I hop out of my car and into the morning sun, followed by an eager ball of fur whose name, Dash, matches his spirit. He is thrilled to be back at the dog beach. I am too, because this is where I am certain I will develop my idea for the perfect blog post… a post on how play makes us present. As we take turns tugging each other excitedly towards the beach, I remember the joy of watching Dash live out his spunk, and I can’t wait to intentionally capture the moments for my post. Kicking up sand as we close the distance to the fence, I think, We are going to have a blast.
Immediately upon arrival, a large brown mutt with kind eyes greets us, her white-tipped tail furiously wagging an enthusiastic hello. As her owner yells for her to come back, she gives me one last lick on the leg before bounding across the beach to her human. Dash strains at the leash, ready to play, and I immediately tug him back, shaking my head impatiently. “No, Dash. Not yet.”
I lay out the blanket with our things, a bowl of water, a towel, and a brush, because heaven forbid his fur become a tangled, sandy mess. Within moments, our blanket is surrounded by the curious noses of new dog friends. Dash spins in place, happy to have company. As the pack of furry bodies leaves to sniff elsewhere, Dash tries to leave with them. I distractedly tighten my grip on the leash. “WAIT a second, Dash,” I say through clenched teeth, readying my camera.
Finally, I turn to my bouncing pup, with a distracted smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes, and I unclip his leash. The moment of freedom comes with a rush of frantic energy, and Dash speeds away. Too quick for me, I yell after him, but he’s halfway across the beach chasing another dog. I run, finally catching up as he nears the water. Quickly, I attach the leash to his harness, hoping I can hold him still long enough to take a few pictures of him in the waves.
This does not go as planned.
For the next hour, I alternate between holding Dash still and letting him go, only to chase him down and tether him to my side again. Finally, in a fit of exasperation, I urge Dash back to our blanket so that I can examine these precious moments I’ve captured. I skim the photos, zoning out until I realize that I haven’t felt the usual tug that signifies my dog is alive and ready to play. The stillness is concerning.
When I look down, I see Dash sitting calmly, as if waiting for something, his eyes closed and beard blowing in the breeze. He opens his eyes and scans the shore, watching quietly from the sidelines as the other dogs jump and run and play. Contrary to his name, he is still and content. I sit down next to him in the sand and lightly scratch the top of his head. He leans into my hand, gently licking whatever part of me he can reach. His eyes turn toward mine, full of the unconditional love that only a dog can give, and I know what he is waiting for.
He is waiting for me.
And with one final scratch under his bearded chin, I unclip the leash.
Unlike his previous frenetic state, Dash begins a slow trot away from me before he pauses to look back. I smile, and as if he senses my presence nudging him forward, he turns and begins to frolic through the sand. Greeting other dogs as he passes, he eventually discovers the shore. Immense love for this little creature bubbles up in my soul as I watch him gallop the whole length of the beach before finally diving head first into the water. He sneezes as his head comes up, and he begins to learn the rhythm of the waves.
As I laugh at his antics, I discover the truth of why the dog beach is so special to me in the first place. It isn’t play and the present moment that moves me deeply. It’s the love and presence.
It’s seeing this little being who I love experience the freedom to be completely himself, and it’s wanting to give him my presence because of that love.
It’s the love that embraces his distinct presence, and his love that embraces mine.
It’s remembering that those I love, human and animal alike, are only here for a time, and to experience the fullness of the unique presence of each loved one is the greatest gift to give and receive.
I began the morning convinced that I had a life lesson worth sharing… a lesson of becoming present in the moment through play. Yet, once at the beach, I was so caught up in trying to be present that I didn’t give my presence. In the end, Dash, with his wild hair and even wilder spirit, became my teacher. His presence with me was a portrait of his love. He waited patiently for me to become fully myself, wading through my control and irritation with the same spirit that embraced the waves. And when I finally embraced my presence and love, he had the courage to live his presence, too.
That kind of deeply present love is full of tail-wagging joy.
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