Ten minutes before I am even aware of the darkening clouds outside, I feel his brown eyes seeking my attention. Picasso, my black 60 pound slightly anxious dog, stares hopefully while I’m reading a book in a favorite over-stuffed chair in the study. When I look over, he begins wagging his tail expectantly.
‘What is it buddy?’ I ask. He cocks his head, his eyes furrowing to a worried brow and he points his nose toward the window. I follow his gaze and see rapidly approaching large black clouds darkening the sky. Another summer thunderstorm will soon cover us in rain—too hard and too fast for the ground to absorb—along with loud thunder and electric white lightening that will make the rooms shake and lights flicker.
Poor fellow. “Come on up here” I tell him, patting the cushion and rearranging myself in the chair. I haven’t got the words out of my mouth before he hops up, contorting his body to fit as much of himself into my lap as he possibly can. He lets out a big sigh of relief and rests his nose on my knee.
Within minutes rain is pouring down at odd violent angles and the first loud claps of thunder and strikes of lightening appear. For the next half hour, he cannot contain his fear and his body quakes with shudders rolling across his frame and his heart races.
Picasso looks to me for comfort during this storm. My heart is full.
What I admire most about Picasso is how easily he asks for help. No hesitations. No shame. Straight up honesty. “Yo, Mom! Its getting ready to storm outside and if I don’t get to sit in your lap and feel your hand stroking my back, I’m going to wet myself!” I know the feeling. I wish I could as easily seek out fellowship when I feel the anxiety forming inside me like a 40 car pile-up along the interstate of my heart, just before everything crescendos in an epic crash.
What makes stepping into invitation so darn hard?
For me, it’s the vulnerability. Or maybe the shame. Probably both. And my heart aches when my inner critic vetoes my desire to connect with others to follow my dreams and passions. Too dangerous. Too much risk and loss.
I read about it—people I admire who, in response to wondering if they can come, shout: ‘Wait! I’m coming!’ They quit their jobs, sell their homes and move across the country. I’m not so brave. “Make do,” my inner critic says. Enjoy your passions and follow your dreams from here, from home—this is a safe distance to dabble and dance and play without risking much.
From home I’m weighted with the comfort and safety of the story I live—the one that I know to be true, and is challenging, but doesn’t ask me to risk much for the sake of passion. In this comfortable place, I know my heart will muddle through (again). And despite providing the comfort that I crave, my rootedness to my home comes at the cost of knowing that my heart—at least from this place—probably won’t grow in dangerous and wild ways. The risk of those passions being celebrated somehow feels dangerous.
I wonder if my heart one day will be more drawn to the voice of Another whose words will be enough to move me to be a part of the joining? Where the words are not ‘Can I come?’ but a boldly asked—almost challenging— ‘Will you come? Will you join us?”
How do I hear that voice—the Other’s Voice?
I do not entirely know. But I know Picasso figured it out, and he changed his heart in the process. Three years ago, when he first came to live with me, I was unaware that he was not fond of thunderstorms. Our preparations were vastly different: I would make sure I had a couple of good books, some dark chocolate snacks, and at least an awareness of where a flashlight could be located—one that hopefully had batteries that weren’t more than a couple years old.
Picasso, on the other hand, would begin with a careful inspection of our house, sniffing out the edges and corners of my study, as if it was a boat, and he was checking for leaks. As darkened clouds began letting lose deluges of water, he scurried upstairs to a vacant, barely used guest bedroom where he had already dragged a couple of his most favorite stuffy toys and corralled himself and his toys into a dark corner under the bed waiting out the storm.
I think learning to ask “May I come?” requires that I remain in the presence of people who hold open hearts. So that when asked, “Can I come?” the response I begin hearing is an unhesitating, “I wish you would.” Where desire is met with desire. And my heart begins experiencing something other than shame or condemnation.
AJ Keller is a confessed Allender Center groupie who has a crush on her dog and hopes to become the person he seems to think she is. She loves taking long walks with Picasso, reading, writing, and listening to friends’ stories.