As published in The Providence Sunday Journal, July 21, 2019.
It was an unusual conclusion to an Easter Sunday sermon: Last April, Father Tim handed everyone at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church a crisp dollar bill and asked that we give it to a stranger. We might also wish them a Happy Easter, the rector said, as we passed along “the surprise of grace.”
Half an hour later, with the bill neatly folded in the pocket of my button-down shirt, I did what I usually do after church: I took my dog, Rhody, for a walk.
Rhody’s a two-year-old rescue dog from Georgia, part black lab and part mystery. But more than anything, Rhody is super social. She wants to say hi to everyone, which usually means jumping up on people to give them a lick.
She’s kind of like my older brother, Rob, in that way (well, not the jumping and licking part). Rob has an outgoing warmth about him that I envy. When the two of us walk into a busy room, he gravitates to the crowd while I sidle to a wall.
I’ve discovered that being an introvert presents challenges when your dog is a social butterfly. Rhody’s always pulling me toward people and I’m usually pulling away, partly because I don’t want her to maul them but also because, honestly, that’s my comfort zone. So on Easter Sunday morning, when a middle-aged guy in workout gear approached us, I veered to the side of the road to give him a wide berth.
And then I remembered the dollar bill in my pocket – I’m supposed to give it to someone. Father Tim, you’re killing me.
I shortened up Rhody’s leash and moved back into the middle of the street. When the guy was within 10 feet of us, I said, “Good morning!”
Now Rhody’s tail was going like mad as she strained against her harness, eager to give this guy her two-paw greeting. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had quickened his pace and just given us a polite nod. But instead he stopped and asked, “What’s up?”
“I just came from church,” I said, keeping Rhody at bay. “The priest gave us all a dollar bill and asked that we pass it on to someone. So I want to give mine to you.” I handed him the bill. “Happy Easter.”
His face softened, and he smiled. “Wow,” he said. “Thank you!”
We went our separate ways, and as the guy walked on, I’m pretty sure he had a skip in his step that I hadn’t detected before. I noticed the same thing about mine.
My faith, at best, is a work in progress. I sit in the pews at St. Luke’s each week with my questions about God, even as I am comforted by the liturgy, lifted by hymns, and challenged by the words of a gifted rector.
When I shared my Easter Sunday story with my brother, it wasn’t lost on us that Father Tim and Rhody seemed to be on the same page. Love thy neighbor, right?
“You know what they say,” Rob joked. “Dog is God spelled backwards.”
That prompted me to investigate the connection between dogs and the Divine. What little the Bible says about man’s best friend isn’t very flattering.
But listen to Mark Twain: “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
And Robert Louis Stevenson: “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before us.”
And Will Rogers: “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
As I said, I’m not so sure about the afterlife. But at least I have Rhody in the here and now. And as long as I do, I’ll keep trying, to paraphrase C.J. Frick, to be the person my dog thinks I am.