I am pretty clear about what I love in this life. My first love is for the One who created me and sustains me daily in this journey of life. My second love is for my family members, including those of distant memory who nurtured me and cared for me in my early years of life, as well as for my companion in this juncture of life, my wife. Those who will follow me, my children, each occupy a special place in my heart that will never be dislodged, although perhaps momentarily jarred at times. My third love is the deep joy I find in living out a vocational calling that allows me continual growth and the opportunity to do what I am best gifted to do. After these first three priorities, it's all kind of up for grabs. Except for my dog, Gizmo. He would have to be near the top of what comes after my first three priorities.
I say "my" dog because if he were human I would be his attachment figure. He often follows me through the house, sleeping beside my chair when I read or watch television, immediately aware when I sit up to move to a different location. When I am in the kitchen cooking or cleaning he is constantly beneath my feet, and although an irritant in those moments, is decidedly my best friend (for he stays there even if I mistakenly step on him or sweep him away with a brush of my feet).
My wife contends that a dog is "just an animal," but I have observed her interactions with Gizmo, and it appears to me that she sees something quite enamoring with his personality as well. My children, of course, consider Gizmo a member of the family, and they are attached to him in varying degrees.
I suppose one of the reasons I value Gizmo is because he is always ready to accompany me on a walk. He is so eager that when we use the word "walk" he immediately moves toward the closet where his leash is and excitedly jumps near the door until we depart. Before we had a dog my kids would often walk with me, but as they have grown older they are more reluctant to accompany dad on his walking ventures. My wife is fond of contrasting my hulking form to Gizmo's petite, Papillon build. "It just looks so funny to see a big old man walking such a dainty dog," is how she puts it, when she is trying to be her most considerate. Usually she just smiles at the oddity of it all.
So, as I was preparing to walk last night in the cold dark Minnesota night, it was a delight to hear the voice of our smallest, youngest child say to me, "Can I come, too, dad?"
Wilson, our eight-year-old (nine next week) quickly bundled up in his winter clothing (I'll have to post a picture of him at some point so you can see just what I'm talking about) and with just his dark sparkling eyes and small nose poking out of his hat and collar asked to lead Gizmo. I was happy to let him have the honor, not sure how it would go. Gizmo likes to pull with all his force (and that's not much, mind you with a ten-pound dog) at the end of his 20-foot lead and likes to be within sight of me at all times.
WIlson took the leash, Gizmo trotted off, and I walked by Wilson. They made a delightful pair to watch. Gizmo would run up to a snow bank to sniff and investigate followed by Wilson's short legs running to the destination. I would reach that point and Wilson would begin to watch, gently tugging at Gizmo's leash. It was a ritual repeated often and with virtual silence.
One of the things I most value about walking is the opportunity for solitude, and I have to say that with most of my other kids it is a continual barrage of words during a walk. Wilson, however, is so taken with the responsibility of leading the dog that he has little time to chat and little interest in doing so. And, I surmised, it would make my wife happy to see a small dog being walked by a small person. It just seems a little more appropriate, I guess.
What a delight it was to watch our diminutive dog walker last night, to enjoy the crisp beauty of the evening and to know that I have a walking companion whose quiet presence brings me home feeling renewed instead of worn.