What it Means to be Shiny

Lessons From My Dogs

What It Means To Be Shiny

I live with three dogs, dogs with whom readers of LaJoie may be familiar, not only from their photographs, but more enduring, from the lessons they impart to me. Chance, Sasha and Olive. Olive is both kind and smart, a beautiful combination. She learns my language, understanding both my voice and thought, far better than I learn hers. She is biddable and accepting and I witness palpable joy in her face as she grows accustomed to her new life more and more each day. Chance is philosophical and stoic. I share with her a bond greater than with any being, human or animal. She is my pulse, my soul; I find words difficult when it comes to her, yet feel what I cannot speak. If Chance operates from her spirit, Sasha operates from her stomach.

Okay, and from her heart.

Sasha brought tears to my eyes once when she spoke allegorically about something I’d like to share. Not that she knows what an allegory is. Her wisdom is simple, a wisdom beyond linguistic conceits. If she spoke English she’d be prone to malapropisms: “Like an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” Sasha is...hmmm, how shall I say this...my least intelligent dog. But where savvy is lacking, she makes up for it with gentle kindness. And heart. For I would trade all the cunning cleverness the world had to offer for one stroke of kindness...and there I’d find Sasha. Where Sasha is lacking in the social graces, buoyant enthusiasm spills over erasing, or easing, one’s frustration as a 22- pound mammal lands on one’s lap while trying to read. Sasha is timid and gentle and sweet. Never one to pick a fight, she is Ferdinand the bull, content to sit and smell the flowers on a sunlit day.

I practice communicating with my dogs in their language, but still find using a communicator helps all of us feel closer. Rebecca Moravec, my very gifted communicator, spoke first with my other two dogs, then Sasha was last. I transcribe below what she said:

I waited for Rebecca to connect with Sasha. “Sasha asks that you never put her in the dryer.”

I told Sasha I would never put her in the dryer, wondering if perhaps someone once had.

“She asks if it will snow again.”

“Yes, probably it will snow again.”

“She says it’s really cold when you put your paw on it.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“She wonders if you could provide her with a river of cheese.” I laughed, but Sasha was serious and spoke of long lines of food: bread, cheese, cookies, cakes.... “She’s wondering if you could provide a Fig Newton.”

A Fig Newton? I hadn’t had one of those for twenty years.... “Tell her I think I could provide one.”

There was a pause then Rebecca said: “Sasha is worried. She is very much afraid of being left alone.”

Oh! Please tell her she’ll never be left alone.”

“She feels much loved by you. Your love is a warm comfort. She loves you and her life and is happy. She feels your love has changed her life. Just don’t leave her alone.”

“Please tell her I will never leave her alone. Tell her I promise I’ll always care for her.” Then as Rebecca told her this, I watched Sasha sigh. I thanked her for coming into my life and asked the question I always asked last, “Do you know how much I love you?”

“She does. She loves you back and she is very grateful. She says you’re the reason she’s so shiny.”

I paused. “Because I bathe her and brush her?”

“No. She means shiny on the inside.”

I think my eyes got a little shiny at that point and I thanked Sasha and told her I would always keep her shiny. What I didn’t say to her back then but do tell them all now is that they, too, are the reason I’m becoming shiny. Perhaps animals bring out the very best in us and help us cultivate those virtues we come here to learn: compassion, care for others, generosity, joy, simplicity and plain old goodness.

Across our country people spends millions of dollars erasing facial lines, suctioning out fat, bolstering body parts when true beauty comes from within. Eyes that sparkle and smile lines that crease up with inner joy. I’ve seen wizened women in their nineties who were more beautiful than supermodels in their thirties.

In the end, we all know that Sasha is right...perhaps not so dumb after all. What matters is being shiny on the inside. The outside, not so much. Kindness, compassion, courage, generosity, wisdom and grace make us shiny. I’ll continue working on cultivating my own interior shininess, and I know they’ll continue nudging me along. Is it such a radical idea to think that the world could change overnight if each one of us looked deep within our hearts, addressing the negative while cultivating the virtues? Were we to do this instead of directing our attention to what was wrong in others and the world around us, we’d find our own greed, envy and anger dissipating, and if man is no longer greedy and angry, he no longer rapes the earth for his own gain.

As I finished writing, Sasha walked by with what looked like, I swear, a twinkle in her eye. Have I been duped for food? Did her ‘shiny’ on the inside mean no more than a shiny stomach? Maybe all Sasha was really talking about was food. Rivers of cheese . . . but for all.