My little dog Kayleigh had been up six times during the night, apparently again suffering from the mysterious intestinal distress that had plagued her entire puppyhood, threatening her tiny, little life back then. Damn. It was Sunday, my only day off this week. I’d been looking forward to a lunch with friends, but apparently my curriculum had shifted overnight. I called the after-hours vet, was told to bring my dog in, and warned to expect a long wait.
I shot the lunch hostess a quick email explaining the situation, grabbed a Course book written by a friend I’d been struggling to find time to read, wiggled a weak and wary Kayleigh into her little parka, and blundered out into the single-digit morning air, cup of Joe instantly chilling in my hand. At the pet hospital, we weighed all 5.8 pounds of my darling doggie in. We waited on a hard bench a while–Kayleigh burrowed in my jacket—before the receptionist whisked us into a private exam room to wait some more.
Kayleigh stared up at me with her ancient eyes and shuddered. She remembered this place all too well from those early days when we’d camped out here regularly, the cold metal exam table, the cavernous torture chamber waiting behind those steel doors from which, even now, the cries of fellow poked and prodded pets emanated. I had failed to intervene as she had hoped back then, too. She buried her muzzle in the crook of my elbow.
I had hoped at this point to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and check in with our inner teacher about the rubrics for this current pop quiz but found it difficult to do so because of the video playing on the open computer screen on the counter. A treatise on all you ever wanted to know about canine dental disease and so much more streaming nonstop for patient and human parental enrichment. Triggering waves of guilt about my continuing failure to brush Kayleigh’s teeny weenie teeth on a regular basis, as I’d been instructed to do, way back when.
After a while, a nurse came in, interrogated me about Kayleigh’s condition, and vanished, leaving us to contemplate the vile consequences of advanced periodontal disease that might have been avoided by a responsible pet Mama’s faithful brushing. I turned on my phone and checked my emails. The lunch’s hostess was urging me to come if we got out of the vet’s in time. I glanced at my watch. An hour and a half had already transpired; the festivities would commence in an hour, and I hadn’t even taken a shower yet.
I had been here before. Early on in my A Course in Miracles practice I caught myself trying to make living the Course my life’s work by sequestering myself in my office, the better to immerse myself in its teachings. Completely forgetting that whatever appeared to be happening in the classroom of my life was my work, the complicated relationships that lay just outside the closed door were my curriculum. I would not find my way home by merely studying the big, blue book and then isolating myself with a handful of other Course students who shared my understanding of it, but by learning to extend the unwavering kindness it teaches to everyone and everything wandering this world secretly frightened and alone.
I recalled complaining to my beloved external teacher Ken Wapnick (in one of my interviews with him) about why I couldn’t seem to catch a break from the unrelenting forgiveness lessons seemingly bombarding me at warp speed. He’d responded by quoting (internationally renowned priest and author) Henri Nouwen, who had said something like, “I kept getting interrupted in my work and then I realized my interruptions were my work.”
Ken often reminds us not to make the Course our life–attempting to avoid the troubling, messy situations, problems, and relationships that trigger us–but rather to live our lives fully, assigning them the new purpose of healing our mistaken belief that anything outside our mind could disturb or enhance our peace. Learning to forgive my misguided wish to have my day go my way rather than allowing it to reveal my only real wish: remembering our one, united identity by changing my mind about the purpose of my interactions with others. Learning to recognize every seeming call for love as my own and respond with the gentle compassion I am always truly seeking as I join with our inner teacher of forgiveness, who sees only our shared interest of remembering our unaltered union within.
In my lap Kayleigh gazed up at me with such longing. I nestled her back into my jacket and held her close. She had been troubled lately by my daughter’s coming and going, the packing to return to college following winter break already well underway, our family’s preoccupation with work and social obligations that left us charging off in different directions without her. But her sickness had drawn me back in. Like my human daughter, Kayleigh did not always find it easy to accept my affection, but she did so now, rolling on her back and offering up her upset belly for comfort and adoration.
I turned off and put away my phone, slipped the book I had hoped to begin back into my purse, and merely held her, stroking her soft fur and warming her paws in my hand. Another hour came and went yielding additional, fascinating insights on canine dental disease. The exam and tests eventually revealed bacterial and parasitic issues requiring the usual medications. I paid the bill, bundled my dog back up, and headed back out into the cold, grateful again to be happily wrong about, well; I suppose that would be everything.
“And so today we do not choose the way in which we go to Him. But we do choose to let Him come. And with this choice we rest. And in our quiet hearts and open minds, His Love will blaze its pathway of itself. What has not been denied is surely there, if it be true and can be surely reached. God knows His Son, and knows the way to him. He does not need His Son to show Him how to find His way. Through every opened door His Love shines outward from its home within, and lightens up the world in innocence.” (A Course in Miracles workbook lesson 189, paragraph 9)
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.