Friday, October 11, 2013

the strength of not knowing

This is my dog. I like him a lot. I especially like to cuddle him - which he does not like. Not in the least. I'm lucky if he tolerates hugs for more than two seconds.

Already I'm digressing.

A few days ago, I was playing with him in the kitchen. He's a pretty big dog (85lbs) and he was getting excited  - jumping and barking and play-biting - which is bad if I'm not going to take him outside (which I wasn't, we'd just been outside) because then his behaviour escalates and he stays in that overly-excited state and it's not fair to anyone. So in the midst of trying to calm him down and it not working I said playfully/exasperatedly: "Yonder, go lie down!" He immediately stopped, went straight to his blanket by the door, and lay down.

We stared at each other in the silence. This was not a command I had taught him. And if you know anything about dogs, you know that they don't understand English and therefore don't understand spoken commands they've never been trained to obey. Dogs innately understand movement and body language - it's what they pay attention to. They may listen to you when you speak to them, but they don't understand you.

So I thought it was a fluke and forgot about it. But then just yesterday the same thing happened: We were playing, he was getting riled up, and before it escalated I knew I needed to stop it. So again, I said, "Go lie down." And he did. Again, the silence descended and we stared at each other.

It was in the silence that I realized this must have been something his former owner taught him. Because Yonder and I didn't always belong to each other. When I found him he was sitting in a cage at the humane society in my hometown. He'd been there for months, and before that he'd been a stray. When I first saw him, he was mangy and recovering from some kind of fight and his ribs stuck out too far. The time of his life before we met are a mystery to me. I have no idea where he came from or how he ended up where he did.

And there's something beautiful about that - about the not knowing. He has a past that I know nothing about. He has no way of telling me what his previous people were like, if they were kind or cruel, why he left them or if he was abandoned. He carries with him remnants of his past (like the "go lie down" command) but I'll never be able to know him completely. And it's the same for me: I have a whole past that he wasn't a part of and that I'll never be able to tell him about and that I carry with me in my own ways.

In the beginning, when we were first getting used to each other, I thought this was a weakness. Not being completely understood and not being able to understand was frustrating for me. But it turns out that a bond that can't be defined or defended or built up by words doesn't need to be. What's more: it can't be ruined by them. It turns out that there's something appealing about not being completely known by the one you're devoted to. The companionship that exists between Yonder and I is made up of mystery and silence and it's sealed with an unasked for devotion. It needs no basis or logic; it just is.

And thus, what I thought was the greatest weakness in our bond has turned out to be its greatest strength.

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