The Gospel According to Tandy: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dog
Lesson Five: Let Your Light Shine
On one of our many walks throughout the day, Tandy can be heard bursting into random fits of whining. I often worried about this, fearing that she was ill or hurt in some way. I would ask her if she was okay, checked her paws for stray stones, and searched the horizon for another dog, person, or (egads!) skunk.
One day, I realized that her “random” bursts of crying occurred at the same exact spots on our walk: the homes that had other dogs. During warmer months, these yards would hold rambunctious pooches playing within the confines of their electric fences. On those summer days, Tandy would stop, tilt her nose up to the air in hopes of catching any stray whiffs of doggy cologne, and cry eagerly, sending a cheerful “Yoohoo!” towards the pup’s direction.
(Often these whines were met with bared teeth and booming barks, but more on that later.)
Now that winter has shuttered the canines behind closed doors, Tandy still chooses to stop at those houses, lift her nose towards the sky, and send a “Oh, heyy!” in the direction of the dogs’ homes. She doesn’t withhold her welcome because she knows it will not be reciprocated, she calls out anyway, greeting the house as if she would an old friend.
(Cue Adele) These “Hellos” are not just for the dogs in the yard, but also human neighbors out walking, gardening, or taking out the trash. Tandy looks at each person eagerly, tail wagging, and sends out a cry of greeting to the newcomer. Often, she sits on the pavement, straight as an arrow, and waits patiently until the passing pedestrian looks at her. Once eye contact is made, she bursts from her pose like a firework, excitedly welcoming the person to this beautiful, glorious day. She has now even taken it upon herself to peer into parked or idling cars in order to salute the surprised driver and passengers inside.
Perhaps it’s the shepherd in her that drives her to be such a gracious host. When I took her to the dog parks in Philly, Tandy was the dog who acknowledged every single Fido and doggy mommy/daddy individually, meticulously working her way from the boisterous bunch playing fetch in the center to the sheepishly shy dogs hovering around the perimeters. She would go to each one in turn, give them a sniff and a wag, and encouraged them to play or stay – whichever they preferred.
Sometimes, like the dogs in the yard, Tandy’s attempts at friendship were met with irritation, snaps of the jaw, or an unwelcomed humping. (No means no, Rover.) Tandy would sometimes come sulking back to me, head down as if asking “But, why, Momma?”, but more often than not, she would continue on with her welcoming party, undeterred until every pet felt like they belonged.
Now, there are two stories that my mom tells that could be considered “embarrassing Samantha stories.” Both occurred at church when I was quite young. One pertains to the day I cheerfully told a class of 20 other Sunday School-ers that the reason I didn’t come to church last week was because I had the “bad poopies.” (I don’t think my brother has ever forgiven me for that.) The other pertains to the song “This Little Light of Mine.”
I was five or six and I belonged to the Cherub Choir, the group of ten-or-so kindergartners who sang adorable little Christian songs in white, angelic robes. That Sunday we were performing “This Little Light of Mine” in front of the congregation, complete with hand motions for bushels and blowing winds.
At one point in the song, we were to break off into the sanctuary and share our little lights (our pointer fingers held aloft as if they were candles) with the parishioners in attendance. We would touch the pointer fingers of the people in the pews, thereby spreading our lights. Once this was completed, we were to rejoin the choir and continue our singing. And so the choir did…
All except for me.
Apparently, I had taken the message of lighting other people’s lights to heart and decided to stay amongst the congregation, “lighting” each and every finger I could come into contact with.
As the remainder of my peers sang about the possibility of blowing their little light out – NO, they were gonna let it shine! – I was giving my light to other people, who collectively began to chuckle at the sweet gesture. I, in turn, burst into tears having interpreted their awww-inspired giggles as harsh laughter at my expense.
My mother comforted me, assuring me that the people loved what I had done. There was no malicious intent, she vowed, just delight at a little girl who wanted to share her light.
Both Tandy and I have come to learn the vulnerability that is connected with trying to do so. Whether it’s opening yourself up to new friends and experiences or sharing your gift with strangers, being seen is an absolutely terrifying situation to find oneself in. It’s so much easier to stay comfortable, stay on the periphery. It’s even easier to be the one that snaps your jaws at those who allow themselves to be seen; to answer kindness with anger and judgment.
And, yet, what a different world we would live in if we all took a note out of Tandy’s book. If we sacrificed our fears of being ignored or being bitten and still welcomed that which we did not know. Or, like the tiny cherub in the white choir gown, if we continued to share our light, despite those who may laugh at us.
For more lessons from Tandy, click: