting through life to “figure things out.” It’s about understanding yourself well enough to know how you best relate to others. It’s about making the best of our moments of solitude and sharing the resulting joy with someone. It’s about asking for help when you think you need it least. There is no true independence, no freedom, without love.
Today’s post is lovingly dedicated to a four-legged blogosphere friend of mine named Claire.
She passed away a few days ago, and she will be sorely missed.