I turn 30 tomorrow. Not particularly thrilled about it. Everyone wants their birthday to be a little bit special, even if it just means getting a cookie with your lunch. I honestly didn’t want to sleep alone on my birthday. While I could have made plans for sexytime, I’m instead pet-sitting for a friend. In a way, that’s better.
At night Reuben wriggles under the blankets and curls up at my waist. Willow leaps atop the bed and settles down in the crook of my knees. All night long I’m fighting for blanket space with two sweaty, smelly adorable dogs. I love it.
There really couldn’t be two more different dogs in the world than Reuben and Willow. Though they both have similar coloring, and slightly similar build, their experiences and perspectives are very different.
Reuben has a sunshiny disposition. He has been spoiled rotten from birth, and he’s fat, sassy and very content with his world. Humans are wonderful people who give him belly rubs and liver treats. Life is easy, pleasant and meant to be enjoyed to the fullest. For Reuben, the world is his oyster and there is nothing to fear.
Willow is a rescue dog. I don’t know what happened to her in the past, but it wasn’t good. Her owner has some ideas based on Willow’s behavior. Willow will only eat food if I’m not in the room, or if the food bowl is out of my line of vision so she can “steal” food. Every time I visit, Willow shakes, shivers and is absolutely terrified. It takes hours for me to regain her trust each time, and she cannot be bribed with food like most dogs. For her the world is a horrific place, and humans are the deliverers of pain, fear and starvation.
Willow has a loving and patient owner now. She is safe. She has sanctuary. She has a backyard she can run around in, yipping at squirrels. She has uncles and aunts like me who try to remind her that she’s still safe and loved when her owner leaves town. She has her new friend Reuben, and belly rubs and liver treats. But Willow is still afraid. I think until the day she dies she will always be a little afraid of humans. I don’t think any amount of liver treats or belly rubs from people she trusts will ever prevent her from turning into a shivering mass of stark fear when a stranger suddenly enters the room.
So this morning, as enough time had passed since I’d arrived the day before for her to get comfortable with me again, Willow inched towards me in bed so I could scratch her ears, neck and chest. It’s a privilege to get to interact with Willow like this. Reuben will give his love to any human that comes along. Very few humans get Willow to approach them to be petted. And as I’m rubbing the ears of the quiet Willow, and scratching the back of the gregarious Reuben, I began to think about our community.
There are people like Willow whose life experiences mean they will always have a bit of fear and pain in them. Maybe those people are women who’ve suffered abuse at the hands of men, trans folk who’ve suffered abuse and undergone therapy to be who they truly are, or maybe they are young gay men who’ve been bullied. Maybe they are people who have been hurt by other religions. Maybe they are people with disabilities who are tired of hoping an event will accommodate their needs.
Just like Willow is an awesome dog, these are awesome people. Thoughtful people. People with unique perspectives and understanding of the world. If we take the time and consideration to reach out to these people, and provide a place for them, we will find they enrich our communities immensely.
It’s something the Reubens of the Pagan community need to consider. Maybe we’ve been left inside too long, or our meal was late, or our owner left us outside when they went to get groceries and we were caught in the cold rain. But by and large we’ve never experienced anything as tragic as the Willows have. Reuben the dog is oblivious and uncaring of Willow’s issues. He sees only what he wants to see. If Willow is too terrified to take a treat offered by a stranger, Reuben is happy to eat her share. If Willow is shrinking away from a stranger, Reuben leaps forward to receive all the belly rubs for himself.
There’s a lot of Reuben in me. Maybe there’s some Reuben in you. Adorable as Reuben is, I don’t want to be as blind to the needs of others as he is. I want to take the time and effort to make space for the Willows in our community. I’m not going to pretend I know the best way to do that, because the people in our community who need extra consideration have very different, sometimes conflicting, needs. Telling them to “get over it” is like telling Willow to get over being scared when a human moves too quickly towards her. It’s just not helpful.
So that’s how I’m spending my 30th birthday: delighting in Reuben’s earthy eagerness for pleasure, and helping remind Willow that she is safe and loved. Pretty awesome.