Like Dogs With Bones

Bill and I bought Mojo an interactive toy this past Christmas, one we hoped would keep him occupied and engaged on these cold winter days. He can’t go for long walks like he used to, even in good weather, because of his arthritis.

The toy is a round disk made of hard, sturdy plastic with a top and bottom that twist in opposing directions to create a space between its two halves. When the opening is large enough, treats placed inside are reachable. If Mojo is successful in getting the two segments far enough apart, the treats will even fall out – manna from dog heaven.

He got so good at it that Laura had to make it more difficult by tightening it down. Clever dog – but on his way to becoming a fat dog if Laura hadn’t stepped in. But like any dog with a bone, Mojo is not one to give up. He’d work on opening that toy for over an hour before bringing it to Laura, his tail between his legs, whining and crying for help.

If you think about it, people are like dogs in much this same way. We refuse to loosen our grip on all kinds of things. Useless things that clutter our homes – silly knickknacks from one trip or another that do nothing but take up space and collect dust. Things we throw in the car to do something with “later” like gas receipts that pile up in the cup holders, loose change that falls between the seat and the console, and random notes stuffed in the cubby-hole, its little door quickly closed to hide everything thing destined for “later” like business cards from two jobs ago. Then there’s the trunk full of old maps and phone books that never stop coming – and never get cleaned out, let alone thrown out. They’re not hurting anything, and what’s the big deal if last winter’s jacket it still lying on the back seat in August? It’ll be winter soon again anyway.

I’ve heard it said that cleanliness is next to godliness and that, like a line of dominos all falling down because one got pushed over, slovenly surroundings beget a kind of mental sloth as well. Sounds a bit like the slippery slope argument, doesn’t it?

We tell ourselves we might need this or that one day – and we saved it “for a reason,” right? – but how realistic is that? I’ve clung to my share of things, but even a periodic purge of items it’s taken me time to accrue finds me a week later lamenting the loss of something I got rid of in haste (if you can call it that) – and now no longer have. One thing, maybe two, out of more than I care to count.

Tenacity is a good thing when you’re gnawing away at a tasty bone, the goal being testimony to your dogged pursuit of getting a treat. But sometimes we chew away on bones that lead us to a lesser end – those that, if we gnaw on them long enough, will not show a good rate-of-return on the time invested in doing so. Nothing that will make us better people.

Even worse are the kinds of bones that poison us. You know, the ones in direct service of ignoble ends, as loathe as we are to admit it.

We nurse resentments, as if that will heal us in some way, and make ourselves ill with jealously and envy instead. We traffic in grudge-carrying and encourage old wounds to fester and deepen, fueling a desire for revenge. We relish bitterness and get fired-up on anger that leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We punish with harsh words, invitations withheld, love and affection not given, and blackmail – I’m not doing this unless you do that first. We complain and whittle down the bones of others, leaving them little or nothing to chew on.

Nothing good can grow in an environment that nurtures hostility and blame. An environment of finger-pointing, name-calling, or fault-finding. One in which “I’m sorry” is never heard. Sorry is the hardest word – just like the song says.

It’s easier to cultivate poisonous attitudes and hold on to grudges – by our fingernails if we have to. Keep them fresh and alive – even as they eat us up from the inside out. Their gift to us is stress, susceptibility to illness, negative outlooks that permeate the way we see everything and everyone. The pain, the anger, the injustice – we wear them on our faces, too. If we encourage the habit of them, they’ll eventually change what others see in our eyes.

We keep a mental ledger of the wrongs others perpetrate against us, the accuracy of which can always be called into question. In it we calculate the sins of others, somehow forgetting our own. We add up phone calls made and not made. We keep score as to days/weeks between visits, cards sent or not sent, who does or doesn’t do what for whom and how much value to place on how much effort that took.

How tasty do these bones sound to you?

Do we cut anyone any slack? No. We may offer up lip-service to that end, but we’d rather stomp on someone’s toes before we’d try walking in their shoes.

The real challenge comes without strings. Without conditions, no score-keeping. No disclaimers – and no steel-toed shoes either.

In order to get at the good stuff deep inside the hole that goes down the bone’s center, Mojo never gives up digging. He uses his paws like hands, turning the bone this way and that, using his teeth to whittle it down for better access. And that takes weeks sometimes. And then he gets just a taste before he begins again to gnaw away at that bone for more. Talk about dogged determination.

But no matter how hard you try or how deep you dig, you’ll find nothing of value, nothing worthy of the time you’ve invested, in a bone that has no core of good stuff at its center.

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