A Dog, A Downpour And “The Look”

A Dog

I hate the rain – and when I say “hate” I’m not talking about a mild aversion to it. I’m talking about a passionate dislike that actually makes me both anxious and angry. To understand the source of this admittedly unique and troublesome character trait you would have had to have known me as a child. You see, from sun up to sundown (and often well past sundown!) I lived outside. Whether my neighborhood friends and I were playing a pick-up game of basketball, football, Speedball, Hoseball or baseball or I was smashing tennis balls against the garage door or hitting golf balls in a nearby field, I seldom spent more than 5 consecutive minutes indoors during the day, unless I was eating or, you guessed it, it was raining! And I hated to be indoors, so, when it rained, as it often does in South Florida, I transferred that hatred to Mother Nature.

Things didn’t change much as I got older. Most of what I still enjoyed (playing golf, playing tennis, coaching little league baseball, walking, doing yard work, shooting baskets, etc.) were outdoor activities that didn’t mix well with the rain – and sitting around waiting for it to stop just didn’t sit well with me. In fact, I can recall more than one occasion where, in an effort to show Mother Nature who was the boss, I enlisted the help of friends to squeegee water off little league baseball fields so that games wouldn’t be cancelled due to rain. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of rain – the fact that we, the animals, the grass, the flowers, heck the entire Eco-system depend on water to survive and flourish – which is why I have no problem with it as long as it falls between 8 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. Otherwise, I have no use for it!

Consequently, no matter how brown the grass may be or how long it’s been since it last rained, you’ll never find me joining the chorus of co-workers who revel in mid-afternoon thunderstorms like they’re a beautifully wrapped Christmas present: “We really need this rain!” “Thank God it’s finally raining!” “My lawn’s been waiting for a good soaking!” You will, however, find me checking the local radar and scanning the morning and afternoon skies for threats of rain before heading out for a long walk, a round of golf or an outdoor sporting event.  In fact, in the hundreds of walks I’ve taken over the years, I only recall getting caught in the rain twice and both were passing showers.  Fact is, most of the time you can anticipate and plan for storms – at least the big ones!

But every now and then, they catch you off guard. Like a thief in the night, they sneak up on you seemingly out of nowhere. This Thanksgiving morning was one of those times. I’d gotten up especially early (5:15 a.m.), while it was still dark outside, to take my daughter’s dog, Syeira, who I’m babysitting, for her morning walk, because I’d planned to travel to Orlando to spend the day with family and needed to be on the road by 6:30 a.m. As Syeira and I headed to “her spot” several hundred yards from the entrance to our apartment, it was obvious it had rained during the night, but the air seemed calm and clean. Any dark clouds were hidden against an especially black backdrop.  I was already dressed in the outfit I’d ironed the night before and ready to head out the minute we got back.

Just as we arrived at The Spot, however, the skies opened up – without warning. In an instant, Syeira and I were literally soaked to the bone! It was as if God had singled the two of us out for the Ice Bucket Challenge but, in a moment of good-natured horseplay, had decided that instead of a small pail of ice he would dump an entire swimming pool worth of water directly on top of us. We were caught in the deluge wholly unprepared and unprotected. There was no place to run and nothing to be gained by running. Ten years ago, the little boy in me would not have handled that situation well at all. I would’ve pitched a fit, inside and out, been bound up with anger, anxiety and frustration and almost certainly allowed that moment to ruin my entire day.

Worse yet, if challenged, I would’ve had little trouble marshaling the evidence I needed to support the “ruined my day” piece. I mean think about it, of the more 321 million people in the U.S. how many found themselves standing on the front lawn of an apartment complex with a dog at 5:15 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning in the middle of a torrential downpour? Exactly! And then, of course, there’s the fact that my freshly pressed clothes were ruined (at least for the day!) and that the time spent ironing them and on looking “just so” had been wasted – not to mention the impact that drying off and cleaning up not only me, but the dog, would have on my schedule and the stress associated with the prospect of (God forbid!) my being a few minutes late.

Truth is: I likely would “gone there” again this time had I not glanced down at Syeira The Swamp Rat and seen the look on her face. It was a look of fear, uncertainty and confusion, a look that said “I’m watching and I’m waiting. ‘Watching’ because I don’t know what to make of all of this and I’m hoping you do. ‘Waiting’ to take my cue from you as to how I should respond. Is it time to panic or time to play? Are we stuck here or do you have a plan to get us out, to take us home where we can be dry and warm and safe.” It was so innocent, so adorable and so disarming that I couldn’t help but smile. As I did, I could’ve sworn I saw her exhale! Seconds later, she playfully shook herself off, as wet dogs are want to do, which sent even more water all over me, but only served to broaden my smile.

When the two of us started back to the apartment, I couldn’t help but think about all the times I’d seen that same look on my children’s faces through the years and responded with anything but a smile – of all the mishandled moments of its kind; of the times I deluded myself into believing that with enough careful planning and micro-managing, I could insulate them from the storms of life, only to miss out on countless opportunities to simply hold their hands and their hearts in the midst of them and offer quiet assurances that the dark clouds and the rains they brought with them would pass; and of crises, large and small, that too often were met with anger, frustration and impatience, when what was needed, indeed what they were silently crying out for was softness, empathy and understanding.

“They too were watching and waiting”, I thought to myself. I’m just not sure they ever fully exhaled, let alone felt like they had “permission” to get in a good shake!

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5 thoughts on “A Dog, A Downpour And “The Look”

  1. When my son hadn’t quite yet mastered walking, I saw him making his way through our apartment and he fell. Hard. I immediately grinned, threw my arms out at my sides and yelled, “Safe!” He seemed more surprised at my reaction than anything, but, when I helped him up and asked if he was okay (still smiling the whole time, of course), he smiled back and said that he was fine.

    Much later, on a random weekend morning, my wife and I had not yet gotten out of bed, when we heard our son running down the hallway. We heard a loud thump, followed by his little voice shouting, “Safe!”

    It’s still amazing to me how much children learn how to handle their circumstances by watching the reactions of their parents. Thanks for writing this.

  2. This post is so beautiful… (“I am late to the party” after not coming to your blog for some months, but this is what I needed to read tonight; Thank you!)

  3. Thank you, Cris. I’m glad this post brought a smile to your heart tonight.”Funny” how it’s always in the most unlikely of moments like the one I found myself in Thanksgiving morning that I find these “truths”. Rain and tears, but a deeper understanding – and a promise to try and do better. Don

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