Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room
It isn’t always my job to walk the dog.
I continued that line a dozen ways before choosing to delete the bite: “Thank God.” “Oh well.” “He’s not my dog.”
Look, it’s not that I’m some joyless dog-hater. It’s just that I’m more of a cat person. I like soundless paws in the kitchen, a slobber-free nuzzle into my hand. I like long walks by myself, uninterrupted by sniffing and leash-tugging.
Anyway, my partner is out of town for a few days, so I’ve been thinking about the first time it became my job to walk the dog. Out of some combination of new relationship energy and a misguided impulse to prove my worth, I squeezed in quick trips home from work, hurried the dog outside for walks and bathroom breaks (even when he whined through the rain and needed toweling after), and woke up twice in the middle of each night to make sure he wouldn’t get restless and ruin the carpet. I also scrubbed the kitchen. When that didn’t seem like enough, I sorted, washed, and folded piles of dirty, dog-furred laundry.
It’s not that I’m some joyless dog-hater—but that sounds awfully joyless, doesn’t it?
When my partner returned, I was too wound up, too eager for his homecoming to enjoy it. To be honest, I don’t even remember spending time with him after he brought in his suitcase, preoccupied as I was. I felt like a chef who prepared a meal no one ordered, or an actor who studied the wrong script.
That was a long time ago, but not so long that I’ve forgotten the feeling. This time, I am intentional about keeping my heart peaceful. This time, when I walk the dog, I stop and talk to neighbors raking leaves or brushing snow off their porches. I let the dog sniff each tree we pass, even though there are many, many trees.
And maybe this sounds like your average Hallmark-movie takeaway about the meaning of Christmas, but it beats the clock-watching, box-checking frenzy that so often passes for preparation, or at least the kind of preparation I thought would make things right—or make me good.
Dog or no dog, I’d rather be joyful, and joy comes to us when our hearts are ready to receive it. It comes wherever we make room.
Emily Kingery is an Assistant Professor of English at St. Ambrose University, where she teaches courses in literature, writing, and linguistics. Her work has appeared in various academic and creative publications, including Quercus, SAU’s journal of literary and visual art. She lives in a cozy home, complete with dog and cat, in Davenport, Iowa.