Contemplative moment at home with Burnsie

It’s my birthday as I write this on February 25th: 71 years old … and I’m astonished at that number! Yesterday a kid; today my Dad. Those of you my age know the drill: “Where, oh where, have all the years gone?”

For me, the years have gone downward, not up, that is, I’m aware more each day of growing down into myself, not ‘up’ into others’ expectations. I’m discovering at age 71 I’m hard-headed but soft-hearted. For me at least, that’s the balance in my soul which Destiny and Fate and my Scottie dogs have taught me fits the Life that wants to live in me.

Hard-headed but soft-hearted. Thinking for myself and doing things in my own way are in my bones. That’s what I mean by ‘hardheaded’. Not negative complaining, or merely being cranky, but discernment and intelligent critique of persons and situations and claims. Just as there’s a stubbornness in Scotties and Donkeys, natural gifts for seeing Life singularly and uniquely, so also there is hard-headedness in this writer who is drawn to them both. No soft-headed herd instinct, but also no tearless absence of sentimentality. That suits me; it fits, and I’m embracing both ‘hard’ and ’soft’ proudly.

I’m realizing in myself the paradox that soft-heartedness suits this hard-headed man. You can’t give your heart completely to good dogs and animals and good people without going through the meat grinder of loss and grief. Burying loved ones tenderizes the soul.

At the same time, you don’t have to live to be 71 to recognize not everybody grows soft at their center as they age. Loss and grief leave some brittle, not better, hard-hearted, not soft as result of the blows of Life.

I thought of my soft-heartedness when my girlfriend, Anna, and I went to see the movie “50 Shades of Gray”. I had not read the popular novels, so had little notion of the content, except reports that the books are hot and steamy and waaay sexy.

I found the story and the movie icy cold, not hot and steamy, not about ’sex’ as I know it, but about power and domination, not the mutual surrender to romance and chemistry which in my experience make up all that is rich and profound between men and women.

My son tells me I don’t understand the mysteries of “pain”, as in tattoos and piercings and Sado-Masochism. He’s right. I don’t get why a man desires physically or emotionally to hurt a woman and finds pleasure in it — any more than I get why torturing insects and animals is fun. Watching the movie, I had the feeling Mr. Gray’s fabulous wealth glamorized brutality which, were it performed by vagrants in trashy trailers, would be called “criminal minds”.

I’m hard-headed and soft-hearted. Inflicting pain for my pleasure is out of the question; it’s not love or kindness or wholesome. Over the years, my dogs and animals have modelled for me unconditional love, leaving me “soft-hearted” with tenderness at my center. I wear my tender heart on my sleeve as earned badge of honor.

So my ‘hard-headedness and soft-heartedness’ leave me shaking my head over “50 Shades of Gray” but also in tears watching “American Sniper”, not because the young hero is murdered in the end, but because my “Land of the free and home of the brave” is so embedded in war that we turn young husbands and fathers into soulless assassins, call it noble, and then throw them away.

Guess that’s why in a nutshell donkeys and Scotties called me to their side. They saw hard-headedness and soft-heartedness in me before I did. They identify with that balance of hard/soft.

As I age growing down into my soul, so do I.

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile

Quiet moment at home with Burnsie

I remember reading about fish raised in a tank where a glass ‘fence’ boundary divided the tank. The fish could see through the divider but could not go beyond it. So they learned to swim up to their transparent boundary and no farther. The point of the experiment was, when the scientists removed the glass ‘fence,’ opening accessibility to the entire tank, the fish continued to stop at the now-absent boundary, swimming only in their prior bounded world.

I know what every Scottish Terrier owner knows: Scotties are NOT fish! Ruts and routines, monotony and confinement, boundaries, glass or otherwise, are assaults to their I-Do-My-Own-Thing DNA, they are temporary obstacles en route to new horizons!

Recently, Albie and Burnsie have been slower than usual returning to my whistles following feeding routines down at the donkey shed. The ‘catch’ term in that sentence, from a Scottie’s point of view, is ‘routines.’ You see, what is usual, what is familiar, what is routine, is to my dogs been-there-done-that-boring. They are high sensation seekers so hanging out at Dad’s side distributing food to the same spots to familiar animals is about as exciting as nursing home nap time.

What I’ve noticed in my half-awake, thinking-of-everything-and-nothing-in-particular moments at the gate to my driveway while whistling loudly to the out-of-sight Scotties, is they come bounding back to me from the north end of my property. Usually, it’s Burnsie who comes scampering first … then my dawdler, Albie. The irrigation ditch is dry in winter but I have my property lines fenced off inside the ditch at both ends to keep dogs and little goats from wandering away.

Well, like I said, Scotties are NOT fish. In fact, they don’t even wait for They-Who-Know-Best to remove boundaries to see what might happen; they’re qualified to assume that is THEIR job … and then to penetrate with dispatch!

My dogs are returning to me from the north end of my property, all right, for the non-fish reason they’ve found or made an opening through their fence/boundary and they’re smelling the roses, you might say, on the ‘green grass’ side beyond the humdrum world they live in! As far as my Scotties go, with reference to boundaries, it’s the MacPrinciple of the thing: they must test and probe and penetrate for exactly the same reason mountain climbers hazard everything against impossible verticality … because it’s there!

I fuss at my little opportunists on four-inch legs, as boundary-keepers always do. But they are teachers of important truth if I am open to see and learn. It’s too easy for me to put life in a box, all bounded and familiar, and thereby preclude surprise and wonder. It’s too easy for me to be a fish, accepting invisible ‘boundaries’ of what is familiar and ’safe’ — I whose gifts to Life are to be sentient eyes and ears and heart. As Dawna Markova says in her book, I Will Not Die An Unlived Life:

“Rather than trying to be secure by merely keeping ourselves alive, the relevant focus of our passion needs to become taking the necessary risks so that the thing in us that loves, and the things it loves, stay alive and are passed on.”

That’s what my dogs are doing–taking the necessary risks so that the thing in them that makes them Scotties, stays alive and flourishes even in face of my fussing! So, the old dance goes on: Boundary Busters vs. Boundary Setters.

Truth is, the dogs are winning our tug of war. And I’m glad in my heart that my boundary busting Scotties know more about life as deep and passionate, not just how long it lasts, than the old guy mending fence!

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile