Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jake's Choice

The rabbit wasn't large – bigger than a bunny, but not full grown. It sat among the palmetto scrubs and wiregrass along the edge of the road. Jake and I noticed it at the same time.

Jake is Adam's dog, a thick-muscled golden Lab with a serious face. He is smart, one of those dogs with whom you tend to carry on a conversation and half expect to get an answer back. He was my only companion that afternoon. We'd been up the road a mile or so and were headed home when the rabbit showed up.

In a matter of seconds Jake had left the road, leapt over the ditch and hit the ground running on the overgrown timber trail that runs parallel to the road. "Jake!" I called out sharply. "Jake!" His long yellow legs kept galloping toward the white puff of tail that bounced ahead of him.

The rabbit had a head start and, moving surprisingly quickly on short stumpy legs, disappeared into the brush – sort of a reverse magician's trick. Jake came up short, his nose quivering just above the ground at the hole into which the rabbit had dived.

"Jake!"

He lifted his head and quizzically tilted it toward me and the road. "Leave that rabbit alone!"

One more look at the hole. One more look at me. A soft – I promise you – sigh and then retreat. He jumped back over the ditch and trotted back up to me. "Good boy, Jake. Good boy."

To be honest, I was more than a little surprised that Jake abandoned his pursuit of the rabbit. He is, after all, a dog and dogs chase rabbits. It is instinctual and, as we often tell ourselves in defense of actions of which we are regretful but for which we have no explanation, you can't fight instinct.

Except that, apparently, based upon what I'd just seen, you can.

In that moment Jake, who isn't supposed to have a moral code, made a choice. Instead of responding to the adrenaline that made his heart race, that made his fur stand up, that sent him running madly after something that wasn't anywhere close to a physical match for him, he responded instead to my voice.

Jake knows me. I feed him when he wanders down to my house. I offer him a big bowl of water after we've been walking. I scruff his ears and talk to him in that strange voice we humans reserve for babies and animals. I love Jake. And he loves me back.

And so he comes when I call.

A triumph of love over instinct.

I thought about all that as Jake and I walked on down the big hill and back up the rise toward home and I realized that Jake's choice was the one that we are asked to make every day, many times a day.

We are asked to respond to all sorts of stimuli, everything from the car that brakes suddenly in front of us to the telephone call that brings bad news. We are asked to respond and we always have to choose. Instinct or love.

Sometimes the response is instantaneous, without conscious deliberation, but most of the time – in a world where "fight or flight" is not a literal confrontation – there is plenty of time to consider the ramifications of choice. And in that time, the moments or days or years that flow by between stimuli and response, we get to decide whether we will respond out of self-preservation or self-sacrifice.

Instinct or love. Jake understands that. I hope I do.

Copyright 2008

1 comment:

Lynn said...

tugged a heartstring or two