Saturday, June 22, 2013

You've Got To Be Taught

Way back in 1949, and in an effort to show my mother his softer side, my father took my mother to a Broadway production of South Pacific a musical, or so the family lore goes.  The musical tells the tale of a young Navy nurse based on an island in the South Pacific.  A subplot examines the inner turmoil  of a young Naval who falls in love with a Tonkinese woman.  The play focuses on romance and prejudice.

Today, Mom listens to the soundtrack endlessly from her hospital bed.  She closes her eyes and drifts back to that wonderful evening.  She's not agitated.  As she listens the electricity of that play and her engagement evening soothe her better than any medication on earth.  I've kept a pretty good count and in the last two weeks we've played this CD 87 times.  I know the words to all the pieces by heart at this point.  It's better than the non-stop talk radio shows that permeated these walls not too long ago.

One song in particular resonates with me today involving prejudice.  The song's name, "You've Got To Be Taught".  Here are the lyrics:

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught 

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Last night I wrote about my neighbors kind invitation for us to stop in during their "Puppy Party".  This gathering of dog lovers who formed great friendships at the local dog park both excited me and scared the wits out of me.  You see when Dickens was a wee lad, a vet labeled him as "aggressive".  That label stuck with me and I've read everything ever written about aggressive dogs.  At the time, the vet's pronouncement slayed me.  A label had been smacked square on my dog's forehead.  Fortunately, a second vet correctly diagnosed my little one as suffering from digestive issues and his diet's made him a different dog; however, the first vet's opinion has always stayed in the back of my mind.

I mulled the invitation over all day.  It would only be a drop in visit...less than ten minutes, so I could get back to caring for my mother.  The questions plagued me as well.  "What if a dog pushed Dickens too far?"  "What if Dickens pushed another dog too far?"  Could I break up a real dog fight?  "What if Dickens got hurt?" 

In that moment of introspection the song played from Mom's room.  Isolating this poor pup would never prove or disprove a "professional's" label.  Consciously or unconsciously, I had been taught to be afraid of what my dog would do.  I had been handed a list of do's and don'ts.  Given information about the Tufts University Dog Clinic.  What if I trusted that I believe with all the love in my heart that this dog can be amazing with other dogs and humans?  

Well, our brief visit turned out to be some kind of wonderful.  Great dog lovers and dogs attended.  The only thing Dickens shredded was a napkin a guest dropped (OK, he's not perfect).  He found himself on the receiving end of a snarl for trying to mount a puppy guest, but he didn't morph into Cujo.  He acted like a gentleman with canine and human alike.
On the way home I noticed a group of neighbors chasing a little white puppy who should have been named Houdini had she been male.  Cars whizzed up the street.  This time I didn't think twice about the label...about Dickens having puppy for dessert.  The little pup ran toward Dickens with the neighbors in hot pursuit.  We stopped.  The pup sniffed.  Dickens sniffed.  And we all walked back to the puppy's home where she found her leash securely applied.

As we walked home, I realized we are carefully taught to believe things that just aren't true about people and about dogs.  Both of us felt freer...more bonded...more loving toward each other.  The label that stood as a barrier between us lifted by love.  The love of a kind neighbor who believed in Dickens's goodness...the love of an owner who needed put fear aside...the love all around if we just look for it and lead it home.

Well done, my little  man!  Well done!

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