Chapters of Grace 2: What is a Brooklyn?

I remember what I thought would be the longest ride in a car thing I would ever take. That was the day we went from New Hampshire to New York. It was only the next day after my whole world had turned upside-down. I was terrified minute to minute, but there was nothing I could change about the situation.

It was just me and the human who I was going to live with now. I got down on the floor of the car where it was quiet and dark. I always like places underneath where there is shelter and a safe vantage point on the world. So I was down there a long time while we drove. He talked to me a lot but I pretended that I wasn’t listening. I didn’t know what he was saying, but he sounded like he wanted to help me feel safe. I didn’t.

When we got to the thing called Brooklyn he couldn’t find a good place to leave the car. He sounded mad. I thought he might be mad at me, even though he was the one that drove the car. Anyway, he put a leash on me (I had never worn one until the day before) and we got out of the car to walk.

It was really bright and really noisy and there were a lot of people. And then it got worse. We were walking next to a street with really big cars (they call them trucks!) with huge wheels turning and they were rolling down the streets. The whole place looked a lot out-of-order to me. We shepherds have a job to put order where it hasn’t been. So I kept pulling at the end of that dumb leash. I was trying to get to the wheels of the big trucks to organize them as they went down the street. But this made my human companion as scared as I was! He kept pulling me back. He had a big bag on wheels that he was rolling and it kept falling over. Other people near us thought we were funny. I think both of us thought we were not funny! Finally we came to a building we could go in. It was quiet inside, but scary when we went into a little room that moved up really fast. When the doors opened we were someplace new. I was scared and confused again, but soon we were in our room.

This was good! I looked around and there was a big bed so I ran and got underneath it and went as far as I could into a corner against the wall. I was going to stay there until something good happened. Maybe he would go away, or the people I used to stay with would come, or something else.

So far, this new life was really hard to understand.

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Her name was Sydney when she came to me, this beautiful little Australian Shepherd. I didn’t know much of her experience over the first eleven months of her life, but I could see how frightened she was now. That fright, it turned out, was an extension of her very cautious stance before anything new. She wanted to watch and watch and watch for a long time and from what felt like a safe perspective, before she would decide if a person or a place or a situation could be trusted. She would eventually decide, but she would not be hurried. It was her own decision to make, every time, and she would insist on that always.

The first week she was with me on the 8th floor of the building on Schermerhorn Street was not easy for either of us. When I thought it might be good for her to get outside, whether early in the morning or just before bed, I would have to get down on the floor, talk to her gently, then slowly get under the bed and approach her, finally putting my arms around her, pulling her out into the light, and carrying her in my arms to the elevator and down to the lobby and out onto the street.

Immediately upon reaching the outside (and sometimes before reaching the outside!) she would pee or more as needed, and then rush immediately toward the door again. The poor little thing was taking no chances.

She reminded me then what I had often experienced in my life. New beginnings are scary. They reveal again any insecurities you are carrying in your baggage. They become obvious – both to you and to the people nearby (especially those who are watching your suitcase repeatedly fall over on its side and you struggle to right it again).

When it’s not you who are having the new experience, but rather you are walking through it with another of God’s creatures, it is a challenging time as well. When I thought I understood what was happening with her, I felt in myself a real patience and the roots of a growing affection. But if I was harried or hurried or wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing the way I should have, I sometimes was confused and frustrated with what I was seeing her do – or not do. I was missing much of what I should have been seeing.

Starting again is hard. But it is also a moment filled with the possibility of grace. With this little dog, the first I had had myself as an adult, there was the beginning of a new relating – to a living creature without language as we think of language, but with a lively intelligence and a real personality. I would come to see that every day would bring a lot of newness – adventures, questions, and discoveries. It was kind of like living with a child. And it was like being a child again myself. And that too can be a genuine grace.

Gracie, early on: “Where am I? Who are you?”

Chapters of Grace I: It’s Not Just New Hampshire That’s New

I’m 11 months old.  I heard them say that, the people.  I am not sure what a month is, but anyway, I have 11 of them.  They all have been in the same place, with the people and four others like me.  I don’t see the people a lot.  I think they are what the humans call busy, which they don’t like, but they like to talk about anyway.  

The others like me, the dogs we are called, are all bigger and older than me.  They get to the food first and they get outside first and they aren’t always too nice to me.  I get scared but I pretend I’m not, so maybe they’ll leave me alone.  

Where am I?

My name is Sydney.  I don’t know who made that my name or why it is, but I come running when I hear it.  Sometimes I get a treat or at least a little pat.  Sometimes they pick me up and hold me, but not too much.  But anyway, it’s all okay.

Today all that changed and I am really scared.  I got put it in a cage and then into this big moving thing and they took me away from the room we live in and the field outside and for a long time there was this humming sound and I could see the sky outside and it was getting darker.

We came to a place where other people were there.  New people.  I didn’t really know there were other people than my people, but now I know there are.  They took me in the cage out of the moving thing and they all looked at me and talked.  I can’t understand them and they looked down at me and came close and I wanted to get away.  But then it got worse.

The new people put me in another big moving thing and I didn’t see my people any more.  Then I was alone with one of the new people and for a very long time we were in the moving thing (I think it is called a car) and came to a very different place.  It’s not New Hampshire.  It’s still new, but it’s called New York.  And everything else is new too.  It’s just me and this one new person and he talks to me and gives me food but I don’t understand what has happened.  Everything is different and I don’t feel safe.  We are in a room way up in the air with New York underneath us.  I stay underneath the bed and stay quiet.  I think he might go away, or at least leave me alone.  But he keeps taking me out and giving me food.  

I don’t know what might happen next and I am shaking all the time.

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It is hard to be new in the world and to feel all alone.  And then, when your first experience of real change comes (but certainly not the last), how frightening that can be.  Sydney came to me from her first family at a Mobil gas station in somewhat rural New Hampshire.  They couldn’t keep most of their five dogs any more, and she was the low lady on the totem pole among the dogs they had.  

But she was beautiful.  Gorgeous markings, and decked out in black, brown, and white.  And deep brown eyes, filled with alertness and tenderness.  Life was still so new in her, and she needed a home.  And I, in ways I did not know then, needed in turn this little canine companion.

I remember times of newness in my life, and uncertainty.  You do too.  You are on high alert, and wondering how it’s all going to work out and what is going to happen next? You really don’t know who to trust, or whether to trust at all.  If you’re lucky in the moment, you are where you are meant to be, and the new steps you are invited to take lead in a positive direction of growth that otherwise might not be possible or ever happen.  That’s grace.

When grace is there, you are being led.  When it’s not there, or rather when it is but it is ignored and opposed, the whole world gets dark and fear is the predominant feeling.

When Sydney came into my life and I into hers in May of 2012, there was grace there.  A seed, alive but tiny and quiet.  No one could know, on this earth, what might be coming.  I just knew I was willing to bring this little one with me.  And she? The 11-month old was not so sure.

In memory of as good a friend as one could find

Today, to be awake is to weep.

At my side, as always and everywhere, on the couch last evening,

preparing to end the day, your days ended instead.

You raised your head, looked eye to eye, laid your head down and were gone.

From God’s generous hands to mine you came, and there you return I know.

You have done so well; your love without measure and constant. Every day.

How could I ever deserve, how did I earn the trust that shown in your eyes whenever you looked my way?

Like all real love there was no earning; there was only giving and receiving.

And that was more than enough. That was a world of good, and a good world revealed.

I named you out of the name of a great church in Brooklyn, Grace.

You bore the name well, and made it shine.

I remember so much with joy and thanks today, more than I could say.

Do you remember your flying out of the elevator at Little Sisters as I removed your leash?

At the speed of love you swept across the floor to Mom, unerringly finding her room, jumping up and kissing her elaborately as she allowed with yelps of joy.

To the end you looked up expectantly if I mentioned her (as I did) in your presence.

Mercy remains, poor dog. This morning she came back again and again where you still lie, to make sure you knew we were going out.

She and I were going into the cold this morning. Gracie you are going to the warmth of the love that does not pause nor end.

Mercy remains. And where there is Mercy (this is truth) there is Grace.

My poor love, never reaching the measure of yours, remains my little one, and always will.

Thank you for the untellable gift of your little great life.

You were

You are

You will be

Pure Grace.

Love, John

Fast Friends