Last week I dog-sat for a few days. Lucy is amazing – she’s accustomed to having her paws and her — uh, other parts — wiped when she comes in from a walk and waits patiently during this routine.
My husband and I are dog people. I like cats, too, but my husband and my gato are not on speaking terms. We look forward to getting a dog one day, but there’s a major prerequisite to that addition to our family: a house. Lots of people who live in apartments as we do manage to have a dog and find ways for it to work within their lifestyle. But we’re not there yet.
I’ve often wondered if having a dog in an apartment might not bring a helpful discipline to my daily living. When I’m home alone all day, it could be nice to have a reason – one of necessity – to get me out of the apartment a few times a day. (Certainly I could just get up and go for a walk, but that’s not currently part of my modus operandi.) I enjoy a good deal of alone time, but too much can take me from constructive, productive reflection, to turning against myself and becoming destructive. Getting outside almost always provides immediate relief.
On my walks with Lucy, I thought a fair bit about the Benedictines and the beautiful rhythm of life through which they move. I’ve often thought I would have made a good Benedictine. If I wasn’t Mennonite, that is. Maybe it’s because my dad used to tell my sisters and I that he was going to send us to live in a nunnery in Siberia until we were 35, and that we couldn’t date until we were married. Okay, that’s probably not the reason. I’m not very good at maintaining a disciplined and ordered lifestyle by relying on my own inner wherewithal or wherever-that-whatever comes from. But I do tend to respond positively to rhythms around me. The ones that are not forced upon me, but are just there, like open invitations.
At times I’ve tried to adopt various practices and disciplines in order to bring both rhythm and balance into my life. It usually goes like this: discover really cool practice; get really excited; think about how it might actually work out in my life; decide in what way it could be squeezed in; ignore how unrealistic this is; zealously begin practice; maintain practice rigidly for a few weeks until failing to do it one day, at which point I will feel like a miserable failure and berate myself for the next several weeks when I should have just picked up again the next day without all the self-destruction. Or else, never start in the first place when it is apparent how unrealistic it is.
But I’m very good about discipline when it comes to other living beings. When another creature’s wellbeing is on the line, I step up and get over my I-don’t-want-to-you-can’t-make-me attitude. So getting a dog would be different, right? I might be moping around the apartment, but when the poocher needs to go out, I would most certainly rise to the occasion, especially when the alternative is a mess to clean up.
One morning, after we’d been out in the below-freezing cold for 45 minutes, Lucy still hadn’t done her business. And I realized that while it was easy to take care of her for a few days, this wasn’t something I was ready for. Babysitting is way different than parenthood.
These things, as so many things in life, really can’t be forced, or rushed, or timed, or scheduled. The life we think we should have, or person we think we should be, takes time. Even in the spiritual life, things must run their course. I do my part, and God does God’s part – and oh! how adventian it all is – all this waiting and hoping and expecting. Yet, my friend Jim reminds me that pining away for an “alternative plan” can be impious. And I think he’s right. There’s waiting and hoping while trusting in what is present, and there’s pining away for something else because of distrust in what is. The one is faith-full, the other faith-less.
There’s no recipe for an instant, ready-made saint, and I can’t push a button to save the world. Sometimes dogs won’t poop, but I can and should, enjoy the walk anyway.