As a little girl, I was delighted when my parents agreed to let me have a puppy. The first piece of advice my momma gave me was simple: “if you want to be the one the dog loves the most, feed him.” I suppose that she was trying to make certain that I would live up to my responsibilities, but it stirred something in me, and I never forgot to fill his bowl twice a day. Not ever. When we bring a pet into our lives, we make an agreement. We promise to take care of them, and they promise to love us unconditionally. It seems like a pretty fair trade.
If you have a canine companion, you have witnessed gratitude in action. Dogs, particularly those who are rescued from terrible circumstances, like our Bijon Lola, somehow know that you have saved them, and in return, honor us with their endless loyalty. The past sixteen months have been among the most challenging in my life. And yet through it all, Lola has been by my side, curling up next to me on painful days, watching over me always. She is the most attentive of nurses, and even without thumbs, a darned good caretaker.
And she has taught me some valuable lessons. I understand that as she rolls over on her back, inviting me to scratch her belly, she is offering me the most fragile part of her body, trusting that she is safe. It is an idea that I never fully understood before, but I do now. You see, in that moment, she is vulnerable. What an interesting word. By its pure definition it means, capable of being wounded, surrendering all control and personal power. And like Lola, I have spent much of the past fifteen months with my belly exposed on the exam, scan and surgical tables, my eyes lifted to the heavens from which my strength comes. For, you see, vulnerability requires total submission. But that, in turn, becomes fertile ground for miracles. I am living proof of that.
I am reminded of the fable of Androcles and the Lion. The slave Androcles escapes from his master and hides in a cave, which just so happens to house a lion. The poor creature is suffering from a painful thorn in its paw, which Androcles bravely removes. The grateful lion becomes the man’s faithful companion until Androcles, longing for human connection, returns to Rome. He is immediately captured and as punishment is sent into the arena to be devoured by lions. But as fate would have it, the beast he faces is his old friend, who playfully greets him, licking him about the face. The emperor is stunned, and convinced that the only explanation for such things is the work of the gods, promptly releases both the lion and the man to live happily ever after.
As the tale so clearly shows, even the ferocious king of beasts knew what it was like to be vulnerable. Rescue comes just when we are at our weakest, when we totally submit to the will of what is meant to be. But more importantly, love and kindness begets appreciation, which unlocks infinite possibilities.
Somehow, I have come to understand that first, we must yield, bearing our trials with grace and courage, while remaining open to the potential of a great healing. And then, we must be grateful to He who makes such wonders happen. Gratitude and affection go hand in hand. And coupled together, they are complementary emotions. Never forget that a simple, “Thank you” is a very powerful prayer.