My sister Abby has a three-legged chocolate lab named Trip. “Trip” isn’t quite as cruel a name as it sounds (though it is short for “Tripod”1) because the dog actually gets around quite well, using his single rear leg as a pogo stick. If he lollops and flounders a bit from time to time, he doesn’t seem to mind.
Trip was born with four legs. During the day he remembers that his stump is just a stump, but when he dreams that he is running, you can see the stump twitch, as if it still had a leg on the end of it.
Trip and I have this in common: human affection is, to him, an almost physical source of nutrition. His favorite place to be (and in this respect the analogy does not quite hold up) is jowls-down on the living room floor, surrounded by my sister and her husband and seven kids and whoever else is visiting and/or squatting at the moment (strays of all kinds tend to get caught in my Abby’s orbit) soaking it all in, basking in the presence of humans the way a human or a plant basks in sunlight.
What I love about him is not only his need for affection, but the way he doesn’t conceal that need. I guess guile isn’t in a dog’s nature, so he can’t be praised for being ingenuous any more than he can be blamed for smelling like a dead thing, but I admire him all the same. Imagine wanting somebody to touch you, so you (naturally) just nuzzle your head under their hand.
I voice the opinion that I wish I were more like Trip, and my unsentimental sister (who does not, she says, like dogs) says: “Really? If you were like Trip, then any time you got lonely, you would slink off to the kitchen and cry on the floor until somebody paid attention to you.”
She has a point. And I have in fact had days like that. It generally works well in the short term, I guess — if you mope hard enough, somebody does every once in a while come along and take care of you — but it’s not a good policy, because when you’re a human, people put up with that sort of thing only for so long.
I guess what I’d like is to fulfill my nature as completely as Trip does, to be as human a human as he is doggy a dog. If I could do that, I’d be a god, shining with love and authority, a healer of wounds and bringer of joy, swift as a cheetah and dexterous as a chimp.
As it is, I am — all of us are — half a human or even less: a human being is something that one day, if I work diligently and train hard, if I bathe in the Spirit the way a tree’s innards bathe in sap, I might become, but almost certainly not till after I’m dead. None of us have ever seen a human being who isn’t (compared to the original, compared to what God willing we will be) a huddled, decrepit, mangy, twisted, hobbling mess.