I met my best friend in 2008. He came at just the right time to assist me in navigating college and the start of my career, and you couldn’t ask for a more loving loyal companion.
Every morning when I wake up, he is waiting outside my door for me and greets me with sincere joy. Although he has some arthritis now, he still eagerly comes to me when it is time to leave for work each day. He is loved by all my co-workers for his sweet disposition, and the way he is loyally by my side all day and always has a positive attitude. Coworkers have said just seeing him brightens their day. In fact, he is so beloved by the office that despite falling asleep and snoring loudly right under the boss’s nose, he will never be fired.
He never learned to read and write, but he is intelligent in his own way, and has taught me a few things about life. For one thing, he doesn’t know or care how much money I may or may not have. In fact, he doesn’t even understand the concept of money. He only asks that his basic needs are met and is more interested in my love and attention than material things. This attitude has given me a more mature perspective in my interaction with others, especially around occasions like Christmas where I also have come to realize that the joy of a new thing is fleeting, whereas love and attention given and received with family and friends offers truer, lasting joy.
On a similar note, my friend has also taught me to better appreciate the simple pleasures of life. It is so tempting to get consumed by self-pity, or to compare yourself to others and think “if only I had that job, or if only I had more money and could afford to live on my own, life would be so much more exciting.” But when you don’t understand and thus cannot care about concepts like money and status, simple pleasures like eating, or looking out the window make every day an exciting day. While I am still a work in progress, I am trying to adopt this outlook on life, this appreciation and gratitude for the simple pleasures of life.
Studies have shown that friends like him have the IQ of a small child, but part of having such a low IQ is that he is only capable of living his life one moment at a time. I cannot tell you how much time I have wasted worrying about something that will happen at work tomorrow, or fretting about what the future holds, while my friend is snoring contentedly. He doesn’t know what the future holds either, but doesn’t seem to care because in this current moment, he is sleeping peacefully, and that is all that matters.
This also means he is incapable of holding grudges. A few months ago, he accompanied me for a job interview. It was a dream job I really wanted, but he made me look bad, and a month later, I received the rejection letter. For a week or so after that letter, I did what I had to do to take care of him, but the thought of him almost made me cry as I wondered if he may have cost me the job. When I would call his name, I could feel frustration and resentment in my tone of voice, and after work, I would just retreat to my room and not want anything to do with him. But soon it occurred to me that while I was replaying this moment in my head over and over, he had probably long forgotten about it. And even in the midst of that moment, he was not behaving out of malice toward me. He did not understand the seriousness of a job interview. All he knew was that there was another dog in the office which was unusual, and he got carried away and acted out of child-like exuberance. When I came to these realizations, I forgave him in my heart and showed him extra love. In return, he gave no indication that he noticed my resentment of him, or if he was aware of it, he had clearly forgiven and forgotten.
Since that experience, I have noticed myself doing a better job of trying to apply this attitude to my other relationships, forgiving others quicker and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Since he cannot speak, scientists still debate whether friends like him are really capable of showing love. But when I passed out from dehydration a few years ago and had to go the the emergency room, he did not want to leave my side when I returned home, and when I had to go to work without him because he needed surgery to remove a tumor from his mouth, Mom said he had been crying until I got in the car, at which point he rode home with his head in my lap. These, and other incidents too numerous to recount speak volumes. Love is a universal language that does not require words.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this friend I have been referring to is my guide dog, Gilbert. Don’t worry. I am not a crazy dog lady. I have many wonderful human friends as well, and I cannot imagine life without them. I also recognize the limits of dogs. We need the lifelong relationships and meaningful conversation that only human friendships can provide. But there is something unique about the relationship between man and dog that it is no wonder dogs have been coined as “man’s best friend.” I don’t know the official history of how dogs got this reputation. Perhaps it comes from their long history as loyal helpers that worked alongside humans, protecting the homestead from wolves, hunting, or guiding sleds. But given my experience with Gilbert, and the other pet dogs I have grown up with, I also wonder if we are drawn to dogs for friendship because they embody what all humans long for but have never figured out how to attain. After all, if we could all live the way our dogs live–savoring life one moment at a time, appreciating the simple things and not getting caught up in worldly trappings like money and status, being there for each other in times of need even if we are at a loss for the right words to bring comfort, loving and accepting one another unconditionally, letting go of grudges and forgiving quickly–just think how much better this world could be. And for people whose only friends seem to be their dogs, I wonder if it is because they have been let down by people in their lives, and they feel their dogs are the only ones that love them unconditionally. If we know of such people in our own lives, what if, instead of looking down on them and making fun of their obsession with these dogs, we instead aspired to live more like these dogs, and strive to be that friend their owners have been seeking?