Adding Some Golden To The Fifty Shades of Gray

Anyone who knows me knows January in the Northern Hemisphere is not my heaven’s gate. The gray, damp cold pulls me toward hibernation. A run, the gym, a body of water — my usual happy zones — they all hold a tad less allure.

But a golden retriever changes the weather of the heart.

Mags romping a field near some old woods in the afternoon cold — the sight of it warms my eyes, runs spring up into my wintry dark. I more than watch. I throw. That girl would chase a ball through a sub-zero swamp. She’ll run at my knee for 4 hardly winded miles. The pulsing fog of her breath, her sheer immunity to winter remind me January begins our ascent. It calls us to begin climbing out, toward the first balmy run-sweat of spring. To Mags, January is God’s morning playground. The high church of thanksgiving for what’s to come.

Maggie abides none of her dad’s January doldrums. She lives, instead, an endless summer within herself. At full stride, wild as a gold star fallen to bounce the ground, she creates a good, clear spiritual weather for herself, and for me. It is more than good.

A golden matters, especially when this life turns chill. They matter as therapy dogs for the people of Newtown, CT. They carry healing through the halls of hospitals, hospices, vet centers, day by warming day. Mags and the spirit of our Savannah — her late cousin — stoke the June in your writer here, even through these 50-plus shades of mid-winter gray. They make me a far better soul.

Perhaps it’s no accident that all light of the sun, even deep in winter, is golden.

Such a dog will take you as you are, especially on a dark and colorless day, when you’re lowdown and giving hell to a world giving it right back. People strain at being so good as a golden retriever, and we ought look to them as a quiet model for a human life. Oscar Wilde captured the truth of it when he reminded us “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” Mags is a sweet dream of a sinner, but with a heart warmer than the human kind.

She seems to know the gloom of now will not make the leap into days to come.

People will add to your gloom. They’ll wag a cold, scolding, moralizing finger at you, thinking it a wand of their own sainthood. They have no right. And when those of us who count as human creatures do this, we have no fun, no real joy. Mags seems to know better than to live our way. Rather than a finger, she wags her backside — in a way that transcends how words can say, “I dig you, and you needn’t try to earn it.”

Every soul wears its stains and tears. Maggie teaches me to let mine show, for they are forgivable after all. One look at her and I remember the house training failures, the bathroom door she chewed, the time she swiped a whole loaf of bread from a neighbor’s child just because she could get it in that mouth. I remember these for a nanosecond. Then, I forget. I forget because she forgets to judge me. It is a divine forgetting — one that reminds me we’re at our best when we’re downright extravagant with love. When we wag our own backsides, rather than our tongues.

So in these swamps of winter, may the ragged garments of our souls become the handles by which others raise themselves to limp along with us. May we hold to the brokenness of one another, warming our tattered selves, knowing we’re loved beyond the stars! Maggie, Savannah, thank you for this wisdom. You have helped to teach it to me.

Just across the threshold of a new year, a toast: To our pasts, to our futures, and to the January in all of us. For all it’s chill and early dark, I am wakened and moved by the stride of a truly good dog. So often, she is a far better man than I am. She makes me a better man all the time.

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4 Responses to “Adding Some Golden To The Fifty Shades of Gray”

  1. butch Davenport Says:

    So true, well written. I just wish everyone could take lessons from their dogs and see the world through their eyes…what a awesome world this would be. Excellent article.

  2. Mark Hildebrandt Says:

    This is an excellent passage as usual! A seriously gifted author and orator!!

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