My dog, Lincoln, knows a handful of words and commands like “Sit” and “Wait” and “Breakfast” and “Treat.” He’s smart enough to know the sound our phones make when our favorite stalker app, Life360, signals that one of us has arrived home. He then runs to the door to greet the family member who, up until that sound, he believed might never return. He knows, basically, that he’s not supposed to eat people food or chew up socks (yum) or jump up on the kitchen table. Sometimes, though he just gets excited and he just can’t help himself. He is, in other words, your basic three year old human.
Not too long ago, I came out of my room to find that it had snowed in my living room. It hadn’t actually, of course, but it took a moment for my brain to register what the white covering was. It was an entire family-sized box of tissues, shredded into fine pieces and spread evenly across the carpet. On one level, I was impressed. A lot of effort had gone into this. On another, more primal level, I shouted, “DAMMIT, LINCOLN!” Because I knew that Lincoln, without the benefit of opposable thumbs, would not be able to help me clean it up.
I had no idea where Lincoln actually was, and I know that dogs’ brains are not sophisticated enough to understand punishment if it is not contemporaneous to the bad act. Still, I’M not a dog, and I was mad now, regardless of whether I had the rational ability to take it out on the culprit.
I looked up. Lincoln sat on the sofa (another no-no) looking as guilty and remorseful as a mammal has ever looked. See for yourself:
I immediately started laughing. I expected Lincoln to jump off the sofa and make his normal bullet beeline for an inappropriate sniff of my personal organs, but he didn’t. He stayed where he was, looking at me through his eyebrows, ears drooped down, tail literally tucked between his legs. He remained there long enough for me to go into the kitchen, get my phone off of the charger, type in my password incorrectly three times, and then fumble with the camera app, before taking that picture.
I promise you he’s not smart enough to manipulate his way out of consequences the way my human children would. That dog was genuinely sorry. But Mom, He would say if his vocabulary was larger than “Woof” “Arooo” and “Yip.” I know I shouldn’t have. Something just overtook me. I’m genuinely sorry. I will try harder next time. I promise. Please still love me even though I’m a bad dog.
“Of course I still love you,” I said. “I know you’re sorry. We all make mistakes.” And it was true. I loved him all the more because of his abject remorse.
I looked at the picture many times over the next week or so, and it made me giggle every time. Finally, it dawned on me. It was the most genuine display of emotion other than grief or love I’d see in a long time. Grief and love are easy. Remorse is hard. It comes with baggage. It comes with shame. We are taught not to feel it, and if we do, we are taught we shouldn’t show it.
But that dog, he showed it. And, in showing that weakness, he gained instant forgiveness and increased love. Wasn’t that a lesson we can all learn? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world if we could all admit our mistakes before we’d been called to admit them, earning forgiveness before it was required? Politicians would benefit. Children would benefit. Lovers would benefit. Everyone would benefit.
Even my dog.
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website, www.loriduffwrites.com , on Twitter, or on Facebook. Lori is a National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2018 Columnist winner, and a New Apple, Readers’ Favorite, and eLit award winner for her latest release, “You Know I Love You Because You’re Still Alive.” She is also the author of the bestselling books “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza,” and “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket.”