We had a dog when our children were growing up, now of blessed memory, named Buster. Buster died just a year ago after a long life as a beloved member of our family.
Buster was a runner. He was a small dog, and we always kept him in the house and in the fenced in yard–except for those times when he managed to get out a door or an open gate. He was masterful at shooting out even the door that was only slightly and momentarily open. And he would run. Oh how he would run. The more we called, the faster he would run. The more we ran after him the farther and faster he would run. There were many nights in those early years when he would manage to get out just at bedtime, and we would spend hours driving the streets of downtown Birmingham where we lived looking for him. Almost always, we would find Buster with someone else. He would run to where people were and join in whatever they were doing. One time it was another driver who flashed us with his lights. He had been driving in the area and seen Buster run across the street. When he opened his car door, Buster jumped in! Many, many times, we would get a call from St. Vincent’s Emergency Room, a hospital two blocks from our house. Buster had learned that if he ran to the ER doors, they would magically open, and waiting inside the ER would always be a room full of people for him to play with. They were always delighted to see him!
What we learned over the years was that if we would not chase Buster, if we would not call after him, if we would but wait a few minutes and leave the front door open, Buster would return. Always.
I recognize something of myself in this story we played over so many times during those years. There are things in us that we simply have to do, have to explore, have to question, have to go and check out. Often, that can be upsetting to the apple carts of our lives and especially to those around us who depend on us being a certain way. Yet, we hear Mary Oliver’s haunting question: what are we going to do with this one, precious life? Answering that question means bolting out of the open gate at times to run and see who we are and what it is we want to do. Once we have done that (or, okay, once we have done that enough) there is a sort of return to who we are. The balance of the human life is in both–the running and the returning.
Buster was a runner all of his life. A month before he died, at 16 years of age, we came home to find a note from the pest control service man on the door. For years, the company knew that our dogs had access to the back yard and that keeping that gate closed was essential. On that day, he had left the gate cracked just a bit, and, as he wrote, “Buster just disappeared through that gate in a flash!” He called me later that day to make sure that everything was okay and explained that as he chased after Buster (never a good move) the mail man was coming down the street. He joined in the chase. After an hour or more, the two of them managed to find Buster–waiting on them on the front porch of our house.
Where are we in our lives today? If running is what you need to do, then let it be a good run. If returning is what you need to do, then find your way home. They both matter, in the balance.