No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Am A Puppy

Two seemingly very different moments have come together powerfully for me today.

My Very Favorite Book as a Little Kid

First, I was messaging online with a friend about how we make decisions in the midst of outside pressures. Both of us are in the process of choosing to do things that from some perspectives could look like a mistake--choices that mean changing significant outer elements of our lives.

In talking about this I made a joke to my friend that I wanted them (I'm being gender non-specific on purpose here) to know that if they changed their mind and chose NOT to make a big change, I still supported them. That, in fact if they decided to become a puppy, for god sake, only because they knew it was what was right for them to do with their lives, then EVEN THEN in the midst of SUCH radical change, I still supported them. It seemed to me, I said, that becoming a puppy would be a real challenge, but that the point of all this, as far as I could tell, was learning to choose what is right for ourselves even, and in fact especially, in the midst of outside pressures.

Later, the friend wrote me back describing some of those outside pressures. Their experience left me saddened--saddened that people sometimes find it appropriate to respond to each other in ways that intentionally diminish the other person, rather than in ways that could be seen to bolster each other EVEN in the face of decisions we might disagree over. I mean, we can disagree about something and seek to dialogue in the midst of it for the sake of BOTH coming out of it better and clearer people, rather than taking an approach that includes attack or discounting either person. It seems too often that real change happening in one person's life appears as threat of some sort to another person, and so the change is met with defense and attack, instead of the open-hearted stance of understanding, or at least striving to understand.

But, in the midst of thinking on the unfortunate response one person took up with my friend, I had an epiphany.

That is: turning into a puppy is actually no significant challenge at all. Really. Because, you see, what a puppy really is is simply a being with a wiggling heart SO CERTAIN of its own sources of joy that when in proximity to those joy-making-things, the puppy's heart can't help but warm SO GREATLY that its entire body vibrates in pure expression of that joy. In this way, a puppy is an incredible, adorable, infectious barometer of love and joy (that, admittedly, sometimes makes messes in the midst of its uncontrollable determination to explore the world in happy exuberance).

Heck! Put that way, I can be a puppy indeed!

In fact, I AM A PUPPY.

I've decided. I made a decision to change the rest of my life today. From this point on, I am a puppy. Voila!

Second, I was emailing with a friend of mine about the upcoming funeral for Elizabeth Edwards. Though I have no real attachment to the idea of Edwards, still, it is an event that holds sadness.

We were discussing the confusing, and hurtful response by a small but determined baptist church group led by Reverend Phelps that intends to picket Edwards funeral with messages of hate. My heart was pained over such an idea--the idea that there are such strong pockets of hatred in the world that people would choose, for example, to enact it in the midst of someone else's most tender grief. Focusing directly on these negative realities can be incredibly demoralizing. Sometimes it feels at worst hopeless, and at best confusing about what can actually be done to respond.

Eventually, the friend emailed back with a link to a article about this same group picketing outside Matthew Shepard's funeral back in the late 1990's. At that event, however, an incredible thing happened. Here's a quotation taken directly from the salon article,

"But Phelps' contingent was surprised by a parade of Shepard sympathizers dressed in white angel costumes 7 feet high, with 8-foot wingspans. The "Angels of Peace" quickly surrounded his group and smiled silently at the crowd, which enthusiastically cheered them on."

Reading that, I was overwhelmed, and I realized--that is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to remember that hate, diminishment, and disregard for each other really can be overcome by an earnest enough expression of beauty, and love, enacted through grace. Sometimes it takes a number of us banded together in our commitment to be such angels on earth to make that difference. Often we can inspire such earnestness in each other, thus finding that band of loving angels more readily.

How to do that exactly changes depending on the situation at hand. But I appreciate the example the "Angels of Peace" offer. None of us should ever have to be confronted with signs of hatred as we face our deepest grief, as we must in the midst of a funeral for a loved one. What Phelps group is doing is simply wrong. It takes up, unfortunately, a common misconception of what morality amounts to--a twisted exercise in control and damnation, when the more heartfelt reality of ethical considerations is simply that our moral choices are a reflection of the genuine grace we can share with each other. Finding such a creative approach as enacting a vision of divine love through enormous angelic group costuming is a brilliant expression of how the only demand on us really is to simply think and act beyond the expectations outside pressures have placed upon us.

I am grateful to take up the dramatic example given by the "Angels of Peace" here--that in the face of others skewed and hurtful responses to our own best choices for our lives, or our own painful moments struggling with grief (both examples of our own human reality, in other words), it is possible to respond with overwhelming, humanity emboldening love, stepping out like an angel here on earth, which incidentally sometimes really does look just like a 7-foot tall, 8-foot wide, white feathered angel, or other times just like a puppy.


  1. i very much appreciate this post. i came to a similar conclusion last weekend, after reading (of all things) the Tao of Pooh. i've struggled with my daily proximity to the news in my currtent job and how much hurt, anger, and horror is reported every day. i realised that inner calm and peaceful love is the only thing powerful enough to overcome the badness. Puppies and angels of peace are exactly those calm loves embodied, and i do think we can be them every moment of every day.

  2. Great post Elaine,

    I found this very inspiring: "I want to remember that hate, diminishment, and disregard for each other really can be overcome by an earnest enough expression of beauty, and love, enacted through grace. Sometimes it takes a number of us banded together in our commitment to be such angels on earth to make that difference. Often we can inspire such earnestness in each other, thus finding that band of loving angels more readily."

    That group of "people" in that "church" who are going to protest her funeral, are nothing more than a mindless family (seriously about 70 of them are just extended family of their "leader") so twisted and so outside of anything that is acceptable or real or true in any way, shape or form. It just completely blows my mind. I can only assume people like that are truly mentally ill, and as hard as it is to do for them, they need serious prayer. If I don't at least try to extend that action toward them, the anger in me gets too overwhelming, I start to feel a dark pit growing in my stomach, and that takes me away from the very thing I hope to bring to others, love and grace and charity, which was extended to me even though I don't deserve it either. Sigh. God help them.

    Wouldn't it be great to have a blog/website that only reported the amazing things happening in this world? It's gotta be out there, I just know it!!! I know I will never escape the reporting of all the hate and evil, it's just too provocative and lucrative for our un-satiated, cynical society but, I say, if one already exists, please let me find it!

    Loved all the pix summing up highlights of your year too! :)

  3. thank you, kim. that's a super important and inspiring reminder--to pray for the very people (and events) we're challenged by. to pray for the group that is doing the picketing.

    i wish i could remember the quote and the person who said it (i know the person i said it is someone i would remember, but i just don't right now)--but there is this great statement about how the things you don't like about a person say more about you than they do about the person themselves.

    prayer for the people that bother us--whether it be for reasons that MANY people share, or for reasons particular to ourselves--seems a beautiful way to extend that grace and charity you mention, and also to remember it's about us too. we transform ourselves through prayer bringing to ourselves the very qualities we wish to extend to others. beautiful. we have to give ourselves that grace to be that grace in the world.

  4. also, kate and kim, i think we should start that website kim mentioned and just post wonderful things happening in the world. we all read the news, we all read blogs. we have tons of resources to draw from to do it!

  5. Yes! Sounds like a fantastic idea! Maybe we could make a FB page and be anonymous contributors? Let's mull over this... :)