“Yoga is the attempt to get back to the state that children and dogs exist in naturally.” – Paul Akema, yoga teacher and liver extraordinaire
Recently, I was blessed to spend a weekend with a dog and a child that I know: Dexter, my 10-year old black lab mix, and June, my 7-year old niece. They are symbiotic beings (as you can see from the picture). We romped around the monuments, watched The Princess Bride, went to the zoo (from which Dexter was, of course, cruelly disallowed), and took regular old walks around the block.
The monument-romp started around 8:30 on Sunday morning. The car temperature gage read 52 degrees, and it was whippingly windy, to boot. June wore a skort, a thin blue jacket, and flip-flops, her parents having reasonably packed her for late May in D.C. Ben and I were still recovering from an inevitable tiff after our inaugural 16-hours of parenting a 7-year old. I worried about June’s exposed legs, my own discomfort in the wind and National Mall crowds, whether I’d get annoyed at Ben again, Dexter’s propensity to tire himself out 20-minutes into an excursion, and whether any of us had eaten enough breakfast beforehand to keep us away from crabbiness and the hot dog carts.
The thing about dogs and children, of course, is that they are happy and sad at the right times, uncomplicatedly. They don’t worry much about why they are feeling what they’re feeling, and they don’t pretend to feel things. And, they live mostly in the present. They feel excitement through every fiber of their being, til they veritably (or literally) quiver with it. (When Ben ran 3 blocks back to the car to get the doggie bags, it was all I could do to keep unleashed June and leashed Dexter from vibrating out of my grasp and into Constitution Avenue.)
This kind of bare and unpretentious joy is unavoidably contagious. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I went from being apprehensive and vaguely apathetic to equally infected with joy, but it was definitely before we got to the Washington Monument, our first stop. June and Ben raced the distance from the Washington Monument to the World War II Memorial, flip-flops and all, and the whipping wind had started to feel warmer and sympathetic to our hopes.
I know why adults pretend to feel things they don’t, and of course, I pretend, too, but it doesn’t mean that I like it. Experiences like this remind us that we don’t have to accept this tendency. When June and I took Dexter on walks around the block back at home, she held the leash, and she let him stop every time he wanted to smell the fire hydrant, the tree root protection bag (his favorite), the cement corner, the ice cream wrapper. By the third block walk we took, I finally succumbed to this completely, and stopped hurrying them along. Where was I trying to get us to? Living near the patient symbiosis of these two for the weekend, I think I caught some of it, too. And I finally felt the lesson that I might not be able to put into words. We had nowhere to be but there, examining the treasures that the wind had loosed from the trashcan.