At Large : Advice to the vocationally challenged
When Moll is away, I spend bonding time with Teddy.
As has been the case with his predecessor pugs, Teddy has always been fonder of Moll than of me. For good reason, too. Of course I feed him when he needs it, I take him for walks, give him a snack or two while he joins me in my work. I let him lick me in the ear, which apparently is important to him. When the family is in tact, I know that Moll pushes him over to my side of the bed, but I let him stay.
Still, we have never been close. I can take him or leave him. He's not my little buddy. But he's a member of the family, and I treat him as one.
When we're alone, Teddy Velcroes himself to my ankles. Here a pug, there a pug. And those brown, yearning eyes, constantly searching for a biscuit, a hot dog, a pig's ear, anything to show I care.
I like dogs well enough, but you know, I can get along without them. I admit it. Nevertheless, I have a certain doggy simpatico, and I am just a teeny bit proud of my inborn ability to judge an animal's character. It's a gift, I know, and I wouldn't bring it up except that it comes into play when Teddy and I are alone, because I can see that Teddy is troubled.
Moll probably didn't notice because Teddy always looks troubled, or afraid, or anxious, or wary. Haunted, even. He has a puggish way of staring at you that says, "I am absolutely out of my mind wondering what you have in your pocket." It's easy to think that his agitation is merely fur deep. But, given my gift with animals, I can assure you, it is not. Using my gift, I have determined that he is genuinely disturbed.
As we bonded recently, waking and sleeping, I found myself bringing this gift of mine to bear on the misshapen little creature. You know, with dogs, it's not as if you can get them to open up to you the way a therapist might draw out his analysand. It requires a shrewdness and extensive informal observation, which takes time.
The diagnosis wasn't all that mysterious. Being a father helped. Teddy is a young dog, though his pug-ugliness suggests more years than he's entitled to. In fact, he's a late adolescent, and like all of them, he's wondering what to do with his life. We've all gone through it. Why should it be remarkable that it is a preoccupation of even man's best friend?
Of course, Teddy's confusion was a bit out of the ordinary. He wasn't just in doubt over what he should do for a living. (I can tell you he has already settled that question. He doesn't plan to do much.) No, Teddy's emotionally harrowing personal question was, "Do I have a vocation to the priesthood."
Once I figured that out, it was a piece of cake to provide some guidance. After all, my own kids have been discussing their future plans with me for years.
I think I'll be a garbage man, dad, or a marine biologist, a lawyer, a world traveler (Oh yeah, and who'll pay those bills?), a farmer, a lawyer, a policymaker for a Congressman, a novelist, a teacher, a sailor, a circus performer, a rock star, an entrepreneur, a fabulously successful money manager.
And that was just one kid over the course of two years.
For Teddy, naturally, the options are limited. I told him so, and I told him no way was he going to be a priest. (I think that was all about the communion wafers anyway.)
Actually, I found the best advice about choosing a life's calling in a talk by Fr. Michael J. Himes, a Jesuit. He said the decision about what to do with your life boils down to three questions. "First, whatever you are considering ... is it a source of joy? Second, is it something that taps your talents and is likely to continue to challenge those talents? And third, is it a service to those around you? Or, as I like to say to students: Do you get a kick out of it? Are you any good at it? And does anybody want you to do it?"
That's what I told Teddy. His face scrunched itself into what was plainly a question.
I could see he was puzzled by the word joy. He was thinking happiness or satisfaction, which happens to Teddy every day, usually at mealtimes. Of joy, he was uncertain. "Joy," Father Himes said, "has to do with a deep, abiding sense of the rightness, the goodness, the fruitfulness of what one does with one's life ..." Or, he said, as the poet Marianne Means put it, "Satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy."
The wrinkles that covered the round top of Teddy's head deepened. He pawed at the zippered pouch in the front of my anorak. Unacquainted with joy, he settled for satisfaction and a liver treat.