bonar crump

bonar crump
husband - father - reader - runner - picker - grinner - lover - sinner

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lady and the Tramp meets Shawshank

When I was in fifth grade I had two dogs. One was a house dog, Foxy. The other was a dog that slept in my room at night but roamed the streets during the day, Butch. I don’t remember much about Foxy except that she had the most annoying habit of rolling over on her back to elicit a belly-rub anytime you made the slightest move downward to pet her. But Butch was altogether a different kind of dog.

I remember my stepdad trying everything he could think of to keep Butch from jumping the six-foot privacy fence. Ultimately, we conceded victory to Butch when it became evident that he would risk grave bodily injury to maintain access to the outside world. Eventually, we discovered that his daily escapes were due to a medium sized wheelbarrow with a bent tubular handle that hung from the fence. Butch may have only been 10—12” tall at the shoulders, but he could leap up to the back of that wheelbarrow for a boosted final jump which would send him over the fence without any sweat.

Foxy thought she had it made. Free food, clean water, climate-controlled environment, no responsibilities, no one teaching her tricks—just a dog living like a princess whose only interaction with the harsh realities of the outside world were requisite potty breaks each day. This dog’s idea of heaven would have been to be carried around all day by a woman in a shoulder bag living off of liver flavored treats and Perrier. As I said before, she was my dog in that I fed and watered her, but she wasn’t my kind of dog.

Butch had a sort of swagger about him. He was a “man about town”, a rogue, a rapscallion, and an all-around street hustler. Butch was gonna do what Butch was gonna do. He was his own man, so to speak.

Butch was a stray that I’d come across at my stepdad’s business. I was allowed to bring him home with the admonition that, “he’s your responsibility.” I was very excited because Foxy just wasn’t turning out to be much of a fifth grade boy’s idea of a companion. I wanted a dog that would be my buddy. I wanted an “Old Yeller” kind of boy/dog relationship. I really wanted a dog that was hell-bent on pleasing me—Butch was NOT that dog.

If I forgot to feed him, Butch would take a dump under my bed—Seriously. When I tried to control him via a leash or commands or grabbing him aggressively Butch would calmly and confidently lie down and refuse to acknowledge my presence or commands. In his mind, I needed the training—not him. And mostly he was right.

It took about a year for me to give up on the notion of training or altering Butch’s behavior in any meaningful way. Once I allowed him the room to establish the boundaries of our relationship things between Butch and I changed dramatically for the better. Butch had a lot to offer me as a 10 year old in need of a best friend, but first we had to establish a set of ground rules for the relationship based on respect instead of control. After that, we had the kind of storybook boy/dog connection that made “Old Yeller” pale in comparison.

Butch would walk me to school every day and then peel off to roam the neighborhood until recess when he’d reappear at a different door on the other side of the school to play with me and my friends no matter what we were doing. You would never have known who Butch belonged to because it was as if he belonged to all of us. When we went back inside he’d disappear again only to turn up at the first door in time for school to be out so that he could escort me home again.

Then we’d head over to Jimmy’s to play basketball or over to Richie’s for a neighborhood game of football in their lush yard or maybe down the alley behind Mr. Simmon’s yard to steal enormous purple plums that hung from the tree in his back yard over the fence. As long as we were being active or headed someplace on foot or on our bikes, Butch was there in the mix (I’m getting a strong Norman Rockwell image of a plate my grandmother used to have hanging on her wall right now).

However, if we weren’t in motion or actively engaging in some type of activity, Butch became quickly bored with us and would wander off. For instance, he’d tag along when we rode our bikes out to the lake, but he’d disappear if we started hunting under rocks in the stream for crawdads or fishing at the dock. Butch was a dude on the go!

Butch was an amazing animal that had no owner. He loved everybody equally (except the town dog catcher who became so defeated by Butch that he never ever got out of his truck when he spotted Butch running loose). Butch belonged to the neighborhood. Everyone played with him. Everyone left scraps out for him. Everyone playfully called to him as he crossed their yard. What I later realized was that Butch didn’t simply roam about aimlessly—he patrolled.

Actually, Butch was guarding me and my friends whenever we were out and about. If we were stationery and he knew we would be there for a while he’d continue on his patrol of the area within earshot of us so that whenever I whistled he’d come hustling back to escort us to our next location. And while we were in school or indoors, Butch was patrolling the neighborhood.

It was years and years later before I began to put the pieces together. There were no other stray dogs or cats in our neighborhood. The time that Mr. Simmons came out the back gate and decided to chase all of us away for eating his plums Butch stood his ground guarding over our escape and threatened to bite that old man (that was the only time I ever saw him bear his teeth at a person). One time I got in a fight at school during recess and instead of biting the other kid—which is what I was hoping he’d do—Butch stood about three feet away from us incessantly barking as loud as he could until we stopped from utter distraction.

He was always within whistling distance because he was standing guard and I never realized it at all.

Butch was a foreshadowing of my spiritual life.

He was teaching me something that would help me understand elements of my faith later in life.

Foxy was as tame as you can get. One day outside the yard and she’d have been road kill eaten by buzzards and pooped out on tree branches somewhere.

Butch wasn’t exactly domesticated. He insisted on a relationship which focused on mutual respect. And in return for your respect he gave you love and loyalty.

I grew up in a variety of denominational and non-denom churches that all taught me how to be a Foxy. Stay safe, eat your treats, roll over on your back submissively, and don’t ever take a dump under the bed.

I was a child. Of course I thought these folks knew what they were talking about. The church was my yard. The church was my home. The people in the church were my family. The teaching was all the nutrients I needed. Even the fence surrounding the yard was there as a loving safeguard to keep me from wandering into the street.

In the early parts of my adulthood I began to feel the Butch in me grow. I wanted to check out the neighborhood. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to investigate some of those interesting smells that wafted through the air from time to time. I just wanted to see for myself why these folks went to such great lengths to train me not to leave this yard. I told myself that it must really be a dangerous and dirty place out there.

Guess what happened when I started jumping the fence and asking questions and peeking out of the closed blinds—I saw some pretty amazing stuff that my church family had never told me about. I guess they were trying to protect me and all, but this yard had become way too small for me. Yes, there were streets to cross and traffic to avoid. Conversely, there were children playing football and parades and people happy to leave table scraps out for you out of pure niceness.

None of this meant that I didn’t love my family anymore, but things became difficult at home. I was proving to be uncontrollable. I was becoming known as a rebel. I was being talked about and scorned for my “reckless” behavior. I was being ignored when I came home because I didn’t seem as much of a part of the family anymore when compared to the Foxies in our home.

Compliance becomes compulsory at the point that expectations of the home are valued more than the simple elegance of freedom. Once I realized that freedom would not and could not be tolerated, I bolted. Fuck you guys! I’d rather live as a feral dog than have to watch you rub Foxy’s belly one more time while staring at me with that look of disappointment. And, yes, that’s a new word I learned over on 4th street. FUCK all y’all!

Check this out.

A ten year old black kid 8 blocks away saw me down the street one day and set out a bowl of water at the base of the front steps for me to drink. Another time a gay couple offered me some bread crust at the park. I even found that the local tavern set out a small portion of table scraps for me every day when they threw out the nightly leftovers.

Here’s what I learned—if you’re going to be spiritually healthy you’ve got to be true to who you are. If your idea of heaven is living in the confines of someone’s handbag then get after it. If not, then don’t let others determine how much backyard time you get each day. And if you’re like me, don’t EVER forget that Love Loyalty & Respect ALL go together. They do not exist separate from one another. What that means is that we’re all different types of dogs, but we all need the same things to be spiritually healthy and to grow into the fullness of who God wants us to become—Love Loyalty & Respect (LL&R). Without these, you will be spiritually retarded throughout your entire life.

There are a lot of edifying fascinating inspiring dynamic things going on outside of the fence. There are folks your families have never met that can offer insights and wisdom.  There are other folks that don’t even have fences around their yards.

None of this means that we have to reject our families or their yard. But you need to be aware that the family may reject you. If your freedom to explore and live out a richly dynamic existence is valuable enough to you that you are willing to risk rejection by your family then you need to have the courage to be true to yourself. Being true to yourself in this kind of a situation is what a “calling” is all about.

It takes prayer. It takes an ear for God’s voice. It takes an awareness and understanding of your surroundings. And most importantly, it takes an understanding that an expectation to receive LL&R is just as important as the willingness to give LL&R.

Don’t be a fully domesticated pet to ANYONE in exchange for food and shelter without the demands of mutual LL&R. If you do then you have no value. If you do then you have no purpose. If you do then you will perpetuate the kind of home that keeps dogs on chains, gates locked, and animals living in kennels just because that’s the only life you’ve ever experienced yourself.

“Guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
-The Shawshank Redemption