My Wheaten terrier Max can go from 0 to 60 in a couple of seconds—it’s a wonder to see, particularly if you know Max’s backstory. One trainer diagnosed him with “global phobia,” which was a nice way of saying, Don’t expect this dog to leave the house. Max would look up at me like a baby seal; I could see the terror in his eyes, but also his good heart. “Max,” I would say, “There is greatness in you.” Max would sigh and lie down in the hall.
“Max. I want to introduce a big word. Intrepid. I sense you have this inside.” Okay, “intrepid” was doubtful, but I do write fiction. “Max. We’re going to help you find your courage. You know—the hero you’ve got inside.”
It took years to find the courage, but now on a good day he trots along on the leash and speeds around the yard grandly confidant. On a bad day, he hides in the shower. As for Max’s inner hero, maybe it’s best seen when someone around him is hurting—up Max comes wagging his stump of a tail, puts a paw on their knee, and doesn’t leave. Not leaving is a powerful gift in this world.
It’s easy to read the headlines and feel fear soak into us. Fear makes us feel alone and vulnerable. Terror keeps us locked inside. But there is something necessary about speaking courage to ourselves and the people around us; about sitting with people for as long as it takes. May the greatest gifts we give this season be those that come from the heart.