He came every evening during the eight days of Hanukkah to the foyer for the lighting of our menorah. It didn’t matter what he was doing, how snug and comfortable he might have been, or even if he was sleeping soundly. He clearly understood it as his responsibility, his job as it were, just like we go off to our offices in the morning sipping our coffee cups, driving in the chilly early mornings and sleepily adjusting the radio, waiting for the heat to come on. And, as he always has, he took that responsibility seriously. We didn’t call him or rouse him from his bed. As dogs do, he somehow just knew that the time had arrived – and just as we finished placing the last candle and prepared to light the shamash he would appear, stretching his front paws, yawning, sniffing, finding a comfortable spot from which to watch the proceedings.
And he participated! He often joined in as we chanted the blessings, his barking or yowling blending in with our own voices. He didn’t pay all that much attention to the candles themselves, maybe a sniff or two in their direction, the acrid smell of the just extinguished match warning him to keep his distance. But he was fully engaged, and after each lighting expected some belly or ear scratching, positioning himself in that way that dogs do to let you know it is time for a good scratch or two.
Maybe there was some classical conditioning involved, maybe some association had formed in his canine brain between that Hanukkah ritual and his dinner being served, or a treat that once or twice was offered post lighting. Maybe it was that latke he oh-so-stealthily managed to steal. That must have been right around the time we were lighting the candles? But I think it was more than that. There is a certain sense of loyalty to it, a clear commitment to the family, to his humans, to be there and to watch the goings on, to show up, and to do it every single time. When the door opens and you come in from the garage, there he is, steadfastly wagging his nub. When we sit down to dinner he settles in the same place to join us, even if he’s eaten, even when he was soundly and comfortably sleeping in another room entirely. He lies at my feet when I work at the computer at the dining room table, often arranging his head between the legs of my chair. He sagely scans the front yard and the street, and the yards beyond, for threats real or imagined that he will warn us about with a stout and sometimes urgent barking. When the basement TV goes on he is there within seconds, anxious to settle into his customary place on the couch, snuggled in between us.
I think it was Woody Allen who said 80% of life is showing up. We humans often struggle with that 80%. We come late, we forget, we are lazy and don’t want to go out, there are a million and one reasons why we don’t show up for this obligation or that event, why we constantly cancel and reschedule and reschedule again. Perhaps there is something to be learned from a dog’s unfailing loyalty and devotion, the sheer determination to do what he must, to be there and to offer his support or presence, to let us know with his softly questioning eyes that he wouldn’t have it any other way.