Our family of five small children with big appetites didn’t send to the garbage very much that was edible. If the bowl were not emptied at dinnertime, whatever had graced our table became a tantalizing leftover to be eagerly consumed as a microwave special by whichever lucky child arrived home first the next day. So I was quite surprised when I found our garbage can had been raided by a roving scrap bandit.
I quizzed the kids to see if they could identify our thief-in-the-night. No one could, but my son told of seeing a mysterious, doglike ball of fur skulking through the backyard just a few days before. A likely suspect.
The next morning, when the garbage had once again been raided, we decided to try to prevent the ransacking of the refuse can by putting a little something where the obviously hungry mutt could get to it without making a mess. After a few days of this we finally spied him-the mangiest, filthiest little mongrel I had ever seen. His light-colored coat was snarled and matted, and he was gnawing on some doggy delicacy with an air of skittishness that spoke of his having been chased away from his meal by more than one irate homeowner.
This small dog presented such a pitiful sight that my rescue reflex was immediately piqued. As I approached him to test his friendliness, I expected him to run off, but all he did was cower down and whimper. He didn’t move when I scratched his head. I figured he was just too weak to try to escape. Up close he appeared even dirtier and in worse shape than we had thought. He was the scruffiest thing we had ever seen. Scruffy! The perfect moniker for our nameless dinner guest.
We decided to clean Scruffy up and give him a decent meal. A plastic tub accommodated his size quite well as we doused him with a bucket of water, held him tight to trickle shampoo over his snarly coat, and massaged the suds into cleansing lather. The rinse water was gray with weeks’ or even months’ worth of accumulated grime. Scruffy seemed to enjoy it as we poured on bucket after bucket and then shampooed again, just to be sure he was as clean as we could get him. After the final rinsing, he showed his gratitude with a flurry of shakes that sent a drenching shower into the faces of all of his would-be groomers. At least the water was clean.
From that moment on, Scruffy was a different animal. He ceased his cowering and began a tongue-enhanced pant that seemed to reveal a happy smile behind the fur that covered his face. After eating the food we set before him, he ran around the yard jumping and barking in a display of pure joy and excitement. Every so often he stopped at the feet of whoever was near and waited for a pat or a rub or a scratch; then he was off again running in circles, up the yard and back again, until it was time for another love pat by one of us who shared his revelry.
Scruffy stayed around for several days. We fed him and gave him a soft rug to sleep on and laughed at his clowning in the yard. One morning we found a few moldy tortillas on the front step. Scruffy was returning our kindness at the expense of some neighbor’s garbage! The real personality in that little dog was so fun and lovable, far different from what we had supposed when first he came into our lives.
One day we missed the canine vagabond of whom we had grown so fond. I suppose his wanderlust got the better of him, and he went in search of more friends and easy pickings from someone else’s garbage can. We have never forgotten him, though, and the incredible transformation that came about through the showing of a bit of kindness.
We can see the same miraculous change in people. I spied an old man, head down, walking slowly toward me on the sidewalk. He had a few days’ growth of beard and was unkempt in his dress. He looked like a man who had left behind the happy days of his life and lived now in sweet memory, but lonely and bitter reality.
As the scruffy man approached, I blurted out a cheery, “Good morning, sir!” To my surprise and true delight, he lifted his head and, with a grin as wide as a well-fed puppy, responded, “Good morning to you!” The lonely old man before my eyes vanished in an instant, and the lovable side of his nature came out when just a little kindness was sent his way.
I think they call it nurturing, that offering of self to those around us who need some loving and lifting. And it’s not just the stray dog and the lonely widower who deserve such attention. Perhaps even more in want are those around us whose existence and well-being we take so very much for granted. Our wives or husbands, moms or dads, or kids are just as much in need of an overt demonstration of our love, some identifiable kindness that they will notice and that will bring joy and maybe even a silly grin into their lives. People soften and warm to a little nurturing. It will help them now, and they will remember it later. The recollection of such simple acts may see them through a dark hour down the road when we are not there in person.
Those around us need to know we share their pain and are willing to bear a portion of whatever burden they may carry, not just when it’s convenient or uncomplicated, but whenever the need exists. If a man’s wife or one of his children has a problem, so does he. There should be no mistake. We are not in this alone, and our responsibility to love is as great as our right to he loved. A little considerate effort from us can turn the night to day for one who longs for such a kindly touch.
There is a miracle formula in which a very small addition of love creates an overflowing reaction of happiness. The person who mixes the generous potion and the thirsty one who drinks from the gracious cup are both better for the experience. Much will be received even when only a little is lovingly given.
Our right to be cared for is exceeded only by our duty to nurture others.