December 7, 2007

Reflections/Tony Staley

Beloved companion taught us numerous lessons for life

On Oct. 28, I lost a mentor. My wife, Jackie, and I had to put down our beloved dog, Jasmine.

She had been our companion for nearly 14 years, during which she taught me some important lessons in Christian living.

First, I was reminded that everything we have is a gift from God and for that we are to give thanks.

Jasmine was certainly a gift—an unexpected one. I just happened to see her photo in a Humane Society adopt-a-pet ad.

We hadn’t been looking for a dog. We certainly didn’t want one that big (58 pounds) with that much energy or hair.

But it was love at first sight. I knew God wanted us to have this dog and that no one should turn down a gift from God.

Jasmine showed us how to give and accept love. Her regal and confident bearing, and her acceptance of us, proved that she knew we loved her.

She also showed us that we need to live to the fullest and to share.

Sharing and dogs might not seem to go together. But Jasmine, who normally took all day to eat her dinner, never objected when visiting dogs ate part of it. She was not so generous with a special meat treat, but even the best Christian isn’t expected to share absolutely everything.

She reminded me by her example that I need to be completely present, completely focused and listening to whomever I am with, no multitasking allowed. I still struggle with that concept.

Jasmine not only promoted physical fitness, she demanded it. She made sure we got our daily walk for 30 to 40 minutes at 6 a.m. After work, we’d do it again.

On our walks, she taught me to stop and smell the roses, that distractions are OK and to pay attention because God’s gifts—perhaps disguised as a discarded doughnut or pizza slice—can be found everywhere if we are vigilant.

She gave us a great health tip, which we call Jasmine’s Rule: When traveling, never pass up a chance to use the bathroom. (This rule becomes more important with each passing year.)

Jasmine loved people and constantly demonstrated how to reach out to others with love and concern. She and Jackie would walk in midmorning or early afternoon. By then, people were out, people for Jasmine to meet. Jasmine often went up to people working in their yards to say “Hi.”

Sometimes, she was rewarded with a treat, but Jackie was always rewarded by meeting and talking to someone new—either way, gifts from God. Jackie made several friends this way, one in particular whom Jasmine insisted that they visit often.

Jasmine was also a popular visitor to the parish office.

Jasmine taught us about hospitality. She always celebrated and greeted visitors—including me when I came home from work every day—properly before settling down. When they left, she expected to say goodbye.

As word spread of Jasmine’s death, numerous friends, whose lives Jasmine had touched, responded to us with loving concern through cards, e-mails, phone calls, personal exchanges offering their support and condolences for our loss. Her death proved to be another example of how God wants us to reach out to others.

As Green Bay’s Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau, our pastor and a world-renowned writer and speaker on spiritual matters, says, we are called to love and obey.

Our God loves us and gives us everything we have. In return, we are to love God, ourselves and others, and respond obediently with prayer, service and sharing. When we do, joy and peace result. Living with Jasmine, caring for her, seeing how she treated others and realizing that we were called to do likewise, brought us joy and peace.

It doesn’t matter whether Jasmine knew that she was teaching us these lessons any more than it mattered that the apple knew it was teaching Newton about gravity. What matters is that God provides us with such gifts, such agents, and that we see and respond.

(Tony Staley retired in September after 18 years as the editor of The Compass, official newspaper for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis. He now spends his days writing and dreaming about the family’s next dog.) †

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