A number of weeks ago I wrote about the four “A”s that fulfill the needs of our hearts: Attention, Affection, Appreciation and Acceptance. My Thanksgiving newsletter, “Turning the Wild Animals Loose,” described the ways in which I have often had trouble accepting the problems that come my way. Since then, I have been working on this shortcoming, and as I size myself up today, I would say that I have been making some progress–albeit a bit slowly.
There is a current phrase, which is popular enough now that it has crept into my vocabulary, as it so perfectly describes our need for this kind of acceptance: “It is what it is.” This is usually uttered with a sigh. I now actually manage to believe this cliché a majority of the time, and have taken up a new version of it, offered by a wise friend: “And so it is.” Either one gets the message across.
This past Monday, I tried to explain just such an acceptance of my chronic and acute migraine headaches, as well as a new and painful case of TMJ, to the physician who is treating me. She just looked at me over the top of her glasses, clearly mystified. When I explained that over the years I have learned to accept these problems as being part of my life, done the best with them that I could, and moved on, she exclaimed, “well, you certainly have a good attitude!” From the surprise in her voice, I surmised that she must not often hear acceptance from her patients. For a moment, I felt like a star pupil.
In this new year, I am determined to work on the first and third “A”s, at which I also so often fail: Attention and Affection. (I guess I am not very good at executing the four “A”s!) Watching the example of my dogs once again leads me to a new question: can I bring myself to pay attention to, as well as to appreciate, the small joys that come my way, instead of focusing on the difficulties that often seem to loom very large? Our dogs manage to do this so easily and so very well. Dogs know that if we are humble and patient enough, even a table scrap can be a full and tasty meal. This may be because dogs never know what is coming and so live purely in the moment. Dogs savor the good, do their best to endure the bad–offering up a simply miraculous example. If we are smart, we look hard at that example and learn from it.
Dogs often provide us with a unique kind of love and affection, one that we only sometimes experience with the humans who people our lives. Dogs have a strong sense of character and live the way we ought to. Dogs neither compare you to your sister nor make judgments in her favor. Dogs are radically different than the partners who may give up on you, or the friends who get angry over real or imagined slights. Dogs never just get up and leave–unless it is to trot along beside you to the couch in the next room.
Why? Because dogs appreciate us for who we are, pay attention to what we say and do, and–best of all–need. They accept us for who we are regardless of our shortcomings. They offer deep and abiding affection, and simply trust that we will accept and return such emotions in kind. Dalmatian and Beagle alike, they have mastered the four “A”s of the heart.
In the theatrical production of My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins, singing furiously and urgently, gives voice to a query that will become a famous one, reverberating well beyond the musical’s first production on Broadway. He asks, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” I would like to offer a variation on that lyric, which poses, possibly, a more important question. “Why can’t a human be more like a dog?”
And so it goes.