“NELLY! Dooooon’t liiick my legs!!! I just put on lotion!”
After showering, our daughter Stacia had applied a generous sloshing of cream to her legs. Sauntering out of the bathroom and feeling refreshed, she received a rude awakening from a large, wet, pink tongue, licking the backs of her knees. Shocked, she let out a scream!
Nelly is her 5-year-old white Boxer. She was named in honor of General Neyland and the stadium named for him, in Knoxville. Nelly is so sweet, so intelligent, so energetic, and so attached to Stacia. And, oh, by the way, like many white boxers, Nelly is as deaf as a doornail. She did not hear one word of Stacia’s admonition. She doesn’t even hear thunder.
But, apparently, Nelly reads lips. Well, maybe not lips, but she definitely recognizes her mistress’s facial expressions and sign language. She knew she was in big trouble, and her canine heart was crushed. So she stopped dead in her paw prints. She cocked her head at Stacia (in true boxer fashion) looked confused, then dramatically fell to the floor giving a look that said, “My kisses??? I’M SO HURT, MOMMA!” She lay as if dead until her momma bent over and comforted her with unheard - but felt - words of forgiveness. Surely it must have been a tender moment.
A couple days passed. Stacia had worked very hard. It had been a really difficult day. Upset, she sat in a chair with her head in her hands, on the verge of tears. Nelly, being the perky pup that she is, wanted to play. So he brought her favorite toy to Stacia and teased her with it.
Then demonstrating more sensitivity than many humans, the sweet boxer girl exemplified compassion in a way that only she could. Not understanding why Stacia was upset, but recognizing emotional pain in her friend’s demeanor, Nelly approached her with the most comforting act she could envision. She placed her precious toy in Stacia’s lap, released it and sat meekly at her momma’s feet looking up with sad eyes and making no attempt to retrieve her prized possession. Patiently she watched her dear friend, companion, mistress, attempting to discern her reaction to the gift of encouragement.
Gradually, Stacia’s mood brightened. She smiled. Then she bent over a patted Nelly on the shoulder, threw her arms around her neck and hugged her. Immediately the precious pet’s stub of a tail began wagging, furiously. Truth be told, when her little tail wags, she wags all over.
Do we care that much when others hurt? How do we show our compassion, sympathy, empathy? Most of us can hear their groans and cries. We can hear their grieving words. But do we feel their pain? When our loved ones are going through tough times, do we let them know we’ll be there for them? Will we be there for them?
Sometimes a gentle word of encouragement is enough. Sometimes just being with them is the best thing we can do. Presence. Sit beside them, and let their hurt be transferred to our own heart.
Nelly let Stacia know that she cared. She showed her compassion in an unmistakable way. Surely, if a dog can do that, we humans can. And we must. We must take the time to show and to say that we care. Our world needs that. Now more than ever. It is so important that we extend compassion, mercy to family, friends...strangers.
As followers of Christ, we should be able to say, “God loves you, and so do I”...and mean it as much as Nelly did when she “told” Stacia she cared.
--Steve Playl, columnist, college instructor, retired pastor, and chaplain, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org