One summer afternoon a number of years ago, when we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Cheri and I decided to hop in the car and see where it would take us. We drove past our favorite places, and some new spots, enjoying the beauty of that special place on earth.
Finally, we saw the sign for an antique store – one we had often seen but never stopped at. We stopped, as it is one of my life’s commitments to ensure that no antique place goes unshopped. As we pulled up to the gravel parking lot, not much more than a place where the road seemed to be a bit wider, I began scanning the area for what might be items outside the shop. As we got out of the car, suddenly we were beset by a small enthusiastic terrier mutt of a dog, as he held what must have been HIS ball in his mouth. He ran over, and dropped the ball at my feet, and took his position in the starting block, prepared to have me toss the ball. Since we hadn’t had a dog in our house for a number of years, I had forgotten what happens when tennis ball spends most of the day inside a little dog’s saliva-rich mouth. I picked up the ball and immediately experienced what it would be like to truly understand the word “yuck.” I threw it as gingerly as possible, so as to make sure the dog drool would not go spinning off the ball and at my legs. I actually thought it was a good throw for such a little dog.
I think I took two, maybe three steps before I looked down, and the sloppy ball was again at my feet, and the supersonic terrier stood tail wagging, ready for the next throw. I honestly don’t know how he got the ball and got back to me that fast, but I began to believe I was in trouble. He had made a new ball-chase assistant out of a unsuspecting tourist. I threw the thing five or six more times, each time a bit harder, but it made no difference – it was like the dog was wearing a jet pack! Cheri finally came over to see what the holdup was, and just as quickly, the little guy dropped the sloppy ball at Cheri’s feet, and she was able to experience both the thrill of the run, and the agony of the drool.
This game was showed no signs of abating. We threw, he ran, he dropped, we threw, and on and on. There was a real possibility that we might never actually see inside the antique store at this point. Fortunately, as human beings, we have the power of speech, and so we hatched the plan to throw the ball as far as possible, and then both of us run into the store before he could get back. We launched Operation Escape, and actually got into the store as planned.
Finally, we could begin to peruse the shop, with its tons of rocks and arrowheads, and old farming implements, when suddenly, I heard a little “skritch, skritch,” and turned around to see the ball master skidding down the aisle toward me, finally launching the slop ball so that it rolled to my feet. Apparently, this also counts as an indoor sport, and he had played it many times before. I rolled the ball slowly, not to have it bounce and break a rock or a piece of cast iron, but he met it, snatched it up in a flash, and rolled it back to me. This was not good.
I found a long, empty aisle, and rolled it quickly as far away from me as I could, and then jumped to another aisle, in hopes of escaping. Ah, but he had played that game before, and came flying around the other end of the aisle, and nearly threw the ball back to me. I was trapped in the never-ending slop ball game.
The little dog never. slowed. down. He truly may have been nuclear powered, because he never even looked a bit worn out. I came to the realization that I was never going to be able to shop, since I was held in a saliva-rich hostage situation. Cheri did manage to find a little something to purchase, and so we made our way to the checkout, where an older fellow listened to his radio and read from a stack of periodicals.
In making small talk, I commented to the store owner that he really had a busy little dog! At that moment, I experienced an utter change in perspective. The owner said, very plainly and matter-of-fact, “Oh, he’s not my dog.” I couldn’t believe my ears – I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “He belongs to the folks who live on the acreage next door. Both of them work in town every day, and so when they leave, he grabs his little ball, and comes here to spend the day. He greets everyone who comes into the shop and makes them all throw the ball for him to fetch. I give him some water and a little food, but he knows near exactly the time his owners come home, or he hears their car, and he takes his ball, and heads back over to where they live.”
He commented further that the little dog had been doing this for a number of years, so everyone was just used to it, and he got his exercise and got to hang around people. He said the dog was really sort of the store’s four-legged welcome mat, since no one got in without being greeted and have the chance to throw the ball.
We laughed as we paid for our purchase, and as we walked out the front door, we heard a little girl squeal and say to her mother, “Oh Mommy, look at the cute dog! And he has a ball!” As she bent down to pick up the ball that was lying at her feet, Cheri and I quickly made our way into the car, shut the doors, and slowly backed out and away from world’s best greeter. It was time for the girl and her mother to play. Good luck to them.
At times in our lives, it’s funny to be engaged in something that you assumed to be one thing, and it ends up being a completely different reality. Part of it, like a sloppy ball, is constant and true, but part of it, like relationships and behaviors may not necessarily be what we first think they would be.
The bigger question, of course, is whether the dog acted that way for his own benefit, or for the benefit of every stranger who came into his neighborhood! I like to think it was a bit of both, as it can be for each of us as we encounter another person in our own lives. Our kindness, our welcome, our engagement with another, in order to be loving, doesn’t have to be one-sided, however. It’s possible, when you bring someone into your life, even for a short while, that both of you may come to experience joy in the conversation, in the encounter, and both of you find your lives richer and more fulfilled as a result.
My hope is that you today might remember the little pup, who was relentless as a good neighbor, as you come in contact with persons who may truly need you to drop the ball at their feet, and wait for a good throw, and find a few moments at least liveliness an intentional love.
Go ahead – give it a toss. Or run like crazy to bring it back.
Word for the day: Special. The word special may not seem to be very… special. But it truly is. The word comes from the Latin specialis, meaning “individual, and species, which we use today to mean the appearance, or kind or sort. “Special” is defined as being the one or ones of a class with no other members. It’s not necessarily something that is better than others, or particularly valuable to the entire world, but it does mean something is unique, and the reason we bestow the title “special” on them is that we celebrate and cherish that uniqueness in what makes that thing, or that person who they are, and unlike any other. Have a special day, and be sure to tell others why they are so special as well.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.