Learning Forgiveness from a Dog

Last night at three o'clock in the morning my dog Freckles bit me. He is a small dog, about twenty-five pounds, short and very round. He had made his way up to my pillow and when I moved I accidentally rolled over him. He bit me hard on the arm and then made his way off the bed and downstairs. The bite hurt. He broke the skin a little bit and today I have a good size bruise where he got me.

After he bit me I felt bad, like I must have hurt him. I went downstairs to check on him and he seemed just fine. He was chipper and ready for a midnight snack. I went back upstairs and tried to get a little more sleep before my 6 am alarm. When I did get up and go to the living room to meditate a few hours later, Freckles joined me. He snuggled his fat back right up to my leg on the floor and sat with me for forty-five minutes.

I thought it strange that he was so comfortable cuddling up with me after inflicting a flesh wound just three hours earlier. But he was oblivious, happy to be sitting there with me, snoring away. In the moment right after Freckles bit me I was mad at him. I was coursing with adrenaline but the anger lasted just as long as it took for my heart rate to slow down. My forgiveness was immediate and complete.

If I get mad at my partner or my sister or my mother, I want them to know that I am mad. I can't let it go until I feel they've learned a lesson, that they understand the impact of their actions. I expect a little bit of remorse, maybe some penance.

I want them to be a little stand-off-ish, tentative to approach me. This will signify that they understand the errors of their ways. But with Freckles I didn't have that anger. I became almost immediately concerned about him. What had made him bite me? Was it his arthritic hips or did I bend his tail the wrong way?

And then, just hours later, Freckles approached me as if nothing had happened. He wasn't shy or unsure about smooshing up for some love this morning. He had no memory of what had happened. His memory was of the unconditionality of our relationship. The bite a few hours earlier was a vague and distant occurrence. Odds are that Freckles didn't remember it at all. He was ready to move on and get more love.

Humans make each other's lives so much harder by holding onto memories. I have a friend whose partner keeps track of times when she is hurt by her in a journal. It's like the holy grail of hurt and it's a sure way to stay mad and distant. We hold onto our memories of being hurt because we want to protect ourselves from being hurt in the future. But gripping tight to the hurt just prolongs the hurt while forgiving lets the love in.