I used to have a wonderful, sensitive and intelligent dog, a Labrador retriever mix, who was frightened of loud noises, especially if they came from behind him. He was so sensitive about this that sometimes he would be scared right out of sleep by his own flatulence. He would jerk up onto his feet and begin running, then stop a moment later, confused because there was nothing scary chasing him.
Once my sister took him for a walk and stopped at a video store along the way to rent a movie. She tied his leash to a large metal trash can next to the door of the shop. At the cash register she was interrupted by an unholy din in the street outside. People at the front of the store were looking out and exclaimed, “There’s a dog dragging a trash can down the middle of Main Street!”
Sure enough, my dog was in a panic and running down the middle of the street as if pursued by all the demons of the underworld. The trash can was banging and clanging behind him, frightening him more and more the harder he tried to get away from it. Cars were careening out of his way as he went, but it was the can behind him that terrified him. My sister had to chase him down and grab the can, then talk to him until he calmed down enough that she could untie the leash.
What must have happened is that he jerked the can a little so that it made a noise that frightened him. Then he must have tried to run away from it, only to pull it along behind him.
When I get anxious it does me good to remember this story of my poor pup running away from the trash can that is only chasing him because he is leashed to it and running. What scares me is so often the same. For instance, there was a time in my life when I was shunned by a community I valued. These days I can sometimes still imagine that people are turning against me. A little incident or remark will trigger this fear, and then I am off and running. Every subsequent event will seem to corroborate my suspicion. “See,” I say to myself. “They hate me.” I don’t think of other explanations for what seems to indicate that I am about to be shunned again; something in me just panics. Soon I am pulling the loud scary trash can down the middle of the road, focused only on it’s banging pursuit.
It is the same with other fears. Will I have enough money to last me until I die? Is my house falling down around my ears? Are my partner’s aches and pains a sign of her imminent demise? Will global warming destroy the planet? Are we on the brink of war? Each little fear can cause me to begin running, until the trash can is once again chasing me down the road.
It is in my prayer life that this whole mad careening flight often gets stopped. It is as though the Christ within grabs the can, pulls me to a standstill and talks to me. “You are my beloved,” he seems to say in the silence of my heart. “No matter what happens, I will be here with you. You are secure in my love. No matter what happens you belong to all that is. You belong to me.”
And then he often adds, “Feed my sheep. Tell everyone else how much I love them.”
After awhile, after all this sweet talk, he can untie the leash that holds me to the trash can. I know the truth, and the truth sets me free.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: by Laurie Gudim