005. Tsavo

A couple of weeks ago, my parents met me and a friend at Ocean Beach (San Francisco’s slowest borderland) and brought along our baby Great Dane, Tsavo. Tsavo is only four months old, but he’s already bigger than most of the other dogs on the beach. He’s tawny, uncoordinated, exuberant, and best of all, absolutely unprejudiced—having never been hurt or rebuffed in his life, he has no reason to expect hostility from the people and puppies he meets. He just delights and astounds me.

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If I lie on the living room floor, Tsavo comes up to me and stretches his body along the whole length of my body, wanting as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. He’s so needy that I think my heart might burst. He’s happiest when I doze off on his tummy, like he’s a breathing beanbag and we’re just two unworried loungers with synchronized sighs.

If we don’t monitor him, he sits on the sofa like a human—butt on the cushion, four feet on the ground. Or he arranges himself on guests’ laps without asking permission (he’s a little entitled). He’s strictly not allowed in the kitchen, but if we’re cooking in there, he comes right up to the edge of the tile and looks mournfully at us, woe-shot eyes trailing our every move—accusing, beseeching. A few weeks ago, I called dad and found him right in the middle of a Tsavo tussle. He sighed into the phone: “Yep, he’s a willful one. Got some Schaubroeck in him.”

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But I think I love him best on the beach, out in the open—no lines he can’t cross, no nooks he can’t stick his nose into. He’s just a little compact, burning, 60-pound bullet of life and energy, his ears turned inside-out in the wind, new discoveries to scare or electrify him every half-second: a yapping terrier, a thin wash of cold Pacific foam, an old man’s turkey sandwich dangling too close to the ground, a wayward frisbee, a skittering seagull, a sun-screened baby, a sinkhole in the sand. He’s alert to all of the clamoring details around him, his nose and ears burning with input, his little puppy-heart thrilling to creation.

*

My biases in the great canine-cat divide are no secret, but I truly believe that dogs embody the best qualities of humans. If you started with an average, decent human dude and stripped away all of his ego, selfishness, pride, regret and anxieties, the leftover qualities might approximate the makeup of a dog. Dogs—if they’ve had a good puppy-hood with loving owners, and there are definitely exceptions—have a seemingly endless ability to receive love. It’s the main reason I’m so crazy about them. They are big, gaping, egoless love-holes, and somehow, my love always grows in proportion to the size of my puppy’s love vacuum.

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I think we (I’m talking humans, maybe with an emphasis on Americans) are not that adept at receiving love. American-ish self-sufficiency, a quality that at one point, many years ago, startled and repelled me, I now can’t help but consider to be (on some level) a moral imperative. We’re so slow to acknowledge these gaps in us, these recesses of need.

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Actually, there is some falseness in those lines. I’ll stop saying “we” and just say “I,” because that’s what I mean. I am not that great at receiving love. I can accept small, coded, tentative, half-hearted gestures of love—but extravagance? The big-hearted, fearless kind of love, or generosity brinking on foolishness—I can never accept that, can never believe it’s meant for me. It is not earned and it’s emphatically not deserved. If I receive it at all, it’s only as a mistake or a charity, as love meant for someone else and inappropriately descending all over me.

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Lately I’ve been feeling that maybe it’s not better to give than to receive. Under the absolute spread of God-who-is-love, maybe it’s infinitely better to give and receive, to keep all of your soul’s apertures wide open—his love barreling into you, his love flooding out. To let in all of the unfiltered beauty that’s been poured over us and around us, like Tsavo racing unleashed along the coastline with his eyes fluttering against the wind, his muscles stretching to extremity, his lungs tight with sea-air, free and filled. To become fierce imbibers, gulpers of this good life.

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God’s love all over me, God’s love all under me, more of it than I know what to do with, more of it than I know how to receive.

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