We got a dog this year. Most of you know we got a dog this year, and half of you are expecting me to say "we got a dog", so guess what, I don't want to disappoint: We got a dog.
He is small, bearded, not-un-Morgan-Freemanish in appearance, if not demeanor. He does not have the bearing of a person who might narrate a jailbreak or try to keep Brad Pitt from opening a box. He prefers a bouncier insouciance and general love of eating poop, two things Morgan Freeman is not known for.
Mugsy has upended things in the best way possible. He forces me out for exercise at least once daily. He demands that we take time to play, that we remember to lay hands on each other as much as we can. And he's a walking object lesson in the fragility of our circumstances.
Let me explain. Yesterday, my son asked me if I thought he would make a difference in the world. "Sure", I said. "Any time you touch a life, you make a difference in the world." I knew what he meant, but I wanted to make him push toward his real question, which was this: Will I be important?
That's an echoing hallway of a question. So I pointed to Mugsy, and I told my son a story he already knew, the story of a bearded baby pup who wandered a graveyard looking for food. Covered in bug bites, gut full of parasites. Someone saw him there, a woman saw him. A woman who cared.
That woman took him home and cleaned him up and fed him and took pictures of him with a ball and a sombrero. She put those pictures on a rescue website. I found those pictures. I texted them to my wife with a photoshopped speech bubble that said "i love u jennifer" in tiny letters, knowing that this was the most reprehensible kind of manipulation. And only because all of those things happened, because that manipulation worked, we brought him home.
"That dog", I said to my son, "lives better than half the people in the world now. Because somebody cared." Then, because everyone loves dad lectures, I pushed on.
I reminded him of Mr. MIchael, his Cubmaster. Mr. Michael got into an argument with a friend on Facebook over Syrian refugees, an argument that led him to get on a plane and fly to Greece. There he met children who had seen their parents beheaded. He raised money to build them a school. Now he's trying to get their camp better sanitation.
People stand on the sidelines and lob lazy criticisms at him for doing this. They want him to stop, but he keeps at it. Because he cares.
That, I said to my son. That is what making a difference means. You pull a puppy out of a culvert. You feed a kid. You touch a life, and you change a life. You change a life, and you hope that that change will be fruitful and multiply. No one will erect a statue of you for this. But many will bear witness to you.
I've tried to tell my children that Important is a pretty coat and Useful is what we reach for when we need to be warm, but I know how well I would have listened to that at their age. Why should they listen to me? I barely do. So I touch their lives, and I hope. Sometimes we parents cling to that.
And then there's that dog. The bug bites are gone, the gut situation mostly rectified. He's gotten comfortable with leaving exuberant chaos in his wake like so many crayon-studded dog flops, as if his own usefulness is to remind us that the current moment is all we have in this world. That the only question worth worrying over is this: What can I do today?
We joke about how lucky that stupid dog is, how well he landed. I've called him Little Arfin' Annie. But I'll tell you a thing: that little dude pulled a third-act Grinch on our respective heart sizes, so he's earned his place. He's a living reminder that there are plenty of others out there, others on four legs and two who haven't had a kind lady happen across whatever cemetery they're foraging in. We can't give them all sombreros, but we can keep our eyes open for opportunities.
We can ask: What can I do today? When we find out, the answer transforms us.
There's a song I can't let my kids hear until they're a bit older. It's full of cussin', which I enjoy. I listen to it at least once a week, and it ends like this:
There is no chosen one
There's no such thing as magic
There is no light at the end of this tunnel
So it's a good thing we brought matches
We got a lot of matches around our place. More than we need. If you need a few, or even just a word, I'll repeat what I told you last year.
We are here.