A Spiritual Journey Thursday offering
While walking with my son this week, out of nowhere a shape descends upon us…
A dog. Not just any dog…
A pit bull.
Wriggling all over for joy, jumping up as if he knows us.
Begging to be petted and to play.
Glossy back coat, merry eyes, laughing face (yes really). Still a puppy, soft-mouthing our hands in greeting. Same as my older son’s pit, Henry, does.
“He is beautiful,” I say to my son. “He must belong to somebody.”
“I wish he was mine,” says my boy. Never mind that he already owns one of the mightiest breeds of all time: a dachshund.
The dog follows us home. We put him in our backyard until we can locate his owner. He doesn’t like being left alone. He cries when we are out of sight. He rejoices on our return. When we sit on on the deck chairs, he lies at our feet; when we rise, he rises to stand by, ready and willing to do whatever it is we are getting ready to do.
We learn from asking around the neighborhood that he’s roamed the streets before and that people shoo him away. Uninvited dogs, especially pits, are not especially welcome. I begin to think about harm that could befall him, aside from the danger of being in the street: What might a startled, frightened, or angry person do to him?
He raises his head as if he hears my thoughts. He looks at me with a wistful expression.
We find his owners. We send him home.
The next morning, he’s back. Curled up on our front porch mat.
Poor sweet boy. He shouldn’t be allowed to roam…or maybe he’s just an escape artist.
And I realize how powerless I am to do anything except hope for his safety and enjoy him whenever he should visit. He’s not mine and he’s disappeared again. I find myself missing him, looking for him.
He’s on my mind as Spiritual Journey Thursday rolls around; he seems, somehow, to be connected to the question, “What is virtue?” The four cardinal virtues of classical philosophy and Christian theology are Prudence (wisdom), Justice (righteousness) Fortitude (strength; overcoming fear), and Temperance (restraint; self-control). We usually think of virtue as people demonstrating goodness or excellence of character (the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31), or as the beneficial quality of a thing: patience is a virtue.
I cannot help thinking that this pit embodies virtue, too. He’s a good dog. He is loving. He is eager to share his affection and exuberant joy with whomever he encounters…he’s perceptive, willing to to serve, and, I suspect, highly trainable even if somewhat uncontainable at present. Above all, he’s one of God’s creatures.
Which reminds me that within the angelic hierarchy of Judeo-Christian tradition is a class of angels known as Virtues. They are connected to motion and order of the cosmos, dispensers of grace, exceptional courage, unshakeable faith, and miracles. They are balance-bringers; in a world so unbalanced of late, the angelic Virtues must have their hands full. As I write, I imagine them roaming the streets, unseen, fervently seeking ways they can impart divine strength.
I am not sure of connections between the Virtues and the mass adoption of dogs during the COVID pandemic…just musing over shapes that heavenly comfort, courage, and sustained strength might take.
Most of all I think about the desire to serve, to do good versus harm in a spirit of fear and distrust.
Perhaps…perhaps virtue arises where it is welcomed, and when it does, it opens our eyes to the virtue of others.
with thanks to my Spiritual Journey writing friends and to Linda Mitchell for hosting on this first Thursday in August. As it turns out, “virtue” is supposed to be theme for September. Today the group is focusing on “respect.” I caught this after I wrote the post, alas, which leaves me with a choice: write another one and save this for September or let this one fly, regardless. I’m choosing to post now. It is, after all, written from a place of respect for the cosmically happy adventurer we’ve taken to calling “Harold.”